How an MBA ruins vacations for the rest of your life!

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This post was originally featured in TopMBA Blogs :)

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One of the biggest upsides of doing an MBA is the long summer, winter, and spring breaks you get.

Last year winter break was a long ordeal in prepping for consulting case interviews. After about putting in scores of cases your mind wandered to the carefree second year winter break that you would earn after having bagged enough offers to choose from upon graduation. The best part is customizing your winter break as you fancy. If you wanted to take off a few days before actual break started (of course you had to take a couple of exams from Airports around the world, not too bad actually) and attend your two best friends’ wedding or you wanted to go to Cuba on a Global Field Experience, or you wanted to just relax till you finished exams on grounds and still had enough time to decide what you wanted to do. You could come back first week January for a week of fast track classes to gain a few extra credits or take a lazy cruise from Miami to Mexico via Key West like I did. 18 months into the MBA you had become pretty darn great at customization.

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However one of the biggest downsides of doing an MBA is how it ruins all vacations for life. Whatever it is that you decided to do for winter break, one thing was for sure – You were eternally thinking about interesting business opportunities, or optimization of processes, or potential revenue growth encountered along the way. Your mind never ceases to calculate, analyze, and hypothesis. Even on vacation!

For instance, how could riding to the Dulles airport for an international flight from Charlottesville be made more certain and reasonably priced? Instead of hoping to hear back on your post in the Darden Facebook group for a ride share. You instantly start thinking about an “Uber communities” service option which could be created by students’ ridesharing activities. On your way to the airport you think about how you could pull data from various social media profiles to create a database of people riding to Dulles that morning.

As you stand in line for your boarding pass, you think about opening more counters during peak hours as you see airline employees standing chatting with each other while old passengers are close to collapsing, or howling toddlers are ensuring their voices outdo each other’s.

You always wonder why they don’t start boarding from the numbers in the back so people don’t keep waiting to get in as people in the front struggle with fitting their cabin bags over head. You mentally start calculating the minutes saved each business day with these optimized process. In turn the dollar value you could save on each extra employee hired by the airline or the additional tariff they pay at airports. When on board, you start sizing the number of meals served/items wasted and how you could estimate the cost savings involved.

When you deplane at your destination and see the serpentine lines for customs and the numerous closed counters you wonder why the variability in demand wasn’t accounted for or why weren’t flight arrivals staggered to manage traffic.

By now its 5:00am in the morning, you are jet lagged, and you can’t help but think about how you have absolutely nothing to wear for the upcoming wedding celebrations. You wish there was app which could customize your outfits based on your mood and theme for each event along with available items in your wardrobe, things you might need to order on amazon, or automatically order the most reasonable pins on your Pinterest board. You race through all the things you need to accomplish and how your life is falling apart without your outlook calendar.

At the wedding, you start optimizing seating arrangements and analyzing variability in buffet lines. Before you try to snap yourself out and decide to start having fun, you are on the second leg of your vacation – the Mexican cruise. All you can think about is calculating winnings the house made that night, by counting the slot machines, number of plays, winning odds, and pay out rates. You start calculating revenues from drinks made at the poolside and Jacuzzi and how if they had bundled them they would make higher margins.

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As the sun sets across the Mexican gulf, I pondered over the constant quantitative and qualitative analysis that MBA students often subject their mind to either in a line for a chipotle meal applying operations management principles or while reading a news piece on a tech firm buyout applying financial valuation concepts.

Will our minds ever take a break? Maybe, maybe not. For the moment I was too busy making a mental spreadsheet on which would be the best vacation spot for spring break!

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The ride I will never forget!

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I still remember the first time I saw the mind blowing roller coaster rides on Discovery travel and Living on Indian television. It was late one evening on a show called, “The most trilling roller coaster rides in the world”. Seven out of the top ten were in the US. It was right then that I decided that this was going onto my bucket list of things to do!mean_streak        maverick_inversion

And so, one year since I landed in the United States, it was this summer when I finally decided to make it happen. My partner in crime and I decided that it was high time we went on a mini road trip and treated ourselves to some grand rides! So we embarked on a 2000 mile journey. Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Cleveland – rock and roll hall of fame, Detroit, Cedar point, Charlottesville and then finally back to Boston.

Cedar point is the case in point here. Perched on the tip of an island, the dramatic entry to which is only via a long bridge, the feeling is exhilarating you as you approach it.

There is a lot of strategic planning that goes into visiting an amusement park of this scale in the US. First, you don’t want it to be on a weekend. Given that it was the summer break it didn’t really matter. Second you want to leave it to the rain gods to make sure that crowds get dissuaded from cedar point. And so luckily there were showers. Heavy enough to discourage the majority of the crowds but light enough for those of us risk loving ones to still venture to the park in hope that the major rides won’t be shut down. Thirdly, you want to be an early bird to the park. Given how early we started, I was still surprised at how many cars were there already. You also want to make sure you are empty stomach for the whole experience, of course only sipping on fluids and electrolytes. Clearly the rides don’t make for a stomach friendly experience.

