Grace Stephens




United States


Real Estate



By Grace Stephens

Extract the Eternal from the Ephemeral

As my year in Oxford pursuing an MBA draws to a close, I am reminded of the words by Charles Baudelaire to “extract the eternal from the ephemeral.” It’s a finite year in Oxford at SBS, and everyone knows it coming in. Some lament that is only one year early on, instantly finding that they never want the MBA to end as they dive into new academic subjects, have deep discussions with like-minded individuals in-person for perhaps the first time ever, and are exposed to different ways of thinking and understanding. For others, it seems to come later on as the inevitable end creeps nearer and all of a sudden it becomes more real that this time will not last and there is a fear and need that comes out to make sure no moment is wasted.

I found myself somewhere in the middle of these two extremes during my year in Oxford. Yes, I did feel the rush at the beginning of the year, giddy to be back in a classroom and at such a university as Oxford no less, but I also felt a longing to be in the workforce feeling like I was “doing something.” I flipped between these two almost constantly throughout the year. I tried very hard however to not let either consume me – like all other time, I was not going to get it back and I had already set it aside to be committed to the MBA and what was to be a precious period in my personal and professional life. So I made it my goal instead to go into everyday just as it was – a single day – and each Sunday night I reflected on the week (sometimes this didn’t get to happen each week, but even if I had to do two weeks on a Sunday, I reflected on them as individual weeks, not as a 2-week experience). Sure, some weeks I cannot really say there was some deep philosophical thought or learning, and in some cases, my intense reflection did not really happen then, but instead it came in an almost more “Eureka”-like moment later on in the week or month.

All in all, I think this setting aside of time for reflection was key for me to able to absorb my year in Oxford. I probably came to some realizations too late, but even in those cases, the reflection was important to me so that I could give it space for understanding and then let it go with the promise that I would try harder and do better next time. As I had given this time over to an ephemeral course, I did it with the idea that I would gain something eternal. I can think right now that there are certain lessons I have learned over the year that I will take with me already, but I know that there are probably many others that have not had their time yet and it will only be after a few weeks/months/years that I will be able to look back and say yes, that was linked to my Oxford MBA.

A few of these “eternal” takeaways that I have now:

  1. Time is the most precious thing we have, so make it count in all moments. Especially when you are experiencing extreme FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), think about how you would rather be spending your time not only in that moment, but what will you think later on about how you spent your time. There will be times in the MBA where there are several events happening that are all important to you, all seemingly interesting, etc. What will be most meaningful to you later on? And meaningful does not mean you exclude fun, personal, entertaining, or leisure events! Those can be just as meaningful as something academic.
  2. You can be purposeful and impactful in any line of work that you do, even if you have never described yourself or your professional/personal life as impact-focused. I always knew there were shades of social impact in the work that I did previously (real estate), but when I talked to other people who worked more directly in the impact space, I felt my experience was lesser than. This is not true and it will continue to be not true even as I go back to working in real estate. I think you can always look for ways to be more impactful in any line of work, and certainly never discount that your career is removed or impossible to equate with purpose or responsible business.
  3. Perhaps most important and dear to me now – there is one eternal thing that I already have extracted from this ephemeral time and put into my life and that is friendships. I knew not a one of my classmates prior to the MBA, but now we have emerged as a strong network of 300+ people from 62 countries around the world. I have come away with what I know will be enduring relationships through good and bad times.

I am sure I could write down more eternal takeaways from the MBA programme if I wanted, but the one that resounds in my mind today is the power of relationship. How wonderful it has been to be in Oxford for a year and meet the amazing people that I have met in this ephemeral time. May our friendships live on eternal.

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