Monday, August 31, 2009

Conviction and Getting Out of the Box

Have you ever been hit by something that was so simple it figuratively knocked you off your feet?

For my Leading Organizations (LO) class, we had to read a book called "Leadership and Self Deception." While it is hard to get into the specifics of the book, the basic premise is that when we are "in the box," we see other people as objects. When we are "out of the box," we see other people as people. Our behaviours can be the same whether we are in or out of the box, but our attitudes (whether we are in or out of the box) affect how we see others and how they see us.

At first, I thought this whole box thinking was as simple as Philippians 2, which states that we should look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others. But as I read further, I realized the strong implications of being in the box. Being in the box means that we elevate our own needs and self-perceptions and project negative intentions on others. We consider their perspectives and needs as less important than our own. Even as I write this, I can think of some major issues that I have that have stemmed from me being unwilling to get out of the box.

Fortunately, getting out of the box is quite simple. All you really have to do is recognize that you are in and get out. It means choosing to view others as people, with their own unique needs that are just as important as our own.

Anyway, while I have tried mightily to explain this whole box concept, if you are at all intrigued or confused by what I have written, I do encourage you to check out the book on your own. It is a quick easy read!

Sunday, August 30, 2009


After a week of ups and downs, highs and lows, I felt like I got my perspective back. As I mentioned earlier this week, there were days that I wondered what in the world I had chosen to do. In the past three weeks, I have stretched my comfort zone and felt overwhelmed. While I haven't felt lonely, there have definitely been days that I longed to just catch up with someone who really knew me. Someone with whom I could let down my guard and just be myself with. (Not that I can't be that here, but it just takes time.)

Being someone who has been relatively accomplished in the typical sense, I have also been levelled this week, as I am surrounded by insanely successful people. Sure, I have a university degree and made Dean's List... but I didn't go to Harvard. It's easy to feel "small" in this environment, especially as you watch someone tear your resume to shreds.

A second year told me that church was her anchor during first year. And this morning, I felt that anchor so very tangibly. As I joined in worship with brand new friends, and complete strangers, I realized that we are part of the same community. Singing words like, "you are all I need, you are all I want" brings back my perspective and reminds me that it's really not about me. And God doesn't think I'm "small"... But I need to remember that my worth and my value come not from my accomplishments, or even my accomplishments relative to others, and not from how the rest of the world views me... but from the fact that I am a child of God.

And now, after enjoying a weekend off, it is time to get back into books and cases.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Trust the Process"

Calculating cannibalization break-even rates in Marketing today, I realized that I am learning something here. The week has gone up and down in terms of my coping and frustration levels. There are days when I wonder why I gave up a salary, free time and left all my friends behind in Edmonton. Today was not one of those days. Going through our marketing case, I experienced the very tangible feeling that I was Learning.

"Trust the process" is a phrase that becomes ingrained in everyone who has anything to do with Darden. I do not always Trust the process. There are days, like yesterday, where I Loathe the process. To avoid rattling off my day, I will just reiterate that we are given approximately 130% of what we can actually accomplish. But the reinforcement process is so valuable. By the time I am sitting in class, I've already gone through a case on my own and dissected it with my learning team. Amazingly enough, there are STILL things left to learn in class. And it's during class, when you get those "Ah-hah!" moments, that you realize this is all worthwhile.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Day 3G Came to Charlottesville

This morning, as I was checking Twitter, I noticed two tiny little characters at the top of my iPhone that changed everything.


For most of the world, these characters are relatively inconsequential. But for the people of Charlottesville, they symbolized a historic moment.

The buzz first began on Twitter, but by First Coffee, the news was everywhere. I came back to my classroom after grabbing some tea, and the guy in front of me in my section said, "did you hear about 3G?" Of course I had, but we high-fived over the joyous news.

Updating the ever-so-important Twitter newsfeed now takes seconds, instead of the previous minute that often timed out. I can now ACTUALLY check my Facebook messages! And downloading apps is an option from somewhere other than being connected to the wireless at my apartment.

Yes, this was a very good day in Charlottesville.

The Importance of the "Hour a Day"

Last week, we were told that no matter what, we should spend an hour a day doing something "fun" and non-school related, whether it's going to the gym, talking to a friend from home or whatever.

Today I did not do that, and I can understand why it is so important.

We were warned that we would be given 130% of what we could accomplish. One of the key skills we learn at Darden is time management and prioritization, and three days in, I can already see that lesson beginning to unfold.

