Thursday, April 26, 2012

A day in the life of a (SY) MBA..

Caveat: This describes a day in the life of a second year MBA student. A first year MBA I'm sure will beg to disagree, especially Darden first years who know that life in the Darden bubble ain't a bed of roses. But hey, here's your light at the end of the tunnel...

Today is a somewhat cloudy day in an otherwise beautiful spring season in Charlottesville, VA. The almost 10-minute walk to school from my apartment at Ivy Gardens is pleasant enough with always a familiar face from a classmate or schoolmate to greet you on the road.


The first sight of Darden--the Darden parking lot, one I don't usually use since I walk to school anyway. I say it's good exercise but truth be told, I'm not a fan of the parking fee. Winter is a different story though.

The (beautiful) hallway before entering the school and a short stop at one of the learning team rooms to print out the day's homework. (Gotta maximize my materials fee or maybe I'm just lazy to buy printer ink.)

I have two classes today. In my second class (Digital Marketing), we have a speaker who spoke to us about the merits of mobile commerce and how it is different and similar with e-commerce. We are after all, moving towards the mobile technology era. But then again, technology is moving so fast, one wonders if mobile will still be around some years from now..

This is the one class I don't mind being cold-called. I love learning about technology and of course how digital marketing is re-shaping the marketing world. Now if only I had the same passion about my finance class' topic on shareholder activism..

I stop for a cup of tea in between classes and see there's a small Earth week exhibit in the Pepsico forum.

Note to self: Use reusable mugs and bottles. Remember how those 'save the polar bear' ads always give you a lump in the throat.

The clock strikes 1:10pm and it is--freedom!!! Oh wait, I have that group meeting for our final project presentation in my Experience Economy class. Surely it won't take more than an hour.

Alas, leave it to six MBAs to complicate a simple enough project that ends up in an argument about which photo is good enough to put in the powerpoint presentation (Hint: It involved the lovely Paris Hilton). But heck, I'll still miss these guys..

The real freedom begins! Some sights to enjoy before driving to Glenmore country club for golf lessons.

Ah, nature's splendor. Who wouldn't be awed by this expansive (and expensive) beauty?

Some women in my class and I have signed up for weekly golf lessons to try to master this thing they call the language of business (and I was taught it was Accounting!).

My hands always hurt after the sessions but I don't mind the view at all.

After golf lessons is done, I drive back and since beach week is a few weeks away, I try to burn those cupcake fat I've been guiltily devouring by playing some squash at the UVA North Grounds gym. It's a crazy game that gets me high and low in such a short period of time. Seriously, if walls could talk...

Note to self:  Stick to badminton. It's Asian, you're Asian. 'Nuf said.

After an exhausting work out, I take a shower, cook and eat dinner, and hit the books. Some of them anyway.

So there you go. Second year MBAs do get to enjoy life a little bit more before going back to the real world. And remember, weekends are even fun-er!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

And that's how you Pay It Forward

These days, it's quite easy to distinguish a first year from a second year MBA student in the Darden hallways. A slow, sure, somewhat bored gait is definitely that of a second year's--possibly sporting a tan from his/her winter break vacation in the Caribbean islands. But spot a suit and tie or pencil skirt-clad student, nervously pacing outside the interview rooms, there's your first year. He/She is clutching the Darden leather folder and anxiously reviewing his/her notes for the upcoming internship interview. These are common sights in the Darden hallway. But behind the scenes are quite different.

The Sunday before classes for second years started, I went to school to hold a mock interview with a first year. I had gotten an email asking for interview preparation help and I was happy to help. I was surprised to get to school at around 10am and see most of the learning team rooms occupied with first years and a number of second years helping the first years prep. This brings me back to a year ago when I myself was a nervous first year who was looking up at second years and eagerly absorbing their advice on something as measly as what to wear during interviews.

In between classes, you see the piano room and cafeteria filled with first and second year students chatting over coffee about interview preparations and sharing notes about companies. I've heard my first year friends tell me how helpful the seniors are, moving and shuffling their own schedules to accommodate meetings with them. You even see second years doing three or more mock interviews with first years in one day, on top of regular classes and club activities. This may not sound like a big deal, but you have to realize how valuable a second year's time is. That second year student also went through hell of a time during his/her first year--with the very rigorous curriculum, resume/cover letter drops, interview preparations, and almost quarter-long internship where he/she was under a very scrutinizing microscope. So, that second year was very much looking forward to his/her final year in grad school--the one that his past seniors promised would be filled with tons of tee and ski time, camping trips, wine tastings, and catching up with whatever things he/she had to give up during the first year including sleeping and exercising.

This reminds me of the reason why I chose Darden for my MBA. There was that promise of a close-knit community where students lived next to each other, watched college games together, dog-sat for each other, and just really helped each other. Well, the fact that Darden is in the college town of Charlottesville and the next city and big bar is some 70 miles away is probably a factor. But hey, we could have chosen to nauseate ourselves crazy visiting all 200+ vineyards in the Virginia area but we're not exactly doing (just) that.

So to my fellow second years, kudos for paying it forward. The Darden community salutes you for your effort, sacrifice, and strong commitment to helping your fellow Dardenites be a little closer to achieving their ambitions. Cherish that warm feeling you get when the first years you coached get the job offers they wanted. It's like winning the bet on that right horse. Or just kinda.

To the first years who already have summer internship job offers, a hearty congratulations! Give yourselves a pat in the back and do try to enjoy the rest of your first year without studying too much. You will eventually rummage through your DA notes for when you use Crystal Ball during your summer internship.

To those still searching for a job, hang in there. It may be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel now, but believe us when we say that it will all work out.

To all first years, thank the second years who took time out to help you be a little more prepared, walk a tad more confidently, and talk like you know the real reasons behind the Eurozone crisis. And remember, PAY IT FORWARD. Remind the first years of the class of 2014 why they chose Darden as their MBA school--and that goes beyond the extra rigorous academic training, $5 wine tastings, TNDC (Thursday Night Drinking Club), and the oh-so-beautiful grounds. Those are just the bonuses, of course.

No specific reason for this particular photo. Just that I wanted to share how beautiful this view was walking back to my apartment. Perhaps that's another Darden bonus.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Walk It Off, Girl

Now that recruiting season for second year MBAs are here once again, it's common to hear one MBA say to another, "Suck it up!" or "Walk it off!" Yes, we do need to suck it up when interviews are scheduled one after another with barely a restroom break in between. And we also need to walk it off (quite more often than we want to) when we get the much regretted rejection calls or emails.

