Monday, May 22, 2017

Where He Is Now: Six Years Later

James and I toast his milestone birthday in Turks & Caicos, January '17.
Today is Commencement Day for the Yale School of Management's Class of 2017, making it six years since I graduated from their MBA program, and one year since I last posted an annual update.

Me with the U.S. CEO of Deloitte,
Cathy, whom I met at "The Hunt,"
a horse racing tailgate event in
Far Hills, NJ, October 2016. 
Work-wise, I'm still doing human capital consulting at Deloitte, the firm I joined out of business school in 2011. For the past 11 1/2 months, I've been staffed on a project at a media company based in Manhattan. I'm leading the change management program on a multi-phase, multi-year order-to-cash transformation. In a nutshell, this means I'm in charge of making sure that this client's employees are ready and willing to use new technologies and follow new processes from the point at which an order is placed through the point at which payments are applied to the accounting records. I lead a team of nine. There are things I like about the engagement: It's local, the people I work with are great, the schedule is generally predictable, and I feel capable of doing what's being asked of me. That said, a year (and counting) is a long time to be on one project, and I know from previous experience that the longer you're on a project, the more shielded you get, and the harder it is to transition to the next gig, whenever that may come.

Me trying to punt
in Oxford, June 16.
Although not much has changed on the employment front over the past year, in two weeks I'll be transferring from my regional service line into a new national practice called Digital Enablement. This group of about 200 practitioners will focus all its attention on topics such as the human implications of robotics, artificial intelligence and digital transformation. These are cool topics, so I'm excited to join this new team. I'm on the transition team and will be attending a planning session tomorrow.

Derby in front of a new
mural, April 2017.
James and I are still together, four years and counting, living in Forest Hills with our beloved dog, Derby. Over the past year, our main focus has been on adopting a healthier lifestyle. We've been going to a personal trainer twice a week since September, playing a lot of tennis, eating lighter and drinking less (or not at all). James has been particularly dedicated, going to at least one fitness activity a day, be it kickboxing, Pilates, boot camp and/or yoga. (He works from home, so he can organize his work around these activities.) He's lost 60 pounds and looks amazing; I've only lost about 15, but I've never been in better shape. So looking back on the past 12 months, I'd say that's been the most meaningful shift for the better.

High school BFFs Jenny, Shiri and
Tracy in St. Louis, October 2016.
I've also traveled a decent amount over the past year, to destinations far and wide:
  • Durango, CO, with friends from my Texas journalism days;
  • Seattle, to visit a friend from summer camp who lives there;
  • Oxford, London and Lewes, UK, because we love it there;  
  • St. Louis (my hometown), for a high school friend's wedding; 
  • Dallas-Fort Worth, for a work training and to visit friends from back when I lived there; 
  • Fort Myers, FL, three times because my parents live there (my dad turned 80 in March); 
  • Orlando, FL, to hit the theme parks; 
  • Nantucket, MA, with friends from Yale for Labor Day weekend; 
  • Montauk, a "fishing village" on Long Island; 
  • New Haven, CT, several times for recruiting events and to visit a friend from Yale who moved back there; 
  • Key West, to visit friends we made in Paris a couple years ago; 
  • And, the highlight of all these trips, Turks & Caicos, to celebrate James' 50th birthday.
Next week we're driving upstate to spend three nights at The Getaway at Glen Highland Farms, a rural retreat for dog owners.

Me with Dave and Ryan, friends
from my Texas newspaper days
 in Durango, CO, June 2016.
So, in general, things are still good. Time is flying, though. It's been 10 years since I took the GMAT and started thinking seriously about quitting journalism to get an MBA. Did I do the right thing? I think so, but I'll never know for sure. Maybe I should've gone to law school instead. Maybe I should've gotten a PhD in a passion area, like film studies. Maybe I should've stuck with journalism but pivoted from local newspapers into a more stable (or growing!) sector. Maybe I should've made a bigger push to pursue my songwriting. Maybe I should've gone with my Plan B and become a high school teacher. Maybe I should've moved back to my hometown, leveraged family connections and gotten a 9-to-5 job in some office. There's no way to know which path will make us happiest. The main thing I'm grateful for is that I was able to choose that path on my own terms. As for what's next: My boyfriend is starting a business. I'd like us to move into a bigger house as soon as it's financially feasible. And I'm going to try my best to live in the moment next week on the farm.

And, certainly most importantly, my mom and my friend both beat breast cancer this past year!

Those are the highlights. See you next year!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Where He Is Now: Five Years Later


Derby and me in Central Park in April 2016.
Today is Commencement Day for Yale SOM's Class of 2016, making it five years since I graduated from my MBA program, and one since my last post.

James channeling Elvis
Since last I posted, the basic bio remains unchanged: I still live in Forest Hills, Queens, with my boyfriend (James) and our dog (Derby). We also now have a roommate, Matt, a friend to whom we're renting our spare room. This July, I'll celebrate five years at Deloitte, where I'm still in the human capital consulting service area, focused on the TMT (Technology, Media, Telecom) industry. My projects have ranged in topic -- outsourcing, tech adoption and learning strategies. And as a manager I have ever-increasing responsibilities, like playing counseling/coaching roles, interviewing candidates and leading project teams. I still like what I'm doing but am not sure whether it's what I want to do long-term. I'm starting to suspect I'll say that every year until I retire from Deloitte in 2041.

Five-year reunion photo.
Given that I'm now at "Five Years Later," I'm probably supposed to sound surprised by how quickly the time has passed, but actually business school feels like a long time ago. I continue to visit Yale regularly for recruiting, and went there last month for our five-year reunion. It was much better-attended than I expected -- about 90 students from our class of about 230, traveling in from as far away as Australia and Switzerland. It was good to catch up with people, and in some cases have longer conversations with them than I'd ever had. Most of them looked the same. Some seemed tired and beaten down, others refreshed and revived. Many brought kids.