After feeling like I was dragging all day, I will now make a renewed commitment to the hour-a-day rule. It makes me much more effective for the other 23..

Monday, August 24, 2009

First Day in the Bag

Lessons learned today:

  1. Free time is an insanely precious commodity. You may think it's not a big deal that you forgot to get one textbook and have to go back to the bookstore and stand in line. Then as 7 approaches rapidly and you are still furiously trying to skim over your OPS case before learning team, you realize you should have planned better.
  2. Taking breaks is still important. I managed to get in a run and a short visit with my sister this afternoon. I think these things are important... it's those fluff things like going back to the bookstore that need to be avoided.
  3. You can never be too prepared for class, but you never can be. Okay, convoluted sentence. Basically, if you know everything about the company in the case discussion, discussed all the answers thoroughly with your learning team and spent five hours reading the supplementary materials, that's a good start for prepping for the case discussion. However, you don't have time for all those things, so you have to figure out how to prioritize.

Those are just some things I've learned over the last two days. Now, at 11:11, I am off to read my "Leadership and Self-Deception" book, since there is no way I'm going to get to it during the afternoons.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Classes Start Tomorrow And...

The rumour of the intense first-year at Darden has been confirmed.

It's 10:38 p.m. I have class tomorrow at 8 a.m., but I still have to finish up my personal career plan before going to bed.

It isn't that I've been slacking all day... I was up at 7:30 cleaning my bathroom... But there's just so much to do.

On the plus side, my learning team is really great. I had them all over for supper today before we discussed tomorrow's cases, and it was a great time. I feel that the evening had a great balance between visiting and getting to know each other and going through the case material. If I wasn't intimidated about this adventure before, I have people in my learning team who did undergrad at Harvard, MIT and Penn.

Friday, August 21, 2009

And We're Off

Yesterday, I sat in Abbott Auditorium with my 310 peers, the people I will be graduating with in less than 2 years. It is interesting to think of it that way, but we finished yesterday's Office of Student Affairs introduction by writing a letter to ourselves that will be in our mailboxes the day we graduate.

The kick-off and welcome session was one of those moments that for me was the culmination of many months of anticipation. For details on the class demographics and specifics of the event, I will simply refer you to the Darden article about the class.

This week has been intense. I have heard time and time again that Darden has the most rigorous first year program of any MBA, and judging from this week, which has only been the lead-up to the start of Q1, it will most certainly prove to be true. I am sitting here in my office cherishing the quiet part of my Friday evening, hoping that the phone doesn't ring so I don't have to be tempted to go out. I've been out late most nights this week, and getting up early every morning.

And now, at the risk of rambling off on yet another unrelated topic, we were assigned our learning teams today. If you are not familiar with Darden, I'll try to explain the anticipation that has come with section and learning team assignments. I started meeting people at the applicant stage, where I spent way too much time on BusinessWeek's student application forum. Then once we were actually accepted, I started meeting and emailing more people. Since arriving in Charlottesville on August 5, I have met so many people that I'm starting to forget names I had previously remembered.

So by the time sections are announced, you have already met a lot of really cool people that you would love to be in a section with. On Monday, when section announcements were made, I was excited to see this was the case! Today, as we sat in Abbott Auditorium waiting to be released to find out who was in our learning team, there was a palpable anticipation in the air. Learning teams are an integral part of the Darden curriculum. They are step two in the case study method, and a functioning learning team is a vital part of academic success.

I was pleased to discover that my learning team is really awesome. We fought valiantly through this afternoon's bonding activities, despite the intense heat. We have a variety of backgrounds and judging from today, everyone seems to be willing to work hard to make LT work. I am, ironically, the only person who wasn't living in the US (yay for being the token international student!), though two of my teammates were born in Russia and one of them is not an American citizen. The BEST part of my learning team is that there is another girl! Someone had warned me that I might be the only one, so I was happy when I looked down the list and saw a distinctively female name.

Anyway, this has been way too long! It's been a good week, but I am tuckered out and looking forward to resting tonight so I can head off to the mountains for a hike tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In the Big Leagues Now

As I saw the personal contact info for an investment banker at Morgan Stanley splashed across the screen today, the sheer power of the Darden alumni network really hit home. Coming from Canada, everything is very small-business oriented. I meet Presidents, Partners and CEOs quite regularly, but they are usually self-made entrepreneurs. After learning a lot more about I-Banking during the MBA application process, the gravity of where I am now is really hitting home.

