Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Why mention this here? One of the things I noticed while in the thick of first semester was that I was developing (or re-developing) the ability to catnap. This was one of the things that saved me in college and allowed me to operate on about 3-4 hours per day (night) of sleep-- something that seems totally unimaginable today. Looking back, though, I took naps almost every day (during breaks from class) and I got very good at napping. During the semester just passed, I'd started taking a quick 20-30 minute nap after dinner and after putting the kids to bed, and found that I started dreaming almost as soon as I closed my eyes. REM sleep? Maybe. But it sure made a difference. Now I'm curious-- I'll have to experiment a bit more with this during second semester and see if I can hone my sleeping skills even further.
That's about the nicest Christmas gift I could have asked for. Now it's time to crack a whole new set of books and get ready for second semester, which starts in less than three weeks!
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Last night it was nice to have that freedom to select the things I wanted to spend my time doing, without having to worry about falling farther behind in either my schoolwork or my work work. I did end up choosing to clean the basement, and it was nice to be in that work, feeling the pace of it, without thinking I should be doing something else. But it was also a little strange-- I've become so conditioned to the trauma of nightly homework sessions, part of me still felt like I should be doing some other work.
Soon enough-- I already have my textbooks and homework for next semester, and classes begin in a few weeks, so I'll enjoy the time I have.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
The punchline from this day of torment and suffering?
They gave us the books for our second semester classes in a giant black bag, along with our first homework assignment which is due at the start of our first class on January 11. So much for having time to kick back over the holidays-- time to get ramped up on Marketing Strategy and Managerial Accounting.
Just thinking about those classes fills me with dread, but right now it all seems like a lifetime away. For now, it's one more team presentation and then it's on to the bar for a class celebration!
Today's schedule: 10 straight presentations for eight hours. My group is #9 out of 10 so people will likely be in a coma by the time our group goes. I feel good about our content and it's wonderful to know that, either way, today it will be over!
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
How do I feel about this? On one hand, this is the first time I've turned in an incomplete test in probably my entire academic career. On the other hand, I heard one guy in our class actually handed in his midterm exam BLANK, so I guess I could have done less on this final than I did. In the end I gave it a solid two hours, and I produced some good work, but no additional amount of studying, time spent on the exam, or acts of God were going to get me through that mess with much better than I ended up doing. And you know what, I'm OK with that.
Mostly I am just exhilarated to be done with accounting. All of my classwork is now officially complete. Just one more "rock" to climb: our final team presentation on Saturday. That will be a breeze compared to the Hell that was accounting. I say it again: why anyone chooses this profession of their own free will is completely beyond me.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Today there was a 6-10" snowstorm forecast to hit Minneapolis, and I was hoping against all hope it would be enough to forestall my accounting final. In the morning school still hadn't been canceled, so I drove to school and we had our first class. The snow began to fall right before lunch, and our accounting professor came into our other class and made a stunning announcement: in consideration of the weather, the final would now be a take-home test and it wouldn't be due for another two weeks! Amen, we all said, and the day was altered. Suddenly we could all breathe again.
I'm not going to wait two weeks to do the test-- I'm still stressing about it and I want the pain and suffering to end as quickly as possible. But it was so wonderful not to have to take that damn test today. I came home early and had a fantastic day with my family, enjoying the snow which in the end did actually turn out to be about 8".
All in all, a great day. And hard to believe we are officially finished with all our classes as of today. Just the final group presentations in two weeks, and we're done with the first 25% of our battle.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Much of this is due to the fact that accounting is, as a general profession, torturous. Why anyone goes into this field voluntarily, I'll never know. They clearly possess a mindset I'll never grasp. I think it takes a certain--maybe a sick--mind to actually enjoy accounting. All semester I've struggled through quizzes that make me more angry than learned, more frustrated than eager to learn. Maybe that motivation works for undergraduates, but for people at my stage of life, it just makes me want to smack the professor.
