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Character Building | #MyFridayStory No. 59

Character Building | #MyFridayStory No. 59

Grit. Determination. Staying-power. Stamina. Persistence. Perseverance. The Afrikaans word is very expressive: Deursettingsvermoë. Loosely translated: The ability to go through an especially tough trial. These are some of the terms that come to mind when I think of completing a postgraduate dissertation.

When I finished high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I took an aptitude test that suggested I become a civil engineer. After completing 2 years of compulsory military service, I went to college. After four years of studying, I dropped out of college to go into business with a friend.

In 1991, I took night classes for a year, and got a Marketing and Sales Management certificate. In 2000, my employer enrolled me on a one-year management advancement program, at a top business school. It covered subjects like economics, finance, human resources, and marketing. Although I enjoyed the other subjects as well, it only served to further reinforce that my heart and passion lay in marketing.

The aptitude test never asked what I would love to do.

So, in 2006, a friend and I – he was also a colleague at the time – decided to tackle a post-graduate diploma in Marketing. The diploma involved attending classes, successfully completing assignments for each subject, and the first year concluded with exams. At the end of the year, they combine the scores, and once you have passed, the dissertation phase starts. You have a period of three years in which to complete the dissertation, in order to graduate.

After passing all my exams and assignments, I was cleared to chose a dissertation topic. The topic has to be approved by the dean and the academic board before you can continue with your research. You are explicitly warned about choosing a topic that you can ‘own.‘ You need to find one that hasn’t been covered by anyone before, and that allows for compelling reading. It can be tricky and either set you up for success, or for failure.

At the time, I was interested in how we as marketers portray ourselves. By that time, I had come across many fellow marketers, both formally qualified and not, and had made an observation. The one thing I could see in common was that as practitioners, we don’t take ourselves seriously. And if we don’t see what we are doing as worthwhile and important, then why should anyone else? If we consider our profession as a ‘nice to have,’ we can’t be surprised when we get relegated to the back of the queue, come budget time.

I thought I could use this curiosity to my advantage, and maybe even uncover some new thoughts on the matter. I discussed it with my professor who thought it could be a useful study. So, I applied to the board for the topic. They came back a month later with the green light on my chosen topic: The changing role of the marketing professional in a competitive career driven market.

As it turns out, I made a few errors when deciding on my topic. Although the concept of finding out what marketers think of themselves, and how that could impact on where they find themselves in the pecking order in the C-suite, is an appealing one, it is not a true ‘marketing’ dilemma. This in turn made it difficult to present a ‘traditional’ dissertation, as my findings were philosophical more than factual.

Taking on a dissertation is tough, choosing a topic that doesn’t lend itself to qualitative and quantitative research, made it a lot tougher. I worked on the project steadily and with purpose. However, nearing the deadline for submissions, in September 2009, my computer hard drive crashed. My work was all lost except for a few pieces of the original research. I tried everything from IT guru’s, to Genius Bar wizards, to no effect. Eventually, we removed the hard drive and sent it to a forensic detective to try get the ones and zeros back in alignment.

The hard drive was dead. I missed the deadline for submission.

After completing high school, my son considered enrolling at the same marketing institution in 2011. It was an open day and we were milling around checking out the various programs on offer. As a matter of interest, I asked the one assistant to check my student status on the system. As she called up my profile, she asked if I had completed my dissertation. After informing her that I hadn’t submitted it, she gave me some great news. Much to my delight, due to changes in the curriculum from one year to the next, certain students were disadvantaged due to the changes. The school made a special dispensation for anyone affected to still be able to hand in their dissertation, up until the end of 2012.

I immediately started putting the dissertation together – again.

I graduated with my postgraduate diploma in 2013, almost 7 years after starting the program. My professor had become dean of the institution, and as I knelt to get tapped, he smiled and said, ‘You made it!’ At the age of 50, it was one of my greatest achievements. Three students out of our original group graduated, apparently a true reflection of the average completion rate.

It is not so much the academic achievement I value, but the ‘Deursettingsvermoë’ I found.

The dissertation built character where fear once reigned.

  • What have you done that required digging deep? Leave your comments, I’d love to hear about it!

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