Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fun to spare


I'm shy, and was slow to make friends in high school, but by senior year things had really clicked. I feel like the same thing is happening in grad-school. This semester (the equivalent of our "senior year") has definitely been my favorite, by far. I feel like my friendships are solid, I'm efficient in my studying, I'm more surefooted in what I'm doing, and I'm generally happier.

Perhaps stemming from that goodwill, I decided earlier this week to run for commencement speaker. Our graduation is May 23 (frighteningly close). Students vote in a three-stage process that began with a nomination stage. People who accepted their nominations then submitted speech sketches, which were posted and subject to blind voting. And, lastly, there was a tryout where the five finalists read truncated versions of their speeches to an audience of students in the class. This made for a busy week, but I'm honored to have been voted commencement speaker today. Speaking at graduation will be a memorable experience for me, one I hope I can live up to. Plus it will be good leverage for getting friends and family to attend.

The rather dizzying commencement-selection process put me a bit behind work-wise, and it's been a long day, so I'm going to hit the hay and rise at 5 a.m.; I have an assignment due at 8, a class at 10:10, and a reading to finish by 11:30. This weekend will be well-earned.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

My bracket is officially busted


Damn.

With UNC's loss tonight, I now have no horses in the Final Four. What a snooze. I guess I can at least root for Connecticut, my current state's home team. My support will no doubt ensure their defeat.

Not that anybody could've predicted the bizarre outcome of teams seeded 3, 4, 8 and 11 in the Final Four. It's been fun to watch, though. Lots of tense and exciting moments. I'm happy for VCU ... what a great underdog story.

It just goes to show that past performance doesn't necessarily predict future success. Some of my "underdog" friends and classmates at SOM have landed incredible full-time jobs and internships. I might even be in that category. But when you get to the tournament, what got you there doesn't matter anymore; it's how you play going forward that counts!

That inspires me to go back to my readings. I don't want to blow it in the home stretch.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

City Opera Monodramas


New York was fun yesterday. My music class had a fascinating 90-minute talk with George Steel, Yale alumnus and general manager of the New York City Opera. We felt especially privileged to have this kind of access because yesterday was the opening night of Monodramas, three one-act avant-garde pieces like no other opera I've seen.

The sets were beautiful and the show incorporated creative multimedia, with modern dance, animated film, and even pyrotechnics. I'll grant that my tastes aren't the most cerebral or sophisticated -- think cheese and crackers and "Family Guy." -- so I sometimes find cutting-edge shows tedious and bizarre. Then again, exercise is also tedious and bizarre, and it's good for me, so I try to take the same attitude with art and theater. I do, however, maintain some Midwestern roots and refuse to spell theater with the t and r beside each other.

Today, I attended an afternoon seminar on music and digital rights, learning that when I complete my album of original music this summer, as soon as I put it out onto the Web, my life will be ruined. I'm going to do it anyway. In the spirit of my music class, which is taught by the dean and thus provides us with amazing access, this seminar was followed by a private lunch with the guest speaker. I had a great opportunity to ask lots of questions.

The deeper I've gotten into school, the more I've realized that my woes about the journalism industry, which to some extent prompted my return to school, aren't the least bit unique to that industry. Time and again I meet people who have the same struggles and complaints about their fields, be it music, education, architecture, etc. I guess it's a changing world in many more ways beyond the fact that kids don't like to read newspapers. Go figure.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The stage is set


It's a real run-around week for yours truly, as, with determination, I have tried to accept (and offer) invitations and opportunities to do lots of stuff. Commencement is fast approaching.

In addition to normal classes, meetings, admissions interviews, TA-ing, the gym and other typical weekly happenings, this week's buffet of stuff included a few lunches with friends I needed to catch up with, meals with the incoming leaders of both the clubs for which I'm handing over the reins, going out to watch the systematic ruining of my NCAA bracket, and a few one-time events -- an Interfaith Feast, with a focus on looking at the tragedy in Japan through the eyes of different faiths, and a faculty piano recital featuring the dean of the music school, who also teaches the class I take over there.

