Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Commencement

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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

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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

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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.