I've been heavily immersed with recruiting preparations for the past weeks now. Networking nights started in early September where we had to dress in suits and chat up company representatives. Of course, we had to do good research before we went to these events. A glass of wine in hand and enough alcohol in our systems to give us courage, we would try engaging a company recruiter by asking (what we hoped were) intelligent questions and sharing our views on their recent company performance or acquisition. The goal: try not to make him/her yawn while you're mid-sentence, and yeah, get an interview invite. After networking nights came resume drops. This entailed making cover letters for each company, which of course had to be tailor-fitted to the industry, the people you spoke with, your company fit, etc. Whoever worked the darnedest in networking and prayed the hardest got the interview invite. Then comes more intensive company research (read: financial reports, company-related news in the past year, executive board resumes, etc.) and interview preparations.

Modesty aside, I think I was quite diligent in my preparations. I've filled notebooks on company research, reviewed relevant school notes for possible technical questions, and smiled my widest during company networking events. So when I received numerous interview invites, I was very happy. However, I was waiting for one particular interview invite. The company was one of my top companies and I had worked my ass off in networking with them. So honestly, I was quite confident I would get that much coveted interview invite. Anxiety got the better of me so I would constantly check my email during ungodly hours to see if they've sent me the invite. When finally they released the interview invites, almost everyone I knew got one. All but me. I knew I was being arrogant but I couldn't believe it. I even emailed our career development office to ask if they might have gotten my email wrong. Alas, everything was as it should be. And that meant I didn't make the cut. For both positions I was applying for. The worst part was that the company invited over half of the people who submitted their resumes--a fairly high yield. A 50% chance of getting in and I wasn't even part of that best half. Not even as alternate.

At that point, I was devastated. I felt rejected and just plain miserable. I had been invited to interview by almost all companies I had dropped for and now this. The ultimate rejection from one of my top companies. When these things happen, you start doubting yourself. You begin asking, "Why am I not good enough?" "What did I do wrong?" "What did I not do?" You start scrutinizing every email you exchanged with the company recruiters. You start reviewing your cover letter for the nth time. I was even almost certain I spelled the company name wrong or put a different company name hence the no invite. But after spending an agonizing hour retracing my steps, nothing seemed amiss. I just had to accept the fact that I wasn't good enough for them.

Then came the tears. And two hours later, the anger. I thought to myself, "Hey, a good number of companies want me so if you don't want me, fine!" A friend suggested I bid my points to still get an interview invite despite not getting it on the first cut. I knew this still made my chances very slim since my resume was not good enough in the first place. But I did it anyway. I bid all of my points to both positions they were recruiting for and prayed again. This time I got the interview invites for both roles but at the back of my mind I knew it was still a second-rate invite--one I had to buy my way in.

With only a few days to prepare, I did my usual company research and interview preparation. For the first round of interviews, I had two 30-minute interviews for each position which meant a total of 2 hours of interviewing. One thing I didn't see coming were the case interviews. The candidates were given hypothetical scenarios ranging from launching a new product line to opening a plant in a new geographic location. We were then asked to share our strategy in each scenario. Some interviewers were more intense in giving us hypothetical numbers to work with. With no calculator or computer available, it was long division all over again.

I did get to the final round for both positions, which was the very next day. This time, each candidate had two 45-minute interviews for each position. For me, this meant three hours. Straight. More cases and more behavioral questions. By my last interview, my bladder was ready to burst and I had my arm propped on the table, supporting my aching head. The interviewer had this amused look on his face, "We've been working you hard, haven't we?" Me: "You have no idea." How I managed to survive is still a mystery to me.

Three hours later, I get a call from the company extending me full-time offers for both positions. I was in total shock. At best, I thought I'd get one offer.

I walked home with a very happy heart. I couldn't thank God enough. But I was still wondering, "How?" How can this one company who did not want me in the first place so as to deny me an interview invite now change its mind and give me two offers (a very rare thing to do)? Is it possible to change a recruiter's mind about a candidate? Is one's resume really not a good picture of a candidate? Or is it perhaps one's persistence and one's determination that makes a well-rounded candidate?

To the first year MBA's out there and those still dropping resumes, don't let an interview reject get you fully down. Yes, it's devastating. Yes, it can be one of the worst things to happen to you in MBA world but hey, it's not the end. Go bid those points and spend it wisely. That's another good shot for you. Show them that there's a whole lot more to you than what your resume or cover letter says. Show them what you're really made of.

So the next time you're faced with rejection, remember: Walk it off, girl.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Summer Musings

First off, a huge apology is in order. I've been neglecting my blogging duties and have terribly missed writing over the summer. No excuses on my part and I'm hoping to make up for my blogging absence in the next months as the second year MBA promise of more time for leisurely activities finds me.

Now that the dog days are almost over, allow me to backtrack a little bit and muse on the have beens.

Having been absent from the workforce scene for over a year now, I found myself awkward and a little lost in the maze called corporate America. As I started my MBA internship and slowly assimilated myself back to the reality of corporate life, I kissed goodbye to my sheltered student life at Darden. Goodbye 10am classes, Hello 5:30am wake up call. Adios afternoon snacks/naps, Hola endless back-to-back meetings. Being at work again made me reminisce my student life. I remember feeling so "work-sick" when I was a few months into school. I missed the surprises of daily work challenges, working with different people from different functions of the company, and best of all, I missed the monthly paycheck. I never thought I'd say this but being back on the payroll again made me miss student life! I did enjoy the paycheck and seeing my bank balance have credit transactions instead of just debits. And I did like interacting with people outside of my MBA circle but boy, whoever said student life is the best sure knew what he was talking about.

I spent my summer internship in a big retail company in Chicago, IL. After spending five years working in the finance function, I opted for a general management position and I wasn't disappointed. My role called for a good balance among very diverse disciplines--marketing, finance, sales, project management, and team management included. I wish I'd paid more attention to my Decision Analysis class when we discussed regressions and other statistical tools because I found myself working with a 50-million member database mining for useful and relevant marketing/sales insights. I had to rummage through my school notes and cases we discussed in class to remind myself how to interpret t-stats. The retail industry itself was highly challenging especially in an economy where consumer spending could do a lot more than just improve. We were faced with intense competition by other retail giants and internal calls for more budget savings, process efficiency, and increased productivity. So, it's safe to say that there were no dull moments.