Business school seems especially long ago when I read this blog, which I do every now and then. I make a point not to change any posts unless I spot a typo; I'm horrified there are so many, since I used to be a copy editor. When I read old posts, especially the very old ones, these are my most common reactions:
  • Confusion about why I was so anxious. I often can't believe how stressed I was about what now seem like relatively unimportant things, and how guilty I felt about "wasting time" by doing things like watching TV or going out. Wish I could go back and say to myself, "Dude, relax."
    Me in New Zealand in March 2010.
  • Incredulity at how much energy I had. Especially when I read posts that go into (painful) detail about my day, I just don't know how I managed, or where that energy came from. Don't think I could swing the hectic lifestyle of a student today.
  • Puzzlement over events and people I don't remember ... at all. Seriously, some of these posts I read and I have absolutely no idea what I'm even talking about. Like this post about musicians I'd met and wanted to start a band with? I met a flute player, a harpist and a trumpet player? I'll be. 
  • Amusement, and perhaps mild regret, about having avoided discussing my dating life. I dodged this topic for obvious reasons, but the result is that the blog is an incomplete story.
  • Affectionate embarrassment about my general naiveté. My age and inexperience shine brightly throughout this blog. And that's understandable, since I was transitioning into unfamiliar waters, and all of us are always learning. But sometimes it's funny to read.
  • Gratitude I found the time to keep up with the blog. It would have been very easy to just drop the whole thing and focus on the task at hand. I'm glad I made time to keep plugging away.
Back to the update: 2016 also happened to be the 15-year anniversary of my graduation from undergrad, and although I didn't attend any reunion events, I did take James down to visit my old stomping grounds in the the Durham-Chapel Hill area of North Carolina. I hadn't been back there since 2001, so it was a very interesting experience -- a combination of memory overload and total disorientation.

My friend Carla and me in Seattle.
I did some traveling over the past 12 months, though not as much as the year prior. My business trips tended to be one-off jaunts for a specific purpose, like to attend a workshop, observe a facility or conduct in-person interviews with executives. In the past year, work took me to Miami, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, San Francisco and Wilmington, DE, but I'd estimate that 80%-90% of the time I was in the New York area. Vacation-wise, I made it to a few nice places, like Seattle, Orlando and South Florida, and have upcoming trips planned to Colorado, England and Key West this summer.

A Whole30 meal we made.
The past year also has been good for healthy habits. I got a personal trainer, continued to play a lot of tennis, went on the Whole30 diet/cleanse three times (total: 90 days), and in all lost about 25 pounds. Whole30 is a paleo-inspired diet that's fun to challenge yourself with if you have the means to prepare your own food. James and I did it together, and it prompted us to cook more, something I used to enjoy doing but got lazy about once I moved to New York, where kitchens are small and delivery is abundant.

In my spare time, I'm populating two blogs. One is a joint effort called Was It Dope?, about the '90s. So far I've been doing the content about music, while my friend Carla has been doing posts about films. The other is about new music, called New Good Songs. Visit both today!

Me and Mom, then and now.
Among life's inevitable bumps over these past 12 months was the somewhat recent development that my mom and one of my best friends were both diagnosed with breast cancer within days of each other. The most common and treatable kind, caught very early, fortunately. And so far, knock on wood, they are responding well to treatment and pulling through in good spirits. But, still, a reminder to appreciate those around you amid life's unpredictable wrenches.

See you in 2017.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Where He Is Now: Four Years Later

At the Mauritshuis in The Hague, The Netherlands (January 2015)

Today is Commencement Day for Yale SOM's Class of 2015, making it four years since I graduated from my MBA program, and one since my last post.

Since last writing, I remain a resident of Forest Hills, Queens, living with my boyfriend, and I still work at Deloitte. I was promoted last summer, so my title changed from Senior Consultant to Manager, and now I have more responsibilities, including supervising and counseling others. My beloved series of projects with a newspaper chain ended in October, after 2 1/2 years, and since then I have had three short projects: (1) post-M&A workforce transition in Los Angeles, (2) HR system implementation in New York, and (3) my current gig, a global culture assessment, also in New York. It's been valuable to expand my skills, broaden my horizons and all that, although the newspaper projects remain my favorite so far.

Derby
Outside of work, two particular highlights over the past 12 months have been getting a puppy and traveling. We found the puppy, whom we named Derby, while pulled over for dinner driving back from a weekend in Maryland. He was in the back of a truck, just a few weeks old, being transported from Louisiana to the Secaucus Animal Shelter in New Jersey. We fell in love, exchanged information with the driver, adopted him, and he was in our home a few days later. (Derby, not the driver.) A somewhat impulsive decision, but a great one. As a previous cat person, I have been surprised by my growing emotional attachment to this canine. He's the first dog I've lived with since I was 6.

On the London Eye (December 2014)
On the travel front, my boyfriend and I have been to Europe twice in the past year. The first time was nearly a year ago, when we went to London and Belgium for 8 days. Then in December-January, we took a full 8 weeks off for an amazing European adventure. I was able to do this because I had accrued a lot of PTO during the long newspaper project, so I decided to take it all together so I could really detach in a meaningful way. We spent all of December in England, in a fantastic town called Lewes. Then in January we traveled to Amsterdam, Hasselt (in Belgium), Paris, Aix-en-Provence and Monaco, before going back to spend a few final days in Brighton, in England. Along the way we took lots of day trips to places like The Hague, Antwerp, Metz, Marseilles, Cassis, Nice, and Eze, making many friends throughout our travels with whom we've fortunately been able to keep up, thanks to Facebook. The whole trip was one of the best experiences of my life, if not the very best.

Readjusting from vacation back to work was tough, but on the bright side, all my assignments since returning have been local, enabling me to live a more rooted, normal life -- see friends, work out, play tennis, etc. Still, though, if I won big in the lottery, I'd live a life of European leisure.

How I often feel
So, what's next? I'm rare among my business school friends for being with the same company since graduating in 2011, largely because I gave little to no thought about other opportunities while I was on those newspaper projects. In the six months since then, though, I've had more time to think about whether I want to build a career as a management consultant, or perhaps go in another direction. For some people, consulting is a means to an end -- a way to accelerate their development by getting exposed to a wide variety of industries, business problems and professional connections. But for others, it's just a great job -- exciting, fast-paced, fun. I wasn't thinking long-term when I got into consulting, but for now I'm staying put.

See you in 2016.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Where He Is Now: Three Years Later



Today is Commencement Day for Yale SOM's Class of 2014, making it three years since I graduated from my MBA program, and one since my last post.

Career-wise, little has changed since a year ago. Then, my client was a newspaper chain, and I had been working with them for over a year. Now, I have been working with them for over two years, helping them execute projects intended to grow their digital capabilities. (We're not allowed to talk about our client work for confidentiality reasons, so consulting gibberish is all I can offer.) This is the type of work I had hoped to do when I wrote my b-school admissions essays back in 2008 and said I wanted to leave journalism to study business and then contribute to the newspaper industry in a strategic capacity. I had no idea what that job would look like, if indeed such a job even existed. I certainly didn't think the job would be Management Consultant for Deloitte, particularly since at the time I wrote that essay I had heard of neither management consulting nor Deloitte. 

