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Arianna Huffington came to speak at work a few weeks ago. I wasn’t sure what I’d think of the writer turned politician turned online journalism pioneer. I expected arrogant and out of touch and instead found her funny, down-to-earth and insightful.
The core of her talk revolved around her new book, On Becoming Fearless, which I’ll share more on later. But she also shared one of her keys to success: get enough sleep.
In recent years, I feel like it’s become a requirement of success not to sleep at all. Bill Clinton claimed to sleep four hours a night. Martha Stewart came to work to speak a few months ago and also talked about not needing much sleep. Sleep, it seems, is the a lazy man’s crutch; the successful learn to conquer it, health impacts be damned (and there are a lot of health problems that come with getting too little sleep, including heart attacks). As someone who needs eight hours a night, it’s pretty disheartening to hear I’ll be limited professionally by my need for Zs.
That’s why it was so refreshing to hear Huffington praise sleep. She said she spent years not sleeping enough, only to pass out one day from exhaustion and realize the error of her ways. She now gets at least seven hours a night and wishes everyone else would too.
“I was having dinner with a man, I won’t say who, who bragged about only having five hours of sleep,” she said during her talk. “I thought to myself, ‘Well, this dinner would be a lot more interesting if you’d gotten a few hours more.’”
So on this lazy, post-Thanksgiving day, now I can sleep in and feel smart and successful at the same time. And if I can’t follow Huffington’s advice, I’ll take after Winston Churchill. He believed in the afternoon nap. Mmmmm.
I’ve had a lot of guest speakers in class this quarter, most of them alums ranging from five to 45 years out of Darden. Most of the time, they inspire awe and I leave the class thinking, “I hope I can be half as successful/wise/humble/smart when I’m a grown up alum!”
But once in awhile we host someone less inspiring. These people may be damaged, burned out, arrogant or callous. They are a reminder that business has the capacity to chew you up and spit you out and leave you with very little of your soul left (they don’t make movies like Wall Street and Working Girl because this isn’t true. Who among us wants to be either Gordon Gekko or Katharine Parker, aka the backstabbing Sigourney Weaver?).
So, inspired by Tina Fey’s “Mother’s Prayer for Its Child,” I wrote the prayer below. On the eve of my graduation, I need to remind myself not to lose myself in the years ahead.
An MBA’s Prayer for Her Future Self
First Lord, no jet talk. No matter how many (or how few) times I ride in corporate or private jets, may I never brag about it or forget the horrors of flying coach.
Save me from new BMWs, Mercedes and Audis, reminding me that they lose 25 percent of their value the second I drive them off the lot. Empower me to buy preowned.
Even if my days are filled with conversations about “aligned incentives,” “value-adds” and “strategic, multi-functional solutions” may I never bring that tinny, meaningless jargon into my home.
Keep me from greed, needless status symbols and “keeping up with the MBAs” in all their many forms: Louis Vuitton handbags, Maseratis, penthouse condos, Burberry jackets, vacations in St. Bart’s, jet shares, private islands and mini-yachts. May I always recall the cost and weight these things will add to my life, chaining me to my career long after I have burned out.
Lord, make me not a slave to my job, one who works and travels 360 days a year so that my personal life consists not of a husband, three lovely children and several close friends, but chiefly of a bottle of cabernet, a Netflix subscription and late-night online shopping. May I never utter the phrase, “I’ll have a personal life when I retire.”
Also, make me brave enough to pursue my passion (after I pay off my student loans, of course) and not surrender to the corporate treadmill of carrots, sticks and golden handcuffs. Give me the strength to one day leave my cushy, regular paycheck to chase my dreams of entrepreneurship, start-ups, social enterprise and novel writing.
Protect me from the temptations of insider training, abusing the expense account, cooking the books, sleeping with the boss and other forms of corporate shadiness, reminding me always and forever that my integrity has no price.
And, above all Lord, deliver me from becoming an uppity, entitled, self-centered corporate bitch. Should I verge on this horrible fate, remind me of my grandfathers, the bricklayer and the steel worker, and my grandmothers who bought government cheese and sewed their children’s clothes. Remind me of my days as a janitor and a pool snack shop girl and shame me, Lord, for ever thinking I “deserve” anything. May I recall that the higher I rise, the more responsibility I bear and the more people I have who depend on me not to screw up. Help me to honor my duty to those people and never, ever think, “They owe me.”