There are many things I could write about today: section announcements (I am in Section B, which is pretty much the best section. A few people that I had already started getting to know are in B as well, so that is great. On the down side, I didn't get a Kindle), the weather (still unbearably hot), my long-gone nights of 7-8 hours of sleep or my slowly-becoming-insane schedule. (I am fighting to keep up with email and classes haven't even started...) However, as the career search has been foremost on my mind, I want to touch on that and the career management process at Darden.

Long before I started the MBA application process, I knew I wanted to go into strategy consulting. I want the fast-paced nature of the job, the travel involved, the challenge of new assignments and the opportunity to work with really bright people. I am not an expert in what consulting entails, but from what I know, it seems to be a perfect niche.

The economy being as it is right now, however, is forcing me to examine alternative routes and options. While consulting internships are historically competitive, with hiring down, they are brutally so this year. Since I don't want to reach the end of January and be left with no consulting offers and THEN start searching for alternative routes, I am using this time to give considerate thought into what would also be good careers for me.

The Darden career management process focusses heavily on fit. Each of us have our own unique attributes, personalities, needs, etc. Companies and job functions complement these needs to varying degrees. As I have been sitting in the career discovery forum all day, I've been paying close attention to what resonates with me. For example, while my strength with numbers could be a good fit for corporate finance, being so focused on numbers alone would drive me crazy. Although marketing is not until tomorrow, I know that focusing only on marketing would also drive me crazy. So as I look for jobs in industry, I need either something that will provide a general management rotation (work for a while in finance, then marketing, then operations, etc.) or for a company that will allow me to rotate even without a formalized career track for rotation.

Anyway, there are a lot of other thoughts that have been going through my mind, but I don't need to go on about my own personal discoveries. And I have to go get ready for tonight's networking etiquette dinner... :-)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Heights of Anticipation

Tomorrow is a big day.

Tomorrow we find out which section we are in, who else is in our section, and which section gets to do the Kindle trial.

Tonight, by way of default, is a big night. It's our last official night of freedom before the program begins. There is a big party at a bar downtown, and I am at home doing laundry.

Sad story, I know. But somehow in the hustle and bustle and constant temperature changes, I developed a nasty cold. I lasted through a reception at one of our professor's houses. (Gorgeous home in the VA countryside, and yes, you read that right, about 10 faculty opened their homes to students this afternoon.) Then I lasted through dinner at a local Italian place. But when I got home and saw my roommate all dressed and ready to go out, I just didn't have it in me. So I will instead relax, get some rest, maybe consume some Vitamin C, and hopefully feel better in the morning.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Orientations and Adjustments

The past week, as suggested by the title for this post, has been filled with orientations and adjustments. I debated writing several blog posts about each of these things, but as another day has zipped by and I am long overdue for bed, I think I'll just try to get to the meat and pull it all together.

International Student Orientation (referred to hereinafter as ISO) was interesting. On the positive side of things, it was really great to meet my classmates that are coming from all the different corners of the globe. The perspective that they bring will absolutely enhance our learning experience. I say that with sincerity, though it is something I heard day after day in ISO. Though there were sessions that I didn't find useful personally (i.e. US etiquette), what I enjoyed was trying to see North American culture through the eyes of my foreign-raised classmates.

Technology Orientation was the other orientation of the week. This one definitely frustrated me as some miscommunication ended up costing me an extra $100 in setup fees. I also had a lot of my settings changed, programs uninstalled, and files moved. However, I have now located all the missing files, reinstalled the programs I need and am really appreciating the whole Microsoft Exchange setup that we have going at Darden. I must admit that I got addicted to Meeting Requests while in the workplace, and now I can send meeting requests to my professors, career consultant and classmates. There are some great tools, and the technology process at Darden certainly evidences a strong commitment to excellence.

And finally, adjustments. There have been a few:
  • "For here" vs "To stay": every time I eat fast food in an American restaurant, I want to reply "to stay" to the question "for here or to go?"
  • Heat and humidity: my wardrobe has been completely altered. I now wear skirts and camis or sundresses. However, since most buildings are air-conditioned, a cardigan or sweater is necessary to bring along.
  • Busy social schedule: There is something happening EVERY night. Tonight I decided to ignore the party and stayed at home watching a movie with my roommate.
  • Stores: There are a lot of new stores in the US that are really fun. I've always heard that shopping was better in the US, and today I experienced it firsthand. We went to Williamsburg, where there is a large outlet mall, and stocked up on almost all the clothes necessary to last through Christmas. I even bought a great new suit, which I will get a lot of mileage out of over the next few months.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Feeling More Settled

It was just over three weeks ago that I finished work. In that time, I have travelled countless miles to and from home, changed where "home" actually is (in the where-I-lay-my-head-at-night sense) and met a million people.

