Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Few Days in the Life

There are a number of things I could ramble on about right now- as the ups and downs of life never cease- not even for an instant. It’s always when you “need a break” that the breaks never seem to arrive.

However- in the essence of time- because it is the most limited commodity of late- I’m going to outline briefly what it feels like to be an MBA student, in the middle of an economic crisis, a few days before final exams and only a few brief weeks before summer.

Summer used to be a word that tasted good as it came out of my mouth- all watermelony and filled with sunshine and polka-dotted bikinis. Now, however, things have changed. Shock. Summer is an enormous looming cloud over my head and as the hours start overlapping and the pages of my virtual calendar move forward- the anxiety is building and the ominous cloud is looking ready to burst.

Forecast: thunder, lightning, and the wrath of my parents wondering why I don't have an internship yet.

A while back, I started writing an MBA Journal called “A Day in the Life.” It’s lovely to relate stories of discovering and sharing and growing- all of which is happening within the 18 months of an MBA. But right now- “a day in the life” is a wholly different story.

Finals kick off in five days. Every term it’s the same story: classes end too quickly, I feel unprepared and out of time, I cram and read and write and work until I’ve gone cross-eyed. I show up to the exam with my calculator and erasers- shaking from too much coffee and too little sleep. In the end, I hope for the best- And in the end, I do pass. The only difference this time is I feel like the term went even faster, I know even less than I did last time and that the time I have to prepare has been cut in half. It’s so bad that I don't even know where to start. I’m totally blocked.

And then, instead of looking forward to the end of finals and celebrating the fact that we got through yet another set of exams together, summer will have arrived. I’ll say goodbye to the classrooms and books and teachers, hop on the bus home, open the door to my apartment, put my stuff down, and wonder where the hell to go from there. Seriously.

Next year’s classes start in the middle of September. So come two weeks from now, I see only one big blank spot of three months ahead of me.

I would be lying if I said that idea of doing nothing for a change isn’t enticing. The problem lies within the consequences of the “nothing.” And of course- the guilt. Jewish guilt…even worse. And importantly, the question of how to fund this “doing nothing.” I wonder if Fannie Mae gives living loans to internshipless MBA candidates. There’s a thought.

As a side not- something completely unrelated to the MBA-  and something I generally wouldn't bother sharing- happened last Saturday. Nevertheless, its just too amusing not to report:

So I was in Naples with my boyfriend this weekend…his ex-girlfriend is somewhat of a model/celebrity. Well, more of a superstar like “Miss Italy” or something. (I’m trying to play it down.) Anyway, this is fine with me, I swear. She’s his ex after all. 

We were driving to the station to catch a train to Rome- we pull up to a bus. I look out the window and staring at me is someone who looks vaguely familiar. As we get closer to the bus and come to a stop- I read the name underneath this glamorous woman with stunning makeup and windblown hair- and realize that it is, in fact, the “ex.” 

I kind of gasped…turned away…then turned back…then turned away again- and thought to myself, “yes, I really did just see the “ex” on the side of a bus.” Only in my world, I swear…

I cant say that seeing your boyfriend’s famous ex-girlfriend staring at you from a poster the size of your apartment is any help getting started studying.

On another note, in the midst of all this apprehension and worry about things that really wont matter so much in the long run, we were all presented with a considerable reminder of the important things in life- one of those reminders where time stops for everyone around, there is complete silence, and we all take a minute or two to digest what has actually happened;

One of our professors died on Monday. In his lecture that same day, regarding this crisis, he mentioned that it will pass and although he may not be here, we will. He spoke with vigor and excitement in his wise eyes. And then, that evening at home, he unexpectedly passed away. I suppose the lessons we are learning in this MBA extend far beyond numbers and theories. 

His passing was a reminder to step back once in a while and look at the bigger picture…to enjoy what we have, while we have it. Because as short as the days are- the years are even shorter…

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Happy Places

Last week was a bad week. It was a week where the glass is half empty- whichever way you look at it. It was a week where you question all your life’s choices and are fearful that maybe its too late to mend your mistakes. It was a week where you put on your iTunes and the shuffle function only seems to find the songs that remind you of the tragic losses of your life.

Last week was a week where it takes three cabs to find the one driver who allows you to enter with the 5 euro coffee you just paid for. It was a week where there were frequent reminders that the life you once had has continued without you. It was a week where you want to be there and not here- a week where you would rather be anywhere but here.

Last week was a week where you are so wrapped up in your own loneliness that you hide from the people who could help fill the empty space around you- a week where the supermarket is out of the one thing you are craving and the flights you want to take have all gone up three times their original prices.

It was week where your maid doesn't show up, and no matter how many times you read a question, you still cant figure out the formula to apply.