Today in class, the professor said he assumed we'd all spent 10-15 hours studying for tomorrow's final. That sounds like something an undergrad might have time to do, but I gotta tell you, I sure as hell don't. So I gave studying a shot tonight, reviewing the book and trying some cash flow statement construction, and I'll study bonds and shareholder's equity for another 30 minutes tomorrow, but more than that I just can't do. I've long since ceased enjoying the class, and I'm mad as hell about having to take a traditional in-class final tomorrow, so at this point I'm just like "bring it on, pal."
The question is: will I be mentally prepared to face the music tomorrow? Will I be able to confront an exam I likely will not finish, and be ok walking out once time expires? It's something I would have lost sleep over in college, but at this point, life is way more important than this little Accounting class.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Now, seriously facing a "B" in this class, I need to remember what I've been saying to myself all along: that I'm not in this program for the grades. In all things, I try to use the 10-year test: in 10 years, will
Thankfully, as with most things these days, I'm almost too tired to care.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Check it out:
- Take-home final due in four days, covering seven chapters (only six of which I've read as of tonight). Two chances to take the final, each 60 minutes. 30 questions. Immeasurable pain and suffering.
- Take-home questions from the final. Due November 16. Seems easy, but the questions themselves are impossibly difficult, and wait until you read all the rest of the crap that's due on the 16th and 17th as well.
- Textbook chapters 8-9, along with homework problems, both due November 16.
- Textbook chapters 10-11, along with homework problems, both due November 17.
Normally this would be a bone-crushing load, but to add to it, we've also got Organizational Behavior reading and homework to do-- including reading an entire book! And there's also a session of Ops Management, with homework, due that same weekend.
I think I may slip into a coma at 4:30pm on Saturday the 17th, when all this crap is done and handed in. Stay tuned, and please say a prayer for me if you have a little Altar of Accounting anywhere in your home or office.
Only problem is, I've come to associate the taste of Coke Zero with the taste of pain: the pain of homework, the pain of impossible questions, the pain of utter sleep deprivation. So now I have all this Coke Zero in my fridge and I hate the taste of pain!
While I still can't just conk out for a nap midday at the office, I am getting much better at taking shorter naps in the evenings (just before dinner) or on weekends. 20-40 minutes is enough for me, and it works much better than trying to make it through a late-night study session on caffeine alone.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
Wouldn't it be great if we had people like this in our offices, offering to help us resolve our differences?
Friday, November 2, 2007
As dictionary.com says:
Usage Note: Irregardless is a word that many mistakenly believe to be correct usage in formal style, when in fact it is used chiefly in nonstandard speech or casual writing. Coined in the United States in the early 20th century, it has met with a blizzard of condemnation for being an improper yoking of irrespective and regardless and for the logical absurdity of combining the negative ir- prefix and -less suffix in a single term. Although one might reasonably argue that it is no different from words with redundant affixes like debone and unravel, it has been considered a blunder for decades and will probably continue to be so.
Kinda makes you wonder, huh?
It's evolving into the art of minimum contribution!
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
I went grocery shopping tonight, to clear my mind, and I thought about how in two years, none of this is really going to matter, and I'll be able to do anything with my career that I want to. It is very easy to get bogged down in details, like "I don't like this professor" or "that classmate really annoys me" or "is he/she pulling his/her weight on our team?" But in the end I'm getting out of this experience what I put into it, and what I put into it is completely up to me.
Sure, on nights like this when it's 11:30pm and I'm the only one awake in my family (hardly a rare occurrence), that's a tough pill to swallow. And I'm starting to run into energy walls where I literally can't imagine crossing over (bed is so tempting). But the thing is, I am making some pretty damn good progress, and overall I'm finding I can do the work. I cancompete in an academic setting. And most of all, this is my choice and I'm the primary one funding it, so what good is it to have anything less than the best experience possible?