Once you enter the park, you feel butterflies in your stomach. The sheer construct of the rides over takes your bravado. And so you gingerly open the map. Being strategic about heading straight to the end of the park in the hope that the lines would be the shortest.

As I stood in line for the first ride – “the maverick”; worms, centipedes, and millipedes now joined the butterflies in my stomach. That’s another thing – the names sound so intimidating – The mantis, the gatekeeper, the dragster, the raptor, the mean streak, the blue streak, the magnum XL-200, the millennium force, the cork screw, the sling shot. The “The” makes it more overpowering in your mind.

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The moments up to the ride is what builds up the adrenaline, the rush and the excitement. The ride itself is exhilarating, adding the element of “really living life to the fullest in that moment”. And with that I had the time of my life. On each ride!

Were there times when I thought, “Do I really want to do this”? Of course there were. Were there times when I wanted to chicken out and sit quietly eating popcorn and pretzels? Of course there were. Were there times I wanted to just watch others be brave and get on the rides and think how foolish they were to risk their lives? Of course there were!

But then that’s life! There are rides you will be scared of. There are rides you will deem not safe. There are rides you feel you aren’t made for. But the real fun is in standing in line despite all those feelings, letting the adrenaline engulf you, over-coming your fears, insecurities, perceptions of yourself, and strapping on the safety belt, taking in each emotion of excitement, nervousness, apprehension, joy, wonder, doubt, getting onto the ride, living in the moment and finally surviving the ride.

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On the trip back closer home, I thought about how “Darden recruiting” is in essence like a roller coaster. The curves, the bends, the uncertainties, the fears, the doubts, the joy, the mundane moments of waiting, and finally the sense of accomplishment and calm. Of course all of these in some random order and varying degrees of magnitude. The only thing you can do is just strap on and get onto the ride of your lifetime.

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Why you should slow down at-least once a day?

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Why should you slow down at least once a day?

For weeks on end I was running from one class to another, walking briskly from one interview to another, travelling from one city to another. I didn’t realize when spring had left Charlottesville and when fall had taken over. It was only yesterday when I was walking back from my innovation and design thinking class that I noticed the leaves had changed color and were vanishing faster than you could say “autumn”.

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A lot of us often look towards the next big thing in life. The next big exam, the next big application deadline to college, the next big job, the next big promotion, the next big raise, the next big date, the next big graduate application, the next big internship interview, the next big first job after your MBA, the next big house, the next big promotion, the next big raise, the next big something else. There is always a next big something! And the search for the next big something often results in a sprint and a lot of speed. And the trouble with speed is that you often don’t remember those moments because they go by so fast.

I rarely remember the cases I spend hours on, because I read them so fast. Same with the interviews, phone calls, or emails. I rarely remember the meals I cooked or eat, because I cooked them and ate them so quick.

It’s only the times I actually slowed down that are etched in my mind’s eye. The meal I deliberately cooked after carefully selecting the ingredients, reading a recipe, talking to my mother/grandmother on the phone to ask for tips, listening to some fantastic music, and taking my time cooking it. That’s the one I remember.

The spontaneous long drive to skyline to see the change in fall color with friend’s one busy weekend will still be the best time that I had at Darden. Only because we kept no deadlines, no rush to get back in time for another event on the calendar. We decided we will just slow down and have a good time before a mad week began.

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Finally after weeks I slowed down to watch the leaves fall with the wind and stopped in my tracks to realize how spectacularly beautiful Darden looks at this time of the year. I sat there to close my eyes, take a deep breath, listen to what the rustling of the leaves sounded like, and really capture what this moment felt like.

At Darden, and in life, you should definitely slow down once a day to build up these fantastic memories because when you are reading that next 100 page long case for class the next day, you can just close your eyes for a second and transport back to that magical place. Even if it’s for a ‘slow-quick’ moment.

Check out my previous post on autumn/fall at Darden – https://lifeismyclassroom.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/it-was-falling-and-its-all-fallen/

Eat around the world in 2 hours!

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Come September end, Darden students take to buying ingredients, digging up old recipe books, calling their mothers frantically to figure out how to make that one dish, and basically trying to figure out how they are going to manage cooking like a master chef in between learning how to be outstanding business leaders! We call this event the International Food Festival (IFF)!

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Every year students from 40+ countries around the world present their popular cuisines to the Darden community. Faculty, students and family come together, babies and pets alike to celebrate the vast diversity that the business school has to offer.

