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Thandi Luzuka

Degree:

EMBA

Location:

Greece

Industry:

Finance

Year:

Jan 2020 – Sept 2022

By Thandi Luzuka

Growing babies, growing self

As we enter 2021, I feel the need to reflect on the year that has just passed. I find myself flipping through pictures of my babies and I am amazed by how much they have grown in a short space of time. In January 2020 I was 6 months pregnant with twins, my toddler could only say a few phrases in one language, and I was waddling my way up the stairs of Saïd Business school to our first lecture – feeling overwhelmed, self-conscious about my massive bump and in a significant amount of physical discomfort which was soon to be overshadowed by the pure magic I experienced.

EMBA J20 students

I have not had as many goosebump-generating moments in any other week of my life, thus far. There was the sense of raw awareness that stunned me as I listened to Professor Kurt April speak to my very core about values, motives and authentic leadership; a sense of appreciation and wonder when Jean Dowson spoke about her first-hand experiences of breaking through barriers as a high ranking female leader in the British army; the sense of admiration and motivation I felt when classmates shared their personal stories over dinner and I realised that every dream or goal I’ve ever entertained in my life resurfaced during that week – either because someone had already done what I dreamed of doing; was thinking of doing it, or knew someone I could speak to in order to make it happen. I found myself in a space where I could freely dream again and where these dreams needed to be met with action. The people around me where all doers, and so once something was uttered, I knew it would be followed through and we would hold each other to account. This is the magic I have held onto throughout the year, and which has resulted in a number of passion projects starting to take shape over and above the core courses.

I have also been pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming support I have received from the School. Our programme manager, Krisztina Suranyi-Cseko, often checked in on me and sent me material to my home address when I was too heavily pregnant to fly to Oxford. She created a Zoom set-up just for me, before classes needed to shift online, and was genuinely interested in my well-being. Professor James Taylor always availed himself for Skype calls, to talk through the Analytics classes I missed, and classmates were encouraging and accommodating when I had little humans joining team calls and discussions.

A few naysayers told me (and still tell me) that it’s too late for me to be studying; that I am being irresponsible and selfish to embark on this journey with tiny ones in tow. As a working mom I was already familiar with mom guilt, but would reconcile that with the fact that I was making money which would contribute directly and immediately to our children’s health, education and well-being. The thought of spending time and money on studies, with no immediate tangible benefits to my family, was much harder for me to justify at the beginning. Not to mention those heart-wrenching moments, like the time my 2-year-old asked me not to leave and then sobbed quietly on the couch as I wheeled my luggage out the door. Or when my 6-month-old twins kept grabbing at the screen during a video call, as they could not understand why they could not touch me. However, I remind myself why I am doing this. I am doing this to grow – as an individual, as a mother, as a wife, as a leader. I am doing this to grow and solidify my vision and the impact I would like to leave in this world. I am doing this to tap into the very best version of myself, to see her clearly, and then work hard towards becoming more like her in everything I do. I relish in the fact that I have been spending many more hours with my babies, than I would have if we had not adjusted our lives to focus on studies over this period. I smile when my 2-year-old picks up her toy laptop and cheerfully sits alongside me as I work. She has already developed such focus and a solid work ethic. More than anything I smile because I realise by allowing myself to grow, I invite my children to do the same in perpetuity – I invite them to forever pursue that which will allow them to be better and more fulfilled versions of themselves, at any age. I want them to know they can pursue various dreams simultaneously and that it is never too late. I tell them often, although they may not fully understand: “Mommy is going to school, so she can learn new things. If you learn new things, you can do more things. I want to do more things for you.”

 

People often ask me how I do it – juggling everything. There are 2 truths I often share. One is, I could not have managed through this year without a strong support team, led by my husband. He has been incredible and kept me going at times where I wondered if I could make it. My in-laws have helped us tremendously, as well as our babies’ nanny who has also become a sister to me. I often have phone calls with my parents, sisters and close friends who continuously encourage me and lend a thoughtful ear through each challenge that arises. I also would not be embarking on this journey at this point in time without the full support and flexibility of my employers. Surround yourself with support. The second is – I am not the only one. I was relieved to learn that in January I was not the only woman on the EMBA J20 programme who was pregnant, and therefore perhaps I was not completely crazy. I learned that there were many more before me, who made it work. I also realised that there are several people who have young babies currently on the programme – both men and women – as well as more pregnant EMBA women to follow. I am also thrilled that there are others who have babies in the form of new ventures they are embarking on, or projects they currently own and nurture. This sense of camaraderie has often been my fuel.

Is it easy? Not by any stretch of the imagination. It requires constant prioritisation and multi-tasking. I don’t always get it right, but I am learning. I am pursuing my truth and adapting as the road changes beneath me. COVID-19 has definitely thrown a spanner in the works. I am not sure what 2021 will bring, but I am determined to continue on this journey and to carry all the lessons, epiphanies and friendships I have acquired. I am open to how that journey may need to adjust, but I trust that all will work out well in the end.

It is crazy how much babies grow and adapt so easily. As I raise my children, I observe them closely and learn from them. Each week I notice a new skill or characteristic that each of them have acquired – be it a new tooth emerging, a first crawl, or the ability to hold a full conversation in a second language – and I think, wow, look at how rapidly and beautifully you are transforming. It made me wonder if as adults, we continue to grow at this pace, just on the inside.

Whatever you decide to pursue currently and in the future – may you continue to grow your respective babies, and may you also continue to grow yourself.

For more information on balancing family life, work and study on the Executive MBA, Oxford life and our students’ experience, visit our webpage here.

 

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