And so the bitter pill goes down, and I turn back to my mountain of books.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
One course down, something like 85 to go. :-)
This is just one of those days you need to power though. You know it's not going to be fun, but you also know you can't avoid it. I think I had days like this in college, but of course I only remember the good days from college. This semester is getting very long, and truth be told, I'm about burned out with this MBA program. And it's only the first semester! Time to look a little harder for some balance in my life.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Although I'm not proud of it, secretly this is how I work best. In college I always did my best work at the last minute, usually late at night, sometimes under the influence of fruity alcoholic drinks (I could go for one of those now, actually). I find that deadlines produce a clarity and focus you just can't get anywhere else. Again, not sure that is a good thing, but hey, whatever works!
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Now, with all the work and reading I need to do for school, I am starting to develop some mental focus. I simply have no choice but to read for periods longer than 20 minutes, and I have a vested interest in noticing if my mind strays. Like with meditation, I've noticed the development of an inner consciousness that reminds me "hey, your mind is straying," and I'm able to bring it back. I never used to be able to do this before. It's pretty cool, actually. In the past, entire paragraphs or pages would float by my dreary consciousness before I noticed; now I'm able to tell pretty much within a sentence or two if I'm really paying attention. This is an exercise in wakefulness itself, and it's enabling me to read much more (and remember it) than I ever thought I'd be able to.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Today was one of those days. It's the weekend, I just returned from a week long business trip, and I should have been enjoying the day with my family. Instead, I was semi-obsessing about Stats and about the meeting I have coming up with my team later today. It's an unusual Sunday meeting for us on an off-class week, but we have two group presentations due in the next week so we need time to prepare. I feel lost, and just about the last thing I want to do is go back to campus on a Sunday, spend yet three more hours away from my family, and do yet more work.
Some days you really never get a break, even when every fiber of your body wants to lay down and just sleep. Or play with your kids. Such is the evil game of trade-offs I find myself in with this program. A good day is when you just ignore the mental demons; a bad day is when you let them set up shop in the dreary cobwebs of your little mind.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
I had a three-hour plane flight today, and in hand was a book for Organizational Behavior that's due in less than two weeks. Normally, the prospect of needing to read an entire book on top of an already inhuman mound of work would fill me with dread; today, though, way up there on that plane, I read half the book in that three-hour period. Amazing-- I don't think I've ever done anything like that before. If I could do that with all the other un- or half-read books sitting on my shelf, I might actually become...learned. Shocking.
I always get so much done while on planes. It's the only place where finding a distraction actually takes more effort than just working. It's my strategic place, where I can think about work and personal issues very clearly and where I get perspective that's so difficult to come by during the everyday rush.
I think I need my own plane. Better finish that MBA first!
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Mostly, it's getting accustomed to feeling really overwhelmed and trying to keep things in bite-sized chunks just to keep yourself from losing your mind. If you stopped to think about everything that needs to be completed, you would sit in a corner, weeping, totally unable to get anything done. So that's the hard part-- looking far enough ahead that you can plan for future classes and stay at least a little bit ahead of the assignments, but not looking too far ahead where you would go insane.
Every week is a new test of that precarious balance, and I'm finding that when I think there's a lull in the work and pressure, typically I'm missing something and I'm not doing some work I should be. It's like always waiting for the next battle.
And so today, the battles are Operations Management and Accounting.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
And then there's accounting. This devil of a class is killing me. I thought statistics would be my hardest class; instead, accounting is brutal. The professor seems to take particular delight in requiring us to take not one but TWO exams plus a series of quizzes. In the "old days" of undergraduate education, I'd be OK with this, but in my current situation I'm rebelling. Today I took the first online quiz. Twice (the maximum number of times you could take it). An hour each time. And the best I could do was an 84%. Still pretty good, but not what I was used to producing in college. I'm having to re-invent my concept of an "acceptable" grade in light of the fact that I'm primarily here to get a master's degree, not to get a GPA. Does anybody ask what your MBA GPA was? Maybe if you're applying to work for Goldman Sachs, but I think we all know that's not me, so why should I care? Truth is, I'm too tired to care a whole lot.