Last week, I ripped my favorite jeans right in the crotch and I couldn't get a hold of my best friend on text, email, phone or Skype. Last week, I questioned everything I have now and missed everything I once had. I wondered what I am really doing here and where I am going once it’s over.

 I’ve heard people refer to their “happy places." These “happy places” being mental shelters from an emotional storm. People who have happy places shift their consciousness to somewhere else when faced with stress or disagreeable circumstances.

I don't have a happy place. Although, I wish I did. I live everything so intensely that my lack of a happy place is often my worst enemy. If I’m hurt or angry or sad or stressed- the emotion consumes me. I see red and only red. I recognize this weakness and for years, have tried to talk myself out of it- or “into” a happy place. “Go to your happy place” does not work for me. At least not in my mind.

Then, on the other hand, I do have happy moments. Moments that exist in the physical sense of a place- a location, in one’s company- or the like.

After my week- I managed to find a few happy places of my own.

Saturday night was Barcelona’s “La Nit dels Museus.” It is one night a year where Barcelona opens up its museums, free of charge, to the public from 7:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. I figured that as long as I am here, I may as well infuse my culture-starved soul with some knowledge unrelated to the MBA.

It wasn't easy to stop skulking around my apartment after 24 hours of ice-cream pints and pint-sized tears- but I managed to strip myself of my sweatpants, brush my hair and throw on a brave face in order to tackle the outside world.

The sun was setting, which always manages to stun me in Barcelona. There is something about the light here- the soft pinks that serve as a backdrop to the bowed exteriors of deliberately warped Gaudi structures. I pulled up to Monjuic and regardless of the many times as I have visited it, this time it was more beautiful than ever. The fountain was gracefully spilling over to the rhythm of the music playing in the background- and the fountain’s lights served to illuminate Plaza España. As I looked up, I recognized that maybe everything else was starting to look up as well.

I spent the next four hours hopping from museum to museum. I visited the Caixa Forum’s architecture exhibit, the Archaeology museum, and later, I navigated the anthropology museum’s tour of the world. I visited MNAC (National Museum of Art of Catalonia) and spent most of my time in the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

I had not forgotten how much I love art- I could never forget that. But I did forget how much I need it, and how, for a significant period of my life, canvases and oil, bronze figurines, sketches on hidden walls and stone chiseled into the most beautiful shapes were like my air. And then after my week of doubt and difficulty- I finally realized how standing still for a few moments in front of the colors and shapes, etched hundreds of years ago, onto portions of stretched cloth can fill me with a calm serenity. And I thought about what an idiot I had been to not take advantage of all this- at my fingertips…I had almost forgotten my air- forgotten to breathe.

So I walked around the museum, smiling at the paintings I recognized and studying the ones I had never seen- but understanding and identifying the styles used and the stories from which they came. It was a weird sensation. Art was my air and instead of breathing it in, I started to feel choked- as tears rose…and I realized in opposition to the sadness I have been feeling recently, this sudden outburst was nothing more than tears of happiness. In a way- even for a few seconds- I felt at peace.

Then, after my museum experience, I found my happy place #2. I stopped between museum visits (I was on my way to the Born district to tackle Picasso) with a friend to grab a beer and possibly a few tapas. This friend of mine can only be described as my polar opposite. "The Yin to my Yang," as he once mentioned while trying to tell me that he hated me without hurting my feelings.

We were talking, as MBA classmates do, about certain courses, summer plans and future prospects and possibilities. Our conversation twisted and turned and we spoke of other things- things we don't speak about in class. And I realized something; we are not so different after all. We all feel pain and suffer anxiety- we are all a bit lost, but we are all concurrently finding ourselves- often with each others’ help. We all have personal relationships and desires and hopes that linger like flies on the seemingly blank walls of our minds as we grind through this MBA of ours. I talked- he listened. He talked- I listened. And we understood each other far more than either of us ever expected to. And I then realized something- maybe I’m not so alone- so dissimilar- as I often like to believe.

Shortly after, our conversation was interrupted (although I plan to finish it at some point) by the arrival of about 20 American MBA candidates. It was a group of GW students staying in Barcelona participating in a case competition with my school. They recognized my friend, as he had participated in the competition as well. A night of introductions, beers and bars ensued. It was fun, but more importantly, it made me conscious of something I would have otherwise, by no means, appreciated.

These students, all doing their MBAs at GW, were palpable reminders of my time at GW…my four years as in D.C. 

