Why an MBA Doesn't Guarantee Success

09/14/2015 11:10 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

An MBA does not guarantee success. Sorry but it just doesn't.

Before starting Wicked Good Cupcakes with my daughter and landing a deal with Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank I didn't realize this, but now I'm certain.

Throughout the past two years I've had the honor of meeting hundreds of successful and not so successful people. These peeps are from all walks of life, a variety of different industries and varying levels of educational experience.

At first I was completely intimidated. After all, boasting nothing more than a high school diploma from an all-girl Catholic high school is hardly noteworthy in a room full of MBAs. Talk about feeling like a fish out of water! Yikes.

Given my feelings of inadequacy imagine my surprise when invitations to speak began to arrive in my inbox.

Even more amazing to me were invites to speak at places like Boston College, MIT, WBZ's Professional Breakfast and numerous other venues. What? People want to listen to me? What could I possibly offer these highly educated professionals?

It wasn't until I actually sat down and listened to audience members that it hit me. There was a common thread and that commonality was this...It's really fucking hard to start a business. And not only is it hard but you actually have to sacrifice A LOT to make your dream happen.

wicked good

What I began to realize was this. Not everyone is willing to work hard or sacrifice to make their dream a reality. The cold hard truth is this, adversity sucks. Sacrifice sucks. Having no money sucks. And unfortunately unless you have an endless trust fund or are willing to go without, you're not going to make it as a successful entrepreneur. And that's what you DON'T learn as an MBA student. You actually have to LIVE that pain. And live that pain I did.

At 23 years old I had 2 kids, a failing marriage, no education, no money and a bleak future. I lived in a 3 room apartment in a shitty part of Boston. My two angel babies slept on a quilt I put on the floor (they had no bedrooms) in my living room. I slept on the couch beside them.

I ate standing over the kitchen sink whatever food was leftover from my kid's dinners. I bought myself nothing. The thought of going to college to earn a degree and better my life (never mind try to get an MBA) was not an option. I was literally playing the most down and dirty game life offered me every day. And that game was called survival.

The only thing I had on my side was a tiny voice in my head that just kept replaying, "You are meant to do something with your life. You can do this. You must do this. Quitting is not an option" over and over and over.

I don't know if it was my DNA, sheer will or both but I managed to get through some really awful, awful times in my life. No one gave me money, an education or the determination needed to succeed. That was all on me.

These were exactly the same traits I passed along to my kids. No one is going to do anything for you in this life. Nor should they. Unless we learn to be self-sufficient and stand on our own two feet, there is no guarantee of success. No MBA can teach you about want, drive and the thirst for success. That's a lesson for life to impart. And in a strange sort of way I'm grateful that I had such a stern teacher.

Fast forward to present day. I started a successful business with my daughter. Success was hard won. We learned a lot through the process, took home zero pay for 1 ½ years and sacrificed a bunch, but oh what we learned along the way!

noonan family

We are passionate about our business and we're living really nice lives now. We get to travel, mentor, speak, write, support charities we're passionate about and do all of the things I only dreamed of being able to do when I was at my lowest point of my life.

The lesson here? It was not an MBA that helped me balance a negative check book, or gave me the guts to start several businesses. It wasn't an MBA that helped me figure out how to feed a family of 5 with only $100.00 a week. It wasn't an MBA that pushed me through 15 hour days and years of no income while growing a business. It was life that taught me how to succeed. It was life that gave me the drive and ambition to build something for my kids and me. It was life who taunted me and said "You'll never be anything. It's just too hard." And it was to life that I replied, "Fuck you. I will be someone. I will create a home for my kids. I will be able to pay my bills and you will not be able to stop me."

My biggest ambition now is to share my story with everyone who has a dream but feels their lack of education stands in their way. Life is THE best educator, bar none. If you can deal with all of the obstacles, challenges and pitfalls that life throws at you and come out on the other side stronger than before, then you don't need any stinkin' degree or MBA.

All you need to win the game of life is You.

~ T

wicked good truck