While Raman Gakhal was completing the Executive MBA-Americas program presented jointly by Smith School of Business at Queen’s University and Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, she was also handling some major changes at home — caring for a young infant, and preparing for a second on the way. The lesson she learned? Done is better than perfect.
By Hailey Eisen
Raman Gakhal had an eight-month-old baby and a full-time management position with TD Bank Group when she began her Executive MBA. Two months into the program, she found out she was pregnant with her second daughter. To say she was busy would be an understatement. But, as Raman says, “there would never be a perfect time to do my MBA, and I believe strongly that done is always better than perfect.”
Raman says she and her classmates heard this mantra consistently throughout the 18-month EMBA-Americas program. It came to be the guiding principal she relied upon to get through this highly intense period in her life. From hiring a nanny to help with the childcare and household duties, to waking up at 5 a.m. every day to study, to pumping breast milk between classes while away from home for weeks at a time, Raman found a balance that worked for her and her family.
“I tend to be a perfectionist and I sometimes get lost in the details trying to get things perfect,” Raman says from her home in Alberta, where she now runs her own investment business. “But I know that starting something is always the most challenging part, and if you sit around waiting for the perfect time to start, it will never happen.”
Raman was fortunate to have her husband’s unwavering support and willingness to take over childcare duties on the weekends while she was in class. “When I was struggling with the guilt of starting this program and worrying that I wouldn’t be around as much for my baby, my husband said to me: ‘We have a daughter now and she’s going to look up to you — what kind of role model do you want to be for her?’”
“Starting something is always the most challenging part, and if you sit around waiting for the perfect time to start, it will never happen.”
This conversation solidified her decision, though she still had to face the guilt imposed upon her by the women in her extended family. “I really had to be strong in my decision,” she recalls. “It’s a cultural thing. In an Indian family, you manage the household and if you have a good job you’re happy with it. They didn’t understand why I needed to get an MBA.”
Raman says many women sell themselves short, thinking they can’t do something because of social norms or because they don’t see other women doing it. She believes it’s important to make your own dreams and desires a priority.
Raman had a specific reason for wanting to get an MBA degree. Prior to working as an IT manager for TD, she ran her own IT consulting business and felt she never really understood the financial side of things. “I got into some trouble and ended up having to pay tax penalties. If I had known how to look at my own statements that wouldn’t have happened,” she recalls.
The MBA program gave Raman more than just an understanding of finances, it actually led to a large independent study project on financial literacy in the not-for-profit world. Exploring the topic as an entrepreneur was followed by a career shift in the same direction. “I stayed with TD for a year and a half after completing my MBA, but moved into the mergers and acquisitions area, still with an IT focus,” she says. Following that she moved with her family from Toronto to Edmonton and started her own investment business, part of which involves educating people on how to trade investments.
“Now that I’m self-employed I have more time to spend with my kids, who are now four and six,” she says. “I can pick them up from school and I’m around more often.” What she learned during that year doing her EMBA, working, and caring for a baby was invaluable. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but, having gone through it, I now feel like I can do anything.”
Raman is happy to share advice with other women looking to embark on similarly challenging paths to achieve their goals. The key is to be gentle with yourself, she says, and know you’re not in it alone. It’s also important to keep focused on your ultimate goal. “There’s a season for everything,” she says. “That was the work season, and when I looked at the benefits that hard work would bring me, it became much easier.”