We spoke of places I used to hang out, classrooms I dreaded, food I used to eat, bars I frequented and so many other parts of one of the most significant periods of my life to date. Talking to these people, though, didn't have the effect one would expect. I didn't miss my undergrad days- I didn't miss DC, the debauchery, the friendships, the freedom. Instead- I was happy to be where I am- with all of that behind me….although forever appreciative of what it was- because it is, in fact, a part of who I am now.

Furthermore, it made me think of how I have grown- and how I have changed. And I imagined going back now- with all the knowledge and wisdom I have gained in the years between these two very different experiences.

All things considered, I feel lucky- because as hindsight is said to be 20-20, I am living this right now; back in school- back alongside students, and books and classes, exams, professors and grades. 

I am, in effect, doing exactly what many people would like to go back to do- again, “knowing what they know now.” 

And with that realization- I figured I might as well stop feeling sorry for myself and just enjoy this, and what is behind me, and most importantly- what is ahead of me…as indefinite as it may be.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Today was a day of thoughts. 
Of course it was a school day- a day of classes and lectures and coffee breaks and me asking the person next to me what the hell the number on the board means. But it was also a day of thoughts…a day of a lot of thoughts. 

At the gym, I thought about what I would cook for dinner. On the treadmill, I decided on spinach and chickpeas. By the time I got to the mats and started stretching, the plan was finalized: I was going to make minestrone and a smoothie. 

In class, as everyone was talking about MBAT and the past weekend in Paris, I thought about the last minute decision I made to go. It was a good decision. I’m glad I went although I don't think I would do it again. MBAT (especially the Squash episode) was an upsetting reminder of why I don't compete in anything athletic- and my genetic lack of physical ability. 
In elementary school, I was always the last to be picked for dodge ball. Although it never ceased to hurt my feelings, I knew my classmates were making the right decision...I wouldn't have picked me either. 
I don't think I’m ever going to compete in sports again- if only to spare myself the humiliation. 

I thought about my future today. Actually, I started thinking about my future last night after a little bit of a breakdown and about two hours of lying in bed feeling sorry for myself. I made a list of things to do with my life and as I was brushing my teeth this morning, a light bulb went off in my head and I think I may have figured it out. For today at least. I’m still thinking about this- a plan is materializing. Wait for it.

I thought about my dad today. It’s his birthday. I think he’s 58. We haven’t spoken in almost a year. 

I thought about growing up. Actually, I tried not to think about growing up but the shocking realization (thanks facebook) that all my friends are either married, getting married, getting engaged, pregnant or giving birth- I had to think about growing up too. I thought about the fact that I am not doing a very good job of it- growing up that is. Maybe if everyone else would simply stop doing it, I wouldn't feel so burdened by the veins I see in my hands when I look down expecting to see something completely different (i.e. a 20 year old version of myself). I have old hands and my friends are all parents. Wah.

Today, I thought about love. I thought about the love I have, the love I have lost and the love that is growing everyday. I thought about love that returns…after all the wounds have healed….and how easily they open back up again. And sometimes, they hurt just as much the second time around, meaning they never really healed at all. Love sucks. Especially the latter kind.

I heard a quote by Lao Tzu. He said, “Free from desire you realize the mystery. Caught in the desire you see only the manifestations.” I thought about this. And I thought about the fact that I desire far too much- that possibly, I will never be free from desire and the manifestations that corrode my insides unremittingly. How does one who desires everything let go of longing? Any ideas?

I have to work on an operations management case right now, otherwise I would keep thinking- keep having thoughts. Maybe the abundance of schoolwork piling up is a blessing in disguise- a reprieve from all this thinking.

Lastly, of course thinking is always accompanied by music. At least in my world. Therefore, here is today’s playlist…a mix of upbeat and utterly miserable…mirroring the range of emotions that all this thinking has put me through:

1. Mika- Happy Ending
2. Sinatra- Moon River
3. Rolling Stones- I’ve Got The Blues
4. Remy Zero- Save Me
5. Melendi- Maldita Vida Loca
6. Beatles- While My Guitar Gently Weeps
7. Damien Rice- Elephant
8. Postal Service- Nothing Better
9. Vasco Rossi- Vita Spericolata
10. Jose Gonzalez- Heartbeats
11. Bob Sinclaire- Love Generation
12. Joshua Radin- Amy’s Song
13. Adriano Celentano- L'emozione Non Ha Voce
14. Pink Floyd- Shine on You Crazy Diamond
15. Manchester Orchestra- Now That We’re Home
16. Red Hot Chili Peppers- Cabron
17. Rod Stewart- Maggie May
18. Amy Winehouse- Back to Black
19. Calogero- Un Jour Parfait
20. Edith Piaf- Je Ne Regrette Rien

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tug-of-War Trauma

I can vaguely recall a bitter tug-of-war encounter during the first semester of my freshman year of college. Admittedly, I have buried most of these memories deep within the confines of my consciousness. I do, however, remember walking away with a dirt stained bloodied t-shirt, emblazoned with my Greek sorority letters boldly across my 19-year-old chest.
In addition to my sullied attire, I limped away with a twisted ankle owing to an overly enthusiastic (and competitive) opponent from a rivaling sorority. She was lovely.