Now, the hardest part of every internship is the very limited time-frame. I was working on a big project with a 12-week timeline. Take the one week of orientation and I was down to 11 weeks. When one has to orient herself with a new industry, get to know who's who in the corporate ladder, and actually implement the recommendations, 11 weeks is all too short. So yes, suffice it to say that my summer back at work was very challenging.

Never Under-estimate the Power of LO
At Darden, we have this course called Leading Organizations (LO). This course is taught in the first term of all first years and aims to develop the softer side of leadership skills. At first, I found the course to be too touchy-feely. We were talking about how to manage people's feelings; how to deal with a very diverse team where people had different cultures, values, and business practices. At times, there were role-playing sessions where students with pretend to be the characters in the cases and simulate actual conversations (or even confrontations) in the work place dealing with conflicts and issues. In my mind, I felt that these things could not actually be taught and eventually learned. I thought that these were things that were more innate and natural to human beings. And I was arrogant enough to believe that after working for five years in the corporate world, I most probably have encountered most kinds of people and hence know how to deal with anyone. I have to say, I couldn't have been more wrong. And it was a hard lesson learned.

After being sheltered in the MBA cocoon for almost a year, I got accustomed to being around people who were the same mold as I was--mostly Type A individuals, highly-driven, assertive and ambitious--your typical MBA student. Sadly, I forgot that outside this sheltered world of mine, more than one type of person exists. I forgot that people will not think exactly the same way I do nor will they share the same passions that I have. Not that I have more to offer, just that we each have different perspectives and different priorities and it takes more than a fancy spreadsheet model or your confidence and assertiveness to get people to believe in you and see things your way. In fact, I realize that sometimes you don't need for people to see things your way. People will use different lenses in looking at the same thing and so long as you arrive at the same conclusion, there's the pat in the back. The rest, as they say, is all in a day's work.

So yes, don't ever under-estimate the power of LO. Don't think that just because this class will not equip you with regression techniques and Excel shortcuts, it won't prepare you for when you go back to the real world. You will need more than quantitative prowess to achieve results. More than that, you will need to lead people to the right direction and find creative means to do this. Realize that you won't be leading a herd. One sheep won't be the same as the one beside it. It will be something closer to leading a whole zoo. Some will jump at your command, others will crawl, and others still could sting you. So, never forget the power of LO. It's a jungle out there!

Kindle the Way
They say that the suburbs is for people with families. So I thought I'd live single life to the fullest and live close to downtown Chicago. People did warn me about the horrendous commute but I thought I'd brave it. Alas, I'm not as brave as I thought I was! My commute from downtown Chicago to the suburbs where my office was was almost tolerable, at best. It was a 1.25-hour commute one way via train and bus. That meant waking up at an ungodly hour and reaching home when the sun was almost setting. That also meant that my two-month old Kindle (e-book reader) was going to be rightfully depreciated! So, I successfully finished six long books over the summer with most of the reading done over my long commute. I actually found myself looking forward to my commutes to get back to the exciting reading!At this rate, I could be a spokesperson for Amazon!

Give me back my rice!
Over the summer, I was living with three roommates, all of whom were American. I was very lucky that all four of us got along well and maximized what Chicago bars and restaurants had to offer. Most of our co-interns also shared the same passion for food and good bars so we explored much of Chicago cuisine and bar scenes. I only had one complaint: I felt rice-deprived! Asian that I was, I'm used to eating rice at least 2-3x a week. However, my American roommates always wanted to go to these American brunch places where the staple in the menu was sandwiches--in every concoction you can think of but one with rice! So one Friday, when we were supposed to have our regular brunch time (usually at different brunch places), I actually bailed out on them and ordered in some cheap Chinese food! Ah, you know how they cook it in that sweet, spicy, greasy way and with lots of rice? Oh. So. Good!

Death by Butts and Guts
Another thing about my roommates is that they were very health-conscious. Not that I live a very unhealthy lifestyle and I do love my carbs but they took gymming to a different level! We all enrolled at a Wicker Park gym and even got a special group discount for the summer. I'm used to working out 3-4x a week but they all worked out almost every day! Some days I'd be too tired from work and from the long commute that I'd go straight to the couch, turn the TV on and watch Suits or Sex and the City re-runs. When my roommate comes home, he'd see me on the couch and say "See Yumi, that's how you start getting a fat a**!" Told ya they take working out seriously! I obviously would feel guilty afterwards for not working out so every Friday afternoon, I would drag myself to this intense workout class called "Butts and Gutts." The class is appropriately named as it focuses on toning the buttocks and abs. It was a very intense one-hour class where the strict and uptight instructor would shout commands like "Clench those butts girls!" I'm guessing I burned more than 1000 calories each workout. So everytime my roommate would catch my lying on the couch and eating while watching television, I'd defend myself by saying that I had enough pre-paid butts and gutts workout to last me for three days! Of course, I also had enough muscle aches and pains to last me for six!

So there, that I think pretty much sums up my summer experiences. Back in good old college town Charlottesville now makes me miss the windy city very much. I miss the very diverse bars and restaurants. I miss the fact that you can hail a cab from the street way past midnight. I miss that you can ride the bus or train to practically anywhere in Chicago. Most of all, I miss my new friends--my roommates and co-interns who all made my summer memorable! But going back to Charlottesville made me realize something. When I came back to my apartment, opened my room and sat on my bed, I actually said to myself, "It's good to be home." So yes, this is home. As far as it is from my real home in the Philippines and as different as it is, it has become my home for the past year now and will be in the next year. And believe it or not, I'm actually looking forward to staying here, with its country beauty--limited dining options and no cabs beyond 12 midnight and all!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hola Barcelona!

Two weeks ago, Darden students finally got their much-deserved break from classes and recruitment--two full weeks of Spring break! Growing up in a wet/dry season country, I never experienced this wondrous holiday. So to make the most of it, I decided to sign up for Darden's Global Business Experience (GBE) in Barcelona, Spain. This was equivalent to one full class in school and it was in one of the most beautiful cities in the world with no cases and no spreadsheets involved. So yes, it was a no-brainer for me. It was going to be Spain for me for over a week!

Before I bore you with a daily journal of my experience focused on Barcelona's great art and architecture and adding my own takes on its business context, let me share with you some anecdotal highlights of my experience.