It’s advisable to start fasting all morning to be able to make it around the numerous mouthwatering stalls at least once before you go back for seconds, of course given there is food still left! Of course I hit the Indian stall the earliest to make the most of the “Channa masala” and the “butter chicken”. Craving spicy Indian food for almost a whole week. Moving on to the all American meat, British chicken sandwiches and salad, Chinese delicacies, Vietnamese rice items, Pakistani chicken dishes with spiced rice, Turkish walnut Baklava, Indonesian summer spring rolls, Israeli Falafel hummus, Japanese sushi, and tons of other exotic cuisines inviting your taste buds to dig in!

The Darden South Asia Society introduced the diversity pledge which strives to continue spearheading diversity initiatives. Be it race, nationality, gender, sexuality, background or even your school of thought. Students and faculty extended support by endorsing the pledge during the event. One of the reasons you enjoy two years at Darden is for this very reason. The openness to diversity of thought and being.

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There is of course no evening complete without dance and music. We had melodious Bollywood numbers, opera singers, violin performances, Japanese dance performances, and of course own very own Bollywood dance numbers ended the evening on a high note with the brave ones taking to the dance floor almost at the drop of a hat! Who doesn’t enjoy shaking a leg to the peppy “Bhangra” beats now and then?

So the next time you want to eat around the world in 2 hours, you know where in the world you need to be!

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Can you read for pleasure when doing an MBA?

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When you think about becoming a student for two years, one of the resolutions you make is that of reading more. That’s exactly what I thought when I decided to do my MBA. “At last I can now read all the books that I want to.”
A month into the program you soon realize that all the reading you would be getting are 100 page Business cases. (Thanks Harvard Business school publishing, it’s always a big wonder why such long cases! Most HBS cases are close to around those many number of pages.) Most of the time you are not even getting through the whole case. One of the skills you pick up very early on is the skill of being able to skim through volumes of text to find the relevant information, data, and tables to arrive at the insights required to make a recommendation backed by reasonable analysis and data.
And so a year later, it’s shameful to admit that I haven’t read for pleasure. I have read to analyze. I have read to make recommendations. I have read to draw insights. I have sometimes not read at all (but that’s of course between only you and me! You soon realize which courses you can get by a few minutes of skimming, a warning though – very far and few and often require a lot of strategic positioning and intuition. else you could get crushed in a case study classroom. So err on the side of “reading” a case – always!)
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So when the chance came last year to pick electives for second year, I ensured that I signed up for “Reading seminar 1” and “2” and “3”. The idea is to read a book a week and write a paper on what you took away from the book. Additionally you meet as a group of 15 students to share your reflections from the book. Very similar to a book club. But you are doing more than just reviewing the book. We read Machiavelli – Prince, Andrew Carnegie, and Enron – the smartest guys in the room, Steve jobs, Collin Powell, Warren Buffett.

Each one made me think deeply about lessons I could learn and mistakes I don’t want to make. It is one time in the week that I put all other reading away and curl onto my chair with a hot mug of chocolate and just read. Read for pleasure. About lives and stories and characters and dreams and hopes and successes and failures. Agreed that it’s not too far removed from business. After all we are reading about stalwarts in business. But biographies make for an interesting way to understand and internalize experiences, decisions, turning points, and character traits that make business lessons pleasurable to read.

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And so a year into the course I have read six books in six weeks. Spent two continuous weekends with Warren buffet, and Steve jobs. A rainy weekend with Collin Powell on his American journey curled in with a mug of hot chocolate and some Beethoven in the background. A weekend with Machiavelli and the prince. Not that’s what I call reading for pleasure! Looking forward to reading seminar two beginning in a week! American icon – Ford motors coming up!

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One for All, All for one! – Learning Teams at Darden

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As Second Years you often find yourself at home at 7:00pm either reading your cases for the next day or reading the latest posts on Oatmeal. (More often than not, it’s the latter). A few evenings ago I wondered why I was at home most evenings. And then it struck me that 7:00 to 9:00 pm was the sanctimonious time when you met with 5 other class mates every Sunday – Wednesday in First year which suddenly freed up on your calendar as a Second year.

I firmly believe that behind every successful man is a women. But I am convinced that behind every successful Darden First Year is the “Learning team”. One of the most unique things about Darden is your learning team experience. When I was applying to Darden last year, words like “collaborative”, “team work”, and “community driven” kept creeping up everywhere. In my interview. In my conversations with students at Darden. And other blogs that I had read when deciding to apply.

When I came on grounds, the end of the week of orientation your learning team was supposed to be revealed to you. It’s a team of 5-6 diverse individuals who become your second family at Darden. With approximately 300 students, the student affairs team (hats off to them!) tries to craft 50 learning teams. I write “craft” because they are truly crafted. Accounted for various constraints like diversity in undergraduate study, work experience, nationality, gender, global exposure, personality type, and god knows what else, the process puts fantasy football brackets to shame sometimes.

