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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.

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The Friend Bullseye

On this blog, we have talked about how important our friends are.  Well…actually, we have discussed categorizing our friends in a modern-day feudal system made up of serfs, peasants, and nobles.  Given that references to the Middle Ages may seem somewhat archaic, I have revised our friend-stratification strategy.   Introducing, the Friend Bullseye:

friendbullseye

As an example, I have taken on the patriotic duty of filling this out for President Barack Obama.  There were a few question marks on Barry’s bullseye: For example, is Tim Geithner a “work friend”, a “convenient friend”, or just a poor-performing “acquaintance”?  What about Sarkozy, whose overtures to Obama may signal a one-sided man crush? Where does Sarah Palin fit in (especially since Batshit Crazy is already taken)?

I find that filling out the Friend Bullseye can be a rather illuminating exercise.  Further, the bullseye can also serve as a gift-giving guide–the closer the friend is to the center, the more money you should spend on birthday gifts: inner ring $75, middle ring $50, outer ring $25… and if a friend misses the board completely, then a Facebook message shall suffice (or at least a Cabinet post).

So, get out your pencils, scour your old yearbooks, and start stratifying your friends.  Not only can this help you determine Christmas-gift-worthy friends, but you’re giving yourself a head start on the vetting process for 2012.  After all, buried deep in our pasts, we all have at least one Batshit Crazy friend that we’ll have to overcome in our run for the presidency.  Sarah, we’re looking at you.

obamabullseye1

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Like Wall Street, Making New Year’s Resolutions in October

Now that it’s October, I’d like to initiate a new tradition. Typically, we wait until January to start those dreaded New Year’s resolutions, which inevitably involve working out more and eating less. By mid-January (or February, if we are especially persistent), these resolutions are mostly forgotten. After all, it takes a lot of willpower to stick with something for an entire year, especially if it involves consuming less food.

So, I propose that we do away with our old, daunting, New Year’s resolutions… Instead, as earnings seasons kicks off today, let’s model our resolution revolution (sorry) off the vaunted financial world of Wall Street. As public companies begin reporting their quarterly results, this provides a perfect framework to think about our personal goals. By taking a short-term, myopic outlook, we may actually achieve some of our new “New Year’s” resolutions. So, I present:

My Q4 Resolutions

  1. Inspired by the Dow shedding 800 points at one point on Monday, and the fall launch of my favorite Tuesday TV show, The Biggest Loser, I aim to lose 5 lbs, mostly by working out more, not eating less… OK, I’d also be happy with 3.
  2. Lay off the gum habit… I’m a pack-a-day chewer. I’ll aim for two sticks, max, per day.
  3. Read a new book a month, AND finish Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat, which I’ve been trying to get through for the past two years. By December, I will actually finish it.
  4. Do one cultural activity a month… like go to a museum, national landmark, or nature tour. It will be something that does not involve TV, drinking, or mechanical bulls at Saddle Ranch.
  5. Save more money. As Buffett says: “Be greedy when others are fearful, and fearful when others are greedy.” The market may fall some more, but that extra cash isn’t doing much good under the mattress. If I put it in the market now and wait a few years, maybe I won’t have to work so hard when I’m 30. Or maybe I’ll have lost it all. I’m hoping for the former.

It’s also important to have some easy metrics in which to judge our progress. So, my guidance for Q4 is as follows:

A measuring stick (because this space needed a picture).

Q4 Guidance

  1. Weight: -3 lbs
  2. Cavities: 0
  3. Books read: +4 books
  4. Cultural stuff: +3 experiences
  5. Investments: +5% of income

I could continue this analogy to the point where we’re creating 10-Q progress reports on our weekly weigh-ins, and asking for government assistance in times of book-selecting crises. But, I’ll refrain from contemplating how SEC regulation may impact our jiggly love handles. All I know is that come December, if I don’t hit my numbers, I hope someone will bail me out.

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Random Thoughts on… Irony

In Politics

  • Exxon Mobil sponsoring CNN’s broadcast of the VP debate last night, especially given that both candidates embraced the populist approach of bashing “big oil”. (1)
  • Sarah Palin’s performance in the debate being considered a success because she was able to (mostly) complete coherent sentences. (2)
  • When being smart and knowledgeable is actually a handicap to winning an election… Who knew?
  • So, conservatives are conservative when it comes to the economy (favoring less government intervention), but not when it comes to social issues (favoring more intervention in the areas of women’s rights, stem cell research, gay marriage, censorship, etc.)  Liberals are exactly the opposite, favoring more government oversight on policy, but less intervention when it comes to social issues.  Thus, neither party can claim consistency in a truly conservative or liberal approach.

In the Economy

  • In Rihanna’s hit song “Umbrella”, Jay-Z raps: ” No clouds in my storms / Let it rain / I hydroplane in the bank / Coming down like the Dow Jones…” Prophetic.(3)
  • Wall Street bigwigs pushing for more government intervention in the market through the bailout. Yes, it’s necessary, but still, weren’t these the same guys who argued that Adam Smith’s invisible hand would solve all worries? Well, the invisible hand has struck.
  • Even though the Republicans are supposed to be the pro-business party, the two wealthiest men in the U.S., Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are Democrats. So is billionaire George Soros, Lloyd Blankfein (CEO of Goldman), Steve Jobs (Apple), and several other money-making businessmen too.  So the argument that Democrats (and their policies) are totally anti-business may fall flat…
  • While on the topic of the financial crisis, President Bush is the only president in history to have received an MBA… and from Harvard Business School no less. Bush most likely will fall into the same chute as Jeff Skilling (convicted CEO of Enron) when it comes to disreputable HBS alums.

In Everyday Life

  • Non-drowsy Mucinex commercials making mucus seem cute. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig.
  • The Jonas Brothers succeeding. How come Hanson flamed out ten years ago? Hmm…bop.
  • The Tampa Bay Rays are in the MLB playoffs while the Yankees are sitting at home.(4) And the Rays made the playoffs a year after they got rid of the “Devil” in their name. Coincidence? I think not.
  • Britney making headlines for a song, of all things. Where did all the K-Fed, hair-shaving, alcohol abusin’, baby mama drama go? I think I prefer that to her singing.

(1) If you were wondering, the Exxon Mobil PAC has contributed 87% to Republicans this year, vs. 13% to Democrats.

(2) Sidenote: When did we start celebrating mediocrity and requiring down-home folksiness as a path to the Presidency? Shoot, I haven’t prepared for this question… help! Maybe I can just wink my way out of this one. Or divert the question to something about energy… Think it’ll work? You betcha!

(3) “Umbrella” was released on March 29, 2007. Since then, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen 2,195 points, or about 17%.

(4) Yankee payroll: $207m (#1 in Major League Baseball)… Tampa Bay payroll: $43m (second to last). In fact, the 3 other AL playoff teams are #4 (Red Sox), #5 (White Sox), and #6 (Angels) in payroll.

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