What really gets me is that the quiz had a large number of tricky questions, items where it was easy to miss the obvious and/or to fall into a trap. Judging from the personality of the professor, he delights in inflicting this type of pain on his students, but I'm sitting here thinking, "hey, buddy, I'm paying you like $1,000 per session for this class, so can we let go of the need to answer to your crazy level of detail and just focus on testing the fundamentals?"
Maybe this is all some clever little mental experiment for the professor, but in 10 years I don't think much of what I agonized over on the quiz today will really determine whether I'm an insightful business professional or not. And yeah, I'm still pretty pissed that I got an 84.
Stepping off my soapbox now....
Basically I'm still getting used to the fact that I'm not going to spend much time in my comfort zone for about the next two years.
Then, as happened tonight, something comes up and I feel totally behind again. Tonight it was just listening to my teammates recount the list of assignments that were due in the next four weeks. Seeing it all on paper tonight, I can't see any way (short of not sleeping) that I'm going to get it all done. So here I am, up past midnight once again, slowly chipping away at the mountain.
I need to make a T-Shirt that says, "holy crap! What have I gotten myself into?" That pretty much sums up my life these days.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Ah, it feels like college again.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
I've always been fascinated by the unseen elements that make organizations tick-- not the rules, not the HR values, but the people. The messy, political people-- to me an organization is nothing without its people. And things don't get interesting until you really start unpacking the baggage people carry with them into meetings, interactions, relationships, and work effort. The best organizational plan can be subverted by people who don't buy into the vision.
One of the exercises I completed last night was an assessment of my own company's values, and it was surprising. I've long taken pride in working for a company that makes a big deal about its values, and I really thought my company's values were differentiators, but after comparing them to some objective cultural analysis, I was surprised and disappointed to learn that many of my company's values are "permission to play" values or "aspirational" values. P2P values are values almost every company has-- they don't provide market differentiation and any company would be foolish to hire someone who didn't have the P2P values. These are values like integrity and honesty-- they look great on a boardroom wall but at the end of the day, what do they really mean? Aspirational values are those a company believes it espouses, but that on further examination are lacking or have yet to be fully implemented. I was dismayed to find how many of my company's values fall into this category.
One of the most interesting comments has been the fact that to have true meaning, values need to inflict pain on an organization. They can't be platitudes. How many of us can say that our companies are actually willing to tolerate an amount of pain to live their values? I was surprised to find that most of the pain in my company flows down to the employees-- that's not where the pain should reside. To transform the aspirational values into core values, my company would need to change and be willing to "own" a lot more of the pain at the corporate level that it currently lets flow downstream to its employees.
So, very interesting conversations today. This is the kind of class that can get me up on a Saturday morning.
Friday, September 21, 2007
I realized this morning that I've crossed a threshold: I'm rediscovering the "student mode" I used in college to get through the experience. I find myself able to subsist on far less sleep than I once was, I don't get alarmed at the prospect of reading 100 pages a night in a textbook, and I'm again able to churn out academic assignments that seem at least moderately well-done.
This is all very encouraging, but the truth is that I just don't have a moment to stop. The work continues coming at such a furious pace that you either keep swimming or you drown. It's actually compelling to a degree-- at least that's what I tell myself when I'm not whimpering in my home office at 2am struggling with yet another homework problem. The reality of day-to-day corporate life is pretty unfulfilling in many respects, but there's nothing that'll get your juices flowing again faster than the raw fear of four graduate-level courses!
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Today was good-- Peter's operating on a fairly regular schedule (thanks to my wife Katie for that!), so I was able to sneak in the remainder of my Operations Management reading during the day while he was napping. We also got our fair share of shopping done, so overall I'm reassured by how much it seems possible to accomplish in a day. Don't get me wrong-- it could all go differently tomorrow, but today at least it was reassuring. I'm caught up in my reading for OM and tonight I'm working to hammer out my part of our next group assignment which is due on the 21st. Hopefully I'll be able to make a dent in my accounting homework tomorrow.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Only that's not how it's turning out to be. This is only Day 2 of officially being home with my baby son (and my wife hasn't even gone back to work yet-- that happens tomorrow), and already it's turning out differently than I imagined. I've taken leave before for each of my other two children and it's been a great experience-- in both cases I was able to pretty much shut down and leave work and technology behind. This time, though, I'm having trouble doing that because I need to remain marginally connected for my MBA-related e-mail. And once the computer's on for MBA work, why not check work e-mail as well, and you know how it goes from there.... So I can't really disconnect, which is leaving me remotely feeling like I'm falling more and more behind each day, and I'm certainly not getting the level of relaxation and family quality time I was hoping for.
