Zooming time

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: ,
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I don’t know what is going on, but my sense of time recently has been all out of wack. Was it already two days ago that I last posted? I feel like it’s been a blink of the eye. The hours at night always seem that way, yet the daytime hours drag. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was blogging?

Ooooh! I just realized that the clock is after midnight…

Well I guess this is a sign that I’m too tired to be up much longer. At least I know I’m not completely crazy. Nonetheless, time does feel very odd these days. Too fast yet too slow all at once. You ever feel that?

Wounded soul

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wounded soul poem

The sadness in his eyes…

Hidden behind a veil of indifference

Yet —

Deep in his wounded soul

A broken heart

Hello Brits!

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I was checking my Alexa rank today, wondering what sort of influence people might think I have as a blogger and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I’m ranking in the UK! If you’re not familiar with Alexa ranks, it basically tells you how trafficked your website is. So the number is telling you that you’re in the top ## of active websites.

I typically hover in the 2 million mark globally and 700-800k in the US. Two years ago, I was randomly ranking in Turkey at around 100k (with 60,491 as my best). Since then I haven’t ranked in a foreign country as far as I know. But today, what a cool thing to see that nearly HALF my traffic is from the UK and I’m 177,368th in line.

alexa rank 2.10.16

Most US-based bloggers will see at least 80% of their traffic come from the US, so there must be something in the air to make all these Brits visit my site. Pretty cool and a fun little fact to make me smile. If I ever find myself focusing on building my blog more, I’ll aim to bring my global rank back down below 1 million. The best I ever had was 884,613 two years ago (whoa, on Panda’s birthday, I just noticed :)). My best US rank was 180,889 about a month before that. I’d love to beat those numbers again one day. It’s fun to see traffic grow and watch the ranks improve!

So wherever you are, I’d love to see you stick around.

Do it for yourself

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After watching the Macklemore interview at TEDxPortland and hearing his parting words about not letting perfection stop you from starting, it made me think about creation. Humans are drawn to creating things, whether crafts or art or even ideas. Maybe you’re a musician or a knitter, a woodworker or a mathematician. In each, you may feel the pressure to perform well again and again. It’s easy to overthink the result you want and intimidate yourself from even trying.

If you set out to craft the perfect song, sweater, cabinet, or statistical equation, you will likely get very discouraged along the way. Does it mean you shouldn’t try? For fear of producing complete junk, you might convince yourself you’re not good enough. But if it’s something you want, something you crave – then give it a shot. You might find that you do suck. You might have many restarts and edits. That’s really the price of improvement though.

Even the best out there have times where they do not like what they produce. The difference is that for the love of the craft, of the art they produce, they keep pushing forward. And with that they see incremental improvements. Nobody can produce amazing new pieces every time. Creativity takes honing and skills take practice.

Beyond that, even if you aren’t that great, as long as it fulfils your heart, I think it’s still worth it. The experience of doing your craft or art will be immensely rewarding in itself when it’s what you love. No one can take that away from you. Sometimes you should do it just to do it. It may never become what you make a living from and you may never get that good at it, but what matters is what you get out of it. The pleasure, the feeling of accomplishment, the wonderful memories – those are worth more. If you love it, do it for yourself.

For me, this blog is one thing that I choose to do for myself. I don’t consider myself to be a great writer, but I enjoy sharing my thoughts, experiences, memories, and more. There are times I post something wondering if the writing was completely awful and if I should share it at all. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter; I’m drawn to blogging and it brings me a sense of accomplishment no matter how well I might be doing it. It’s not that I don’t want more readers… it’s just that I would rather produce what I like and not feel pressured to do things a certain way to gain more readership. So I focus on what I enjoy and hope that it provides value to others. If not, it at least pleases me.

So don’t hold yourself back from something you truly enjoy doing! Go do it for yourself. :)

The thoughts that hold us back

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What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

I’ve been watching a lot of Sheryl Sandberg and almost every speech is about that. Empowering yourself by stripping away fear and facing it head on. Identifying what it is that you’re afraid to do, then going and doing it.