Of course, the tug-of-war skirmish occurred only after we had finished the “chanting” portion of the afternoon where the throngs of young women, including myself, were politely asked to “sing” our sorority tune at the top of their lungs. I am fairly resentful of the recollection of verse after verse of “Rah Rah for (insert sorority letters). Three cheers for the girls who wear the (insert sorority colors). And you can quote me when I say I am a (insert sorority) from (insert chapter)..."

Even typing these lyrics now brings about a sense of nostalgia, a bit of laughter and moreover, utter mortification.

The end of the day is where the memory ends. I don’t know if we won- or if we lost- or even if there were any winners or losers. I know I departed completely humiliated, sun burnt with a sore throat, busted ankle, and rope burned hands.
It was that moment that I swore never to take part in a similar competition again. It was bad enough that I had broken down and actually enlisted in the whole “Greek society thing” at all. However, it was that day of all the days in my four years as a member, that had truly shown me that I had become a (drum roll please) SORORITY GIRL. I was a “sister.” Cringe.

The sorority experience wasn’t all bad. I made some lifelong friends, the parties were great and it did provide me with some group leadership experiencing that I am utilizing now as an MBA student (however, I rarely admit it around here that I was once a “sister.”)

Needless to say, it was experiences such as the tug-of-war battle that left the bad taste in my mouth. I pledged “never again” to myself back then, but this “never again” has somehow transferred into “again” and this “again” has arrived TODAY.

I now find myself sitting in class, perched next to my packed suitcase, in anticipation of my afternoon flight to Paris. I happen to be participating in the HEC MBAT (MBA Tournament) this weekend after a few long months of indecision. The MBAT “represents the largest annual gathering of international business-school students, with more than 70 nationalities represented. It brings together tomorrow's business leaders in a challenging international setting which epitomizes cooperation, fair play, friendship and social responsibility.”

Luckily, this time around, I´m relatively proud to be representing ESADE as a modest MBA candidate- as opposed to a typically blond American Sorority Girl. Cringe. Again.

This whole experience is a good lesson in that one can “never say never.” I only hope that this time I walk away with less war wounds and more pride because as I confess, chanting “Ra Ra Ra for a bunch of Greek letters I didn’t understand, flanked by a horde of other girls who had made it out of the rushing process alive and more importantly, as ‘the chosen ones’” wasn’t really the proudest of all my accomplishments.
This weekend I can actually wear the big ESADE “E” on my dorky hat with pleasure and satisfaction.

Due to my rather damaging tug-of-war incident eight years ago, the whole idea of the MBAT tournament was initially less than thrilling. When around 90% of my classmates were booking flights and choosing teams, I was quite happy to be making other plans.

Time passed as well as the deadline for registration. I received a number of comments along the lines of, “you should really be going” and “you´re missing a great opportunity,” but alas, I had missed the cut-off period to enroll. I stood my ground.

Then, unexpectedly - the new class of one year MBAs began and registration was suddenly opened again. My locked-down “final decision” was swiftly unlocked and I began wavering again- making lists of pros and cons and asking everyone around me what I should do. I must have irritated a fair number of people until my friend Aziz, the 2009 ESADE MBAT Chairman, made me flip a coin. He flipped it, I called tails; Independence lost, HEC won and I booked my flight to Paris.

I guess I am taking my “once in an MBA´s lifetime opportunity.” After-all, “missing out” is not my style.

I arrive in Paris tonight. I plan catch up with a few old friends and within a day, I´ll be fully branded, head to toe, in ESADE gear- complete with wrist band, baseball cap and incredibly unflattering knee-length unisex shorts. The colors of my university and my sorority are the same, which is a nice throwback to the good old days, but I must say that representing the sorority was more of a fashion statement than this time around.

I´m on the squash team. I hear it´s like racquetball, which I hear is sort of like tennis- so I’m hoping to come out unscathed. I was also persuaded to join the football (soccer) team. (Thanks Victoria). Luckily, due to my backyard practice sessions with my British footballing ex-boyfriend, I am no longer actually scared of the ball. Dribbling and heading is another story.
I did not, however, join the tug-of-war team.

In the end, I´m going and there is no turning back.

I hope to win.
I hope to represent ESADE well.
And most of all, I hope they don’t make me sing.