Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009: Rewind, Review, Reflect

It's that time of year... the time when I take a moment to write a highly self-indulgent blog post to ponder a year gone by and anticipate the year ahead.

While I thought that 2008 was a year filled with travel, 2009 raised the bar and gave me many new opportunities and new places. In total, I took 10 flights in 2008, but 12 in 2009.

The first set of flights in the year were to Dulles airport in Washington DC, going down to my Darden interview in Charlottesville. At the time, Charlottesville was a horribly foreign place, a place that I had reconciled myself with living in, should I get the opportunity to attend the Darden Graduate School of Business.

At the end of January, I got the phone call that changed the direction of my life... the phone call from a nice lady in admissions at Darden informing me that I had been accepted. I spent the next few months planning for a cross-country move, wrapping things up with my job, and spending as much time as possible with friends, and enjoying Edmonton.

Between finishing work, flying to Sioux City, Iowa for a wedding, and leaving for Charlottesville, I had exactly a week to pack up my life, say goodbye to everyone, and fit in a final camping trip out to the Rockies. There was definitely some stress that week, but being in the mountains for a few times was a good relaxer, and one of the highs of the year was standing on the top of a mountain that I had worked hard to climb. I had a big birthday/goodbye party, and on August 1, my sisters and I took off on a five day road trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, stopping to visit family and friends along the way.

And then Darden began. Since I've spent many, many blog posts discussing the details of my life at Darden, I'll try to sum it up quickly here. I feel like I've lived a year in the few months that I've already spent there. It's crazy how much an experience can help you change and grow, but I definitely feel that way about the last few months. I've already made good friends (who I miss being home for Christmas!), felt new things, experienced challenges I've never faced, and stretched myself to the limits.

During American Thanksgiving, I made my first cross-Atlantic trek, and visited the final of my three new places for the year: Munich, Germany. It was great to discover that all those years of high-school German were not in vain. I thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in the culture, and having my very own tour guide: my sister. It was a great first trip to Europe, and I'm already in the midst of planning my second, so I anticipate this is a new trend in my life.

Fast forward to winter break, where I flew to Toronto for a week, then back to Edmonton. Add up all the flights and connections, and you get twelve, a new record for me. Being in Edmonton is a nice bookend for the year, but I am finding that five weeks off from classes is too many, and I am itching to get back at everything.

What does 2010 hold? Well... I am taking a week-long "global business experience" in Spain over spring break. I'll finish up first year at Darden, and then start the new year in the spring, but what the summer holds I do not yet know. Although I have a few interviews lined up for internships, it is impossible to determine how it will all shake out. Perhaps those interviews and that internship will determine the remaining two of the new places I need to visit in 2010. I hope to continue learning and growing, and checking a few more things off my bucket list.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas, Darden Style

It's the Eve of Christmas Eve. I am home in snowy Edmonton, reunited with my family after nearly five months apart.

My agenda for the day: clean up after last night's Gingerbread House Making extravaganza, research companies that are interviewing me (yes, I am in demand! Yay!), prep for case interviews (which will include training my family on how to deliver case interviews) and finish off with decorating sugar cookies.

My total case interview tally to date is eight. Before heading back to school in January, I hope to have completed 30 to 40, so I have a long way to go. Also on the agenda before leaving Edmonton: write the last of the cover letters, look into a few more off-grounds opportunities and prep the behavioural portion of the interview.

I was talking to a good friend from Darden the other night, and we were dreaming of everything we will be doing next Christmas, once we have full-time offers in hand. Not that I can complain, but it would be so nice to just sit back and RELAX for four weeks!

Monday, December 14, 2009

I have no words...

Tonight the worst kind of email went out to the Darden student body. It's never a good sign to see an email from the Dean that contains the name of a friend and fellow student, but as I digested the contents of the email my worst fears were realized: he had passed away.

Justin was the most talented guy I knew. He would wow me with his salsa dancing skills (and impress me with his patience as he tried to teach me) and then I would discover that he was fluent in Spanish and had climbed mountains. He was this amazing griller, which is the best kind of talent to have in a neighbour. And my neighbour he was, living directly below me. He also gave amazing hugs, one of which I could really use right now.

We went to church together, too. I remember sitting beside him as he tried to balance his Bible and his journal on his knee. We always had amazing conversations about faith and God and worship, and perhaps one of the only silver linings in this whole situation is that I have faith that I will see him again.

To my Darden family, I wish I had more words. I wish I could say more than, "I don't know what to say." But that's all I've got for now. If anyone needs to talk, please call or shoot me an email or Facebook message.

Second Coldest Place on Earth

Right now, my hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada is the second coldest place on earth, with a temperature of -46C, though at that point, Celcius and Fahrenheit are fairly comparable.

It sure makes me glad that I decided to make my first stop in Canada a visit to Toronto for some job trekking. It's raining here today, suggesting that the temperature is hovering pleasantly around 0 (or 32 for all you Americans out there). The temperature for Edmonton on Friday, when I arrive, is forecasted to be somewhere between 0 and 2.

It's great to be back in Canada. There's nothing really tangible to point to that makes me love being back here, but even though I haven't spent a lot of time in Toronto previously, there's still something about the French on the signs and the colourful money that makes me feel like I'm back at home. Although it's slightly too cold for an iced cappucino, it makes me happy to see Tim Horton's around here. I feel a huge surge of pride when I see Canadian flags or maple leafs at random places in the street.

Friday, December 11, 2009

And That's a Wrap!

This surreal feeling is settling around me right now.

I've turned in my final exam for the week, officially concluding my first semester at Darden. All that stands between me and my vacation is figuring out what needs to go into my suitcase before I take off tomorrow!