What I’ve wanted to do for a long time is discuss some of the internal challenges that we face at my company. There have been a lot of things going on that are far from ideal and it makes me wonder if those running the company are not aware of these things or if they don’t find it a priority. I want to at least bring it up so it’s in their conscious, if it’s not already. And if it is, I’d like to convince them that these issues I’ve noticed are important.

Sheryl’s message of leaning in made me think about some of the thoughts and beliefs that hold me back from the things I want to do. One of the saddest things is the people in my life who don’t get it. Time and time again, the people I’ve told have said, “Don’t do it.”

The message is clear. Don’t bring up issues in the workplace, you’ll look like a whiner. Don’t open up a line of communication lest they think you’re out to get them. Don’t put your job in jeopardy. Don’t say anything. Don’t do it.

These are the philosophies that hold me back. They give me pause whenever I want to stand up for what I believe in. I’m not exactly afraid of losing my job, if that would actually happen (which I honestly don’t think would). So what am I afraid of?

It’s actually not that my family and friends will think of me differently. It’s that they’ve given me doubt as to whether I’ll be able to express myself and communicate what I’m trying to effectively. Because I believe that if it comes out right, my company will see that I care about improving it, that I want to do that. I’m not pointing out problems I’ve experienced just to complain about it, but because I want to work on a way forward. Yet I can see that this intention can easily be misconstrued and it sort of happened before.

So I’m afraid of how lightly I might need to tread. Will I inadvertently set off a landmine even as I seek a clear path to something better? I know in theory what I’d like to share, but I can’t control how it will be interpreted. That’s the greatest danger. But instead of pointing out all the reasons not to, I wish my loved ones would support me and brainstorm with me. What I need is allies, not contrarians.

If you have any thoughts that are holding you back, do whatever you need to give yourself permission to do what you want. I’ve wanted to do this for so long that I know I will regret it if I don’t. Now it’s off to drafting notes and practicing what I might say. I’ve got to be true to myself.

No such thing as a weakness

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You know, with all the evaluation I’ve done of myself recently, I kept coming to the topic of strengths and weaknesses. I’ve come to think that there aren’t actually strengths and weaknesses out there. A strength or a weakness tends to be thought of as a trait. But to me, they are skills you are better or worse at. (This is a similar idea to flatsides, as laid out by Wistia.)

“I’m great at communicating,” you might say. Then you have probably spent time working on how you express yourself. If you’re not a strong communicator, you probably haven’t practiced extensively.

You can have skills that are underdeveloped and those that are overdeveloped. Everything ends up being on a sliding scale of more or less. Each person’s interpretation of where the scale tips from good to bad is at a different spot. In addition, regardless of your level of skill at any one thing, it simultaneously means good and bad things. Different people manage to interpret the “goodness” of these skills differently.

For example, let’s say you’re very detail-oriented. As a strength, that’s great when you need to proofread documents or measure things or be accurate in calculations. As a weakness, it may mean you are very nit-picky with people and get caught up in the minutia so you forget to consider the big picture. While some people may admire your ability for precision and accuracy, others might find it tedious to have every little thing critiqued or pointed out.

On the other hand, if you’re not detail-oriented at all, you may well be thinking in a larger scope. You might be the type of person who sees how the pieces connect, or your energy is focused on creating something new without putting a microscope to every idea. Ultimately doesn’t it come down to how far out or in you choose to zoom your focus? Someone more zoomed in may notice minor changes while someone more zoomed out may notice more patterns.

Each skill can be useful in its own place.