Naturally, like everyone does and should do, I occasionally scan LinkedIn and other job sites to see what else is out there, and from time to time I'm contacted by a recruiter, usually with a smaller consulting firm. I can't imagine leaving Deloitte to work at another consulting firm, because I love Deloitte as a company, and it is the global leader in the type of work I like to do. I may someday leave consulting altogether, but so far I have not seen a posting for a job I would want more than the one I have. 

I also am being promoted this year, on schedule. Deloitte has a mapped-out career progression, so pending promotions are clearly and widely communicated and planned for, and do not depend on someone above you leaving. So I've known this was my promotion year since joining in 2011. It is possible to lobby for a promotion after two years instead of three, but in the New York office this tends to be reserved for people with previous consulting experience, of which I have none.

Travel-wise, I had a project in the Northwest last summer, and although that was far from home, I loved being out there and took lots of advantage of alt-travel, whereby instead of flying home, I would use that money to fly elsewhere or bring in an out-of-town guest. This perk allowed me to experience amazing areas I had never seen, all during the beautiful summer months -- Portland and the coast of Oregon, San Francisco, Sonoma, Seattle and, by far my favorite of all, the majestic mountains of Montana. After that project, I had an out-of-town gig in the Northeast that was close enough to get to by car, which is a much more relaxing means of travel than plane or train, whose schedules rule your life and whose delays are out of your control. For the past couple months, I've been on a "local" project, commuting to and from home each day, for the first time in two years. This has allowed me to spend more time with loved ones, and to get back into the kitchen, both of which I've appreciated.

I continue to visit SOM pretty frequently, since I'm on the recruiting team. SOM moved into a new campus in January 2014, and also is increasing its class sizes and revising its grading policies, under the new dean. Some of my classmates worry that the culture of the school will shift along with these other changes, and while that may happen, that's not something I worry about. As an alum, my biggest concern is that the school goes up in the rankings (and stays out of trouble). 

I refinanced my loans through SoFi.com earlier this year, which is something I recommend and wish I had done sooner. The interest rate is lower, and compared to my previous arrangement, overall I will save about $30,000. If you have student debt, study your options for repayment. There's probably something better out there than what you have.

On the day of my last post, I moved out of my Hell's Kitchen apartment, where I had lived for two years, and into my boyfriend's two-bedroom apartment in Forest Hills, an affluent part of Queens. The travel aspect of my job is a two-sided coin for our relationship -- it took some adjustment, especially for him, to have me gone half the time. But on the other hand, it enabled us to take a lot of fantastic trips for a reduced price, gives us some space during the week, and encourages us to make the most of our weekends. Now that I am on a local project, we are readjusting to me not traveling, which is a different two-sided coin.

Those are the highlights. Be back next year.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Where He Is Now: Two Years Later



Today is Commencement Day for Yale SOM's Class of 2013, which means it's been two years since I graduated from my MBA program, and one since my last post. To use consultant lingo, I'll "frame the discussion" by going through the same questions and categories I created last year.

The past year has been fruitful, professionally and personally, although the past month has been stressful because work load has been at a peak, and I moved into a new apartment today. A New York City move is quite a logistical puzzle, involving elevator reservations on both ends, legal discarding of mattresses and box springs in plastic bags, apartment inspections, scheduled key returns ... and of course the packing, which, despite advances in technology, is still impossible to do remotely. But the recent pressures of the move aside, all is well.

How's the job? Good. A little over a year ago, I got on a project in the newspaper industry that was highly aligned with my background and interests, and fortunately I've been on that project ever since. This also helped me form closer relationships with colleagues, making the job more enjoyable and allowing me to feel more comfortable being myself. In addition to client work, the firm activities I've undertaken have been fun, e.g., developing the on-boarding curriculum for interns and new hires, and planning quarterly events for my service line in the Northeast. I generally feel more competent than I did a year ago, so I have more confidence.

How's traveling for work? There are perks to traveling that I really enjoy and appreciate. I've gotten to do what's called "alternative travel" several times. This is when, instead of returning to the city in which you live, you re-purpose that airfare to travel elsewhere, or bring someone to where you are. I've used this perk to do all kinds of cool things -- visit my hometown for the first time in over three years, visit my parents twice in Florida, take an incredible trip with my best friend to our childhood summer camp, bring three friends to New Orleans (where I was staffed for a few months), and, just last weekend, fly my brother in to visit my niece. Next week, I'm flying my boyfriend in so that we can drive to a nearby wedding I'm officiating. All the while, I'm racking up hotel and airline points, and all my meals are comped Monday-Thursday, which is great for my bank account if not my weight.

All this said, I feel, and feel I display, the effects of fatigue. Consultants are at the service of clients, which means their lives are not fully their own. Vacations are hard to schedule, especially long ones, and when a project is particularly intense (or "high-burn," to use consulting lingo), even a single day off can feel like a selfish indulgence and a burden to your teammates. This, of course, is part of the reason consultants are well-compensated. But something as simple as going away with friends for a four-day weekend is harder to orchestrate than it used to be.

I'm a loud and proud cheerleader about consulting as a next step after business school for people with non-business backgrounds, like me. I can't imagine having learned more in a shorter amount of time. But I'm not sure this is how I want to be living in 10 years, even though I realize there's a clear and appealing career path ahead of me in consulting if I want to go down it. I think most consultants feel this way.

How's living in New York? My move today takes me off Manhattan and into Forest Hills, which will be quieter and far less expensive, two attributes I welcome. I did not love Hell's Kitchen as a neighborhood, because it is charmless and I felt misplaced in it. My apartment was great, but not worth the rent considering I spend half my time in hotels out of town.

Do you miss journalism? Not particularly. And to the extent I miss it, what I miss no longer seems to exist.

How are your classmates? On the move. Four just relocated to the West, that I know of. I'm becoming less plugged in to the broader class beyond my core friends, but from time to time, I hear stories of classmates loving, losing or leaving their jobs -- or still struggling to find one. The five people in my class who joined Deloitte are all still there and seemingly content.