I learnt a year back on the last day of orientation that I was learning team 44. Darden sends you an email with a number and asks you to go to a learning team room to find your other members. It’s a very exciting/apprehensive feeling to walk into a room either to be the first one to welcome the others or be greeted by other members who are equally excited/apprehensive. A million questions run in your mind. Will they be nice? Will they like me? Will I like them? Will our styles of study match? Will we see eye to eye or will we contradict to no end?

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As you get to know your LT mates better over a day of scavenger hunting across Charlottesville, feeling glad that you have a UVA undergrad on your team who know the place like the back of his hand, you learn more about each person along the year. Most teams survived the adventure that is FY. Others simply crumbled into what could have been…

Like every relationship, LTs are built on the foundations of trust and honesty. Building ‘trust’ in your mates about getting an excel model/word notes for the next day’s case when you have been busy all week recruiting and trying so hard to crack an internship and reciprocating when they are in the thick of things. Being ‘Honest’ about not understanding the discounted cash flow model, not reading the case due to crazy recruiting schedules, not attending the meeting due to a prior commitment, and about needing help with another mate hours before meeting with others so we can be more productive during those two hours. Somehow getting staying afloat – together.

Most importantly it’s about really getting to know each other and having fun beyond those two hours! Being so far away from home and familiarity, when you feel nothing is ever going to go right for you. Academics, career, life. No one knowing that today is your birthday, you cranking away in a lonely room working on finance cases for exams… wanting to just check out. And in that moment it’s about finding the most surprising sense of family in them throwing a surprise party for you with your favorite red velvet cake and making life – not so bad after all.

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Dedicated to the closest semblance of family I found here – Annemarie, Henry, Will, Jacob and Nicolas. Couldn’t have made it through Year 1 without you all.

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This blog post was also featured in http://www.topmba.com.

Flying too frequently?

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Air travel as a child was a thing of luxury. I still remember the first time I flew on a plane as an 8 year old. The feeling of holding my own boarding pass, carrying my own cabin baggage, walking through security check, walking along the glassed windows watching flights take off, walking through the viaduct onto the plane, being welcomed by a very elegant air hostess, fighting with my younger sister for the window seat, being offered candy(in those days air-hostesses used to offer eclair toffees on a tray), trying to grab as many as I could in my tiny hands, buckling seat belts on, the final excitement of taking off, and that glorious moment when you are in air, wondering how such a massive airplane flies, of course, this was before I learned about the Bernoulli’s theorem in physics!

It was a magical to say the least.
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Things have changed a lot in the past two decades. After a summer internship as a management consultant, I have become quite the jet setter. Something that comes with the job territory is travel. Having now experienced airports in all the major cities in the United States, I have often found that frequent fliers are neither grateful nor enchanted…

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Gone are the days of feeling like you were living a miracle when the plane took off. Welcome to the world of airlines trying to hold onto dear customers with frequent flier programs/incentives. Most people today don’t enjoy flying. It’s “torture” they say.

The ordeal of getting to the airport, long queues at the security check, unnecessary pat downs, opening and closing cabin baggage multiple times, commuting the gates, waiting a half hour early in line even when you have priority boarding(lest someone else takes your place in line), cursing your luck for a five minute delay, navigating annoying families(read kids) on vacation taking non-stop selfies, trying to stuff your baggage in the ever shrinking cabins abroad, having to check it in instead (for free), cribbing about the lax service in first class, about the five extra minutes the pilot takes to taxi, getting annoyed at the passenger who can’t get his baggage out in less than 3 seconds, waiting for your baggage at the conveyor(they get only about 95% of it on time), getting out of the airport finally to look for your Uber/taxi, and making it home in one piece for dinner with your family.

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In-numerous flights later, I always find it amazing how most people are extremely irked by every single aspect of air travel. I think about just a few decades ago when it took us days on end to travel by water and land to get to our final destinations. Air travel was all but a distant dream. Even today, almost 75% of the world population has never flown!

As the summer came to a close, I found myself becoming one of these irked/cribby travelers, until I found a little girl, she looked about 8, with her colorful backpack and travel games beaming ear to ear, sitting across me at the airport gate. She clearly couldn’t wait to get on the flight. Her mother smiled at her restlessness. She asked, “Do you want mommy to exchange her window seat for your aisle?” The girl nodded and gave her a tight hug. Her excitement was palpable. She smiled at me, while I worked away on my power point presentation. I couldn’t help but smile back. Something told me this was her first flight ever.

And then, I spent that short flight looking out of the window thinking about what a miracle it is that I am flying thousands of miles an hour, in a machine that weights at least a few hundred thousand pounds. I didn’t let Bernoulli’s theorem ruin that feeling either.