Since arriving in Charlottesville on Wednesday, life was non-stop. I met new people every day, saw as many tourist sites as I could find time for, and tried to collect the things I needed for my apartment. Since my sisters were visiting, my room was a mess, and I had hoped that after I dropped them off at the airport in Washington DC, that I would have a nice quiet evening to unpack. Of course, that did not happen... Instead, I got to meet more people and ended up staying out at a party until 2 a.m.

Today was perfect. Though I meant to go check out a church in C'ville, instead I let myself sleep in and feel rested. I spent the day lazily unpacking my last bags and organizing the stuff on my desk. And now that is mostly done. The kingpin on the day was getting the Wii set up so I can now use my Wii Fit.

And instead of meeting 20 more people and having short conversations with them in a very loud room, I went over to a friend's house and had my first home-cooked meal in a few days! (The chili and corn muffins were delicious...) I felt like I actually had a chance to connect with someone rather than cramming down 20 new names.

Tomorrow vacation is over. At 9 a.m., I must report to Classroom 50 for International Student Orientation. Though we finish at 3 and I can hardly complain about the workload yet, there are still a dozen other things I want to do before life gets too busy. Oh well... priorities, right?

On a side note, Charlottesville is very hot and humid. Part of what made today so great is that I barely ventured outside. I think I would die without AC. ;-)

Friday, August 07, 2009

Camp Darden: Take One (For Me, Anyway!)

Tonight I had my first exposure to what, last year, was affectionately called "Camp Darden." A growing group of about 16 of us met at the Downtown Mall and migrated down the road for dinner.

It was great to have a chance to connect with some future classmates! One of the highlights was being able to put "voices" to the people I've been talking with over the last few months. (I say "voices" because thanks to Facebook, I already had faces for names...) I had fun visiting with people and got mocked by one American for my apparent accent, though I still don't think it sounds like "hoose" when I say "house."

My roommate moved all her stuff into the house today and we are now living in a state of disorder which will hopefully soon be remedied. I guess we have a week until actual orientation starts to get everything together. My sisters and I are spending tomorrow in DC and then they fly home. It's been great sharing my new life with them.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Is There Anything Jefferson DIDN'T Do?

One of the greatest advantages of having my sisters drive down with me to Charlottesville has been that I've gotten to be a tourist. Today we did some of the main C'ville attractions: Monticello and the Downtown/Pedestrian Mall, if that's what you call it. It's been nice to go through these things for the first time and getting to experience them before they become familiar.

It seems like I am slowly getting settled here. I unpacked a bunch of boxes today and, more importantly, I got a phone. A shiny new iPhone, which is my first foray into the smartphone world. I think it will be great, but still have to take the time to play with it and figure out how to sync everything. I am still using the Internet connection at the pool, but our Internet was turned on today... They are just asking for a username/password and I haven't been able to figure out exactly what they want. So I am waiting for my roommate to arrive tomorrow, and hopefully she's got the information we need.

Adjusting to life in a new city and climate is fun and tiring all at the same time. I am definitely used to the relatively cold dryness of the Canadian prairies, and the humidity here is both a blessing and a curse. My skin is appreciating it, but if feels a lot hotter than what I am used to. There are new bugs and animals. All in all, though, Virginia is absolutely gorgeous. On my first two visits to C'ville, I will admit that I was less than impressed. It was definitely the quality of everything about Darden that swayed my decision to attend. Now that I've had a chance to get acquainted with Charlottesville, it is growing on me. The landscape around here is breathtaking and I love the trees! In addition to that, the Downtown Mall (I think that's what it's called?) is the perfect place to shop and eat dinner. Our waitress also spotted Dave Matthews, and my sister rushed to snap a picture...

Anyway, there are a lot of thoughts swarming. For now, I am glad that my sisters have gone off to see Harry Potter, giving me a chance to debrief a little. I may also go tackle the Internet dilemma in my apartment and figure out how to put Twitter and Facebook apps on my iPhone...

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Home Sweet Home

After five days of travelling, my sisters and I have arrived in C'ville. As I am about 10 minutes away from getting kicked out of the pool area where I am using the free Internet, I'll make this short and promise to write more thoughts in the next few days.