I'd elaborate, but I have to run to New York for the day. Just wanted to alleviate any concerns that I was dead or missing.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Follow your cheese dreams


When I was a first-year student, a second-year student named Michael Inwald left SOM before graduation) to launch his business -- Grilled Cheese To Go, recently renamed Cheeseboy. I think there are now three locations, and I think they're all in malls, but don't quote me on that. As the name implies, the place sells grilled cheese sandwiches, as well as soups, mac and cheese and a couple snacks. It's a limited menu. 

While at the Westfield Mall over the weekend in Milford, I spotted one and persuaded my companion to indulge in an extemporaneous lunch, since I'd heard so much about it but never tried it. Not half bad. In fact, quite good!

I don't have the entrepreneurial spirit, and I'm not just getting down on myself or anything. My deficiency in this regard has been proven through aptitude tests, showing that my skills, strengths and motivators are at total odds with starting my own business. I'm more of a supporter. I like to help others succeed, and improve something that's already been created. It's the copy editor in me, perhaps.

But if it weren't for entrepreneurs like Mr. Inwald, I wouldn't get to enjoy grilled cheese sandwiches in malls. So a toast to him. Get it, toast? Ha!  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Part-timers


More than once, while driving back from the gym with my friend Matt at roughly 8:30 in the morning, we've see my friend and classmate Erika looking sharp and walking toward downtown. Turns out she has a part-time job, helping a teachers institute with its social media strategy.

When asked, I tend to say my fellow students don't have part-time jobs. (I am indeed asked this, believe it or not ...) When I give that answer, though, I'm thinking of "part-time jobs" in an old-fashioned undergrad sense, like waiting tables or doing office work. Nobody here has that kind of job just to make cash, to my knowledge. But in this grad-school world, a part-time job can mean lots of things -- consulting for an old employer, doing paid research at the school, etc. And my roommate works full-time at the Yale Repertory Theatre, while getting two master's degrees simultaneously. (Don't ask me how she does it without the use of cocaine.) 

If I expand my thinking beyond what I think of as a "part-time job," I actually have had five of them this year. My gigs as a second-year advisor, admisisons interviewer and three-time teaching assistant, which I consider "activites," are actually jobs. By year's end, Yale will have paid me about $4,500-$5,000 for doing these things. It's not much, but it helps when one subsists on student loans.

Yale doesn't have a part-time MBA program per se, but there is an executive MBA (EMBA) program for people who have full-time jobs in the healthcare field. Classes meet every other Friday and Saturday. That's the same type of schedule at some part-time programs I was exploring before school, like the program that the University of Texas does in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, where I was living. This was worth considering, because I liked my job. But a few friends who had done part-time MBA programs warned me that I should try to do it full-time if I could, especially if I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, because full-time students tend to have more access to networking and job opportunities. That makes sense not only because there are only so many hours in the day, but also because students in part-time programs are often sponsored by their companies.

My last employer, a newspaper, would have had no reason to sponsor me in an MBA program, as they would just be helping me jump ship. I do, however, have a former colleague who entered a part-time program at TCU when I was leaving for Connecticut. He had good reasons for staying in town and going part-time, though -- he's married, is now a father, and has a really good management job. I have another friend who did the part-time program at SMU, which is one of the highest-ranked part-time programs in the country. It doesn't seem like the school was terribly supportive in his job search, which is too bad but not entirely unexpected given what I just mentioned about companies commonly sponsoring students in the part-time program. But my friend is smart and tenacious, and on his own he's landed a job he likes, with upward mobility.

Overall, if asked, my general advice would be to do a full-time program if you can afford it, and to avoid a part-time job while in that program unless it's relevant and not too intrusive. There'll be plenty of time for real jobs after school. I think this is the time to seize opportunities that will be gone after commencement.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

I'm 4,498,081st!


In the same way I like to dabble with games of chance at a casino every few years, so too do I enjoy filling out an NCAA men's basketball tournament bracket each March, in the hopes I will win. Back in my offices, that was possible, but when competing against millions and millions of fans on ESPN, my hope isn't to win, it's simply to move up the ranks.