(For a much more eloquent take on how not to lose your soul in business, read my professor’s goodbye speech,”Are You a Turkey or An Eagle?”)
The Wall Street Journal asked that question this week (a big thank you to MBA Cookie for passing the story to me).
The WSJ story (read it here) suggests that while MBAs are great at math and analytics, they aren’t so good at explaining what it all means. Or at giving presentations in general. Or even writing emails. Apparently most of us are pretty language deficient and are lucky if we speak in complete, coherent sentences.
And, to top it off, companies are starved for language-proficient MBAs.
Thanks to my indepth study of supply and demand these last few years, I’d say this is ehhhhhxcellent news for me (insert mental image of The Simpons’ Mr. Burns rubbing his hands together with a wicked smile).
There are a lot of measures of the value of an MBA and some people have been questioning if it‘s worth its salt recently.
But the dollar value of my MBA hit home when I filed my taxes this week.
I earned more this year that I’ve been in b-school than I did in almost every year of my pre-Darden working life.
That’s a combo of three months of internship salary and signing bonus, neither of which are as high as my classmates entering more lucrative fields like investment banking or consulting. So my MBA could have been worth even more …
(Side note: This means either I was paid really well this summer or really poorly before. Since I was a journalist, I’ll go with the latter. It’s another example of how pay doesn’t always equal importance. Good journalists uphold the First Amendment. In my new job, I’ll be selling cereal. It’s not quite the same.)
Lucky for me, earning my MBA has always been about more than the potential monetary payoff (something you may have figured out if you’re a frequent reader of this blog). My time at Darden has been worth it for the new skills I’ve learned, the network I’ve built, and, yes, my future husband who I met here.
And the money is a nice bonus.
Life at Darden right now is smooth. We’ve just come off more than a month of break. Classes haven’t ramped up yet and our stress over them is minimal anyway, because, hey, it’s our last semester here. And many of my SY friends have jobs, which means the major worry of SY is behind them.
So we have time to watch football, throw birthday parties, go to the park with our dogs – and write blog entries.
But I was reminded yesterday that life is decidedly NOT smooth right now for First Years.
They are in the throes of interview season, walking to school in suits and their “good” shoes, mock interviewing every chance they get and reviewing grocery store shelves, case frameworks and investment banking gobbly gook. They are sweating closed lists and second round lists and those good news/bad news emails and phone calls that end the whole process.
I was reminded by a FY who I did a mock interview with. She’s lovely and is on track to do well. But when she pulled out her notebook full of scribbled ideas, notes on previous mock interviews and prep questions, I was transported back to last year. I had an Excel spreadsheet instead of a notebook, but otherwise I was pretty much in her shoes.
I reviewed every possible interview question. I did a dozen mock interviews, sitting down with any SY, career coach or coffee shop patron who would quiz me. I sweated closed lists, big time, and I had trouble sleeping. I froze to death, teetering to school in my skirt suit and heels. It was really hard to focus on classes.
And then I got internship offers. And the whole world just looked brighter.
So, to all the business school First Years out there who are suffering through interview season, take heart. The hard work will be worth it. I promise.
And your last quarter is going to be AWESOME.
First year of business school is trial by fire.
It is hard work and endurance.
It is learning something new and potentially mind-blowing every day.
It is drinking from a fire hydrant of information and figuring how much to take in and what matters most, because you surely can’t drink it all.
It is working hard and playing hard – you don’t want to miss out on anything.
It is tackling big challenges and realizing you can do more than you thought.
It is working with lots of different people, some of them challenging, and learning that you can make it work.
It is illness and sleep deprivation and eating canned soup and cheese sticks for dinner.
It is figuring out what you want to be when you grow up. Or, at least, what you want to be for the summer.
It is really, really, really hard.
Second year of business school is reflective.
It is diving deeper and realizing the answers often aren’t black and white.
It is asking what you want your career to look like and realizing you may not know.
It is exploring business ideas and imagining yourself as an entrepreneur – and maybe even giving it a try.
It is Wednesday night dinners with friends, wine tastings and weekend getaways – because you actually have the time for all that.