I can see pros and cons in just about every scenario: someone who is boisterous can be seen as wonderfully sociable or awfully obnoxious; someone who is often doing things for others might be seen as generous or nosing into others’ business; someone who is empathetic could be seen as kindhearted or overly emotional…

So I believe that weaknesses are merely strengths we haven’t harnessed (or are even a strength in hiding). Each speaks to a skill that you have more or less of. So strengths are really skills that we’ve developed more and weaknesses are skills that we haven’t developed much, if at all. And even strengths are weaknesses from another light, and vice versa. That’s why I imagine skills as a bit of a seesaw, with two traits on either side.

Let’s say there’s a seesaw about the skill “talking,” with loud on one end and quiet on the other. As you move closer towards loud, you get further from quiet. Positive interpretations include things like noticeable and energetic. Negative interpretations include things like rowdy and disruptive. Then as you move closer towards quiet, you see a shift to positive interpretations like pensive and polite, negative interpretations like invisible and unapproachable.

It may be the case that none of these interpretations are true! But that’s how I envision skills. A spectrum where more of something is less of something else and there is no absolute good or bad. You choose where you want to fall along the way, depending on your personality and values. Similarly, that colors how you interpret the very skills of others.

So what this comes down to is the idea that any skill can be developed and the ones you choose to focus on reflect who you are. You might have a so-called weakness, but your strength probably lies elsewhere. If you feel like you should improve the skill involved, work on it! But if you feel like that’s who you want to be, then don’t feel the pressure to change. We won’t all be good at everything and be everything to everyone.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that being authentic to yourself unlocks your potential. It frees you to be the most awesome version of yourself! So don’t worry about “weaknesses” – think about if it’s a skill you want to improve. It may very well be one that doesn’t jive with you and you can embrace that. The beauty of humanity is our variation and our choices to be so, don’t you think?

My MBA application experience 

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A little over two months ago, I finally decided to buckle down and apply for grad school. Deadlines for Round 2 applications were the first and second week of January. I wasn’t sure if the time I’d allotted myself was going to be tight, but it was time to take this next step. Here’s how it’s gone for me… (want to skip right to my tips at the end?)

Choosing the schools

I knew that I wanted to apply to 5-6 programs, so I began looking at the top 25 ranked in the US. I considered applying to international programs as well, but ultimately decided not to because I intend to work for businesses in the states. While I would love international opportunities, my home base will always come back to the US, so going to a school domestically made more sense.

From the initial list, I came out with the programs I was most interested in: #1 Stanford GSB, #2 Harvard Business School, #3 UPenn Wharton, #4 Chicago Booth, #6 Northwestern Kellogg, #7 Berkeley Haas, #10 UVA Darden, #15 UCLA Anderson, #24 Georgetown McDonough, and #25 USC Marshall. Whew, that’s a lot! So I started narrowing down based on program structure, competitiveness, and personal appeal. That still left 8 options. I managed to eliminate Wharton and Booth because they felt more technical/finance-focused. To me, Wharton, Booth, and Kellogg were at very similar levels, so I decided to choose one of the three.

It was really hard for me to bring it down to the 6 max that I wanted to adhere to, so I kept going back and forth for awhile until I realized that I was really including Darden and McDonough for their proximity to Panda. But if you think about it, MBAs are so time-consuming that being nearby might not mean I have much time to see him anyway. So off they went and there was my final list: Stanford, Harvard, Kellogg, Haas, Anderson, and Marshall. I wanted to maintain a good spread across the rankings to give myself a very good chance of making it into at least one of the programs. #fingerscrossed

Preparing to apply

I’m fortunate enough to know some current and former MBA students at programs that I was planning on applying to. I reached out to many of them and got a chance to connect with three. After spending some time chatting with each of them, I got an understanding that I should really share my personal story. They also recommended reaching out to students or alumni of the other programs and try to do campus visits if possible.

I did manage to do some student meetups and a campus tour, but for the most part, I scoured their websites for details. Based on the courses they offer, the extracurriculars, and how they message their ideas, it gave me a sense of each of their brands. There are parts of each that I really appreciate and would love to be a part of. I definitely think it’s important to find programs that I’ll enjoy and will attract people I can connect with and learn from. Each has their own prestige, so that’s helpful too.