Almendras, por favor?
On my first night in Barcelona, we were sitting in a Spanish bar and restaurant watching the football game between FC Barcelona and Getafe. Of course, the place was packed with Barça fans making it very difficult to get a waiter's attention. I had wanted a bowl of peanuts to go with our jar of Sangria. When I finally got his attention, I proceeded asking, "Hablas Ingles?" (Do you understand English?). He curtly said, "No." I've been warned about this great language barrier but still braved going to Spain with just a printout of commonly-used Spanish phrases a friend was kind enough to give me. Perhaps "peanuts" in Spanish might sound like its English version. So I tried asking while seemingly trying to conjure a bowl between my two hands, "Peanuts, por favor?" He looked at me blankly and shrugged his shoulders. Hmm... The internet should be useful in a time like this. So I said, "esperar (wait)," pulled out my iPhone and searched for "peanuts in Spanish." I showed the screen to the waiter in the hopes that he could decipher what I was asking for. For some reason, this did not prove to be effective since he again shook his head and shrugged. Ah, don't they always say that a picture is worth a thousand words? So I searched for peanut images. Lo and behold, a beautiful photo of peanuts in a bowl which I excitedly showed him. As if a eureka moment had just occurred to him, he said, "Ah, almendras! Sí, sí!" and rushes off to the kitchen. Ah, the irony! All this trouble and frustration and the answer was in my last name. Of course I knew that my last name meant almonds in Spanish. But I had wanted peanuts and not almonds. Still, it could have saved me the trouble to use it as reference. I guess the obvious is never the first choice. Well, suffice it to say that it was one of the best roasted almonds I've had. Perhaps it went well with the delicious Sangria (sweetened red wine) or because I never exerted that much effort in getting myself a simple bowl of nuts.

Dinners at 10pm, Sangria galore, and Barcelona's nightlife
My mind and stomach have been trained to eat dinner at 7pm. This was tested and challenged during my trip to Barcelona when I realized that dinner was served two to three hours later. Who eats dinner at 10pm?! Apparently, the Spanish do. How can one even fully digest the meal before going to bed? Well, the Spanish can because nightly parties start at 11pm or 12mn and ends until the sun rises. Not only did I have to adjust my body clock for the 6-hour time difference but I also had to settle into a new routine. We would start our day at 8am with breakfast at the hotel. Spanish and continental cuisine were the day's order so it was bacon, eggs, and churros for breakfast. Classes (held in IESE business school) started at 9am and ended at around 12nn. Our afternoons were spent touring and appreciating the city's art and architecture. We were back at the hotel at around 6:30pm, took a 2-3 hour siesta (nap) and met at the hotel lobby for dinner plans at around 9pm. Dinners were usually a good mix of tapas and lots of Sangria and lasted until around 11pm. And then the nightlife began!

Barcelona bars and clubs are unlike those I've seen from home and here in the US. For one, the Spanish really know how to make drinks! Order a rum and coke and the bartender would fill a little more than 1/2 of a big glass with rum and filled the rest with coke (no diet coke, mind you). So yes, it was more than potent. Since the clubs only start to really swing at 1am, we would get our cocktail fixes by bar-hopping then proceeded to club-hopping. Some of Barcelona's best clubs were facing the beach so it was dancing by the beach for us. Barcelonians also take dancing very seriously. All the clubs we went to had a minimum of three dance floors (one had one dance floor per level) with varying music from hip hop, house, to pop--whatever sways your liking. You can even see the age group differences in the dance floors! And for those who wanted a break from the dancing, you can comfortably sit in the plush couches and be entertained by the attractive ladies dancing in the podiums. If the dance floor craze is too much for you, a few steps brings you to a gorgeous view of Barcelona's beach and city lights, the soft sounds of the sea and the slightly cool evening breeze. Let's just say it was a helluva party!

Team Barça
During our free day, I visited Camp Nou, the football stadium in Barcelona and home to FC Barcelona. I'm not a football fan myself but after watching a live game in Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium (Madrid vs. Lyon), curiosity got the better of me and so I went on a Camp Nou tour. And my, was it an experience! In the huge museum, you could see all the FC Barcelona moments that made history and re-live them using the six multimedia areas, 8-meter interactive table, and 35-meter audio-visual projection. Most multimedia areas used touch screen technology which really felt like being in one of those Mission Impossible movies. You can run through the player's tunnel; see the pitch from a view only the most expensive tickets can offer you; pretend you are the great Lionel Messi photographed in the press room; and you even get a peek of the players' changing rooms, jacuzzi tub and all.

Before that day, I never realized just how big football was in Spain and the rest of Europe. Even more surprising for me was how one sport can bond a whole nation. Like they say about Barça--it's more than a club.

Now, on to the serious stuff. I've logged a daily journal of my take on our classes, field trips, and the beautiful sights of Barcelona. Not only because it was a course requirement (which it was), but also because I would want to remember these rare moments.

Day 1 – March 20, 2011
Casa Batllo
After a lot of introductions to revered artist Antonio Gaudi and his famous works, finally Casa Batllo—one of Gaudi’s most celebrated work of art. Standing across the street in Passeig de Gracia, taking in the view of this strange-looking but quite exquisite house, I knew I was looking at a master’s work. It was a house none like I’ve ever seen before. The stark contrast between Casa Batllo and the traditional Spanish buildings beside it was overwhelming. Casa Batllo was almost fantasy-like. While the nearby buildings fashioned straight lines, rectangular windows, and triangular roofs, Casa Batllo was all but conventional. It seemed like Gaudi was avoiding straight lines, traditional house hues, and ordinary concrete. The façade was made of sandstone, covered with colorful mosaic. The windows were irregular oval in shape with strange-looking balconies seemingly shaped in skulls and bones. In place of bricks, the roof replicates that of reptile skin or more specifically that of a dragon’s, with a cross or a sword near the side. Our guide shares this to be Gaudi’s reverence towards St. George, patron saint of Catalonia. St. George was said to have slain a dragon with his sword. The interior was no less fascinating, with clearer attention to detail: ergonomically-designed stair railing; diminishing window sizes from bottom to top floors to reflect the higher quantity of light necessary for lower floors; light shades of blue ceramic tiles at the bottom floors and darker hues at the top where the light was the harshest; wave-like ceilings to mimic the sea; and other almost minor details that would let the audience truly experience the sea the way nature intended it. It was amazing how much detail Gaudi put into this house, how much time he spent creating the perfect experience, and how much inspiration he must have had to create such a modern-looking piece of work during the 19th century.

