Monday, March 28, 2011

Nostalgia and Murakami

My boyfriend drove me to the airport in the worst, rainy, cold weather I have ever experienced in San Francisco.  The raindrops pounded the car and shoved their way inside as I swung the door open to race for the terminal.  San Francisco is one of my favorite places in the world, and the most wonderful place to have called home for the last few years.
Lately, though, I’ve felt its wear.  A particular afternoon in downtown comes to mind when I think of the turning point of my love affair with SF.  Homeless people poked me asking for money, throngs of tourists body slammed me as they ran for the entrance to the Gap on Market Street, and the mismatched din of teenage gossip and crackhead mumble jumble throughout the half hour ride from Powell to Noe Valley all banded together to gift me with a screaming headache.  A headache that now returns every time I even consider traveling into downtown.
Needless to say, I was ecstatic to accept a weekend far, far away in the land of Louisiana…
One of my friends from college was having her bachelorette party in New Orleans.  She had worked for nonprofits, attended a top law school, and was enjoying the life of being paid not to work for a year while her firm waited out the recession.   This friend was a blast in college, and I imagined that her bachelorette weekend would be a muted, nearing-thirty version of the weekends we once spent together in our early twenties.
I had never been to New Orleans, and expected the city to be a pretty backdrop of an otherwise insane weekend.  As soon as I stepped out of the cab onto a tree-lined, cobblestoned street, I breathed in an aroma that was to bewitch me for the rest of the weekend. 
Humid, dark evening air, mixed with jasmine, azalea, SUV exhaust, rum and a hint of early spring fresh cut grass.  These are the smells I remember from my childhood in Richmond, Virginia.  I felt my entire body sigh with nostalgia.  Oh Louisiana, thank you for hugging me with this familiar southern spring air. 
For the next forty-eight hours, I was accompanied by twelve other girls partying away with a rotating brew of cocktails in hand and the haunting presence of that sweet Louisiana air.  Whenever I had a moment, I would steal away to the front porch, pull out my book, stretch my legs into the sun, and read Murakami with my old childhood friend.

Monday, March 21, 2011

To Business School or Not To Business School

So, I was accepted to business school recently.  I'm definitely excited to be counted amongst the few who were honored with the option to attend this particular institution - without giving details yet, suffice it to say that it is a really fantastic school in a gorgeous part of the US.

I have had a long and turbulent relationship with the general concept of business school.  I applied, was accepted, and subsequently planned to go to Darden in 2008.  I packed my bags, moved home from China, jumped into the family car in Richmond, VA and drove to Charlottesville for orientation.  I walked in the front door of orientation, took a look around, walked past the coffee and the crisp collared students, and right out the back door into the courtyard.  I just couldn't do it.

Two years.  All the money.  All the case studies when I could just live them for real.  And what if I didn't like the people ...

So, I moved back to China for a couple more months before finding a job at a social media startup and returning to the Bay Area.

And now, here I am, three years later with a similar decision ahead of me.  It's no longer a concern about the people or the money (although 80-grand isn't exactly a drop in the bucket).  It's really about the time - I'd be 29 when I start - and the concern that business school may actually squelch my creativity, or G-d forbid, make me risk ... averse.

Decisions are tough.  I've made rash decisions, highly informed decisions, economically-motivated decisions, and decisions based on the simple fact that I would have always wondered what would have happened had chosen to to take the more extreme option.  I'd love to know if any of you out there has a framework you like to use for big decisions like this ...

Monday, March 14, 2011

New Website and New Blog Post!

I mentioned a year or so ago that I started my own business.  I revamped the website recently and secured some new inventory, and wanted to share the newest version.  Check it out and let me know your thoughts.

And all writing is creating or spinning dreams for other people so they won't have to bother doing it themselves.

She opened up the online system, prepared to click the checkbox that would send her on her way to the paved life of dry cleaning pickups and dropoffs, glittery downtowns, hours long meetings in grand boardrooms, and fatter salary checks than she’d ever imagined.  She’d spent the last two years at a fancy financial advisory firm doing the unglamorous and time-sucking work typical of a recent college graduate.  “Copy, paste, copy, paste,” she used to joke to her friends when asked about what she did at work.  Despite the self-deprecation, Sandy thrived at the firm.  Her double major in social psychology and finance provided her with the perfect skillset to navigate the hierarchical, OCD environment of a typical financial workplace.  She learned how to tie her weekly goals to the two dimensions, for example:
                  By Friday …
a)     Build a spreadsheet that Mark (one of the partners) makes at most ten comments on
b)     Find time to compliment each partner at least once about the one thing that they are the most insecure about
Jean loved hearing how she was more analytical than the other male partners at the firm, Brian enjoyed hearing how fantastic he was at schmoozing a client, and Mark would revel in comments that alluded to how his attention to detail was the defining factor for his great success.  These compliments bought Sandy quite a few free lunches with various partners at fancy restaurants, invitations to join their exclusive gyms and clubs, and on one occasion, the use of Mark’s beach house for a weekend.
Of course, when the business school application season came around, the partners were thrilled to recommend her.  On one calm morning, Jean pulled Sandy into her office for a brief mentorship session.  “Sandy, let me tell you as one woman to another,” she started in her uncomfortably mothering voice, “business school is your ticket to achieve your dreams of becoming a partner in a financial firm such as ours one day, in fact, perhaps even our own!  You have shown your potential as a natural in this business.  The world is your oyster …” 
‘blah blah blah’ is all Sandy heard as she stopped listening to Jean and began to observe her, her frenetic movements, her raisiny, pursed lips, her starched collar and high-cut trousers cinched at her starved waste, her wrinkly unadorned fingers.  Jean once claimed she was 40, ‘bullshit,’ Sandy thought as she continued to ignore Jean’s mentorship session. 
Years later, after Jean was dropped from the partnership, she would write Sandy a series of long-winded emails, sharing her deep sadness, the fact that she had waited too long to live her real life, her disappointment at having missed her own youth, and describing in painstaking detail, the lonely life of an unemployed, single middle-aged woman.
By the end of Jean’s mentorship rant, Sandy was certain that she didn’t want to be a Jean, or a Mark, or a Brian.  But, business school seemed like the route of least resistance, so she applied nonetheless.  A few months later, she received an acceptance email to Harvard Business School.  It seemed that the only options were to stick at her job or move on to business school and defer a life decision until later.
So there she sat, mouse hovered dangerously over the Accept button, considering how simple it would be to check the Decline button instead.  She mused to herself as she paused, two completely different lives standing just a quarter of an inch away from one another.  So, in a momentary lapse of her usual level-headedness and risk aversion, she tested what it felt like to click “Decline.”
Sandy stared at the screen.  This is what it would have looked like if she had ever had the time to daydream of a different life.   Her eyes crossed letting the screen blur in front of her, the two check boxes melding into one.  What will life be like now?  She clicked ‘OK.’