So are you rich now or what? I earn enough that money is not a daily concern, but I'm hoping this move to Queens will help me accumulate more cash. Had I paid my current rent over the past two years instead of what I shelled out for that studio in Manhattan, I would have $40,000 to show for it -- basically a newspaper journalist's salary. This is as hilarious as it is depressing.

Are you using your MBA in your job? Still yes, in the sense that I feel I understand organizational functions and dynamics, strategy and general business terminology and principles. While packing for my move, I unearthed some old problem sets, papers and exams, and I have no idea what I was talking about. And yet I'm keeping them anyway, to prove to myself that there was a time when I knew some tricky and complicated things involving lots of Greek letters.

So was it worth it? Sure. Despite the trappings of student-loan debt, the benefits outweigh the consequences.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Where He Is Now: One Year Later


"Whatever happened to that journalist who pursued an MBA?"
-- Nobody, Ever

Today is Commencement Day for Yale SOM's Class of 2012, which means it's been a year since I earned my MBA. I will now answer the most frequently asked questions I receive from friends, family and former colleagues about the transition from journalism to the MBA to the initial stage of a post-MBA career.

How's the job? I like it more than I expected to. The main thing I've learned about consulting is what a consultant actually does: We work with colleagues and clients through some piece of a problem-solving process. I know that sounds like meaningless BS, but when I finally internalized this fact (around January) it lifted some pressure off my shoulders and altered how I felt about my job and life. And Deloitte is a very good employer. Some of my colleagues are happier than others, and everyone has ups and downs depending on the project, but I think I've been fortunate and had a positive experience so far overall. I wish I could be more specific about the work but, you know, confidentiality.

How's traveling for work? I've had three projects. The first was in Pennsylvania, so I'd take the train there on Monday and return Thursday. I didn't mind that at all. The second was in New Jersey, about an hour away, so generally I drove there and back each day, occasionally staying overnight. And about a month ago I started a new project in Louisiana, my first time flying on a weekly basis. It's exhausting, especially waking up early Monday morning, but I'm enjoying it.

How's living in New York? Fun, but expensive. The food is fantastic, there's lots to do, it's convenient to get around, the climate is often very pleasant, the parks are beautiful, and it's a high-energy atmosphere. I'm also lucky to have a few friends who live here, and other friends often pass through. I may never leave, but if I do, I predict it'll be for financial reasons.

Do you miss journalism? I have fond memories of the eight years I spent at newspapers. I met great people and had a lot of fun. I don't think it's my nature to miss things -- I like to look forward. But I haven't ruled out a return to journalism someday.

How are your classmates? Some love what they do; some hate it. A few have quit; a few have been laid off. Some are doing very cool things; others aren't. I'd know more if we'd had a one-year reunion like other schools.

So are you rich now or what? I earn about 3-4 times what I was making as a journalist in Texas, so I live better and have less anxiety about money. But my tax rate has doubled, my rent has quadrupled, my monthly student loan payments are more than my take-home pay used to be, and I'm putting 10% of my income into a 401(k). So I'm better off, and grateful, but not swimming in disposable cash.

Are you using your MBA in your job? Yes. Some MBAs say they never use what they learned, but I don't feel that way. There are specific math formulas I'll never use, but the two years of courses gave me a comprehensive understanding about how organizations work, and I rely on that understanding every day. If I had been given this job without the MBA, I'd have looked foolish and failed.

So was it worth it? Yes. Based on the past year at least, I'd do again and wouldn't do anything significantly different.

See you in a year!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Commencement


On Sunday, I was nervous. My stomach would get in knots whenever I thought about delivering the commencement speech on Monday afternoon. Fortunately, my friend Carla, in town from North Carolina, has been an amazing support and welcome distraction all weekend. We spent a fun (albeit cold) day at Coney Island. I recommend the freak show.

But as I was trying to fall asleep on Sunday night, with lines of my speech and various logistics of graduation day running through my head, I could feel the bed shaking as my heart was thumping and pounding with nerves. I could momentarily calm myself down with reassurances like, "You can do this!" but those were generally fleeting. Overall, I thought, "If I'm this terrified now, in bed, I really might die of an anxiety attack tomorrow."

On Monday morning, I woke up early, and Carla and I watched my favorite episode of "The Golden Girls" ("Bang the Drum Stanley"). Fearing parking problems arising from a usual trip to the gym, I took a jog around my neighborhood (East Rock), which did wonders. I made a well-rounded breakfast but didn't make too much progress eating it.

There was some uncertainty in the morning about whether the folks from Student Academic Services would postpone graduation for rain. This was a call they had to make by 8:30 a.m. The rain plan would mean a new time and venue. Despite being overcast, the regular time and place were kept. I skipped the large morning ceremony, as I'd always intended to do, because I had family members and friends driving into New Haven around that time. In all, I feel really lucky to have had lots of my favorite people in the audience on my behalf -- Carla, Kristin, Dave, Matt, Shiri and her husband Adam and son Josh, and my brothers and parents.

In the moment of the proceedings, I was much calmer than I'd expected. I think the key was having smiling faces of friends around me, joking and enjoying the day. This lifted me out of my fright and made the occasion fun, as of course it should be. We lined up in alphabetical order in front of Steinbach and filed into Caulkins Courtyard, and I broke from the group and took a seat on the side of the stage to await my cue. Dean Oster gave a short, characteristically dry opening, and then Economies of Scale, a four-person male a cappella group consisting of three second-years and my good friend Bryce from the first year, did a funny ditty about SOM. This all went by quickly, and the breeze in the courtyard and misty humidity just made the environment so pleasant, there was no place to be freaking out. I'd considered many mental tricks I was going to play on myself to keep calm, but ended up forgetting them, or not needing them. I just waited and went up when my name was called, and it was fine.

I was thrilled to get through it in one piece, and happy with how it went. People seemed to enjoy it, and I received some kind and encouraging compliments.

This was a very special occasion not just because of graduation but because it was also a family reunion, as well as the first time some of my oldest friends have ever met. It was surreal to be in the classroom where I took things like Accounting, Spreadsheet Modeling and Employee, A74, and see these people who are so important to me eating sandwiches and talking to one another. It was very dream-like.

Afterward, Carla and I drove to my brother's house for snacks, and so I could say hello to my sister-in-law and nephews, and then we all went out to dinner. We talked about many topics, like bridges, Bin Laden and favorite meals -- not much about ourselves, which is typical of my family, who seem to subscribe to Don and Betty Draper's belief that it's rude to talk about oneself. We had a nice time.