Our professor said that perfect engineering and design comes when possibilities, constraints, and uncertainties meet. Where did Gaudi start when he designed his masterpiece Casa Batllo? Surely not with constraints, given the possibly astronomical costs of restoring the building. With greater detail and flair come greater resources necessary. But this sure did not stop Gaudi. This tells me that (1) the Batllo’s (who commissioned Gaudi to remodel the house) gave him almost unlimited resources; and (2) Gaudi was unwilling to settle for less and compromise his vision. So perhaps Gaudi started with possibilities. Like modern-day geniuses and artists in the business world (i.e., Steve Jobs), he started by challenging assumptions and defying the status quo. Who said that windows had to be rectangular or roofs triangular? Like most successful innovations, it always starts with “What if?”

Mies Van Der Rohe (Barcelona Pavilion)
After a quick visit at the Olympic stadium (for when the 1992 Olympics was held in Barcelona), we stopped in front of what appeared to be a big old church. Of course, that’s not rare in Barcelona but I wondered what was special about this one. At the side of the Church was this modern-looking building of glass and marble. I was pretty certain it was a reception area. Perhaps of the church? To my surprise, our guide stopped in front of this modern structure and said that this was one of the most influential structure in the 20th century. I knew I didn’t have an artistic eye, but seriously? And then it dawned on me. It was 1929. In an era where gothic design was in fashion, Mies Van Der Rohe created a design ahead of his time—a structure made of glass, marble, and steel—no different from the many skyscrapers we see in big cities today. In its strangeness and uniqueness, the pavilion was heavily criticized and was later destroyed. It was only decades later that the people realized the great value of the pavilion and hence began its reconstruction.

Van Der Rohe was another Gaudi by heart—bold and daring. He challenged the status quo to bring about unconventional innovation to what is now the foundation of modern architecture. But I wonder, at what cost? Ridicule and criticism? What motivated him to deviate from the norm and explore new possibilities? Why was he willing to pay the high price of perhaps tarnishing his name as an artist by creating an artistic abomination? How was he to know that the prize would be bigger than the price he had to pay? The bigger question for me was, “Would I have done the same? Would I ever make a business decision so unconventional that I would risk my colleague’s trust and my own reputation?” Perhaps not. Where do I find the courage to do so?

Day 2 – March 21, 2011
Colonia Guell
Today we devoted our visits to Gaudi. First stop was the Church of Colonia Guell, an unfinished work by Gaudi. Eusebi de Guell commissioned Gaudi and intended to build a church with a crypt underneath. However, when Eusebi de Guell died, his son decided to cease the construction of the church hence only the crypt was completed. The crypt, almost like a small chapel, is perhaps the most beautiful chapel I have ever seen. Made of brick and stone and adorned with mosaics, the crypt is shaped so oddly (irregular oval), one would think it was a natural creation. The interior is even more mysterious and enchanting—slanted columns, high arches, and beautiful stained-glass windows. The wooden pews with seats ergonomically designed to fit the buttocks was meant for two people to sit slightly facing against each other to avoid distractions from the Eucharistic mass. At first, you’d think the structure with its odd shape is unstable but history tells us that Gaudi used a very advanced technique of modeling the church by hanging little sand bags from chains allowing gravity to pull the bags downwards and giving weight distribution to form the model structure. This showed him the necessary shapes and angles of his pillars. He then placed a mirror under the model to see how the structure would look like. This model was the most primitive technique of modeling designs that only computers could do today. It is said that this puts Gaudi 75 years ahead of his time.

The Colonia Guell is yet another proof of Gaudi’s genius. With a burning passion to execute his eccentric design, he created a means to his end—his very own primitive modeling technique using sand bags. With no technology to help him execute, this should have set Gaudi’s constraints and limitations but this did not stop him explore the possibilities and come up with unprecedented design/architectural innovation that would later lead him to create his biggest masterpiece—the Sagrada Familia.

Sagrada Familia (Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família)
When I was working for a consumer goods company, I worked with a project nicknamed “Sagrada Familia.” The innovation in the making had been going on for almost 10 years with no completion date set. And boy, did this project give me countless headaches and frustrations. I kept wondering why we were still pursuing something so uncertain. In my naïve thinking, I would have already abandoned it if it had been my call. The Sagrada Familia, however puts that 10-year project to shame. Starting construction in 1882, the Sagrada Familia is still in the works today, 129 years later. This is nonetheless, Gaudi’s biggest masterpiece and Barcelona’s most celebrated landmark. It is said that the expected year of completion is in 2026, 100 years after Gaudi’s death.
The Sagrada Familia, with its massive size (occupying one whole block of the Eixample district), stylish towers, ceramic pinnacles, and overall grandeur is breathtaking. Gaudi had envisioned the church to have a total of 18 towers with three grand facades to represent the Nativity, Passion, and Glory of the Christ. Sadly, Gaudi only finished the Nativity façade, dedicating 40 years of his life to the design and construction of the Sagrada Familia. The interior of the church was a big surprise for me. Entering from the Nativity façade, with Gothic and Baroque designs, very much like many cathedrals, I did not expect the interior to fashion a more Art Nouveau design. Except for a crucifix at the center of the Church, no statues of saints adorned its interior. Gaudi’s love for nature was evident—tree trunks of varying kinds stood as a forest of columns across the halls while humungous flowers decked the high ceilings. The varied wall to ceiling stained glass designs invited colorful light to shine the basilica.

Gaudi’s masterpiece is to me both majestic and lamentable. The Sagrada Familia’s remarkable design is concrete proof of his genius but I daresay so is it telling of his failure. To create something so ambitious and almost conclusively unachievable in his lifetime must have been a source of frustration to Gaudi. But an interesting point was raised in class. Did Gaudi know that he will not live to see his masterpiece completed? Probably yes. So why did he create something he knew he could not finish? It could be because of passion for the arts or his strong devotion to Catholicism. Or it could very well be his refusal to settle for anything less than his ambitions despite the limitation of mortality. Would I have settled? Would I have worked within my constraints and uncertainties and in the process curtail the possibilities?

Day 3 – March 22, 2011
Picasso Museum
Today we started class with a short clip on Pablo Picasso’s life in preparation for our Picasso museum tour in the afternoon. A child prodigy indeed, Picasso accomplished outstanding paintings as early as age 10. His mastery of traditional art came so early in his life that he must have been bored enough to explore unconventional painting as evidenced by his blue and pink era paintings and finally to the more controversial, Cubism painting. Cubism was Picasso’s early version of 3D, where he depicted objects from a multitude of viewpoints to add different contexts and perspectives of the subject. To the traditional art viewer’s eye, I would expect this to be nothing short of eccentric. But to Picasso, this was advancement from traditional art. And to the world today, this was what revolutionized European painting and sculpture. It was a strange experience to walk through Picasso’s works chronologically. You could see his earliest paintings from when he was a child, drawing pigeons on small wood pieces, then beautiful portraits and sceneries on canvass, to the lovely hues of blue in his later life. The shift to Cubism in Picasso’s paintings was so startling that one would think these were from a different artist. At first glance, I could not find the beauty in these strange, almost grotesque depictions of the human form. But a closer look will bring out the curiosity from the audience. It seemed to me that each painting was broken down into smaller objects, each with a different story to tell and different perspectives to show. They were then re-assembled in an abstract form, not conventionally beautiful but alarming and alluring nonetheless.

