Tag Archives: college

Dropping the H-Bomb

This evening as I was walking home from work, I overheard a couple having an animated discussion about dropping the H-Bomb.  The stalker that I am, I creepily loitered by a street meat vendor, pretending to be conflicted about a lamb kabob while listening in on the rest of their conversation.

Alas, these were not Japanese tourists, nor disturbingly-hawkish Americans.  Instead, they were former graduate students from Harvard, discussing the best way to “drop the H-Bomb,” a.k.a. to tell people that you went to Harvard.

hbombThe H-Bomb is referred to as such because of its cataclysmic result, no matter the initial intention.  Some people drop the H-Bomb everywhere, proudly showing off their Harvard knee socks, cuff links, and embroidered crimson hankerchiefs. Others would rather tell you that they went to Bunker Hill Community College than Harvard, forcing you to dig deep to get it out of them (“Where did you go to school?”  “In Boston.”  “Where in Boston?”  “Cambridge.”  “What school in Cambridge?”  “Just a small school by the river…”)

Harvard’s reputation necessitates a certain prudence when dropping the bomb.  Some imagine that Harvard is just a stomping ground for douchy guys who tie cashmere sweaters around their necks.  Others believe that it’s a torture factory that turns nerds into white-collar criminals.  General consensus, though, is that Harvard students are sleep-deprived, bookworm zombies with limited social skills, poor hygiene habits, and argyle socks.  (Some of that is not far from the truth.)

So inevitably, when you drop the H-Bomb, you get one of three reactions: awe, indifference, or “fight me.”

  1. Awe: “Wow! What was it like?  Do you really have Quidditch matches on Sundays?  You’re like a genius, aren’t you?”
  2. Indifference: “Hmm. I heard they’re no longer serving hot breakfast.”
  3. Fight Me: “So what did you get on your SATs?  That’s not that impressive.  I heard there’s a lot of grade inflation there.  Did your parents go there?  Are they super rich?  Your grandfather donated a statue, didn’t he?  Whatever, I make more money than you.”

Holworthy colorMore often than not, the reactions fall into either #1 or #3.  At these extremes, Harvard alums are either deified or insulted.  Deification, however, can turn into insult in a hurry: forgot what the capital of Italy was?  “And you went to Harvard?”  Mistakenly thought Winston Churchill was still alive?  “And you went to Harvard?”  Was taken to the hospital after you threw up tequila in the streets?  “And you went to Harvard?”

Ultimately, unless you dropped out of school with a billion-dollar idea like Bill Gates, all Harvard alums will suffer from the Saturday Night Live effect.  The SNL effect is based off the premise that most people believe SNL isn’t as good now as it was in the past.  That’s mainly because the only skits we see from the past are the good ones, whereas all the crappy skits were burned to a crisp in California wildfires.  Similarly, as a Harvard grad, we are immediately expected to become the next boy-genius President, or else we’re just huge failures.  It’s tough when everyone expects you to pull a Church Lady out of the hat every single time… But, such is the curse.

Thus, many Harvard grads are incredibly insecure–and this is why we love the H-Bomb.  The H-Bomb gives us some recongition, good or bad, that we were mildly important at some time.  We derive some smug satisfaction out of being loved or hated.  So we talk about the H-Bomb.  We write about the H-Bomb.  We name campus sex magazines after the H-Bomb (now defunct).  And we pile up our H-Bomb degrees, whether we need them or not.

But in the end, we need to find the Church Lady, to find that something that will define us outside of Harvard.  I know that in the future, the douchy, nerdy, future white-collar criminal in me will always be there, thanks to my four years in Cambridge.  At the same time, I’m pretty sure I’ll sully the prestigious Harvard name by forgetting some easy world capitals along the way.  So, I want to pull off a #1 without having to drop the H-Bomb at all.  It may take me years, decades, or lifetimes… But, such is the dream.


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Reasons to Join a Cult in College

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). 

WIB logoUnlike 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. 

huwibbAlong 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.


Filed under Careers, Life

What I Learned at Harvard

Two years ago, during my senior year in college, a relative asked me: “So, now that you’re almost graduating, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned from Harvard?”

It seemed like an innocuous question, but I knew that there was an already-implied $150,000 answer, thanks to Good Will Hunting (“You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library”). goodwillhuntingThe best response to this kind of inquiry would involve something uber-academic and arcane, like “vector spaces” or the neurobiology of whales, with some Plato thrown in for good measure. Given my studies in Economics, Psychology, and Government, I tried to recall the most exotic facets of the social sciences. But at that moment, just a few months away from graduation, I could barely remember what I learned about convergence theorems, double-blind studies, or legal proceedings in the United States. I may have read Plato in my “Issues in Ethics” class freshman year, but I’d forgotten all of his issues. I certainly couldn’t talk about whale brains, and I had no idea what vector spaces were… I just thought they sounded cool.

I dutifully recited some boring tenets of basic economic theory, and my relatives seemed satisfied.

This past weekend, I went back to Harvard for a visit. Just walking around the Yard brought back memories from the streets of the Cambridge. As a freshman, I once walked into the Crate and Barrel on Mass Ave and asked for directions… to Mass Ave. On Saturday, as an elderly alum, I expertly weaved through the crowds and reminisced about the days when the campus was mine, when the memories were happening. And now that I’m a few years older, ostensibly wiser, and wholly entrenched in the “real world”, I can finally admit to what I learned (and retained) at Harvard:

princeton-v-harvard-2I learned that Harvard students are the best and the brightest in the world at avoiding solicitors outside the Science Center. I learned how to make the perfect spiral on my fro-yo cone after years of trial-and-error (and a couple spills). I learned to dodge tourists like a running back, and not to rub the foot of the John Harvard statue. I learned that one develops a sixth sense for popcorn chicken and Sundae Sundays. I learned that Toastie-O’s are the generic (and far inferior) version of Cheerios.