Anyway, it was a great day. I'm glad I ran for speaker, because it's something I'll always remember. And I'm glad I decided to get an MBA!

There's one line from my speech about how during school I've learned that becoming my best does not mean changing into someone else, but rather means having confidence in what makes me original. I think that relates to the main question of this blog, which is what it's like for a journalist to get an MBA. I've heard this characterized as a major leap, as if I were a mime who decided to go to medical school.

But I came to realize that a lot of the skills I took for granted in my career are valued, useful and important in business -- things like writing clearly, being accurate and fair, asking probing questions, and making sure I do whatever I have to do to understand something.

It hasn't all been seamless. I had never looked at an income statement before school, nor had I given even a passing thought to stock markets or how one might value a company. So there were vocabulary and conceptual gaps that I'd consider unclosable, although I made some headway. And disposition-wise, I think there's a tendency for journalists to want to stay quietly off to the side, which is at odds with management education that encourages one to make waves. Journalists do make waves, but by observing and communicating, not "leading" in the traditional management sense.

But overall, the transition from newspapers to business wasn't as much of a leap as one might expect. I wanted to get an MBA to have a healthier and faster-moving career, to experience a new environment, and to see how far I could challenge myself, and I did all that and more.

I appreciate all of you who were regular readers, as well as those of you who popped in and out. I hope any of this was interesting or useful. It was to me.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A couple things must go


One of my dearest and oldest friends, Carla, arrived in New Haven yesterday from North Carolina and is spending the weekend here, in advance of Monday's commencement. It's a real nerve-calming energy to have her here. I gave her a little tour of SOM yesterday, and we had dinner with some friends last night. Two of those friends had wonderful news -- both have been offered jobs that they will be accepting, in New York! I'm really excited for them because the positions are wonderful and a great fit, and of course selfishly I'm delighted they will be in New York.

Carla selflessly insisted on helping me in whatever way she could while she was here, and I'm not one to decline a hand, so given her successful history in selling things online, I've put her to work helping me sell some of the furniture I won't have room for in my new place. We're starting with three items, and two have already had inquiries. I'm sure they will be gone in no time. Someone is coming today, in fact, to (hopefully) haul away a chest of drawers.

Today we will be bopping around New Haven a bit. I'm sort of a terrible local for never having been to Louis' Lunch, the supposed birthplace of the hamburger. We may try our luck there today, although I imagine the city is flooded with kinfolk who are in town for graduations, and others may have my bright idea. We'll see. There aren't many items left on my unofficial New Haven Bucket List, but that's one.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Knot in my stomach and lump in my throat


I am not going to be able to fit all my furniture into my New York studio, which I'm moving to in less than two weeks. That much is clear. To see what I'm really working with, though, I cut out scaled representations of my furniture and have been arranging the pieces over a floor plan. Nothing makes me too thrilled, but I'll make it work somehow.

I must admit that I am currently emotionally overwhelmed and have knots in my stomach. The impending move and job are what I dreamed of when I was applying to Yale, and I've been lucky enough to see them coming since November, but now that everything's just around the corner I feel like I'm accelerating into a fog. I think what's on the other side will be amazing. But I still have those knots.

You would think that with school officially over -- all my grades are in, and there's nothing academic left to do -- I would be all smiles and relaxation, but between doing paperwork for Deloitte, selling and packing my things, family headed into town, preparing to deliver the commencement speech, figuring out how to unload my car, getting ready for a wedding, and actually moving to New York and getting settled, it seems like an insane mad dash to June 1. I know that after that, I'll be immediately without much to do, and that will be my life for two months. But getting there is not a leisurely walk in the park!

I feel somewhat un-allowed to discuss that, though, because I am fortunate and should be grateful, and I am. But gratitude and good fortune don't pack my stuff, and they don't write and memorize my speech, and they don't plow through my to-do list while I nap.

I got a lot done today, though. A whole lot.

Stop and smell the sea


My last day in the Caribbean was perhaps my favorite, as I went with two classmates to explore St. John. We hiked to a place called Honeymoon Bay, which is where I shot the video above. The weather and the water were perfect at first, and then a storm started rolling in, so we took refuge at a fancy resort and ate delicious but overpriced salads. We went on another much longer hike and met up with another classmate for a root beer. By the time we returned on the ferry to St. Thomas, we were all totally wiped out. I did have the energy, though, to put one final 25-cent bet on my lucky #11 on roulette, and sure enough it hit! Made $9 in 20 seconds. I think that put me up about $54 overall for the trip, basically covering the day in St. John.

Now I have returned to the unseasonably cold, wet mainland. Overall the trip was worth it. It was relaxing enough to be recharging, and active enough to be fun. It gave me a chance to hang out with some different people, and get a bit of a tan. After two months in New York without any income I may temporarily regret spending $1,500 on this vacation, but if that happens I'll just look back on my pictures and (hopefully) smile.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Firework video bomb


Last night was an amazing amount of fun, as we had our last group dinner on St. Thomas, accompanied by karaoke. I busted out this number. I came away with several enjoyable clips, but none so much so as this one, thanks to a photo (er, video?) bomb. SOM inspires!

Almost everyone is leaving St. Thomas today, but a couple folks and I are staying on for an extra day (because it was so much cheaper to fly tomorrow).

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The creatures of St. Thomas


Greetings from St. Thomas, where today is Day 5 of my seven-day vacation, and my first time accessing the World Wide Web. I'm here on our Class of 2011 trip, along with several dozen classmates. It's a tradition. Last year, the Class of 2010 went on a cruise. This year, we're stationed at an rather nice all-inclusive resort.

It's been a lot of fun so far, mostly sitting on the beach, taking advantage of free meals, dipping in the pool and fooling around in the casino. I am, so far, up $33.50 at blackjack and down $31.00 on roulette, thus up $2.50 overall, and determined not to play roulette again. The weather has been consistent -- mostly overcast, with one massive downpour per day and a few bursts of sunshine. One actually doesn't want too much sun here because it does fry the skin almost upon contact, so I have no complaints. It's warm and breezy, and that's relaxing.

A couple of my close friends came on the trip, and many didn't, which has been both a bummer and a nice opportunity to reconnect with some classmates whose paths I rarely crossed during school. Last night, I discovered that when one of my classmates was a kid visiting his grandfather in my hometown, he hit a golf ball at the driving range and struck a car parked in front of a house across the street. We lived across the street from that country club, and I think the victim may have been my brother's car. I've sent a message to my mom for verification.