And throughout the past two days I moved steadily up from about 4.7 millionth to, at best, somewhere around 2.5 millionth. But by the end of the first round, I was back down to about 4.5 millionth. The good news is that all my Final Four teams are still in it.

I'm not a sports fan, but I did go to both Duke and UNC, which are schools that are very interested in and very successful at basketball. So I like to follow their successes and failures each year. And through my moves around the country, I've adopted other state-related affiliations that interest me. I was very excited a few years ago, for example, when Texas A&M-Corpus Christi made it into the tournament for the first time. Good for them, I say! They lost in the first round, as was expected, since they were a #15 seed, if memory serves.

Incidentally, I'm constantly asked whether I root for Duke or UNC, and the genuine answer is that I equally root for both. It's true. And if they play each other, I just hope it's an exciting game. I guess I'm a total weirdo.

Although I've downloaded a free app that lets me watch any game live, I really only take advantage of that feature if I notice that a score is close and there are a few minutes left. Other than that, the game doesn't particularly interest me.

Last night, I watched a few games with a group of folks with connections to the schools that were playing -- KU, Illinois, and UNC (for me). None of these games were close, but I had a super fun time. To amuse ourselves during commercials and slow points, we made up our own non-basketball brackets and passed them around, picking things like favorite movies, favorite bands, favorite onomatopoeias, and which of various awful afflictions we'd prefer to have (i.e. being wrongfully convicted of murder vs. being fugly and alone with terminal cancer). The most pleasant and thought-provoking of our mini-tournaments, pictured, led us into a nice discussion about love vs. happiness. As you can see, we picked happiness.

Note in this picture, too, that I had tea. I'm staying true to my sobriety vow, even in situations where drinking is integral and most other people are imbibing. Today is Day 35. I'm very happy with how things are going. I've discovered St. Pauli N.A.; I don't think I'd had a non-alcoholic beer since maybe sipping an O'Douls for fun like 10 years ago, so I assumed the worst, but it's refreshing actually. I also have discovered that when you're a non-drinker among drinkers at a bar, you may very well get those drinks for free, being deemed a responsible designated driver. I've also enjoyed the startlingly pleasant surprise of dinner bills of around $10 instead of the usual $20. Go figure -- abstinence has its perks. And it doesn't really have any drawbacks.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Where for art thou?


Having a roommate in the drama school = knowing more people in the drama school = going to more plays. Last night, I was taken by my friend Art to "Romeo & Juliet," presented with its original dialogue, but modern attire. It was OK. The director seemed to be pushing the youth emphasis, so the characters behaved particularly immaturely -- sometimes to a pretty offensive extent. I also thought the portrayal of Juliet wasn't the least bit sexy. Maybe it isn't supposed to be. But if I were Romeo I would take my wooing elsewhere. I was impressed with the performances of the supporting cast, particularly the elder members of the cast. And I liked the shirtless knife fights.

Today I hit the gym -- four times in one week, which won't continue happening when classes resume Monday. During my usual trip to the local market for a post-gym coffee, I noted the lead story on the New Haven Register, that the guy accused of killing that Yale grad student in 2009 has pleaded guilty. I bought the paper, as a show of solidarity for my foregone career. It was 75 cents, and not really worth it. Frankly, it's not a very good paper. There are editing mistakes, bad design choices (like doglegs), and pretty poor placement of filler stories. On the bright side, the comics are in color! But I sympathize; I'm sure their staff is a shell of its former self.

I'm really enjoying this vacation. Somebody stop me! I guess that somebody will be the Yale faculty.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

International house of lingering


After not going to IHOP for years, I've now been twice in the past week. I suppose that's the type of thing you do when you're on staycation. This morning, I was there so long, and so wrapped up in conversation, we were almost hungry again for lunch. Not helping matters in this regard was my choice of the low-calorie fresh-fruit crepes, which were as filling as eating a cloud. 