Picasso’s early mastery of traditional art led him to explore beyond the conventional. It seems like this is the winning formula for successful innovations—challenging the norm. Just like Van der Rohe, Picasso dared think outside the box and revolutionized art. Now, if only it were that easy to change the status quo.
Brilliant as he is, I find Picasso more human than perhaps Gaudi. Like most people, Picasso drew inspiration from people and objects around him. You could almost picture the story of his life from the evolution of his paintings. You could see his obsession with one woman from the different paintings he drew of her. And as his women changed, so did his paintings. Some of his paintings were so passionately done, one could almost feel the emotion behind it. This to me, humanized Picasso for who among us have not used an object or a person to draw inspiration from?

Day 4 – March 23, 2011
Miro Museum
Today was a free day for us. The instruction was to choose a different place in Barcelona where design plays a role. I chose to visit another artist’s museum. After racking my brains hard to understand Picasso’s intense and unconventional work on cubism, I was personally hungry for traditional art. Was I in for a surprise!
Joan Miro was a Spanish Catalan painter and sculptor. His work leans more towards surrealism and he was said to express contempt for conventional painting. Touring the Miro museum and seeing dozens of his work, I must say I was not impressed. In fact, I found most works so strange and (for lack of a better word) ugly that I wasn’t sure I was still looking at art, or perhaps “beautiful” art. One specific painting caught my eye. Walking towards it, I could see a crowd inspecting it quite intently. School children were looking at it with blank stares; young adolescents were stifling laughter; while the more mature crowd and those who seemed like art enthusiasts were looking at it in awe. The painting (named Landscape) was that of a big white canvass and a small blue dot on the center right. Like the school children, I stared at it blankly. Perhaps it was too abstract for my taste. But seriously, I can do this myself.
So what was so special about Miro that put his name up as an acclaimed artist? Miro’s refusasl to confine his works within the boundaries of traditional art was definitely one of the reasons for his fame. Miro was also revered for the exceptional diversity in his works. His freedom of interpretation and continuing search for fresh sources of inspiration—blank canvasses, straight lines, dots, empty spaces, empty horizons, etc. also made his works unique. He regarded objects with life and seemed to find some depth in the most mundane of things. He was quoted in saying, “For me an object is something living. This cigarette or this box of matches contains a secret life much more intense than that of certain human beings.” I personally would not go so far as think of inanimate objects as living and thinking but hey, to each his own.
Miro was also unique in his vocal dislike for art critics saying, “they are more concerned with being philosophers than anything else. They form a preconceived opinion, then they look at the work of art. Painting merely serves as a cloak in which to wrap their emaciated philosophical systems.”

I wonder though—how much of his work did Miro intend to be interpreted the way art critics and fans have—with layers and layers of meaning? Are people reading too much into his paintings, wanting it to be deep when the artist’s intention was only shallow? Who’s to say that in Miro’s painting of “Still Life with Old Shoe,” he intended the shadow cast by the gin bottle as a weeping silhouette? Or that the sole shoe in the painting, with its bright colors was for a one-legged harlequin as some art enthusiasts have interpreted? I find these interpretations as perhaps overly-dramatic and really reading in between the strokes more than sanely necessary. For all we know, these artists could have meant their works of art to be appreciated at face value or for their aesthetic appeal. Maybe the human instinct to complicate things got the better of most of us and just like with life, we interpreted innocent paintings as something more than meets the eye.
One thing I greatly admire about Miro is his defiance against art critics. Unlike Picasso who seemed eager to please his critics and garner the much-coveted awards, Miro was no pleaser to anyone but himself. It seems to me that his own audience was himself. He said, “Throughout the time in which I am working on a canvass I can feel how I am beginning to love it, with that love which is born of slow comprehension.” One can sense that Miro’s first audience is himself, that he must first love his own work no matter how long it took. Who among us can actually say that? Who can say that he or she is working for his or her own personal fulfillment and actualization and not to please others? I for one have worked more for my boss, colleagues, and the many other stakeholders I was taught to satisfy.

Day 5 – March 24, 2011
Dali Museum and Dali’s House
Today is a full-day field trip for us going to Figueres and to Cadaques on the Costa Brava, a two and a half hour drive from Barcelona. Our main focus is Salvador Dali, a prominent Spanish Catalan surrealist painter. The drive in itself was beautiful, offering spectacular views of wide green fields, galloping horses, and snow-capped mountains. Our first stop: the Dali Museum. I thought I had seen “eccentric” from Gaudi, Picasso, and Miro’s works but had I known about Salvador Dali, I would have labeled the other artists as conventional. I cannot properly articulate my first reactions upon seeing Dali’s designs. It was perhaps closer to disbelief than awe. Some of his works included a living room design mimicking a woman’s head—two paintings for the eyes, a wall ornament as nose, a lip-shaped couch, and a floor-to-ceiling cascade of blond hair. Writing this down is even odder than seeing it in person! His other, less gallant works included unique paintings with tiered substance offering different interpretations depending on how closely you are viewing the painting. That for me was unique and peculiar, even enjoyable. Dali also had this strange obsession for painting the things that he feared the most. It was said that he had a phobia for ants and sex hence his repeated paintings of these in many different forms. Dali’s imagination was as surreal as it can get and is perhaps too overwhelming for my taste. What I do like about it is its ability to rouse curiosity from the audience, whether to ask “What in the world is this?” or “What is the meaning for using a melted clock as symbol?” We learned later on that the melted clock was in fact Dali’s interpretation of time and its relativism. One thing for sure, one is bound to spend more than one curious minute looking at any of Dali’s artistic works.
Our second stop was Dali’s house in Cadaques, facing the Costa Brava coast where the beach view was absolutely breathtaking. Taking in the beautiful surroundings, my first question was “How can someone born and raised in such serene atmosphere grow up to be very eccentric?” I had expected Dali’s house to be as odd as his works of art but I was surprised to see a more normal abode, perhaps discounting the huge stuffed bear standing by the entrance and the big stone egg adorning his terrace. It was a unique experience walk through a great artist’s home and actually see his bedroom and workstation. Almost all rooms had great views to the seascape so it remains a mystery to me why none of his works that I saw seem to have been inspired by the simplicity and calmness of the sea.

