I set a goal over summer break to read something related to either marketing or management every day. The purpose was twofold: first, to keep my head in topics related to my MBA curriculum, and second, to give myself the feeling of having spent some time every day working at something valuable. I missed a day here and there, but all in all I consider it a huge success. I learned a lot, and felt more motivated during this time than in any other time in recent memory. Here are some of the lessons.

Pick Your Topics First.

Before you do something, you need to make a plan. Know what you’re doing, be smart about it.

I decided before reading a single thing that I would focus on materials related to marketing and management. Marketing because that’s my field of choice, and management because management skills are always relevant, in any business discipline, even in personal relationships.

Begin to build sources for this material. I used a Twitter aggregator to pull tweets from some marketing and management accounts (found by simply googling “best marketing twitter accounts” or adding accounts for websites that I already read regularly, like Entrepreneur or Inc). Make sure your sources are pretty reliable and providers of good relevant content. I had to remove a few accounts due to their spamming of boring listicles. I also used my LinkedIn feed to pick up articles to read.

The goal was to amass more articles than I could read so I could have my pick. I chose two articles per day to read. I tried to go for depth of content over breadth, and tried to make sure I read articles covering different topics each day.

I also included related topics. An article on leadership may not be about management, but it’s related and useful. I also included social media and content development as related subjects on my marketing feed. This allowed me to draw connections between these subjects, such as thinking about how leadership or interpersonal theory can be applied to management situations.

Pick Up A Pen.

I read with a pen in my hand and my journal in front of me. I took rapid logging style notes, taking down facts and figures, drawing quick connections to real world situations, pulling out relevant lessons (or “learnables,” as some in the business space might say).

For me, this was vital to the success of the experiment. It required me to remain engaged with the material to the end, it forced me to decide what would be memorialized in my journal from this piece, and required an honest evaluation of the material.

You might think this is cumbersome, that it would take too long, or even that it would distract you from reading, but I would urge you to at least try it. It’s worth taking the extra time. We’re awash in content these days and spend a lot of time reading through it with half our attention, and absorbing it passively without active engagement and evaluation of the material. Going “back to school,” as it were, and taking notes, is a way to re-engage the parts of your brain that are responsible for learning. And we must learn every day to remain relevant and agile.

Read With an Open Yet Critical Mind.

This may seem contradictory at first, but it’s vital.

I tried to come up with a statement starting with “but” or “also” for the main points of each article. I didn’t necessarily write these statements down, but just coming up with them ensured that I was engaging with the material.

Read things you don’t agree with and pretend that you do. Read things you agree with and pretend that you don’t. You’re not required to change your mind on a subject (I usually didn’t) but it allows you to think critically and pick up things you might be missing because of pre-existing biases.

Take Note of What Inspires You.

By “take note,” I mean actual physical notes. This can be useful from a practical standpoint if you have a social media or blogging schedule that you need to fill up (like I do), but it’s also useful from a professional/personal development point of view. Writing something down helps with retention, because you’re engaging different parts of your brain than you do when you’re only reading. Having the physical notes of what inspires you is handy to have around, whether it’s in a journal (like mine) or in a list format.

What inspires you may not be what you agree with. Sometimes it will be, but sometimes you’ll read something that you disagree with strongly enough that it will inspire you to do something different. This is also an important lesson.

It will help you pinpoint what you find motivating, what defines meaning for you in life and in your work. It can help you build a plan for future career moves, and identify interests that you have that you might not have known about previously.

Keep those notes. Revisit them. Scratch out what’s no longer applicable. Add to it. Modify it.

Limit How Much You Read in a Session.

The more you read, the less you’re able to engage with the material. The law of diminishing returns applies. Anyone who’s had to read from college text books knows this; at some point your mind starts to go numb, and you keep scanning your eyes across the page just to get through what you’ve been assigned.

Stopping after you’ve reached your limit gives you an opportunity to digest what you’ve read, store away what you’ve learned. I especially like to take a short nap after a reading session for this reason.

You can set a limit of time (thirty minutes, for example), or do what I did and read a set amount of material. For me it was specifically two articles, but had I been reading a book it would have been a set amount of pages or chapters. I chose articles because the information in the business field changes before a book on the subject can even be published, and because they’re short and easily digestible, but books are totally a good resource and many books in many fields end up being evergreen.

Once you’ve reached your limit, stop.

You can experiment with this, figure out when you start getting fatigued and have difficulty paying attention, and adjust accordingly. I suspect the ideal amount varies between people.

My Takeaways.

I don’t know if I’ll continue doing this throughout the school year, mainly because I may end up not having time between coursework and my graduate assistant workload. If I stop, it won’t be because I didn’t enjoy it. It was the single most motivating change I made during break, and it has made my life and my outlook brighter.

It kept me engaged with topics that I’m passionate about, and helped me stay on top of recent trends in my industry. And I like to think that it made me a more interesting conversationalist.

Time spent learning, whether it’s in a formal setting or an informal one, is never wasted. To retain vitality, we must always stay curious.

Read on, my friends.

I was moving the donation money into my savings account, and guess what? The total in my China fund once the transfer goes through is $1,005!