Chain restaurants get a bad rap, but they're occasionally comforting, especially when you've moved around the country as often as I have: Since turning 18, I've lived in 10 different cities, so the sight of a chain restaurant somehow makes me feel less like a vagabond. I do, however, feel as though the cuisine I've had during my exceptionally rare trips to places like Outback, Olive Garden, On the Border and IHOP has gotten more and more disappointing with age. Are they getting worse? Maybe I'm just, like, super sophisticated.

Class starts again Monday, and believe it or not it's already getting a little busy, as I gear up for my final quarter at Yale SOM. Yikes, that's scary/sad. My four classes from last quarter will all continue, as they are semester-long classes, and I'm also picking up a quarter-long class called Navigating Organizations, for which I am currently reading a very interesting book called Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't, by Jeff Pfeffer, an organizational behavior professor at Stanford, not this guy. So far I've learned that, in order to obtain power, I apparently must hide all my traits and adopt the opposite ones. Perhaps I'll just leave power for others.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Toys, with my emotions


I spent much of the past four days looking downward, sitting or squatting because I visited my best friend from high school, who has a 3-year-old son, and then my brother, who has two sons, ages 6 and 4. It's fun to see all their little personalities, and to see how quickly they mature and progress, especially in how they communicate. The kids are coming along, too.

Kidding aside, the kids were great -- impressively well-mannered. The youngest boys are still a bit stubborn and can get a little testy when they don't get their way, but everyone also had many moments of sharing, taking turns and saying their pleases and thank yous.

Kids by this age have already gravitated toward preferences for certain types of toys and activities. My high school friend's son is highly interested in trucks and could enthusiastically and accurately name different types of construction vehicles, and the parts therein. It's humbling to see a 3-year-old know more about a subject than you do! My younger nephew has enough of an attention span to get through real games that require sitting down, although he doesn't always follow the rules, as he does dislike losing. He also has a great sense of humor and likes to play improv make-believe storylines with his toys. This was a lot of fun for me, and gave me great practice doing funny voices. And my elder nephew is more quiet and independent, but a total prodigy on the piano. He can pick out things by ear remarkably. I did the same when I was his age, so I hope he takes (and enjoys) piano lessons, which his parents hope to start in a couple years. Check it out!



I'm scheming to take them here.

On the spectrum of "must have kids" to "definitely never having kids," I'm still closer to the latter but probably close enough to the center that I could be persuaded into the former under circumstances that still, at age 32, seem unlikely and distant. Spending time with kids doesn't really move my needle on this meter much. On one hand, kids are amazing and fun and all the rest. On the other hand, they are super exhausting. And if I feel that way as a brief visitor with no responsibilities, I imagine I would be a lifeless pile of bones if I were a full-time caregiver. Besides, why would I bother with having my own kids when I can just, like, visit some whenever I want? We call this getting the milk for free, in farm parlance.  

On the Japan front, the students who were there for their International Experience trip have left for Seoul and are going to be trying to get back to the US as soon as possible. I'm eager to catch up with my friends who were there to get the inside scoop. What a mess.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Students in Japan are OK


I'm in the midst of a three-week spring break because the first-year students are on their required International Experience trip. One group, of about two dozen students, is in Japan. We got official word today that they are fine, in a Tokyo hotel.

My good friend Carolyn, who is one of the TAs (teaching assistants) on the trip, told me in an e-mail that she's a bit nervous about the rest of the trip. The group was to spend the next week visiting companies, then fly back to the US. All these plans are unclear. And I don't envy Carolyn, since these types of logistics are her responsibility. Sucks.

The important thing, though, is that everyone is safe.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ghost town clothes shopping


My friend, neighbor, classmate and skydiving companion Aminah was of immeasurable assistance when I was shopping for new clothes last fall, so I took her on a fashion hunt today at Clinton's Crossing, an outlet mall that's hopping on the weekends but was totally deserted on this Wednesday morning. Go figure.

