When I graduated from high school, one of my favorite teachers imparted some valuable advice about college life. “Rule no. 1: Don’t drink too much,” she said. “Rule no. 2: Don’t take No-Doze. And Rule no. 3… Don’t join a cult.”
After four years at Harvard, I’m sorry to say that I failed on 2 out of 3. There were definitely a few times when I drank too much (sake bombing and my 21st birthday come to mind), but I think most college students can own up to failing on Rule no. 1. So what other big rule did I summarily ignore? Well, in my sophomore year, with several papers looming and a long night ahead of me… I innocuously joined a group called Harvard Undergraduate Women in Business (WIB).
Unlike cults that chase after alien spaceships, WIB had a far more modest goal. Officially, the organization “seeks to empower a dynamic group of enterprising young women” (…which, like all good mission statements, is better when appended with “in bed”). But all of us in WIB truly believed that we were out to achieve the greater good. We were reaching for the top. We were breaking the glass ceiling. We were embodying the WIB slogan and “Making it Happen”.
WIB was no ordinary, podunk little student organization. We were the largest undergraduate business group on campus. We regularly hosted and sponsored events for hundreds of women at Harvard. We published a nationwide magazine and took career exploratory trips to Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and New York. We met leaders like Warren Buffett, Jeff Zucker, and Bobbi Brown, just to name a few.
Along the way, we led WIB to channel the best practices of our capitalist heroes. We suited up for recruiting events. We out-hustled everyone for business cards. We put together Powerpoint pitches with the official WIB colors (Red 136, Green 0, Blue 0) that had been imprinted into our brains. I remember one night, we stayed awake until dawn, discussing the optimal WIB board structure. One board member joked, “I don’t need a boyfriend… I have WIB.”
For fun, we managed to incorporate “WIB” into everyday words, so that a whole new lexicon was created: “I finally got a WIBternship!… Oh, you are such a WIBaller!” In our board photo (above, and blurred to protect the innocent), we made sure all our legs were crossed in the exact same direction. It was very Stepford Wives of us, which of course we found very amusing.
Looking back, it is clear now that we were absolutely, positively, crazy. But there’s something about cult-crazy that seems to justify all of it: the long nights, the email fights, the reconciliatory Sunday WIBrunches… After all, we were championing women, and who can argue against that? (OK, maybe those in Alaska can argue against women leaders… but then you probably don’t support the troops, either).
I often look back on my WIB days with awe and just a bit of wistfulness. There’s a lot of “I can’t believe I did that”, and “Remember how intense we were??”. But there is also a lot of pride that I had been part of it all, part of something greater than myself. So yes, I’m proud I was a member of WIB, of that crazy little capitalist cult. And still, even with so many long, sleepless nights of general WIBauchery, I never took No-Doze. Victory.