I'm glad I came even though a nontrivial amount of madness awaits me in the two weeks that will follow my return. And per my original plan, this blog will end in one week's time, as I will have completed my MBA and thus will no longer be a journalist pursuing one. I'll probably post some final thoughts on Tuesday the 24th, the day after commencement. No thoughts for now, though. Just the sound of waves and warm breezes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The falls of Falls Village


Tomorrow at an absurd hour I leave for a week-long trip to St. Thomas, but yesterday I took a pre-trip mini-trip to visit a friend who lives in a rural area of Northwest Connecticut, in a little town called Falls Village. It couldn't have been a more beautiful day, and we took a walk/hike, some of which is actually the Appalachian Trail. If that trail interests you at all, I highly recommend the very funny book "A Walk in the Woods," by Bill Bryson.

Now I've returned and -- would you believe it -- am still not finished grading those damn Innovator papers, which linger above like a cloud. I have a dozen left, and then my TA duties are complete, which thereby makes my SOM tasks complete, aside from attending and speaking at commencement in two weeks.

I am trying to decide whether to take my laptop to the Virgin Islands so I can blog and work on my speech. Part of me says "No, John, take this opportunity to distance yourself from technology and focus on the moment by enjoying the sunshine and friendhip." And that part of me says, "John, the two aren't mutually exclusive; you can focus on the moment by enjoying the sunshine and friendship, but you'll be frustrated if you come up with some speech ideas and don't have your laptop with you. Plus you'll be eager to edit and post some pictures and stories. Take the damn thing."

We'll see which part of me prevails.

In the meantime, today I absolutely must finish these papers, so I'm off to what I suppose will be my last day ever working in a Yale library. Until I realize school is where it's at, and I come back for my PhD.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Don't burn the toast


It was fantastic serendipity that our class dinner was on Friday night because I happened to finish everything merely two hours beforehand, leaving me in quite a celebratory mood and more than happy to stay out until 1 in the morning.

Our dinner was at the Lawn Club, a short walk from both SOM and my apartment, and featured a few slideshows, as well as some superlatives and, at the end, a pass-the-microphone toasting segment. Good feelings were abundant, and by my count it looked like there were about 19 tables of 10 people each, meaning that a good 80% of our class was in attendance. Check out my quant skills at work!

There was an after-party at a downtown bar called The Study, which at first was a little jarring because we were packed into a hot room with loud music. But once I escaped into the general bar area, I had some great conversations and really enjoyed myself. It was late before I knew it.

A lot of feelings swirl around all this. One is that I'm still working through the adjustment of being a non-drinker in these situations; everyone was given packets of drink tickets, no less. The interesting thing is that, time and again, I find the beginning of the evening somewhat challenging, but after a short while I really, really prefer being sober. Conversations are much better and more memorable. And, frankly, it's a trip to finally notice how alcohol actually affects people. In the past I didn't observe the changes because I was probably drunker than everyone else. But it's a funny experience to be stone sober while your friends rant, hug, ramble and cry. I like it, actually.

Some people are pretty emotional now, and I'm not totally there yet, even though I know I will be. I loved this experience deeply, and I have a feeling I will be a ball of tears when I'm moving out of my apartment. Until then it doesn't quite seem over yet.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Journalist completes MBA, blogs


And with one hastily written nine-page paper, followed by an even more hastily written five-page paper, I can now check "Get an MBA" off my to-do list. Holy frijoles, I am done.

Done! Not kinda done, but done-done. Academically, at least. Despite the rush, I think I went out on some pretty solid notes, and I'm proud of the work I've been able to crank out this week. This is one of those times I'm glad I used to write things on deadline for a living; you never know when that'll come in handy.

This is a weird feeling. Graduate school seemed to be a full-speed-ahead train, and now it feels like it just evaporated into the air. I'm looking at a binder and a notebook I no longer need, and evidence strewn around of several days of intensity ... text books, papers, empty glasses, pens, But now I can, you know, take a breath and clean up! This will be an overly dramatic characterization, but it's like in the movies when someone's spouse dies and they have to clean out the closet. I'll be cleaning out my MBA closet this weekend, I suppose -- all the evidence I did this. And I'll be separating what to keep from what to dump.

To extend my last post, where I summarized the three classes I had finished, I'll do the same for the two I wrapped up today. I have time before I need to shower and get ready for our celebratory class dinner at the Lawn Club!

Behavioral Perspectives on Management. This course looked at human behavior and contrasted it with management theory, for the main punchline that we should rely on evidence, not instinct, when making decisions. We discussed biases, heuristics, chance, emotions, context, mental accounting, and loads of other things, and ended on happiness. Our professor, Joe Simmons, has a psychology and marketing background and is very interested in controlled studies, so most of the lectures were heavy on the results of those studies. Then it was up to us, through our short papers called "application assignments" as well as through other papers, to apply these studies and academic readings to real life. In a lot of ways, this was my favorite class, and I actually did every reading all semester, which is quite a feat. Our final paper was supposed to be a long application of course concepts to a policy or program we would like to develop or change. I invented a behaviorally focused restaurant with a totally new way of ordering, eating and paying. I would be more detailed, but I actually think it's a billion-dollar idea, so I'm going to keep it for now.

Navigating Organizations. All my classes this spring were a semester long except this one, which was only second quarter. But we covered a lot in that short time. The professor, Cade Massey, who also co-taught our Negotiations class in the core, used an enormous variety of materials to teach us about power, networks, influence and stark realities about how companies really operate. His goal was to teach us about how to rise the ranks, either so we could do so, or so we could notice when others are trying to do so. This was a great course I've highly recommended to friends in the class below me. Especially with me about to enter new waters as a consultant, these are topics I will encounter and be glad to know more about.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

3 out of 5 ain't bad


I am almost done. Three of my five classes are totally finished, with a presentation yesterday and two exams today. When I wrap up a class I like to give some closing thoughts on it, since that's kind of a central goal of this blog -- to share the MBA experience.

Leadership Strategies for Music Presenters. This class was taught by the dean of the music school, Robert Blocker, and was taken by about a dozen Yale School of Music students and five School of Management students, including myself. It was a weekly three-hour class that almost always featured a guest, and we hit on high-level themes (like artistic vision) as well as drilled-down specifics (like how to deal with difficult personalities on a board). In a contest to determine which course during my MBA left me having learned the most stuff, this one would not win, but it was one of my favorite experiences at Yale. I got to know some musicians, as well as the dean and music faculty, and the class was such a pleasure. We visited Steinway & Sons in New York and the City Opera, and almost every week followed class with a delicious and interesting three-course dinner in a private room at the Graduate Club. This was not like an SOM course; it was slow-moving without a lot of concrete takeaways, and it was more about teaching through experiences and relationships as opposed to readings, problem sets and PowerPoints. And I think that's a good approach for certain subjects.

