Thursday, February 9, 2012

Business School Lesson #632: Channel Your Inner 3-Year-Old

Tonight, many future members of Darden's Class of 2014 will set foot on Grounds as part of Day@Darden, a welcome event designed to give them the Darden experience. In the spirit of this event, I want to share the most important lesson I've learned so far during my time at school.
Remember that kid you babysat years ago? The one who questioned obvious things?
You: “Don’t stick your tongue on the frozen flag pole.”
Kid: Why?
You: “Don’t pull your sister’s hair.”
Kid: Why?

Turns out, that kid was on to something.
As a former journalist, asking questions was an integral part of my daily work. When I began my first day at Darden, I thought everything would be different. I was here to be transformed , and so I shelved my old habits.
Soon after school started, I realized that the rumors about the first semester of business school were true. It was challenging. Demanding. World-axis-toppling, even. Coming from a “non-traditional business background,” I experienced a steep learning curve compared to some of my classmates already familiar with terms like “BRIC” and “weighted average cost of capital.” I knew that I had the intellectual aptitude to master the topics we studied in class, however, despite my best efforts (and several bookmarked Investopedia pages), I found myself falling behind.

I was most acutely aware of this in my Learning Team. At Darden, you’re assigned a group of 4-5 other students with whom you meet four nights a week, to go through the homework. My Learning Team is filled with smart people. So smart that they seemed to fly through cases over which I’d toiled for hours. I found myself sitting back, stunned and quiet, as they keyed Excel formulas with the grace of an orchestra conductor. I left our meetings in awe, replaying the cases in my mind, struggling to close the gap between my comprehension and theirs.
After about a month of this, I felt a rising sense of frustration. Arriving early one night, I found my banking-bound Learning Teammate sitting by himself. And it all just came out: how I was concerned about pulling my weight, and about the steps I was taking in order to improve: attending tutoring sessions and devoting countless hours of free time to study.
He looked at me, blinked, and said, “Dude. Just ask us.”
Just. Ask. Us.
He explained, “The rest of us can tell when you don’t understand, but we can’t get inside your head to figure out what you’re not asking. So, seriously. Just ask.”
This, friends, was what they call a game-changer.
I shelved my pride and channeled my inner three-year-old. Any time we discussed something that didn’t make sense, I asked for clarification. Within the first week of trying this new approach, I understood so much more.
Even better, my teammates didn’t react in the way I’d feared. They didn’t roll their eyes, check their watches, groan at the notion of going over the same concept for the third time. They took my questions seriously and explained material to me without condescension. They encouraged me, saying I helped them challenge concepts they’d always simply accepted. In short order, I became a contributing member of my team.
This is why I love Darden. You come here to stretch yourself and be challenged by difficult material. But you also come here for the community, to support and be supported, and to help one another master skills we’ll need in the business world. As you make your decision about whether or not to join the Darden family, I encourage you to keep this in mind, and if you have a question, just ask us.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Hi, Friends.  Sorry for the long silence.
Though it’s the deep of winter, and the time at which most creatures are securely ensconced in their hibernation period, I am finally emerging from mine. The first semester at Darden was a hugely rewarding experience, but it was also quite demanding. So much so that I found the need to hunker down and focus solely on the tasks in front of me. Exams. Recruiting. Sleep.

But, the conclusion of the first semester heralded the beginning of winter break, and signaled the beginning of sleeping in, baking, reconnecting with family and friends, catching up on long-overdue correspondence, and—dare I say it?—reading for fun.

There was also addressing the neglected needs of my dear b-school companion, Harper. Never has there been a dog happier to pick up a Frisbee.
I also had the chance to meet some wonderful prospective students over coffee. It was so exciting to speak with them about Darden, the application process, and what lies ahead for their first semester. While the first semester was certainly challenging, I feel so fortunate to have made some incredible friends in the last few months, and to have conquered subjects like economics, accounting, and finance. As I described to a former colleague recently, it’s like when you’re a little kid learning to read, and suddenly you look up and notice words everywhere. Listening to world financial news is a completely different experience now.

Thanks to Professor Schill and a marathon tutoring session with my Learning Team mate Chad, I actually understand what this means.

Winter break is still in session for a few more days, and I intend to savor it. But when classes begin again on Monday, I’ll look forward to a new semester with new challenges: securing an internship, mastering decision analysis class, and learning more letters to this alphabet.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

New Beginnings

Autumn chased me down to Charlottesville.
The first crisp days following me as I headed south,
Singing low rumbling harmonies
And laughing right out loud...

-Forest Sun-

Two months ago, I packed up my life and prepared to start a new one at Darden. Over the next two years, I will use this space to chronicle my discoveries, challenges, and triumphs as I navigate the business school waters.

A little about me: I was born and raised in Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC just two hours north of Charlottesville. My college days were spent at UNC Chapel Hill, home of the Tar Heels, where I studied journalism and men's basketball. Following graduation, I was lucky enough to secure a position with National Geographic magazine in Washington, DC, where I worked as a visual journalist (more on that later) for five years prior to Darden. I had some amazing experiences with NG, but ultimately decided to change course and pursue an MBA.

With two months under my belt, I've already survived one round of exams, but the next round is coming soon, so this will have to be short for now. More to come soon!