Reflections in Writing & in Running

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It’s been a while since I’ve been here, writing. It’s funny – I actually have so many more things thrown at me these days, things that I should be processing, mulling over, making use of by writing about them. But, without my 30-45 minute daily subway ride, without my morning runs in the park with JV, I seem to have lost a bit of my space, my momentum for reflection. As last semester wrapped up, in the midst of finals and just before holiday break, a bunch of us lady MBA candidates got together for dinner. Because a break from studying sounded nice and because many of us would be jetting off to new locations in January. During dinner, a classmate brought up a lack of reflection in the program; that critique resonated not just with me, but with many of us.

For me, part of the problem with blogging is that, as a communications person, as someone who thinks that words are not just strings of letters but tiny ships carrying meaning from me to you. I have problems just sitting down, pounding out a bunch of words and posting. I might do that with school work sometimes often, because deadlines and “this must be turned in” force my hand. It’s a bit like the exercise thing - where unless I have an hour or two I won’t bother to exercise. When, in reality, if I only spend ten minutes running, it’s better than not exercising at all. I’ve gotten better at the running bit, so let’s see if I can get better at the reflecting & blogging bit.

But this reflection drought isn’t just about how I prioritize things. It’s a difference, in part, in the type of program I’m in. My friends pursuing Masters degrees in social work and psychology seem to have a more structured format within their program for reflection, since its viewed as core to their work and to them being effective in their roles.

But, of course, it’s not just psychologists who benefit from self- and group-reflection. It matters in business too. This HBS blog piece discusses the power of keeping a five-minute daily work journal. An MBA student who had to write daily journal entries, despite her busy calendar and “greater priorities,” for a B school class, notes that she went on to integrate this practice in all of her future work, because it helped give her greater focus, patience, planning and personal growth. Not bad for 5-10 minutes a day.

Running outdoors has always been a place and time for me to think things through. Sometimes, bouncing ideas off the friends I’m running with, and sometimes simply soaking in the sunshine or the winter wind or the mist hanging above the meadow in Prospect Park and reflecting. And it seems I’m not alone. Matan Rochlitz, a filmmaker, noticed how his thoughts reassembled to make more sense while he swam. Hypothesizing that exercise frees our minds, he recruited Ivo Gormley to join him in videotaping people in a park in London while running, asking them questions. Often quite personal questions. The result: a charming 10-minute film, that captures amazing truths from runners of all ages and sizes, along with the shifting landscapes of the park as the seasons change. It’s charming and worth a watch.

The holiday break brought me home to the NYC area. Back to trains and subways shuttling me from friend to friend to family. And since classes were out, I was able to cozy up to books and notebooks and pens and headphones. Timid to take the full dive into reflecting (what if I discovered something I didn’t want to discover?!), I did begin jotting down notes to myself (a true sign of a shift in my B school life – when I lived in NYC I carried tiny notebooks with me religiously, always jotting down thoughts and musings). And in these last few weeks I’ve continued to think about the things that still have me intrigued, that demand some attention. So, I hope to share my thoughts right here, in the next couple of weeks, about these things.

What’s been on my mind?

  • Reflection (obviously)
  • Mental health and higher education
  • Brainstorming
  • Are men’s and women’s brains really so different? And what that means for workplaces and MBA programs
  • Africa is not a country, it’s a continent

If you have other ideas for exploration here on the blog, or want to co-blog with me, let me know.

In the meantime, though, let’s go Seahawks! #enjoythegame #puppybowlforever

The Time Value of Money

I’m about 10% done with my 10 month MBA program. When you’re an MBA, at least in your initial period, you spend a lot of time thinking about and figuring out the time value of money. Which is to say, you look at how the value of $100 today is different than the value of $100 next year or in 10 years. 

But, as you try to cram in lots of learning, networking, soul searching, job hunting and partying into those very same 10 months, you also begin to see time as your most valuable asset. Which is a good life lesson, because more broadly, that seems to be the most valuable thing in the lives of most people in the 21st century.

Pair that with FOMO and you are faced with an interesting conundrum. How do I do it all? And stay true to myself? And build meaningful friendships instead of just countless neat acquaintances?

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Case Study: I am recovering from an injury and feeling like I’m about to get a cold (yup, I’m a mess. I also just noticed two giant bug bites on my hand - yikes!), and I really had to talk myself into not doing anything last night. Which was harder than it should have been. I mean, sure, there is  much to do - dinner in Paris, drinks in Fonty, a new Woody Allen movie to see. But I also know that while drinks in Fonty are fun, but it’s not like I’m missing out on the World Cup. But t’s all good, because I was able to stay in and catch up on all the interwebz I had been missing while in school and out with friends. [We’re doing a lip sync battle at school, right?]

Takeaway: At this point, I think we’ve all laid out our goals for business school - some are academic and others are more network or socially oriented. But we’re still in the tinkering process. It’s a big learning curve, coming from the office back to school, especially one with such a short time horizon. So we’re all making some mistakes and adjusting the course as we go. Trial by error is proving to be an effective teacher, I think.