Investment Management. I took this class for a couple reasons. I love math. I loved the Investor course in our core (Fall-2, second quarter of first year). And I think people with an MBA should know about financial things, even if they don't dive into them for a living. These were many of the reasons I took Corporate Finance last semester; that course was tough for me, but I'm glad I took it. Same here. The material in this class ended up being a lot more challenging than I expected -- everytime I blinked there were models with lots of Greek letters or calculus or natural logs or bell curves with shaded areas scribbled all over the board. I had several "Wha?" moments. We covered a shit load of material, including market history, arbitrage pricing theory, factor models, active portfolio management, behavioral finance, portfolio evaluation, private equity, endowments, hedge funds, options, futures, swaps, fixed income, international diversification, ethics ... each of these things could be (and in some cases is) its own class. So it really was an intense overview of this subject. But I've done well and think the final went great. I'm probably not going to get a Distinction, since that would require outperforming 90% of my peers who all seemed to be quite comfortable with all this stuff, but when I inevitably get my Proficient I may choose to believe I was close. This was taught quite well by a new professor named Justin Murfin, who was excellent.

Strategic Leadership Across Sectors. Nobody calls it that, first of all. Everyone just calls it "Sonnenfeld," after the professor. This was in many ways a bizarre class, kind of the School of Management equivalent of my music class. Each week, we met for three hours with an array of amazing guests you wouldn't believe. The details would be fantastic blog fodder, but I've been carefully mum about it because apparently a student a few years ago was expelled for blogging about something that was discussed in the class. So I'm afraid to even mention who our guests were. Just not worth it. Like the music class, it was weak on structure and takeaways, but I bet this is the type of class I'll always remember, if only for the proximity-to-fame factor.

So those are the three I've finished with. I'll give my two cents on the others over the weekend. Just about done! Can't believe it. Just can't believe it ...

Monday, May 2, 2011

An eye for 2,973 eyes


People don't have crystal-clear memories, I've learned in my Behavioral Perspectives course. We tell and re-tell stories and lose details over time, and eventually our version of the truth is an unintentionally warped collection of details we think we remember.

So it goes with "Where were you on 9/11?" I was in St. Louis, with my boyfriend at the time, Brad. I had graduated from UNC the May prior and had spent the summer editing copy for the Columbus Dispatch. I was taking about a month to unwind in St. Louis, my home town. Brad had been visiting for a few days and was supposed to fly back to Omaha on Sept. 11 (a Tuesday). One of his friends called to tell him to turn on the TV, and so we did, and we watched things unfold from there. I don't remember too much else that day. We went to a seafood restaurant for a late lunch at some point, and my friend Jenny came over and we watched TV for a while. Later in the week, maybe the next day even, Brad rented a car and drove back to Omaha.

Now I may also remember where I was on May 1, 2011, as the news broke that Osama bin Laden had been killed. I was here on the couch taking care of some school-related things on my laptop, when my roommate, stationed in the dining room, shouted that bin Laden had been killed. I think her mom had called to tell her. From there we were scanning the web, although the main story on nytimes.com wouldn't even open (due to immense traffic, I assume). We opened links on cnn.com and nytimes.com to a live stream from the White House, where Obama was scheduled to make an address. We don't have cable. The speech was little awkward. Obama was at a podium (or lectern), in front of microphones, but he wasn't making eye contact with the camera, and there was no audience, so it wasn't clear who he was talking to. It was a sort of off-putting way to deliver the news. Just earlier this week he made headlines by being rather funny at the White House Correspondents Dinner, in the wake of producing his long-form birth certificate. This was an interesting contrast.

So that's where I was, and now I've recorded it to help assist my future self that will twist and delete the details. I have to admit, part of me isn't totally gung-ho to see photos of people dancing in the streets shouting "USA!" after we've killed someone. Not that bin Laden wasn't an SOB, but might we be inciting anger in the Muslim world by reacting this way? Perhaps some decorum is in order?

Maybe I'm just no fun.

Or maybe I'm selfishly thinking about the Manhattan high-rise I'm moving into later this month.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

It does have that swing


I remembered to bring my camera to a swing dance I attended Saturday night, but I neglected to re-insert the memory card. This left me with only an iPhone to take this photo, which looks dark and dreary and does not represent an event that was actually very fun and lively. My friend Erika took me; there was a live band and an hour-long lesson. I sweat a lot and didn't injure anyone too badly. We were learning some moves to show off at her wedding, which is later this month.

I had spent the day, prior to dancing, in a knotted-stomach state, trying to tackle the monster load of work before me. I decided not to cancel, though, and the exercise and laughs were good for me, I think. So was the frozen yogurt beforehand and the fries afterward.

Today I've cranked out a paper that's due tomorrow and taken care of some other odds and ends not worth explaining. I am now going to treat TA-ing like it's my full-time job and attempt to grade 40 papers in the next 8 hours. I'm going to try to spend 10 minutes on each one and then take a 10 minute break each hour. Wish me luck.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A deluxe apartment in the sky


Today was not relaxing. I went into New York on Thursday evening for dinner with future co-workers, then crashed at my friend Brian's place but didn't get the best night's sleep because I was tossing and turning. I woke up with back pain and spent the day running (seriously, running) around half of Manhattan, looking for an apartment to move into in a month's time.

My broker and I saw lots of different types of places in neighborhoods including the Financial District, the East Village and the West Village, but ultimately I decided to go with a studio in Hell's Kitchen, the last place I saw. I've heard mixed reviews of the neighborhood, but the superiority of the apartment and its building were too glaring to ignore, and ultimately that's what rent is paying for. Compared to the others, it was a bigger place (though still quite small), extremely nice, up on the 36th floor, with views of the river, great amenities in the building, near things to do and near the subway. It's no coincidence that the best place was also the most expensive, but I only went $25/month over my limit, so I think I came out OK.