Yet another eccentric artist is added to the roster, perhaps the most eccentric that one classmate actually labeled Dali as the Lady Gaga of the art world. Hilarious but true actually. Dali seemed to give no regard for his critics and was comfortable deviating from the norms of the art world. He seemed in fact to enjoy and bask in his eccentricity. Does this show Dali’s true commitment to his art? Did he remain true to himself by not letting others influence his art? Was he not a pleaser unlike the many others who catered to critics’ standards in place of their own? Who today can say this for themselves? To not live and make decisions based on other’s expectations?

Day 6 – March 25, 2011
Restaurant Coure
Today is the final day of class. We take a more modern shift in our understanding of Strategy as Design in Barcelona. What better place to start than in the kitchen? Apparently, gone are the days of traditional cooking when most dishes were served warm and well-cooked. Today, we see a new art of food preparation and cooking called molecular gastronomy. This is a new discipline that uses the physical and chemical processes that occur while cooking to come up with unique dishes. For instance, an egg that is cooked at a perfect temperature of 62 degrees C for exactly 35 minutes will yield the highest protein from the egg (or so I understood). Our five-course meal consisted of:
1. Onion soup with egg and cheese omelet
2. Tuna with beet mousse
3. White fish with hazelnut
4. Duck leg and pumpkin
5. Strawberry sorbet and biscocho with roasted nuts and cream
We spoke to the restaurant owner Alberto who very fondly shared with us his strong passion for molecular gastronomy and his commitment to furthering this art at almost any cost. So much so, that his business would run one million euros in revenues per year but would suffer a loss. His big investments in molecular gastronomy equipment and strong insistence to take two days a week off work to focus on brainstorming for new ideas were perhaps some reasons for his losses. He viewed molecular gastronomy as an art and himself as an artist who needed some time to re-energize and brainstorm new ideas. More surprisingly, he did not at all seem bothered by the fact that his business was incurring losses. He re-iterated that his passion had some costs that he was willing to take. Quite literally, he could be one starving artist in the flesh.

I can’t say I enjoyed the five-course meal. I definitely loved the soup and the dessert but everything in between seemed too raw and exotic for my taste. The fact that the meal did not tickle my senses does not discount my admiration for restaurant owner Alberto. Very rarely have I met people (especially in the business world) who would sacrifice financial growth and stability in the conquest of art or any other passion. Is not the very purpose of business money? And isn’t business a means rather than an end in itself? Apparently, not to all people. Perhaps my business-trained senses cannot comprehend such squandering. But to people like Alberto this was not squandering at all. More likely, it was investing in what would be the future of food. Hence one can consider the costs to be an asset rather than as expense.

Final Takeaways and Reflection
Reading the course syllabus for this Global Business Experience course Strategy as Design, I struggled to make the direct connection of art and architecture to business. How does design fit into strategy, and even more puzzling, how does it fit into business strategy? I’ve always regarded art and architecture purely of aesthetic value, something to please the senses. After learning and experiencing the works of Gaudi, Picasso, Dali, and Miro, indeed there is something deeper in the layers of paint than meets the artistic eye.

Dissatisfaction breeds Innovation
How did Apple become one of the most iconic and aspirational brands today? How did Steve Jobs land to be one of the most influential people of the century? It all started with innovation. People like Jobs were not afraid to work with ideas without constraints and uncertainties. Stripped off constraints and uncertainties, one is left with endless possibilities. Who said that a computer should be a three-piece hardware? Couldn’t it be a one-piece small flat screen? The iPad proved it certainly could be. Of course, Jobs is not alone in breeding innovation from dissatisfaction. The 19th and 20th century artists in Barcelona shared the same passion and commitment to innovating without constraints. Gaudi was relentless in his ambition to build Colonia Guell even without the computer technology to aid him. And so he made his own technology with the use of sandbags and gravity, making him 75 years ahead of his time. I bet even Jobs couldn’t have thought of this.

Your Audience is Key
It is very easy to identify one’s audience in art. More often, your audience is the critics who will make or break your career. In the business setting though, who is your audience? Is it your boss who makes your final evaluation? Is it your colleagues whom you work with every day? Is it the company’s shareholders for whom you are trying to create value for? Picasso shows us his wisdom in choosing his audience wisely. Driven to become the world’s greatest painter/artist of the century, Picasso knew whom to please and get approval from—his critics. And so, unlike Miro and Dali who painted and created works of art more for themselves and their passion, Picasso for me aimed to progress according to his audience’s expectations and even exceeded that. Where 2D painting was in fashion, Picasso exceeded expectations by introducing Cubism or the (badly put) 3D in 19th century painting. Did that give him the edge over rival artists? I definitely think so. Indeed, he was named the greatest artist of his time.

Fail Cheap
Staring at the Sagrada Familia, I cannot help but think that this beautiful masterpiece is both a testament to Gaudi’s genius and failure. A minor basilica, much smaller in size than some of Rome’s greatest ones, construction is still on-going after 129 years. If Gaudi were still alive, would he still have considered this unfinished monument an achievement? Perhaps yes. After all, he most probably knew he wouldn’t live to see the church finished. He just wasn’t willing to settle for anything less than his 18-tower ambition. Say for argument’s sake Gaudi did fail by completing only one façade of the Sagrada Familia, at what cost? Did he fail cheap? Business trainings and self-help books teach us that’s it’s perfectly alright to fail but if you do, fail cheap. How do we measure “cheap” in failure? Do we take an acceptable threshold level, some sort of percentage to total costs? And when do we make exceptions such as those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities or masterpieces, another Sagrada Familia, where any cost of failure is acceptable? I’m guessing these exceptions are very rare in the world of business where among one’s audience are shareholders whose mantra could very well be, “Show me the money.”