Thinking about essays

The very first thing I did application-wise was compile all of the essay questions and think about them all day long. Whenever an idea struck me, I wrote it down and I kept expanding my notes as I drafted and edited my essays. These were the most labor-intensive, with a lot of reflection and self-analysis. It took me awhile to finally find what I felt was a cohesive story that explained my motivations for where I’m going and how where I’ve been influenced that path.

On the surface, my jobs have been somewhat progressive, but not along a clear career path. However, digging deeper, I noticed that so many of the projects I took on stemmed from the same source. It turns out that the common thread between my roles was always the idea of empowering through resources. I really enjoy helping people and being resourceful, so I consolidated resources and built databases and processes because I believe that giving people the right tools, skills and knowledge empowers them to strive for more. No matter what, that has always driven me in my work.

As part of my research for applications, I dove into a variety of business books, online articles, and even TV shows. Each tied back to my thoughts on my essays. When I watched The Voice, I thought about expressing my true self and being genuine. When I read Uncontainable, I noted my own values and the key ways I intend to change the corporate landscape. Everything tied back to my philosophies on life and how that applied to my approach to business.

Choosing recommenders

I had always had one person in mind as a recommender, because he had worked with me pretty much since I started at my current company. He had a good sense of the many projects that I’ve done and we collaborated on quite a few. What I waffled on at first was whether to ask my direct supervisor or someone else. What if knowing that I was slowly on my way out affected the opportunities I received at work? What if that changed their perception of me? I thought about choosing someone else, but then I decided that I’d rather my manager know now instead of having to explain to him months down the line what I’d been up to. Plus, my office is a supportive environment where reaching for a goal like this is applauded.

I asked both gentlemen as soon as I made up my mind on them and my schools. Both happily agreed, and I put together a document of bullet points to share with them. I split my notes into two categories: Leadership & Initiative and Teamwork. I felt these were the key components of my experience and encapsulated many things I had done. One of my MBA friends had shared a “recommender tips” document that he had used, which I repurposed and shared with my recommenders. It basically summarized to this: the most effective recommendations are ones with concrete examples that paint a picture so vivid that the reader can feel me jumping out of the page.

I registered for all the applications and set up my recommenders to give them ample time to fill them out. One thing I learned from this is to make it crystal clear that some schools have a very specific format and set of questions they want answered. A general letter will not do. The recommenders should be prepared for the amount of effort this will take on their part. In addition to the essays, there are evaluation grids to fill out. It’s no simple task and you shouldn’t be shy about following up. Stay on top of those recommenders!

Filling out the applications

I probably should have done a dry run through all the applications early on so I would know what to prepare. For Haas, they require copies of official transcripts, which I did not have on hand. When I tried to order them from my school, they were on winter break and would only return two days before the application deadline! So I had to rush the order and ask my mom to go get them from the school. At another point, I wasn’t sure if my Kellogg application would be accepted because my GMAT scores had not been sent to the school and they needed them by the deadline! Yikes! But it turns out that they are actually ok with the scores being available later as long as they can view them when they get to my application.

To avoid any last-minute efforts, definitely go through the applications to see what fields they have and what required documentation there is. I was so caught up in essays that I figured filling out the forms would be easy, but they actually took quite a long time. You have to manually type in your previous job and extracurricular experience, which can add up quickly when you’ve had a few. Plus, there are certain documents that you may not have prepared that you should be aware of.

There were parts that I didn’t really think would come up, like my parents’ education, my international experience, and even my hobbies. I expected things like work experience, awards and honors, as well as extracurricular activities. The rest was pretty random additional information that varied by school. Stanford even asked for your favorite word!

Check, check, check!