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The weather here has been nice this past week„ so we’ve all been soaking up the sunshine during lunch breaks. But of course, fall is coming! So I plan of hitting up the lovely farmer’s market tomorrow - you know, the one across from the chateau (obviously) - for some apples. I’m thinking a boozy apple pie could be the perfect way to close out the weekend. I suppose living in place that is not renowned for good weather is a good lesson in living in the moment and taking advantage of things as they arise. Althought, to be honest, sometimes the library wins out. Otherwise I’d daydream my study time away, off in the forest or le chateau ;-)

I have been working on a lovely playlist for y’all, while “studying” for my micro midterm (oh dear, we get those scores back on Tuesday. please pray for me ;-). But apparently, free Spotify France-style limits you to 10 hours per week here, so obviously my listening rights are currently on hold. But I’ll post that soon.

In the meantime, my music obsessions to share are:

  1. AlunaGeorge - ohhmygod, give this a listen. So sharp!
  2. Best Coast has a new song out (from upcoming EP) - can’t get enough of their sound. ever. especially the 2nd half of this track
  3. Yes, it’s true. My two loves are now one! The National (holla - Bklyn peeps!) will be on The Mindy Project
  4. And while we’re talking musical loves on TV…Mr. Jonsi will be on GoT next season, which should be tight

And I suppose the only appropriate way to close this post is to let you know that The Economist believes I could get the same business education watching Breaking Bad ($80 and about 62 hours) instead of business school (obsene amounts of $ and 10 months x 30 days x 24 hours = 7,200 hours of my life). I don’t even want to think about the time value of money or opportunity costs here though…

Back to (B) School.

I set off for business school nearly 10 years to the day that I left home for college. That day in 2003 there was a huge blackout in the Northeast of the U.S. – a bizarre way to kick off an important voyage into adulthood and new friendships.

This time around, blackouts were successfully avoided, if much talked about in the media. And instead of cramming every nook and cranny of my father’s car full of my stuff to cart down to Washington, D.C., I lugged two suitcases to JFK, kissed mom and dad goodbye and flew to France.

For the next few months, I will be share my B school experience from France (and then Singapore) here on the blog, along with my regular mix of random musings. So, here goes:

The incredible thing about going to school at 28, as opposed to 18, is that your self-confidence is worlds away. Last time I did this, I was terrified I wouldn’t make any friends. This time around I was worried because I wasn’t worrying about that. But then I arrived here in France and learned that when you bring together 300 new B school students from every corner of the world, they are all so jazzed to be here, all so much more formed and full of fascinating experiences, that to meet one another is pure excitement instead of anxiety – at least for me. And attending a few meetups in NYC was helpful, too, since it meant that I already recognized some faces on campus from the get-go.

In my first week here, I went to “math camp” – essentially a crash course in quant, accounting and finance for those with a non-traditional background. We had classes from 9 to 3 each day, with about five hours of group work each night.

When you are set back in the classroom after working, you fall asleep in class make some discoveries about yourself and your peers. First, we all have technology addictions. When you sit through an hour and a half of accounting for the first time, you find it interesting. Is that what the finance team at my organization was doing?!

And then, about forty-five minutes into class, you find yourself, regardless of whether the content is interesting or the teacher is engaging, itching (and I mean ITCHING) to subtly untuck your phone from you backpack and just see what is going on in the world. Any new photos on Facebook? Did I get any emails? What are my friends back in the states up to?

I know we all recognize our tech addictions in general, but in the classroom the acceptability of technology can be different than in a work meeting where reading email is part of what you get paid to do. Although, it’s not to say that phones aren’t abused in meetings and the workplace. It’s a matter of prioritizing. And recognizing that you’re spending all of your cash dollars to sit in that classroom.

The other thing you realize when you meet peers from around the world (and we truly are a global bunch here) is that while Americans may have, by and large, stopped smoking, the rest of the world has not.

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I have inhaled more second hand smoke here in the past two weeks than I have in years in the states. I’m not sure why there is such a big difference in this culture between the U.S., Europe and Asia, actually. Let me know if you have thoughts or theories.

The cultural difference I’m finding the hardest to adjust to are store hours. When you are at school from 8:30 AM to 8 PM, good luck trying to get to the bank or a grocery store or a clothing shop. On weekdays, most things close between 5 and 7. On Sundays, most stores are closed or maybe open until noon. Which leaves Saturday to do it all. Banks are closed on Mondays and for lunch.

Coming from Brooklyn (yes, I’m spoiled), where there is always a bodega on the corner with organic tomatoes open at 10PM and a Thai place that will deliver until midnight and a 24 hour grocery store a 10 minute walk away, this is a big change. I’m going to have to plan better. I’m going to have to think: What am I eating for the week and when can I run over to the store to get all of it? When do I have a long enough break from classes to jump over to the bank?

Of course, I’m having so much fun (the weather has been lovely, the new friends are plentiful, I can run in a real forest!), that it makes the small inconveniences worth it. Although, it does make Brooklyn a little dearer to me ;-)

A few of my recent musical faves. Thanks to JV for the Preatures rec!

Typhoon – Young Fathers

The Preatures – Is This How You Feel?

On a housekeeping note, I will hope to post about once a week. If you prefer to follow all my social activities in one spot, now you can! Check out my Rebel Mouse page to see blog posts, book reviews (ha, probably not many of those during the school year!), Tweets and Instagrams all in one spot. w00t!