It was quite a success. For ages, I have wanted a particular type of brown leather jacket, and I found a fantastic one at Cole Haan that was originally $800 but was 50% off, then an additional 50% off that because the salesperson hooked me up with a coupon. That's 75% off! I felt like I'd won the lottery, except that I wasn't swatting away greedy distant relatives and bound for eventual bankruptcy and depression.

Thirty-two is an awkward age for clothes shopping. I want to be up to date, but not so trendy that I look 17. And I also want to be comfortable and grown-up looking, but not look 71. Distinguishing between these extremes is what Aminah is for. But I came away from the day with a nice assortment of pieces that hit the mark for both age and comfort. Thanks, marketplace!
Speaking of the elderly, Today is my father's 74th birthday. We had a nice chat. He asked me what I'm doing tonight, and I told him the truth -- I'm going to a lecture at the law school, and then bowling with friends. When he asked about the subject of the lecture, I again told the truth -- it's about how the school altered its nondiscrimination policy to include gender identity and expression. He was audibly uncomfortable. Eh, there's nothing wrong with a little truth on one's birthday.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sad news


One of the most nurturing and comforting figures in my life was Nellie, who took care of our house and helped raise my brothers and me. She worked for my family for almost 30 years, and passed away this morning. She was 91.

I last saw her during my most recent trip to St. Louis, my hometown, two years ago. My brother and I brought her lunch and hung out for a bit. I suspected at the time, given her age and the infrequency of my visits to St. Louis, that this visit might be the last time I would see her, and so it is. I'm glad she was around long enough for us to spend some quality time as adults.

Nellie embodied open-armed kindness. She picked us up from school, made our after-school snacks and played with us, in addition to cleaning the house (which was no small task). A majority of the time I spent with her was when I was home on summer vacation, or home sick from school. We particularly liked playing along with "The Price is Right." (When I finally saw a taping of the show out in LA in 2003, I got her a Price is Right t-shirt, which I think she appreciated.) She'd even write to me when I was away at summer camp ... which makes me wonder whether I have those letters somewhere. I'll have to look when next I'm at my parents' house. I'm skeptical. Anyway, throughout my various growing pains and family dysfunctions, Nellie was a stable source of love and order.

It's funny, but I was just thinking about Nellie this morning. I was out of coffee, so I went to the market on the corner for a cup. I usually add just one packet of sugar; I grabbed it and then decided to put it back. Instead, I poured loads of sugar from the glass container -- I was just in the mood to treat myself to very sweet coffee. And I thought of Nellie because when I was very little, she'd make me a little cup of the grown-ups' coffee and make it tolerable by adding tons of sugar. It was so sugary it was actually sticky. I thought of that this morning and smiled. Who knows -- that might have been right around the time she passed away.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Stu-stu-studio


With a notebook, pen and dozens of questions at hand, today I lunched with Jack Vees, the director of Yale's Center for Studies in Music Technology, and a lecturer in electronic music. I reached out to him last week to see if he'd let me pick his brain about my personal summer project, which is to produce an album of original music.

Jack was kind, forthcoming, knowledgeable and helpful. He showed me around the studio spaces in Sprague Hall and gave me a rundown of the types of equipment I'll want given what I want to do. This will be expensive, but less so than I expected. My biggest cost will be a Mac, which is new territory for me.

I wish I'd tapped into Yale's music resources earlier, not that I would've really had the time while getting an MBA. I barely had time to juggle all my classes and activities as it was. But I might have even been able to take one of Jack's classes in pop music production. Since it's too late for that, he offered to let me sit in on some of his classes for the rest of this quarter. That's great news!

Recently, I received a "face book" document with the pictures and descriptions of those of us who are finishing grad school and will be joining Deloitte's human capital practice. I was surprised to learn there are only nine of us in New York. One of the questionairre fields is "summer plans," and it's no surprise I'm the only one who wrote, "I'm going to produce an album of original music." Almost all the others are traveling. Embarking on an international adventure was my first instinct when I learned of this impending free time, and it's what most people suggested when I was seeking good ideas. But as lame as this may be, there's just nowhere I'm dying to go. Japan? Italy? Brazil? Yawn. I mean, who needs the hassle and expense, not to mention the danger! I have a recurring nightmare that I'm in another country and lose my passport. That means your body experiences immediate sublimation, right? No thanks!