It is running events and mentoring FYs and giving back any way you can because you love this place so much that you want it to be awesome for everyone who comes after you.
It is deciding on a future, at least an immediate future, even though you’re scared shitless when you think about where it all might lead.
It is reconciling who you want to be ultimately with what you’re able to do right now and trying to be patient with the fact that it will take time to get to the final destination.
It is really, really, really hard. Just in a very different way.
On Friday night, an event took place that’s very close to my heart: the Darden Brand Challenge.
Close to my heart because, well, I helped plan it! And by all accounts, it was a great night.
The basic idea: It’s a marketing carnival in which First Year students form teams, set up creative booths and write surveys to do market research for companies they’re interested in. And Darden students come and participate because it’s fun!
I love Brand Challenge because it’s one of those events that gives everyone something. It allows Darden students interested in marketing to practice market research and to network with companies like General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Dell, Ford and Heinz, all firms that offer prime marketing internships.
It gives the companies a chance to get to know Darden students and get a little free market research.
And, finally, it gives the rest of Darden a chance to try out some cool products and have a good time.
But Brand Challenge comes across even better in pictures. So here are a few, by fellow Darden student Jibb Kungwansurah.
Part of the joy of coming to Darden was the possibility it unleashed. The last two years of my newspaper career were a death spiral of layoffs, reduced quality and hopelessness. Being in an environment where anything seemed possible was such a huge relief that I didn’t care that I was working 27-hour days and living off of cheese sticks, Fage yogurt and canned soup.
But as I prepare to leave Darden and look toward the future as a woman with an MBA, I’m nervous.
Not because I don’t think I’ll be successful and not because I am not excited about the possibilities in front of me.
No, I’m worried because I’m a WOMAN with an MBA, which means I’m far more likely than my male colleagues to watch my career stall in 10 to 15 years.
I’m not talking about the glass ceiling per se, though I do think it still exists in many places. I’m talking about the choices women often make to put family ahead of career and children before promotions, and how that often curtails our careers. We don’t necessarily leave the workforce entirely, but I know many women look back and think, “I wonder what would have happened if I could have devoted myself to my career?”
That’s an especially painful feeling when you’re Type A, driven by success who just dropped $100K on an advanced education.
To be honest, I naively thought this stuff would be better figured out by now. So did my mom, who entered the workforce in the 1970s and surely thought that by the time her daughter grew up this whole mess would be sorted out.
But it’s not.
The current work environment doesn’t make it easy to balance family and career. Even at companies that are family-friendly.
It’s almost impossible to have two working parents pursuing their careers with equal zeal and opportunity, especially when kids are involved — or even when they aren’t. Take the young married couple with huge career opportunities in different cities. Do they decide to live apart so one can pursue a dream job in Seattle while the other works in New York? Something has to give.
And, to be honest, it’s usually the woman.
Many of us do it to ourselves. I know that there are couples today where the woman is the breadwinner and the man stays at home. But despite my Type A personality, I still want a man who is ambitious and driven. I remember one boyfriend telling me he’d LOVE to be a stay-at-home dad. My first thought? “He’s looking for a sugar momma to take care of him!” Needless to say, we didn’t work out.
I don’t want to be a sugar momma, but I also don’t want to be a housewife.
I don’t want my kids to be raised by day care and nannies, but I can’t imagine stopping my career at “mom.”
I am an educated woman who wants it all, but I realize I can’t have it.
I am like every educated woman who has pondered this quandary in the last 40 years.
I hate that I will likely have to make these tradeoffs, but, at the same time, I’m grateful that I have a choice. Most men don’t have to decide between career and family, but most also don’t get the option of being the primary caregiver.
All this hit home for me when a friend passed along this 2003 New York Times Magazine story headlined “The Opt-Out Revolution.” In it, the writer followed up on women who had graduated from top schools with MBAs and law degrees. She found that many of them weren’t working because of the demands of family. They had given up promising careers.
That made me sad.
But then she points out that some of these women left because they had the option. Their careers weren’t as fulfilling any more, and — like breaking up with your college boyfriend right after graduation — having kids offered them the perfect opportunity to bow out.
That made me hopeful. Feminism is about having the choice.