I have to say that today was a little scary, and I wasn't anticipating that. I think that all throughout graduate school, this move to New York to become a consultant has seemed like a neat story, something interesting to talk about (and blog about). But it's such a huge change that it's almost felt like it was happening to someone else. Over the past 24 hours it's never felt more real. I was actually eating with Deloitte people talking about lots of details about the job, and then I was filling out an application for an apartment in Manhattan. And it became more real, and tangible, that my life is indeed going to be these things. I'm going to wake up in the apartment I selected today, make my way a couple blocks toward a subway, and head off to work as a consultant.

This was both very exciting on one hand but suddenly a little frightening, too. One of my fears is that New York, while exciting, makes me feel a little lonely, and I'm hoping that the friends I have who live there will have time for me, that many of my friends from SOM will end up there, and of course that I'll make new ones. That's one area of my life I've been very lucky; even as I was sometimes frustrated by my career and my financial limitations as a journalist in Texas, I somehow managed to have lots of good friends. I think New York is such a busy and tiring place, with so many strangers swirling around you, that being with friends is critical to keeping a level head. (I do already know a couple guys in Hell's Kitchen, so that's fortunate.)

Anyway, it's been exhausting and fun. This weekend will be very work-intensive. I have about 54 papers to grade for the class I TA, as well as my own final projects and exam prep. Gnite.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Square footage


Quite frankly, I'm a ball of stress, and this will continue for at least 10 days. I can barely process all that's on my plate. But I think I'll feel better once I've secured a place to live in New York, which will be my mission tomorrow. Fortunately, for this task, I have enlisted the assistance of a broker, recommended through a classmate/friend who has a lot of experience in the city. Yesterday, he sent me 18 listings, and tomorrow we're going to look at about 5-8 of them. My hope is to return to New Haven with a place.

I'm really looking forward to living in the city. One adjustment I will have to make is downsizing. I'll be making a good living, but because I am determined to live in Manhattan in a nice place, the trade-off is square footage. Most of the listings I received were for studios, with a few one-bedroom apartments (or "junior one-bedrooms," a term I'd never heard before), with areas no greater than 550 square feet.

I'm trying to imagine that area. My one-bedroom apartment back in Fort Worth was 800 square feet, and there was actually too much space for my stuff. But my apartment in Dallas was 695 (and two stories), and it was barely enough room for my things. So 500 does concern me a little. But this is also an opportunity to unload some pieces I truly don't, or won't, use:

1. My weights and bench, which because I go to the gym a couples time a week I only use about once a week these days. If I take a building with a gym, I'd be happy to sell this.

2. My black leather chair and ottoman, currently used primarily as a receptacle for mail and dirty clothes, and only rarely for reading.

3. My dining room table and chairs, which currently live in storage and, after four years, have been used for their intended purposes only a handful of times.

But these types of concerns still live slightly out on the horizon. When I visit places, I want to concentrate on the feel and emotion of the space, which sounds all new-agey but which I've come to believe is key, after many years at many different addresses. I know I can adapt to even the strangest and most limiting of physical characteristics. I even once lived in a bedroom attached to a garage in an elderly woman's house, without so much as a chair. What matters is charm -- that homey feeling, or that sophisticated aura, the intangible energy that gives a home personality. I once lived in a place like that. It wasn't really special on paper -- just a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment, the bottom floor of a duplex, without a dishwasher or garbage disposal or anything particularly amazing about it. But there was something about the colors, the way trees would sway in the sunshine outside the windows, the way the angles snaked around to make the place look bigger than it was ... the little things that don't show up in a real-estate listing. That's what I'm looking for ... much to my broker's frustration, probably.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What 8 months of winter do


It's 70 degrees and sunny. Although I barely remember what this is like, or who was president the last time it was this nice in New Haven, I knew enough to realize I should take advantage and try to begin the slow, arduous process of regaining color on my skin. Especially since I'll be in St. Thomas in two weeks, it's important to get a base, or something resembling one.

Today in one of my courses, Navigating Organizations, we discussed status, and how increases in status can come with consequences, such as not being challenged or exposed to new ideas. We watched a funny clip to illustrate the point, from "The Devil Wears Prada," a film I enjoy watching. Note the way Meryl Streep's character, Miranda, disregards common manners, chooses not to bother with mundane tasks (like hanging up her coat) and doesn't seek or consider opposing views. In the movie these things are played for our amusement, but they are also genuinely symptomatic of real-life increases in status.

In this same course, we recently did an activity called a leverage inventory, where we asked former co-workers and supervisors to complete a rather detailed survey about what types of "influence tactics" we tended to use at work. The questions asked for observations about behavior, as opposed to judgments about them, so the idea is to provide students with honest feedback about what they do and don't do, not whether that's good or bad. The behaviors fall into three categories:

1. Relationships (things like allocentrism, networks, team-building, coalitions)
2. Rhetoric (ethos, logos and pathos)
3. Meta-tools (strategies about strategies, like agency, intentionality and situation awareness)

We were then carefully categorized and rated against our peers. Of the 68 categories, my highest z-score (the one where I was most above the class average) was "Uses stories to help make my points," a sign of pathos. My lowest z-score was "Is able to tolerate conflict," which falls under "might." Both of these results make sense to me. I was a journalist, so I indeed like to tell stories. And I was a youngest child with two much older (and not particularly emotionally supportive) brothers, so it's very ingrained in me to do everything in my power to avoid conflict at all costs.

This limitation actually had consequences today. For the class I'm TA-ing this quarter, I ended up being in charge of helping groups of students reschedule their final activity if they had a conflict. I found myself caught between unhappy students and an unresponsive administrator. To avoid conflict, I politely waited for the administrator to say "go," as I kept increasingly impatient students in limbo, trying to appease them with jokes and reassurances that everything would be OK. Finally, with decision time upon us, I had to put my foot down and get answers, so I went over the administrator's head and resolved this issue, which had been brewing for almost a week, in 10 minutes. The moral: My desire to avoid conflict just made things worse, and if I had been mightier from the start, I would have saved myself a lot of headaches.

Sara Bareilles (who shares my birthday) has a beautiful bridge in a song (at 2:02 below) where she sings, "All my life I've tried to make everybody happy while I just hurt and hide, waiting for someone to tell me it's my turn to decide." That's a sentiment more symptomatic of a victim complex than I would like to attribute to myself, but I relate to the phenomenon where the more you try to please everyone, often the more pain you will endure. That's unsustainable, and thus ruins your ability to make everybody happy. So that balance between sternness and appeasement is critical.

So watch out for yourself, and go out and get some sun sometimes.