So once you’ve got all these pieces together, make sure you have at least one other person take a look at your applications. I had my trusty husband go through and point out weak areas for me. He also kept an eye out for minor errors/typos after I’d been staring at everything for too long. Give yourself enough time to input all the data and proofread at least two or three times. You want to be as professional as possible and any grammatical error or typo can work against you.

When you’re ready to submit (at least hours, if not a day or more before the deadline), make sure you get confirmation emails that your application was received and so was your payment. You don’t want to miss out on an opportunity because of a glitch or because you forgot to pay the fee. Oh yeah, you’ll want to be ready to pay about $150-275 per application. That adds up fast!

For Kellogg, they had one more step after the application was submitted: the video essays. So if your program has something like that, make sure you spend time rehearsing. The program they use allows you to practice with the software until you’re comfortable, so I must have done it 20 times until my eye contact was steady and my answers could fit into the allotted 60 seconds. It’s amazing how shifty you can seem on your first try, so neeever jump right into it.

Once you’re all done, each application usually allows you to download a proof as a PDF, which I definitely recommend you do. Keep that for your records, so you can use it if there are any discrepancies. Plus, it helps you remember what you sent them!

 

So, these are the tips I have for the process up until those applications are submitted:

-When choosing which programs to apply to, go through each school’s websites to learn as much as you can. Try to keep your choices to 6 or you might be stretched too thin (and your recommenders won’t give up on filling out so many!).

-Sign up for their mailing lists ASAP so you know if there are local students you can meet or if/when an admission officer will be in your area. This is a great way to evaluate schools and learn things that can help with how you focus your application. Each program values different things and each school has a different culture.

-Take the GMAT/GRE before all the application madness if possible, so it’s one less thing to worry about.

-Read carefully through requirements. Do they need a GMAT score or do they accept GRE as well? Do they require scores to be sent or can you self-report for now? Do they need official transcripts sent or are unofficial transcripts acceptable initially? Prep these early as needed.

-Think about the narrative you’re going to tell. It’s hard to distill everything you’ve done and who you are into a neat package, but choose that one trait that best sums it up. Look at the work you’ve done, the activities you’ve been involved in, and even your personal background to connect the dots. A cohesive story makes the picture clearer and easier to digest.

-Based on your narrative, choose recommenders who can speak to the work you’ve done around what you’re focusing on. Put together some examples that the recommenders can choose to write about, which may differ greatly depending on your interactions with them. The more they can personalize it and relate it back to your theme (as well as tie it in to what matters to the school), the more impactful they will be.

-Follow up with your recommenders to make sure things are on track! If one of them needs to change, you want ample time to swap them out.

-Go through all the fields that each application requires. This will give you a sense of extra materials you’ll need to pull together, like your parents’ educational histories, your extracurriculars, any awards or recognition, or even international experience. The UCLA Anderson app had a paragraph to summarize hobbies and the Kellogg app asked for international experience as well as video essays. Know about these ahead of time so you’re prepared! Even the way they ask you to fill out work info varies greatly, so take a peek at how that’s structured.

-Start setting aside the amount of money you’ll need for the fees if you don’t have that readily available. Most seem to be $150-275. There are some cases where you can get the fee waived, so if you’re really strapped for cash, see if you qualify for any.

-I would allocate at least 10 days per app at the least, giving yourself time to have a breather when things were intense and you needed some time away from staring at these applications.

-Proofread your application a few times and have at least one other person go through the final version if you can.

-Submit your application well ahead of the deadline! I did them all the day before, so if anything went awry, I’d have the following day to figure it out.

-Be sure to get confirmation emails that your application was submitted AND payment was received. Otherwise you might not make it into the round you want!

 

Any other tips you’d share? Let me know! Now I’m just waiting to hear back on interviews…

The crazies next door

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At work, we’ve had about half of the floor for the past two years and now we’re taking over the rest of it. It’s nice to have the place to ourselves and my colleagues and I were reminiscing about some of the strange folks who worked across the way.