I'm super psyched to work on my music this summer. I can't wait. And I'll continue in my spare time after I've started working. This'll be a nice contrast to consulting. It's creative, emotional, solitary and personal. Maybe I will do a follow-up blog: Consultant pursues music career, blogs.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Career paths not taken


A touchy, personal and rarely discussed topic among my classmates has to do with our abandoned careers and where we might be if we had stayed in them instead of getting an MBA.

Before school, I worked at two newspapers -- five years at a small paper in South Texas, then three years at a large paper in North Texas. The position I left behind at my last newspaper was filled, and that person is still there, so I assume that if I had stayed I would be doing the same thing I was doing when I left. I enjoyed that job but would probably still feel somewhat stuck and fearful of layoffs. That fear is warranted, as there have been layoffs since I left, layoffs are determined by tenure, and even after three years I was just about the least-tenured person in the newsroom.

It's harder to tell where I'd be if I'd stayed at the small South Texas paper, which, for whatever reason, I have a much stronger emotional and sentimental attachment to than the larger paper. When I left, I was an online producer; that position still exists, so if I were there I might be doing the same thing. Knowing me, and considering the fact I never stayed in a department at that paper for more than 18 months, I almost certainly would've moved into another role, by choice or otherwise. That role might have been a promotion. One of the reasons I left was that I didn't see any obvious advancement blueprint there. It turned out, though, that there were quite a few new opportunities that arose in the years after I left because several other newspapers in the chain relocated their production staffs into my paper's building. This created new departments and management roles I might have been qualified for and found interesting. If I were still there, after all, I'd be going on my 10th year with the company, which (believe it or not) would probably put me in at least the upper quartile for seniority. I might have been deemed, by this point, worthy of leadership.

Whether I could have, or would have, seized a management role -- or any other type of step up -- is obviously not clear. But I have several friends who stayed and have risen the ranks of management. I'm happy for them, but it would be rewriting history to claim that I aspired to do the same. Still, their success is a reminder that I might have moved on to some interesting challenges and management experience had I stayed.

Do I care? It's easy to say no, and then point to my subsequent accomplishments and bright future. The truer answer, however, is that I do care a little. But my reasons for leaving were reasonable. I knew I wanted to go back to school in the near future, and I felt I should get a larger, more recognizable newspaper from a major metro area on my resume before I left Texas. I still think this was wise. And there were personal reasons I left, too. I wanted to date more, which I have done, and generally have more of a social life. And I wanted to make more money, which I did, and will continue to do. But I think my main root of personal dissatisfaction was that nobody else wanted to stay there, so my friends were constantly coming and going. It was hard to feel good about any long-range plan at that newspaper when every two months I was at yet another going-away party.

So I left for various reasons. It's a curious exercise to wonder where I'd be if I'd stayed, but in business school we're encouraged to judge a decision by whether it was smart given the information available at the time, not by the outcome. For me, leaving the small paper for the larger one, and leaving the larger one for Yale, were difficult decisions borne out of a restless sense that there was more out there -- more to learn, do, see and experience. I can't undo those feelings, so I have to stand behind my choices.

It's OK to wonder "what if," but everyone does so regardless of circumstance. I'd be playing the "what if" game even if I had stayed at that first paper in South Texas. I'm pleased with my choices, and even the outcomes.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Floodgates into the past


The stars, or whatever, have been oddly aligning lately to make me far more reflective about the long-ago past than I have been in ages. Maybe this has nothing to do with a journalist pursuing an MBA, but maybe it has everything to do with it. After all, I'm heading into major transition, so reflection isn't unwarranted.

Several recent incidents have exacerbated any natural introspection that would be happening at this point. For one, I've been reading my grandfather's book, on reincarnation no less. Another is that I began digging into the past a bit during a visit to Yale Counseling Services (prompted by my previously written-about abandonment of drinking, brought on by a personal concern about how I was metabolizing, or failing to metabolize, alcohol). Third is that I ran into my ex from college randomly, and we had lunch this week. And the fourth -- perhaps a result of the first three -- is that I've been scanning old pictures onto my computer, and posting some into albums on Facebook.