My roommate left town about half an hour ago. I find it funny how in such a short time span, we've gone from stranger-showing-up-on-the-doorstep to sharing everything we've shared all semester. It's weird that I won't see her for a month! On the same vein, I am finding it weird to reflect on the amazing friendships that have developed with people who I coordinated U2 tickets with prior to Darden, people who showed up my first day here offering to help move my furniture across the very large apartment complex and people who came up and say hi because they also liked road trips.

Anyway, I could reflect on all that, but we'll all be back together for more adventures next semester. For now, I get to look forward to hanging out with old friends and family. Sisters who I shared a cross-country adventure with just four months ago, a friend who I was randomly assigned to the same project with in undergrad, and friends that I've known so long I can't even remember how we met.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Hello Hurricane, You're Not Enough

Hello Hurricane, You're not enough
Hello Hurricane, You can't silence my love
I've got doors and windows boarded up
All your dead end fury is not enough
You can't silence my love

Everything I have I count as loss
Everything I have is stripped away
But before I started building
I counted up these costs
Ain't nothing left for you to take away

- Taken from the song "Hello Hurricane" from the latest Switchfoot album of the same name

Over the twelve years that I've been listening to Switchfoot, my life has taken some very different paths. I've worked for not-for-profits, built houses in foreign countries and spent my summers working at camps with inner-city children. To someone looking at my life, it may seem a mystery that now I've ended up at one of the top MBA programs recruiting for corporate jobs.

With all this in mind, I find it ironic that one of my favourite Switchfoot songs is Company Car. As I drove back from the concert last night with a friend who also has a strong not-for-profit background, we discussed what it truly means to live a sold-out life, rather than being sell-outs. My cell phone ring for the past several years has been "we were meant to live for so much more... have we lost ourselves?"

What does it mean to live a life that is beyond myself? How do I get past the lure of company cars and Prada handbags to living a life that brings lasting value to the rest of the world? Without running down the resume list of things I'm involved with at Darden that go beyond myself, I'll say that I am still giving back to the community. But is that really what life's about? Doing what you need to for your career, and then doing some charity on the side?

I want my contribution to the world to be deeper than that. I'm not sure it means that I don't pursue my career as it is. But deep down, I'm hoping to eventually be able to use the skills and abilities and connections that I've developed to accomplish something bigger than mergers and acquisitions or growth strategies or operational efficiencies or branding. I've been talking to a few companies that show some promise with CSR, and hoping that as my career grows I will have more opportunities to contribute to companies in ways that do more to enhance the bottom line and allow them to contribute to the broader global community.

At the same time, I am challenged to hold loosely to the blessings, especially material ones, that I have been given. It's hard to figure out what a life "with nothing left to lose" looks like. Pondering these Switchfoot lyrics after being on Maximillian Strasse (the most expensive street in Europe - think Jimmy Choos, Prada, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, etc.) last week has definitely got me thinking. There was part of me that dreamed of Burberry handbags once I am finished school, but as I turned over the price tag on a scarf last week - 250 Euros - I realized that it's shallow and empty. I want my investments in life to be bigger than a brand name stamped on a, albeit high quality, handbag.

But there's a big range of materialism between pauper on the streets and obsessed with Jimmy Choo shoes. I'm trying to figure out where the best place is on the range and what it means to hold loosely to what I have.

Just some lighthearted thoughts for a Sunday afternoon. ;-)

Friday, December 04, 2009

Here's to Section B!

Today is a sad day at Darden.

Section B sat in on its last class together this morning.

It's funny, because it doesn't seem like it was all that long ago that I was reading the Excel spreadsheet to find out who was in Section B in the first place. There was a balance of names that I recognized, and names that were unfamiliar.

Just over three months later, those names are all familiar, and Section B has developed a life of its own, greater than the sum of all its parts. Section B raised more than double what any other section raised for the Building Goodness in April auction. Section B still leads at Darden Cup, as far as I can tell. In sum, Section B is definitely the best section. (And if you don't believe me, just as the rest of the bloggers... I guarantee more than half will agree!)

We finished off the semester on a great note today. One of the guys in Section B did impersonations of the profs and many of the students. They were astutely accurate, and laugh on the floor funny.

Oh Section B, I will miss you!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


It is far too easy for us to get wrapped up in our own lives. In fact, even as I sit down to write this, I am more tempted to just start whining about the mountain of cover letters I should be writing.

But being in Munich this past weekend reminded me that while I have been insanely blessed, there are people around the world who are suffering and have suffered. Before I get further into this post, though, I do want to highlight that Munich has nearly nine centuries of beautiful, fascinating history. It is, however, impossible to ignore the years that came around 1920 to 1945 when exploring the city.

The picture above is a sign posted discreetly on a wall on a building in downtown Munich. It translates to something along the lines of "Here stood, until the year 1938, the department store owned by the Uhlfelder family." As you can imagine, the Uhlfelder family was Jewish, and their business was destroyed as part of the Holocaust.

The more I ponder this reality, the more teared-up I get. Here I am, working hard at establishing myself as a businessperson. I have invested large sums of capital and time into developing my skills. On the same vein, the Uhlfelder family did the same with their department store. Then, one day, a man, a charismatic man feeding on the desperate plight of a nation overwhelmed by hyperinflation, decided that the Uhlfelder family didn't deserve to own their business anymore simply because of their heritage.

The whole thing gives me chills. I wish that we could point to the Holocaust as a one-time event, but history has repeated itself. Genocide has occurred in Rwanda and Sudan.

I wish I knew what we could do about it.