On top of all this, I expected to get so much more done because of being home, but in fact the opposite is turning out to be true. While my colleagues can get their work done during lunch or even while they're doing other work, I'm offline all day every day with my family, so the only way I've found thus far to satisfy my 3-hour-per-day requirement of MBA-related work has been to do it at night (like I am tonight), or worse, not do it. Neither is working very well, and I again have a mounting feeling that I'm falling behind. We had our weekly team call tonight and it seems everyone is miles ahead of me on the assigned work.
So, what I think I need to do is create a new schedule, one that allows me to truly turn off during the day and enjoy my time with family, and then focus on MBA work either at night in a solid chunk, or some morning/nighttime split. Right now I'm trying to stride both worlds and I'm doing both fairly poorly-- that's got to change.
Saturday, September 8, 2007
Friday, September 7, 2007
As I like to say, Disneyland is a great place, but I wouldn't want to live there.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
This is amazing to me because I'm used to not being able to use technology at all in a classroom setting. In high school and college, we couldn't use calculators (especially graphic calculators) in class. Instead we were required to use the manual method to find the answers. I'm amazed at how much that has changed, and also by how easily the complex answers I used to spend 30 minutes on can now be found in seconds using programs like Minitab.
I wonder, does this mean we now cover so much more material in the same amount of time, resulting in better economy and value for students? Or is there really some intrinsic value to knowing how to do things the manual way, a value we are now losing by using automated computer and calculator software?
I remember a parent-teacher conference I had in 3rd grade (circa 1977). Not surprisingly, I didn't like math. The teacher told my parents that I needed to learn math, the MANUAL way, because no matter what job I had, I would need to know how to do math. I remember the exact quote to this day: "Even if you are a garbage man when you grow up," my teacher told my parents, "you'll still need to know math to be able to do things like calculate the diameter of a manhole cover." Yes, that's really what she said.
Well, assuming I had grown up to be that garbage man, and assuming I needed to calculate the diameter of a manhole cover for some insane reason, what if I now had a calculator? Would I even need to know the manual way? I argued in 1977, and I still argue now 30 years later, that there is little or no value in needing to know how the number is calculated. It's nice to see that, at least so far, my professors seem to agree because they're focusing on the tools used to arrive at the number instead of the formulas used by the tools to arrive at the number.
I don't even want to think about all that frustration, all that time, and all that useless work spent in 3rd grades and so many others, on preparing to be that garbage man.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
And how did our meetings go? They just brought the entire weight of what I've undertaken down on top of me. Not the pick-me-up I'd imagined. It turns out that many groups meet more often, and for longer periods of time, than my group does. It also turns out that the work seems to get harder, not easier, as the year progresses (on the admissions materials, they told us the opposite, liars). Great. I think we all walked back to our hotel rooms a little let down.
From where I sit right now, it seems inconceivable that I'll ever be able to finish the work ahead of me. Yet at the same time, I could see tonight that the second years were already regretting how quickly their time is passing, so it's more than a little perplexing. I'm a big one for being grossly sentimental, so I can see myself standing next year where that group stood tonight, musing to myself about how fast the time all went. At that time, I also hope I can pass along a message to next year's class that was a little more uplifting than the one we received tonight.
OK, time to read. I still have that mythical and seemingly impossible 100 pages of stats to complete, and class begins again in just under eight hours.
