What a background in music taught me about business

Gillian Story bridges the arts and business worlds with a decade of not-for-profit and arts experience, and since 2017 has been a program manager at Sun Life. She is currently an MBA candidate in U of T’s Rotman Executive stream.

If I went back in time and told my undergraduate self, immersed in Beethoven and music theory, that over a decade later I would be in business school, no doubt I would be met with utter disbelief. Yet that’s exactly what happened last fall, as my executive MBA became the next step in my career’s transition from music therapy to arts administration to the corporate world. Along the way, I’ve been able to honour my love of music through playing in a band and staying involved in the arts with volunteer work.

I’ve also come to appreciate that many lessons I’ve learned through being involved in music are equally true in my current world:

A great teacher is worth everything – find lots of them: Music students will move across the world to study with the right teacher, because the right mentors and teachers inspire you to new heights, and unlock doors of knowledge that might otherwise remain closed forever. Following the advice of trusted mentors in both the arts and business worlds led me to taking the MBA, and the experience has felt like being given a key to new worlds I never even knew I wanted to explore: who would have thought economics and accounting would become two of my favourite subjects? Further, just as musicians continuously learn from playing together, I find myself constantly learning through my classmates, adding so many more layers to the experience.

It’s all about the band: At some point, we all have to learn how to play with others. Whatever the challenge – live performance, budget constraints, final project – success almost always lives and dies by the people around you, and how well and effectively you all work together. I’m surrounded by an incredibly diverse group of classmates – diverse in every sense: experience, age, gender, ethnicity – and the most incredible things happen when you embrace and actually use that diversity to tackle greater challenges than you could ever manage alone. Everyone has to be playing in the same key, but we all have our individual parts: the Rolling Stones wouldn’t have gotten very far if Mick, Ronnie and Keith were all stuck on playing lead guitar.

You can’t just play the same song over and over: No one wants to be a one-hit wonder. In music, once you’ve truly learned that devilish Chopin piece, it’s not time to rest on your laurels: mastering something is really just a sign it’s time to tackle the next challenge. By all means, take a moment to celebrate, but then it’s time to build on what you’ve learned. Each hard-won success is just a step on the journey, not the end of the road. Starting the EMBA felt like launching into learning the hardest piece I’ve ever played, but getting to the end is going to be one of the greatest achievements that my classmates and I will ever attain. More than that, it will be the launching pad to the next, exciting stage of our lives – one that will echo and come back in different choruses and refrains throughout our lives.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.