This means a few things:

First and probably most important, the deposit for the trip (which is the tuition for the course) is taken care of. I’m fully registered for the trip, and can pay the deposit!

Second, I’m ready to start working toward airfare and visa costs!

Hitting this milestone means a lot to me, and it’s vital to recognize that I couldn’t have done it without the kind people willing to give me extra work, and the generosity of my amazing friends and family. This isn’t something I did, it’s something y’all did.

More important news: the grant from the school to help with the trip has increased from $800 each to $1,000, which means to reach my original funding goal I only have to raise another $500!

If you’re interested in helping out, you can donate here. Well wishes and enthusiasm also accepted!

There’s news! My school, Western Washington University, announced a travel scholarship for anyone who registers for the Shanghai learning abroad trip!

As a result, I have submitted my application just minutes ago. This commits me to going, and commits me to the $1,000 deposit. With what I have already raised, plus the scholarship, I’ll have enough to cover the deposit, but the scholarship money isn’t disbursed until January 1st, so I’ll still have to pay out of my own funds, PLUS I still have to generate funds to pay for airfare, the visa, and other travel expenses.

I’ve raised a little over $700 so far, as a result of my caring and generous community that has provided both donations and paying side gigs. I have a lot further to go, but I’m so close to getting to that first milestone!

Again, if you’d like to donate, you can use PayPal here.

I’m so lucky to have this opportunity and I’m so very lucky to have you in my corner.

I’ve been offered an opportunity, and I’ve decided that if I can accept it, I should.

As a part of my MBA program, I have the chance to take a course on competing in a global environment at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. This is a very highly regarded school in China.

Of course, taking advantage of this opportunity isn’t free. While Western Washington University will cover accommodations and meals, I still have to pay for tuition, airfare, and visa and other expenses.

Before I break down my situation, let me tell you a little about myself:

I lost my last permanent, full time job in 2010, at the beginning of the “recovery” from the Great Recession. After that I exhausted my unemployment and my paltry “retirement” savings, leaving me completely broke. I worked part time and temporary jobs, and in fact, I haven’t had a full time permanent position since then.

Desperate, I filled out a FAFSA and found out that yes, funds were available for me to go back to school. This was a revelation to me; my parents said they were setting aside money throughout my childhood to invest and save for my college career, and yet somehow that money evaporated when I was an adult.

So I went back to school. I had no idea at that time that my passion would be in business.

I graduated with my degree in business administration in December of 2018, and made the decision at that time to pursue my MBA.

And that brings us to today. I still have no savings, and am still scraping by month to month.

But the opportunity to take a course at a prestigious foreign university is too huge to pass up if I can make it happen.

It will look great on my resume.

Having studied overseas, especially at Shanghai University, is going to look wonderful on my resume. It will open doors for me, someone who has spent ten years living in poverty, in terms of getting a good job and beginning to save for actual retirement. It will indicate my dedication to learning about my work and an ability to work well with those who are different from myself.

It will be a valuable educational experience.

I am passionate about the study of business in a way I never thought I would be. If you had told a younger me that in middle age, I would be furiously studying business and loving it, she would never have believed you. I’m fascinated with how business is part of the fabric of society and indeed of human nature. This is an opportunity to study how business impacts foreign economies, and the world economy. This will give me a more well-rounded view of my place in the world and the ways in which I can improve it.

It’s a chance to conquer fear.

I’m not embarrassed to say that I’m terrified to go. The idea of traveling to a foreign country on my own, going through customs and immigration on my own, navigating a foreign city on my own, is frightening to me. But my (former) therapist always told me that it was important to confront these anxieties in ways that are safe and constructive. This would be made more safe because I am traveling with classmates and our instructor, and thus less likely to become hopelessly lost in a city where I don’t speak the language.

My class needs enough people for the trip to go forward.

If we don’t have enough people committed to go, the trip may be cancelled, or the cost of it inflated until other classmates of mine can no longer afford it. It’s not a large cohort, only twenty people, so every one of us counts. If I get to go, not only does it benefit me, but it also benefits my classmates, who are people with the potential to get into business and change things for the better.

But I don’t have the money.

I presented this problem to my friends, and they suggested that I try to crowdfund it. I started that process and raised around $300 from my nearest and dearest, and I’ve started putting away my meager freelance income as well.

I’ve decided that if I can scrape together the $1000 deposit before the November 15th deadline, I will commit to going. This doesn’t cover the airfare, the cost of the visa, nor clothing expenses, etc. The reason I have to raise tuition costs for the course is that my partial tuition waiver from my work as a research assistant for the university doesn’t cover this course.

I’m almost halfway there.

After I get the deposit covered, I’ll start worrying about airfare and visa costs, and some wardrobe pieces so that I don’t look like a begpacker while I’m there.

I know you don’t know me well, dear reader, but if you have a few dollars to spare, every little bit helps. In terms of funding, I’m not using GoFundMe, I’m simply using my PayPal link. You can donate here.

I know it’s a lot to ask for people who may not know me, but I have to try. I have to try to make this happen.

If you’re not willing or able to donate, sharing this post with people would also help.

Thank you for reading.