For the most part, it seemed to be the bathroom behavior of the ladies that drew a lot of raised eyebrows from our office. For example, many of these ladies would take phone calls in the restroom. Didn’t matter if they were in a stall or just standing by the sinks, it was awkward. Who wants to walk in on a phone conversation and have to do your business?

Yeah.

I mean, I understand that they’re a more traditional office so they can’t take calls in their space, but there’s plenty of hallway and it’s not hard to hop on an elevator to stroll around the lobby or even outside. It got to the point where someone actually printed a sign to ask them to take their calls outside the restroom.

Then there was a random woman who would apparently bang her head on the wall, consistently and very much out in the open by the paper towel dispenser. I never actually ran into that situation, but two of my colleagues described it and one said that when she asked the woman if she was ok, she was ignored. Maybe this was some sort of trance? Again, not something that makes you comfortable walking into a restroom.

And then there were the grooming habits that went on in there, with folks washing their faces, brushing their teeth, flossing, or even applying nail polish. I don’t understand why any of these matters would be so urgent that you must do it midday at your office (usually around 2 pm). I mean, if it was at the end of the day, I can see how you might need to tidy up before going straight to an evening event. But when you’re still going to be sitting at the office for a few more hours, what is that really accomplishing?

Granted, these behaviors were certainly less odd, but the most uncomfortable was the flosser who would let things fly out of her mouth and never clean the sink area when she was done. Ick. For someone who seems to care about hygiene, that is not a very hygienic behavior.

And finally, for those who did take their calls in the hallway, there was always one girl who seemed to argue on every single call and have no qualms about airing her laundry (dirty or not). You’d think private conversations would either not be spoken so loudly or be taken somewhere out of the way. Alas, she did neither and nearly all of our office heard her complaints at one point or another. Yet another awkward situation to walk into and ignore.

Suffice it to say, we do not miss the oddballs in bathroom or hallway. Funny enough, they apparently found us odd. It seems that our choice of clothing – not business casual – was something for them to raise their eyebrows over. Good thing they don’t work out west! I can only imagine how they’d react to flip flops, hoodies, and board shorts if our everyday wear was strange to them. So I guess we’re all crazy in someone else’s eyes.

Tick tock

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Wow, I’m tired! I’ve been obsessively going through applications, reading and rereading everything I input to make sure it’s all accurate. So far three deadlines have passed and I’ve submitted four of six applications. I’ll send in one more tomorrow night and then the final one over the weekend! Oh my, I can’t believe it’s that time. Now I can’t wait to hear back, fingers crossed. I really feel like I have a good chance with the essays I put together and I hope that the admissions committees agree.

Each night I’ve had Panda review my final work to help catch minor typos and also give feedback on how strong my message is. I’ve made some modifications based on his reactions to parts of my applications that weren’t as strong and I feel really good about it all! I’ve worked really hard, read A TON, and incorporated everything I was learning and thinking into how I approached my applications. In a few short days I can breathe a sigh of relief that this stage is complete and I can put some more energy back into work and exercise.

If I don’t start hearing about interviews in about a month, I’ll be getting worried. Surely I’ll get a few! For now, I need sleep so I can finalize two more awesome applications. :)

Braindead

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , ,
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Happy 2016! It’s a new year and I feel so out of touch with the season, what with El Nino making this winter very mild thus far. I’m looking forward to the first snow of the year and I think many others might be too, despite my coworkers who claim to hate it.

I’ve been heads down reading books to learn about business ideas and applying that towards my essays and applications. I just went through and typed alllllll the tedious bits to the applications, which took a lot longer than I expected! I’ll put together a post of things I learned and tips for anyone else who might be applying to schools. I guess it’s been so long that I forgot about some of the nuances.

So with that, I will leave you pretty quickly today so I can rest for one more day. I’m not ready for work again, what with all my applications due in the next week! It’s so surreal that I’m at that point and will soon have no applications to work on. That means I’ll have more energy to read all the books I want though. :)

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