For many years, through many moves, I've been carrying around a box of pictures that has become increasingly less organized over time. The collection consists primarily of photos from when I was about 16 to 22, because that's when I was old enough to have interesting things to photograph and young enough not to have had this hobby thwarted by the ease of digital photography.

In this box are two photo albums my mom gave of assorted pictures from childhood, such as the one at the top of this blog of me in the breakfast room of the house I grew up in. I think this was in the mid to late '80s. Scanning these pictures made me wonder, for the first time, whether it would be hard/easy/creepy to get in touch with the family that moved into my old house, which I lived in from age 0 to 20. Turned out to be simple, thanks to Facebook, and not creepy, thanks to my talent for tactful note-writing. I sent a few of the old pictures to the matriarch of the house, and we've since exchanged some nice long notes.

The activity of actually engaging with the people who live in my old house, and of discussing the ways it's changed, has been -- and I use this world carefully -- unique. I can't quite articulate my feelings about it. It's both sad and, in a way, empowering almost to the point of being joyful. It's not as if I hadn't let go, but I think establishing this connection takes "letting go" to a higher emotional plane; perhaps I had come to accept letting go, and now I'm actually embracing it. 

Anyway, this is a heavy topic that combines childhood-to-adulthood transition, family dynamics and other topics far beyond the scope of this blog. To some people, getting an MBA is a hoop to making more money. To others, it's a very obtuse angle in the road, and as you're making that turn, it's probably natural to look behind you.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Why a 200% raise = a 37% raise


The many advantages of being a full-time student include tremendous tax refunds. Last year was my first experience with H&R Block, and although I think what they charge is a bit steep for what they do, I just, you know, want someone else to do my taxes for me, damnit. It's faster and easier enough to justify the expense for me. 

Last year, my beloved Al found me an extra $2,000 in some type of education credit. This year, my beloved Al was on leave because he fell and hit his head. He should be fine, and I certainly hope that's the case because he was wonderful and very kind last year. In his temporary absence, George helped me, and I will be getting back quite a bit of money from the United States and the State of New York. I do, however, owe the State of Connecticut US$4.00. George was sure to let me know that I had until April 18 to cough up the Washingtons.

When it comes to generous refunds, I will probably not be so lucky in the coming years, as I will not be a student, and I will have 12 months of salary. I'll also be paying more in federal taxes because I'll be in a higher tax bracket than I was before. On top of that, New York State and New York City both like to steal and redistribute money. According to this handy paycheck calendar, if I am a resident of New York City, I should expect to have about 40% of my total earnings swiped from me before I ever see it, because of federal taxes, Social Security, Medicare, state tax and city tax. That's literally twice the rate I was paying on my old salary in Texas (where I made less and where there are no state taxes and, I think, no city taxes). What a stinky shame this is!

Of course, on top of more taxes, I will also be repaying student loans at the rate of roughly $1,650/month. Rent in New York is also a lot higher than in Texas. I've crunched the numbers, and any way you slice it, I'll be better off financially than I was before. But in the short term, the numbers turn out to be a little deflating. My base salary at Deloitte, before bonuses, is going to be more than three times what I made before -- that's a 200% raise. You'd think, therefore, that I'd be on Easy Street. But if you compare the actual cash taken home after taxes and rent (assuming rent of $1,750, which I sort of picked out of thin air), it turns out that I'll be making only about 37% more than before. When you think about it, that's truly unreal -- a 200% raise amounts to 37% more post-tax, post-rent spending cash?

There's a bit more nuance to this issue than what I've laid out, of course. And an MBA is really a long-term investment. Still, it's grating to see what looks like a jackpot get chipped away by taxes and student loans. But for now, I'm just going to enjoy fantasizing about what I might buy with my tax refund ... Maybe I'll make a nice donation to the Republican Party.