Peter Hannes IV, MBA
“Sometimes kid, you’ve gotta dance with the one that brought you.”
-Bob Zagaros, Bergstrom Jewelers
I first heard that quote from my boss when I was 19, and it’s something I think about a lot. Fast forward nearly ten years, and it became my mantra getting through graduate school. In 2017, I decided to move to Milwaukee and attend UW-Milwaukee to get my MBA. I joined a cohort program which I was supposed to have completed Spring 2019.
That fall, on Thanksgiving, my mom told me her doctors discovered she had a liver disease that would ultimately need a transplant, but hopefully not for a few years. Fast forward about a year and things are progressing faster than we had hoped. Family members were being tested for potential donation, but no luck. We had to organize and host a fundraising event that I had to organize around my school schedule. The waiting was awful. It was all any of us ever talked about, the stress and tension was unbearable. I failed my first class in my entire academic history.
Finally, in January 2019, she received half a liver from a family friend. The end was near we thought, for the first time in a year, we felt optimistic. Mom went home shortly after the transplant and it seemed like I could focus all my energy on school again. Not long after she made it home, Mom had to go back to UW hospital in Madison because of a complication with the liver. She would be there for seven more months.
The summer of 2019 was interesting. I dropped out of my cohort program because I honestly could not keep up with the school work on top of everything I had to do for my mom. No big deal I thought, I’ll finish in the summer, worst case the winter. That entire summer would drive on my Wednesday off to Madison to spend the day with my mom. Every single Wednesday. I almost always packed my laptop and textbooks thinking I would get some work done, but a hospital room has to be the hardest place to concentrate on the planet.
Towards the end of the summer, Mom was really struggling. I decided to take the fall semester off because I knew I couldn’t focus on school. At UW-Milwaukee, you need at least a 3.0 to graduate from their Master’s Program. With everything going on, my grades slipped below that. Those who know me know that I’m capable of being an A student under better circumstances. With two classes left to finish, I had to get an A in each class to graduate, so I couldn’t afford to give it anything less than my full attention.
September 17, 2019, my Mom passed away 8 days short of my 28th birthday. Crushed is the closest I can come to describe the feeling of her passing away. Never once did I actually believe it was possible until it actually happened. I always thought that I was going to get through school, she would get better, and we would look back on this as just a really hard period of our lives.
For weeks I considered quitting school. “What’s the point?” I had absolutely no motivation or desire to finish. In truth, I still don’t. My mom made an interesting observation about me. When we would talk about how different people cope and grieve differently, she would always tell me that I cope by staying busy and doing things. So, I tried moving on the only way I knew how, I made myself busy.
In the end of 2019 I bought a house in Wauwatosa and cemented my plan to finish my degree. Two classes. An Information Technology class and a Business Calculus class. Knowing I absolutely had to have an A, I decided to take one in the spring and one in the summer. Half way into my spring class, we get hit with the COVID-19 lockdown. My class goes from in person to all online seemingly overnight, and I get laid off from my job.
Truth be told, I loved every second of quarantine. Time to myself, time for my studies, time to read. I really had all the time in the world to do well in this class, and I got the A I needed. I’m posting this tonight because I just found out I got the necessary A in my final class. I have emailed my academic advisor at least 6 times this year making sure that this is all I needed to do, and in fact, I’m finished.
Three years ago, I never would have predicted how different my life would be by the time I was done with my program. In all honesty, if I knew how bad of an experience it would have been going into it, I never would have signed up. But the thing of it is that my mom still would have gotten sick, COVID still would have happened, the things that made it suck were completely out of my control. At least at the end of the day I’m an MBA graduate forever.
I have read a lot of books on Stoicism since my mom passed and there’s a common theme I’ve learned that life is not the series of events that happens to you, it’s how you choose to act and think after. Quitting school wouldn’t bring my mom back. Quitting when things get hard don’t make the hard things easier. You have to accept the hand that life has dealt you and figure out the best way to move forward.