With my $150,000 education, I know now that a naked run in the brisk midnight air is the key to surviving ensuing exams. I know that one shouldn’t venture into the Sanskrit section of Widener unless she want to see that same nudeness in full light. I know that it’s “ec”, not “econ,” and “gov,” not “political science.” autumn20yard202I know that if you remove the “i” from “assistance” you have the labels on our blue light emergency phone stations. I know that Felipe’s will always be popular, because it’s always nice to get hit on, even when you’re wearing a parka and shoveling a burrito into your mouth.

So, what’s the most interesting thing I’ve learned from Harvard? It’s that these insights came far more rapidly than my recall of the Solow model. It’s that these learnings have taken priority in the annals of my tiny whale brain. It’s that these memories–from the dorms, from the tailgates, from the Kong–have replaced Adam Smith. It may not sound like the typical Harvard admissions pitch, but it’s definitely something you can’t get for $1.50 in late charges at the public library.

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Why Do Young People Hate Their Jobs?

Most college students I have talked to are excited about the real world after school – excited about the work, the perks, but most of all, the freedom. In the real world, there are no tests or papers looming over their heads, no professors to answer to, no dealing with the stresses and dramas that invariably accompany the college experience. Yeah, college is fun, but there’s almost a mythic quality about life beyond college: it’s substituting the sweats for suits, the kegs for martinis, the hookups for a steady, sickeningly-attractive significant other… While college seniors go through the requisite nostalgia in their last few months as an academic, this nostalgia is still often dampened by lofty expectations for the next stage in their life.

Why then, do so many young professionals hate their jobs?

(I must preface this by limiting my observations to those in the field of business. Most would-be doctors I know are happily trucking away in med school, most would-be lawyers are busily debating each other in law school, and for the rest of my graduating class—those who are doing research in Bolivia or writing articles for Mother Jones—they seem, on the most part, relatively satisfied. Then that begs the question: are jobs in the business fields overly cruel, or are those people that go into business just overly hateful? Note: This observation also excludes investment bankers, who should expect to hate their jobs even before they start.)

Some theories:

  • The College Hangover: For many young people, you’re thrown into the fire right out of school. You’re not used to waking up before noon and having to look somewhat presentable. You’re not used to being “on” all the time, every single day, at least five days a week. If only you could skip work without anyone noticing (like college lectures), and still get your big performance bonus…that would be the life. Of course, that would never happen, and thus the nostalgia for college never really goes away. However, the College Hangover only serves as a legitimate excuse for your first few months out of school… After that, if you’re still falling asleep at work in reminiscence of those college glory days, well, you should lay off the drinking.
  • The Bottom of the Totem Pole: You were a pretty big deal in college… president of some organization, captain of some sports team, leader of the beer pong circuit. Now, you’re the entry-level analyst who is seen as the little know-it-all who wants to shoot straight to the top, but in actuality is only making a contribution as a master formatter or lunch bitch. You’re relegated to modeling (thankfully we’re talking only about Excel), and making sure that someone less smart than you looks more smart than everyone else. Of course, no one is as smart as us, so it’s a tough reality to stomach.
  • Those Lofty Expectations: You thought it was going to be first-class, up in the sky, sipping champagne, living the life… Your job was supposed to be glamorous, impressive, and telling of your smarts, skills, and talents. You thought that you’d be challenged every second of the day; you would have interesting coworkers, exciting projects, and intellectual discussions. You’d be an integral part of the company, just short of the glue that holds everything together. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have interesting projects all of the time, and we certainly know a couple of coworkers who have a few screws loose. We don’t foresee the hours of administrative tasks and unrewarded legwork that is part of the daily grind. You start asking yourself why you are here, what you are doing with your life, and how you can get into a new role/company/industry that is way more glamorous than what you are in now…or so you’d like to think.
  • Too Much Freedom: When you’re young, there’s an ordered sequence of how things happen. After pre-school you go to kindergarten. After kindergarten, you’re in first grade. After first grade… etc, etc. The proverbial “life train” goes through a predictable sequence: elementary school, middle school, high school, college—from A to B. But after graduating from college, you’re alone at the train station, and only YOU have to figure out where to next. Get on the banking train, or the consulting one? Marketing, or sales? It always seems like the other train is moving faster, with nicer seats and greener grass on their side of the scenic route to your future. Anxiety strikes. Uneasiness festers. Resentment grows. You end up curled up in the corner of the caboose, hugging your knees, thinking you should have become a doctor instead… at least that would’ve delayed the decision-making for a few more years.
  • Your Job Actually Sucks: If you liked the train analogy above, then your standards for quality have obviously been lowered from your time spent on the job. Maybe all that modeling/formatting/Excel-ing is getting to your head. Or maybe your job actually sucks. Hey, it happens. Perhaps it’s time to go to business school then.

Regardless of all the reasons why many people hate their jobs, most of them are still in these jobs…so perhaps “hate” is a strong word. Only a few recent graduates I know have been so fed up that they decided to quit well-paying, respectable jobs and brave unemployment. Then, despite all the negatives, there must be some reason why we are still in the grind. Maybe it’s the money, or the benefits and perks, or the hope that things will get better. Or perhaps we are just paralyzed by fear that the next job will be worse. The main challenge is to balance the expectations of our jobs with a tempered ambition. There will always be days where unemployment looks preferable, but unless that starts to happen day-after-day, week-upon-week (meaning, Your Job Actually Sucks and you should start updating that resume), I’d say to just put your head down, put the hate aside, file it all under “Learning Experience”, and get to work.

Update (3/30/09): Why Do Young People Stay in Jobs They Hate?



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