Are you Happy?
In our final class day, someone wondered loudly, “Do you think these artists were happy?” This question is not directly related to design as strategy but one I want to delve deeper anyway. Why? Because of its relevance and because this almost rhetorical question transcends centuries, artists, and businessmen around the globe. So, were they happy? Granted, they were probably a little crazy or extreme but I would like to think that yes they were happy. If I were paid and revered to do what I’m most passionate about, I will definitely have a smile on my face. But where do we see this level of satisfaction and fulfillment in the business world? More often than not, I see highly-paid bankers sticking to the job for a few short years for the money or sought-after managers hopping from one industry to the next in search of greener bucks. What does it take to actually spend 60 years of your life devoted to one industry (art) and one function (painting)? With no retirement, mind you. Will I ever find myself in that level of comfort and contentment; to not want more than what my life’s passion needs me to give? For now, I am far from this. I’m still struggling with what my real passions are and embarrassing as it may be, I’m searching for the greener pastures as well. But it is indeed comforting and inspiring to know that pursuing one’s passion, achieving financial stability, and being happy are not mutually exclusive.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Climb

Mulling over this strange, roller coaster-like saga that we've fondly called "the recruitment process" in business school, I'm reminded of a song I heard a while back. This teeny boppy song many people will find corny, mind you. But if you listen closely to the lyrics, it's actually quite beautiful and very apt to the many events unfolding in the Darden halls these days.

Today, a dear friend of mine called me to share wonderful news--she received an offer from one of the most prestigious consulting firms in the country and in one of the most coveted offices. This would have made any other business school student happy but "happy" cannot even begin to describe how she is feeling now. See, I've seen this friend go through hell and back (apologies for the crude language) to get this job. I saw her cry from the first three rejection calls she received, stand back up and try harder, then go numb of pain, exhaustion, and defeat from the next two rejections. In the end, she resigned to the high probability of her going back home and possibly taking her old job back by the summer. So yes, she is beyond thrilled and I must say, "damn well-deserved!"

The early part of the recruitment saga I can relate to the first part of the song's lyrics:

I can almost see it
that dream I'm dreaming
But there's a voice inside my head saying,
"You'll never reach it"

Every step I'm taking
Every move I make feels
lost with no direction
my faith is shaking

But I gotta keep trying
Gotta keep my head held high

And then, there's that latter part. That part when students start receiving offer after offer after offer. Your first offer will make you invite some friends for celebratory drinks. The second one will perhaps have you bargaining for a higher compensation package. And the third will most probably make you want more. This might not be true for all but I'm sure we can somehow relate to this insatiable feeling of wanting more, whether more interview invites, more job offers, or just something more out of life. It's funny how at first we start with saying "just one (just one offer)," then "Two is always better than one, right?" and then we end up thinking, "I want more."

I think I know why. It's the climb.

The latter part of the lyrics sums it up best:

There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose

Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb

So yes, it's not just about that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or how fast you get there. It's that climb. It's that thrill of overcoming something seemingly unattainable at first. It's that satisfaction we get from proving to ourselves that we can. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Life after all is about progress, about pushing yourself beyond your own boundaries and becoming better than you were yesterday. And that's exactly why I'm in business school today.

I wonder though, when does it end? This part of life seems to me like a circular reference (one of Excel's woes). What variable feeds what? Is the fat paycheck the end goal to arrive at the optimal number of job offers? Or is it that qualitative aspect of success? That sense of fulfillment from knowing that you've made more than a quantitative impact to society and to your life?

I wish that someday I'll have the wisdom to know the difference.

Lyrics from Miley Cyrus' song, The Climb

Friday, January 7, 2011


Caveat: This entry is in no way meant to be insensitive to the plight my classmates who are making intense preparations for their internship interviews and are in the process of landing internship positions. Rather, this is one girl's reflections on the choices she made and the possible repercussions of those choices. So, do read with caution.

Three days ago I was ecstatic. I was in Mountain View, CA, sitting in a company's conference room for one of our job trek visits when my phone buzzed with an email. The email read, "You have been invited to interview with (insert company name)." Reading the company's name gave me an unexplainable feeling of excitement. See, this company was one of my top companies to work for. This was my McKinsey (top consulting firm that many of my consulting-bound classmates would shed an arm and a leg for). That plus the fact that they only invited a handful for interview. So suffice it to say that I was beyond thrilled. My happiness was short-lived though as I remember the difficult dilemma I was facing.

Two months ago, I received my first internship offer from a Fortune 50 company with a great leadership program. Since the company did not recruit on-grounds at Darden, I reached out to some associates who interned and eventually worked there full-time. The conversations I had with them confirmed the quality of the program and I knew I would be foolish not to accept the offer. This plus the fact that they pay package was highly competitive and the company was headquartered in one of the most beautiful cities in the US.
Decision deadline: mid-January

One month ago, I was very surprised to receive my second internship offer from another great company. Their hiring process was very intensive, the final round being a set of three interviews with senior management, each with 4-5 mini finance cases. I was almost definitely sure I wouldn't be getting an offer especially after meeting my competition at their headquarters. But God works in mysterious ways and I received my offer a day after I flew back to Charlottesville.
Decision deadline: early January

A few days ago I made phone calls to the two companies that sent me internship offers. I kindly asked for an extension of the decision deadline they gave me. I was told by the career office and second years that most companies agreed to an extension to give students a chance to weigh their options before deciding on which offer to accept. Unfortunately, both companies denied my request. Since I was given an early offer, they needed to know my decision ASAP to figure out how many more they will be hiring from the normal recruiting timelines. Very reasonable, of course.

So, there I was staring at the (interview invite) email that I've worked so hard for. I could literally have jumped for joy but the phone calls I made a few days back made my heart sink as quickly as it had palpitated with joy. There was no way for me to interview with this company (total of 5-6 rounds starting end January and ending in March) with my decision deadlines due this week and next. It would be foolish and impractical to reject two equally great job opportunities for a shot at an internship job with possibly less than 10% success rate. Who was I to take such big risk?

Today, I am sad. I had just clicked the 'decline' button in my 'interviews' page. I also called the career office to make sure my decline was reflected and the alternate got the invite since I had waited until the last minute to decline. I just didn't have the heart to make that final click of the mouse that drew the curtains to a close.

Life is truly ironic. Sometimes, you will find yourself wanting something so badly that you exert all your effort to get it. You will pray very hard for it. You will go out of your way to initiate something, you will spend hours and days to get things moving and you will give up time for yourself and your friends to seal the deal. But when you finally get there, when you are facing that one thing that you've wanted so much, you hear yourself say 'No.'

It would have been utterly hilarious if it wasn't so sad.

I guess these are what we call choices. Once you make your choice, all one can hope for is not to look back and regret. No wishing there were two or three of me, no 'what-ifs,' no more sadness, only moving on and hopefully finally feeling happy and content with blessings one didn't even dare dream of having.

And I quote Robert Frost in 'The Road Not Taken:'

Two roads diverged in yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both...