When I was in college, of course we didn't even have PowerPoint, and no classroom had a projector, unless you count transparency machines as projectors (ah, those were the days). I've been trying to think about how we got the information in classes-- I think it was just taking pages and pages of notes.
Nowadays everything is on PowerPoint-- all of my classes have associated PPT files, and every class thus far has consisted of professors basically paging through slide after slide-- two 4-hour sessions every other week, in our case.
Is this really the future of education? More and more I'm wondering what the next information delivery paradigm will be.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
For the most part, I think this evaluation is spot-on. The "extrovert" part always surprises me, because if given the choice, I'd work alone in complete seclusion for the rest of my life. Also, apparently I'm the only one in my work group of six who is comfortable doing things at the last minute. In fact, I thrive on doing things at the last minute. It'll be interesting to see how this all pans out....
I just hope there's enough caffeine onsite at this retreat center to keep me going.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Yesterday we had 12 hours of statistics-- that was about as interesting as it sounds. But I was surprised to find myself actually interested quite a bit in what was being presented. One of the reasons I've stayed away from math is because of a cadre of evil math teachers sent to torment me in high school-- this was the prime reason I didn't major in computer science in college. Now, with 16 years of the workforce behind me, I'm taking another run at it. It's amazing how the textbooks have changed since I left college-- they're much more graphical, informal, and segmented than I remember-- much easier to approach. And of course the Internet exists now, so the books have an online component that would have been unimaginable the last time I was in school. It's making everything more interesting.
Today's topic: accounting. (cringe) 12 hours learning the "language of business" as they say. I'm going to need all the caffeine I can get my hands on.
Monday, August 20, 2007
When the time finally came earlier this year to make "the" decision, it wasn't because I wanted to radically increase my salary: I make as much now as I think I deserve (OK, maybe a little less than I deserve, but close, which is satisfying). It wasn't because I wanted to be a CEO or start my own company (truth be told I have a pretty low tolerance for risk and at least at this stage in my career, I'd prefer to nestle under the comfy umbrella of a large, cash-rich company that takes care of me. I also don't have any desire to subvert family to career just to get a corner office).
Why, then, did I decide to enroll in a program that, over two years, will end up cosing almost $85,000-- especially when my employer will only pay about 20% of that?
I work in sales at a software company. My “a-ha” moment came in February 2007 while attending my company's bi-annual technical training summit. I saw a presentation on Web 2.0 and all the services-based areas my company was planning to invest in. I began running scenarios considering my career advancing through traditional sales and sales management ranks; these I felt confident I could achieve, and indeed my earnings potential would only increase as I climbed the sales ladder. As I ran these traditional scenarios, however, they did not compel me in the way in which the product managers and planners onstage at the summit were compelled when they discussed innovations coming with online collaborative software platforms and the emerging field of software + services.
The software industry at large will be investing billions over the next decade to grow these areas at the edge of the IT landscape. I already see the trend beginning now when meeting with my enterprise customers: they are enamored with wikis, peer-to-peer collaboration, and software as a service. They are looking equally hard at adopting these paradigms internally (for their own employees and vendors) as they are looking to create new revenue and customer loyalty streams from them as vendors themselves.
This is what compels me. To be part of that in a manner that allows me to actually shape the industry: that is my ultimate career objective. It doesn’t necessarily need to be attached to management, it doesn’t necessarily need to come with a CxO title, but it does have characteristics that I will need an MBA to fully master. After the presentations at the sales summit, I spent hours researching industry job postings and also internal job postings at my company, and the roles I see in the emerging services area (Product Planner, Group Program Manager, Lead Market Analyst) all require a level of competency in corporate finance, operations, team dynamics, accounting, statistics, and marketing that I do not possess today. Nor do I see a “self-taught” path in my company that gets me anywhere close to those competencies through on the job training. This is my primary reason for pursuing the MBA at this time.
So here I am, one intense weekend of two 12-hour classroom days under my belt, up again late at night working on statistics. Me, an English major, working on stats. Clearly something's gone haywire in the works. Stay tuned and see how it all turns out.