It's very surreal getting used to a new home! I've been here only 5 hours and have already gone grocery shopping and gotten a few things I need for my home. I still don't have a phone, which is driving me crazy, but hopefully that will be on the agenda for tomorrow.

One thing that is quite exciting is that there are raccoons here. We don't have those in Edmonton. Anyway, lots more thoughts and stories from the drive. Looking forward to meeting everyone from the blogosphere in the next few weeks!

Monday, August 03, 2009

South of the 49th Parallel


That's the word of the day.

There were no big adventures, but I think it took us almost 2 hours to get across the border between waiting in line and then waiting to get "processed." The really nice thing, though, was that they did NOT ask to open the trunk, despite opening most of the trunks in the line before ours.

And then, once across the border, it seemed that the road was under construction about half the time. Fortunately, it was a relatively short driving day. Once we got into Sioux City (about an hour and a half later than planned!), my friends had barbecued corn (awesome since we'd been looking at corn all afternoon!) and veggies and burgers AND salmon. We've spent the evening having a great visit and looking at pictures from their wedding last week.

Tomorrow, I meet my roommate for the first time when we stay with her in Louisville and then Wednesday is the big day of arriving in Charlottesville!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Drive to Winnipeg

This was the plan for yesterday:

8 a.m. - Leave Edmonton
~ 1 p.m. - Arrive in Saskatoon for a quick visit with my sister's best friend
11 p.m. - Arrive in Winnipeg

Here's what actually happened:

8 a.m. - My dad cooked pancakes for us for breakfast
8:41 a.m. - Pull out of the driveway
8:44 a.m. - I ask my sisters "Everyone has their passports, right?" My youngest sister replies, "oops." We turn around.
8:51 a.m. - Back on the road
10 a.m. - I text my cousin in Lloydminster to see if she's around. She texts back asking if we have time for a quick (half-hour!) visit. We agree to meet her at Tim Hortons.
11:01 a.m. - Pull into Tim Hortons at Lloyd.
11:51 a.m. - Back on the road
2:21 p.m. - Arrive in Saskatoon, meet up with Becky's friends for lunch
3:43 p.m. - Leave Saskatoon.
8:23 p.m. - Time change. It is now 9:23 p.m.
10:01 p.m. - Arrive in Brandon for a very late, very quick (as in pick-up-and-eat-in-car) supper and gas. The good news is that we finally found premium fuel!
12:51 a.m. - Arrive in Winnipeg.

So we got in a little later than planned. I find it ironic that on our longest driving day, we had the most people to stop and visit with, but I don't regret the visits! Today we spend time hanging out with family (Mom's family for lunch as soon as we are all ready to go, then Dad's family for dinner!), then tomorrow the dreaded border crossing and on to Sioux City, Iowa.

On a completely separate note, I am finding that I am very, very relaxed now. Two weeks of no work can do that to you, I suppose! Now everything is packed and in place, and there's nothing to do but act out the plan. I also have no clue what is happening in the business world. Microsoft could have bought Apple (or vice versa) and I would have no idea. I'm looking forward to getting back into the swing of things, but can probably put that off until I get to Charlottesville on Wednesday.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

And With That, a Chapter is Closed

Tonight, a whole bunch of my friends gathered at my parents' house to wish me a happy birthday and say goodbye (or, rather, "see you at Christmas!"). It is such a blessing to leave a place when you know you will be missed. Some goodbyes are harder than others, but with the webcam my parents gave me, hopefully the face-to-face chats will be much easier. One of my best friends got teary, but her boyfriend promised to hook her up with me on Skype so we can still talk.

This blog post has been a long time coming. My journey to the MBA program started about two years ago when I started considering all the options. It was almost six months ago, to the day, that I got that phone call from the Darden admissions office. The past six months have been filled with anxiety and excitement, and now my Acura is packed and I am pretty much ready to go. It was definitely an interesting day as I realized I couldn't take everything with me, but my dad's resourcefulness with some garbage bags and a vacuum saved the day and I got everything that I didn't want to have to replace into the trunk. My sisters and I will definitely be squished on the drive down, but that's life! If you're the praying kind, please pray that the border guard will not want to open the trunk on Monday since I really doubt I will be able to get it all back in if asked to unpack.

This will be my last blog posting from Edmonton. Tomorrow at 8 a.m., my sisters and I will squish into my car with our overnight bags and drive to Winnipeg. From there, we drive to Sioux City, Iowa, then to Louisville, Kentucky and finally arrive in Charlottesville, Virginia on Wednesday.