John Varano


Masters in Major Programme Management




Management Consulting



By John Varano

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words – Is this Really the Case?

Balliol Matriculation 2014

Balliol Matriculation 2014

This afternoon I was passing my time with a close friend and we reflected upon some of our personal achievements to date. As I sipped my coffee, a thousand thoughts were simultaneously running through my mind. I was thinking about my career, my family, my life experiences and what it takes to accomplish an aspiration. The decision to return to Postgraduate Studies and complete an Executive Master’s degree at Oxford University was one of them. The realisation of this choice weighed heavily on my mind as I am now faced with the daunting task of undertaking my first major assessment. I am required to write a paper that critically evaluates the reorganisation of the Mars Programme that resulted from the introduction of the ‘faster, better cheaper’ approach at NASA.

Toiling at my desk on how I write this, I looked at a recent picture that was taken of me on Matriculation Day and thought: does this convey one thousand words, per the famous English idiom? How did I find myself standing in front of a camera dressed in a black suit, a white bow tie and in subfusc at Oxford? What did it actually take to be in this position? Many of my family and friends looked at the photograph and thought, “this is amazing” or “congratulations – what a wonderful achievement!” While there was a feeling of pride tempered with humility, I pondered and thought, this is how it happened:

  • Years of professional experience and developing a defined skill set illustrated in my CV submission to Oxford;
  • Thousands upon thousands of hours of academic study and achievement – at times enlightening and other intervals painful;
  • The support and endorsement of my loving family;
  • Three application essays totalling three thousand words;
  • Bringing together official academic transcripts from three universities situated in Australia and the U.S. and paying the high costs of sending them to the Saïd Business School;
  • Supplying two references and kindly requesting professional colleagues to act as referees. Those relationships were built upon many hours of collaboration, friendship and respect towards one another;
  • Submission of a formal application;
  • Informal discussions with the Saïd Business School and an interview with one of its Admissions Committee members;
  • Official acceptance from Oxford;
  • An application to an Oxford college and organising accommodation;
  • Buying an airfare from Melbourne to London and a bus ticket from London Heathrow to Oxford – a total of 30+ hours of travel and sleep deprivation; and
  • The purchase of a black tailored suit, white tie and subfusc.

Does that therefore equate to one thousand words? Was it sensible undertaking the aforementioned experiences to be placed for that photograph? I concluded that every moment of accomplishment has a story of perhaps one thousand words, more or less. The arduous journey I pursued was worthwhile for that moment. As the proverb goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

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