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.


  1. Frankly, I find the coin superstition to be a propaganda technique developed by the US Treasury department in conjunction with the cult of personality surrounding Abraham Lincoln. As inflation drove the value of the penny down to negligible amounts (finding a penny in 1920 meant you were halfway to buying a Watermelon, no need for luck there) someone needed to impart extra mythical properties to the now useless coin. Thus we were graced with "The Lucky Penny" and catchy little phrases like "see a penny, pick it up; and all day long you'll have good luck." As coin-grabbers continued to fail tests, lose games, be ignored by still unrequited objects of desire, and be run over by motorcars, trains, buses, trolleys, stampeding elephants and other injury causing objects, the superstition was modified. Now it became necessary for the face (once more the work of Lincoln's post-mortem revisioners) to be up in order for the luck to be imparted to the new owner. Soon this was spread to all coins. Revisionist traditions all. As the dollar declines don't be shocked to see strip clubs littered with face down Benjamins after someone makes in rain for fear of Bottom-Up-Benny, Bad Juju. It's an inevitable reflection of traditions being modified to fit the socio-economic times of an era.

    But pajama finals. Foolproof.

    Congrats on the first semester, good luck with finals.


  2. My routine also involves sitting in my pajamas for days on end, running through large amounts of ink cartridges for my printer, and creating a fortress of papers and books which can be difficult to get in and out of.

    Exam time also makes me wish I weren't an atheist/agnostic, because my instincts to pray are seldom more awakened.

    - Chris Purvis

  3. I'll add my routine, as we talked about a couple nights ago:

    *The most important thing I do is go to the gym and max out on squats and then the deadlift before walking to a learning team room to take the exam. Not really - below is my real routine:

    1) Sleep as much as possible the night before,for me that is very important and is an advantage of take home exams, it also means I end up taking exams later at night usually

    2) When I'm done studying, I'll do a shorter easy run, including a few short, fast pick-ups in the middle to get the blood flowing. I feel good, energized, and mentally clear when I get back. I then take a shower of course because that makes me feel even better amongst many other good reasons to take a shower.

    3) I then eat a modest, healthy meal to lay down a base of clean calories for the long exam, something like vegetables and pasta; will usually review some very basic notes to get the mind back on task while eating

    4) Now it's go time; put on some sweats and haul my gear from Ivy to school and find myself a foxhole for the exam

    5) Armed with 2 caffinated diet sodas and couple energy bars I have all I need to hole-up; I almost never drink coffee and don't drink much caffiene so 12-24 ozs of soda will really pick me up; have never actually gotten through both cans during the exam

    6) In college I used to wear a Warren Sapp jersey when taking a final to represent "gameday" but really it was because it was fun to wear and it made me and my friends laugh; I oughta bring that tradition back for Term 3

    See you in Term 3, ready to rage.

    John Cote