Carlos Blanco









By Carlos Blanco

Changing and staying the same: 3 lessons from a term in Oxford

While in Oxford I’ve grown quite fond of Libraries. The combination of book-lined walls and the silence that betrays the energy of imagination and thought create a specific type of intensity. Oxford libraries magnify this intensity. It is in one of Oxford’s 100 or more libraries that I find myself reflecting on three lessons that I learnt in my first term in Oxford.

Lesson 1 – You are never too old to (re) learn new tricks
One of my best friends told me I was stupid to even consider it. Play rugby union again? When you haven’t played a single game for the last 5 years? At 34? I could see where he was coming from. Yet there I was, at Oxford Rugby Union Football Club’s (OURFC) home ground in Launch week ready to put the boots back on.
I’m not going to lie. I was a little anxious. Yet I knew two things would help. I had trained hard to get in to shape and I could play at an elite level from my earlier professional career. But was five years out of the game too long?

One of the Launch week sessions introduced me to Greg Searle, a four-time Olympian for the Great Britain rowing team. At age 40 Greg came out of retirement to represent Great Britain for the fourth time at the London Olympics. I was fascinated by what he had achieved given my situation and had to ask for advice. He left me with two pieces of wisdom; ‘Do the little things well’ and ‘share your experience with the younger players in the squad’.

An injury and a hotly contested squad meant I missed out on the Varsity match at Twickenham. Yet I still found myself playing against Cambridge for the Greyhounds (OURFC’s second team). A huge team effort resulted in a 17-14 victory over the ‘Tabs’. I’m grateful the team gave me the opportunity to re-enter retirement on a high.
Throughout the season I did the little things – eat well, sleep well and train hard – and I hope I passed on at least one piece of wisdom to the young players in the squad. But most importantly, I’ve found another special rugby community that I can call home.

Lesson 2 – Know your tribe and expand your horizons
While I was (re) learning new tricks, I was also growing my circle of friends and peers. The Oxford MBA lives up to its promise of a diverse cohort of smart and dedicated people. Our cohort includes 64 nationalities and a diverse range of life and professional experiences. We have former and future Olympic hopefuls. We have entrepreneurs of all stripes, finance wizards and consulting professionals. But for me what makes the cohort so special is the broad range of students from less traditional backgrounds. We have doctors, dentists, teachers and people who have worked on the frontlines of climate change, sustainability, public health, democratisation and gender equality in the NGO sector.

I have been particularly lucky to build a strong group of friends who share my commitment to Social Impact. Through the Impact Lab and my role as co-chair of the Social Impact Oxford Business Network I have had the opportunity to get to know some of my cohort in a truly deep and meaningful way. The most powerful experience so far was at the Impact Lab storytelling café. Nine of my Impact Lab peers shared deeply personal and impactful stories about what inspired them along their social impact path. From a story about the power of a grandfather’s quest to move his village away from civil unrest so they could thrive to harrowing experiences of sexual violence. Each story expanded my horizons on what motivates people to action and made me feel incredibly lucky to have such an amazing group of friends.

Lesson 3 – Forever show gratitude to those who make your dreams possible
People often ask what it’s like to be here with my family. My immediate response is that it isn’t possible without a partner that supports, compromises for and challenges you. There are more than ten families who are part of the MBA community and many more couples. In each case there is a partner who has supported, compromised for and challenged the other so that they can get the most out of the year in Oxford.

My wife, Cate, has been that partner. She is the rock that gives me the stability and strength to take on this opportunity, particularly after the birth of our second son in August 2019. For various reasons, Cate and the boys – Felix who is 3 and Sebastian who is five months – stayed in Australia until early November. Throughout that time Cate cared for our kids with the support of her family while I chased my dreams.

Taking the long-term view eased the pain of distance and time apart. Yes, I missed 8 weeks of Sebastian’s early life, but the place we find ourselves in now and the future I imagine for our family makes it all worthwhile. What’s more, video calls and instant messages make long distance communication so much easier now than even ten years ago. Even more special is the community of families and couples who have become a source of friendship, support and camaraderie. Cate and I are lucky to share the exact same transition and challenges with such a warm and welcoming group. We are also lucky to have Oxford Saïd and Green Templeton College, both of which have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome and supported.

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