But I still have no idea what my choice will be.
I worry sometimes that pursuing a career in brand management isn’t particularly noble or good for society. I’m especially reminded of that fact when I talk with my boyfriend, who’s pursuing jobs with companies that make innovative life-saving drugs and medical devices.
Because of his work, people will live better lives. Because of mine, they’ll … buy more granola bars.
Or so I thought.
“You know,” Boyfriend said. “What you do is good for society.”
Oh really? I asked.
“Follow me. You build these brands that have value and mean something to people. You work hard to protect them and you constantly try to innovate so you can keep your brand strong.”
“And if you don’t have that kind of innovation and diversity, you have Communist Russia. They could only buy white bread. No wheat or nine-grain or sourdough or baguettes or rye or pumpernickel.
“And while I usually like wheat bread, once in awhile I want the option to have nine-grain, sourdough, baguettes, rye or, when I’m feeling crazy, pumpernickel. Brand management enables that.”
So basically brand managers fight communism? I asked. I’m like the Truman Doctrine?
There you have it, ladies and gents. Buy brands, fight communism.
It’s recruiting season for second year b-school students, and it’s remarkable how much the Recruiting Game feels like The Dating Game. (for more about actual dating in b-school, check out this post)
So, in honor of two timeless mating rituals, here are the top nine ways MBA job recruiting is like dating:
9. You meet for drinks: Any experienced dater knows it’s best to start with a drinks date instead of a full-blown evening. Alcohol is a wonderful social lubricant, and cocktails give you options. If the person is a winner, you can continue the date with dinner. If they’re not, you can fake other plans and only lose an hour of your life. Recruiters know this. Hence the popularity of networking cocktail hours.
8. You get free meals: My mother told me the only reason she went out on a blind date with my father was because it meant a free meal. Many a girl is guilty of going on a date for the free nosh. Sometimes the same is true of a recruiting event. Good food or a trip to a nice restaurant might entice an MBA to sign up — and maybe, like my parents, they end up falling in love.
7. You dress to impress: Everyone wants to look their best for a date. Recruiting events are no different. The guys look a little raw with their fresh haircuts and perfectly pressed shirts, and the women are pulling their suits and interview heels out of storage. None of us look like we do on an average day.
6. You put on a show: When we’re trying really hard to impress on a date, we laugh a little louder, act a little more enthusiastic, smile a little bigger, tell stories that make us sound a little more glamorous. Shockingly, MBAs in company briefings do the same thing. If we were peacocks, we’d be walking around with puffed out chests and fanned tail feathers. Look at me! Look at me!
5. You wait for the call: So much of dating is about waiting — for the call, the text, the email that indicates the other person is thinking about us. In recruiting, you’re waiting for an email from a company rep, the sight of your name on a closed list or — hallelujah!– a job offer to tell you if the company wants you. If you don’t get those signals, they’re just not that into you.
4. You love the one your with: Let’s face it. Not all dating is an honorable pursuit of one’s true love. Sometimes being with someone is better than being with no one, and we’ve all been guilty of dating people just to feel secure. MBA recruiting is no different. When the goal is to land a job offer before graduation, some MBAs find themselves flirting with every company that has a decent cash flow — and even some that don’t.
3. You have a fear of committment: If we talked about getting married on every first date, none of us would go on a second. Recruiting is the same way. Most MBAs can imagine working for a company for two or three years. Any more than that and we get cold feet and start talking about how we need to “focus on me right now” and assuring the company that “it’s not you, it’s me.”
2. You juggle quantity vs. quality: Anyone who’s tried online dating knows you have to balance quantity and quality. You want enough lines in the water to catch some interesting fish but you have to make sure you have enough time to lavish attention on the ones that seem most promising. And so it is with job recruiting. You’ve got to keep your options open and cultivate the most promising leads at the same time. It’s a delicate balance.
1. You just want to find true love: When we’re really honest with ourselves, dating wears us out. We may love the thrill of the chase, but after awhile we grow tired of prancing around in uncomfortable shoes and smiling too hard in search of our soul mate. We just want to fall in love with that one perfect person who will adore us for who we are. And we want that one perfect company too, that place where we can let our guard down a little, do a job we’re passionate about and go home each day fulfilled and happy.