Monday, October 24, 2011

Superstitions and Traditions

What do you do when you see a coin on the ground?  Do you pick it up?

As I kid, I would have told you it depends: if it’s heads up, it’s yours.  If it’s tails up, leave it- unless you’re asking for trouble and bad luck.

What a silly superstition!  And yet, I believed it as a boy.  Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to figure out a loophole.  If I ever ran across a fallen coin that was showing tails, I simply kicked it against a curb or a wall until it flipped right side up.  Squealing with delight, I’d bend down and pocket the change, filling up my good luck reservoir in the process.

I thought back on that funny little superstition this weekend, and realized it is a metaphor for how we should live our lives.  Sometimes you’re dealt a good hand, sometimes you’re dealt a bad hand, but you make the most of it either way.

In other words, you can make your own luck.  It’s something that became so apparent during exam season.  Term 1 at Darden was hard, but Term 2 was substantially harder.  Need proof of that?  Ask any first year how much sleep they’re got.  Ask them how confident they felt going into the Decision Analysis, Marketing and Accounting exams.

Class was difficult, and the work load exhausting.  This was the hand we were dealt.  And yet, so many of my classmates chose to make their own luck.  We attended DA workshops.  We met with professors.  We went to Q&A sessions.  We spent hours at marathon learning team meetings.  We even stayed in on Friday night to spend extra time on cases instead of heading to the bars on The Corner.

I can only hope the hard work paid off this past weekend, which was as challenging as advertised.  The tests took three hours for Accounting, four for Marketing, and five for DA, with tons of studying in between.  For someone with a non-quantitative background who hasn’t been in school for seven years, this was a pretty crazy four days.

And while I didn’t rely on superstitions to aid my cause, I did employ a final exam tradition that dates back to my junior year at Northwestern.

Burdened by finals, deprived of sleep, and with no one to impress, I let it all go for a full week.  I didn’t shower.  I didn’t shave.  And, I never changed out of my pajamas.

Thus was born my finals tradition.

Eight years later, I stand firmly by my finals pajamas ritual, as the picture below proves (you’ll be glad to know I’ve made some tweaks, however- I’ve showered twice this weekend, thankyouverymuch).

Anyways, I bring up the coin on the ground and the pjs examples to make a larger observation: the line between superstition and tradition is a seemingly fine one.  But to me, there’s a big difference: superstitions leave too much to chance.  They suggest that luck has more to do with success than hard work.  Traditions, on the other hand, feel more like a comfort thing, something you do because it feels right- not because you expect it to solve all of your problems.  And boy, does walking around in pajama pants and hoodies for four days feel right!

I might be inclined to challenge superstition and embrace tradition, but I’ll make the occasional exception.

During exams, I found myself looking for any kind of good fortune, any kind of hopeful sign.  On Friday night in between tests, I saw a coin on the ground while walking back from dinner at Liz and Aaron’s house.

It was heads up.

Superstition or not, I picked it up and put it in my pocket, where it’s been all weekend.

Hey, during exam week, I’ll take all the help I can get.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Family

So I realized there wasn't a picture with all of us together anywhere on the blog.  Here's us at Aaron and Liz's wedding, all making the letters for "Cville."  Abstract I know.  Nevertheless, you get the sentiment!

(P.S.: this is an addendum to the original post, "My Darden Family," hope you get a chance to read my prior blog entries!)

Monday, October 10, 2011

29 and Holding... On

Growing up, my brother and I called Marge Tennant “Grama.”  Marge took amazing care of us through our childhood.  She taught us to be respectful and courteous.  She watched “Price is Right” with us each afternoon.  She made sure we dutifully practiced the piano.  With the exception of a blood relation and a couple of missing letters, she really was like a grandma to us.

Marge battled arthritis her whole life- she still fights it to this day.  It often turned the most routine of activities into impossibilities for her.  And yet, Grama maintained a happy disposition and a young spirit.  She often jokingly described her age as “29 and holding…”

Grama’s funny phrase was the last thing on my mind during Darden Cup softball earlier this year as I rounded second base.  Running at this point was supposed to be academic- I’d crushed the ball over the right fielder’s head, and it was a certain home run.

Unfortunately, no one mentioned this to my left hamstring, which exploded somewhere between second and third.

I limped home, knowing this was a serious injury- I’d injured the same hamstring running indoor track in my senior year of high school and missed several months of action.

I iced the hamstring, I wore a compression sleeve.  I elevated it, I stretched it.  I thought things were getting better, so I jumped back into the thick of it. 

Bad choice.  Last week, I re-injured the hamstring practicing for Darden Cup flag football.

That’s when I realized the truth: I am 29 and holding… on.

And just barely holding on, it turns out.  I get hurt more than I used to.  It takes longer to recover.  I think I’m a step slower than my high school days.  My flexibility has gone down the toilet, and my back is always sore.

But physical deterioration is not the only thing I’m battling.  The work load at Darden, famous for being robust, is kicking into high gear.  We have three cases a night, and each often requires several hours of reading, calculations, and analysis.  I feel my once firm grasp on the concepts slipping slowly away from me as the pace quickens.

So, you do your best.  You study your butt off while taping a bag of frozen peas to your hammy (efficiency!).  You sleep a little less and drink a little more coffee.

Most importantly, you do something you love.   I was reminded of this by Amanda Mills, who works in the financial aid office at Darden.  She was one of the first people I communicated with during the application process, and I see her now and again on the grounds.

The other day, Amanda stopped me and asked how I was doing.  Then she asked a question that stopped me in my tracks: are you doing anything for yourself?

I thought for a second, smiled, and said “yes.”

It was the right answer to this cold call.  Amanda told me she’d seen too many students collapse under the workload.  Among the networking, the briefings, the cases, the classes, they’d forgotten about themselves.

I’ve taken Amanda’s words to heart over the last ten days.  I blocked off some time to play NCAA Football 2012 on the XBOX 360 with Aaron, Jeff and Liz.  The family makes sure to have family together at least once a week (Beth is an awesome cook!).  I also traveled to Nashville to see my old friends and watch my favorite band Wilco.  Sadie, Fender and I took an awesome Sunday morning hike to Humpback Rock with my friends Jesse and Taku.  The leaves are changing in Virginia, and it is breathtaking. 

Sure, we hold on to our youth, and we hold on for dear life as the course load intensifies.  But at Darden, you also have hold on to who you are.  At the ripe young age of 29, I can at least say I’m doing a pretty good job on that last part.