Monday, February 28, 2011

Is My Boyfriend Going to Dump Me for Being an MBA Applicant?

After the initial rush of deciding that I'm really doing this, the reality has set in: I'm really doing this. How on earth am I going to find the time on top of having an insane job that requires me to work most weekends, and a second freelancer career that requires me to work many evenings? And moreover, can I do it without completely alienating my friends, boyfriend, and family? And where in all this am I going to be able to find time to go to the gym and cook meals and stay healthy? I have big concerns.

I think priority number one for me is going to be to devise a complete schedule so that at least somewhere in the realm of all-conditions-being-ideal, I know that it's possible to get everything done. I know there are thousands upon thousands of people who successfully do this every year, and many of them probably have even more commitments than me. Some of them may even have children to worry about. And from everything I have read, business school itself is certainly not a cakewalk. So if I can't handle this level of time management, I probably shouldn't be applying anyway.

Can someone remind me that the hard part hasn't even started yet?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why The Oscars Are Not An Effective MBA Study Strategy

Is Natalie Portman a role model for young women who want to climb the corporate ladder? That's what Sylvia Ann Hewlett will have you believe in her newest blog for Harvard Business Review. In "Does Female Ambition Require Sacrifice?," Hewlett argues that aspiring female business execs can have their cake and eat it too. Hewlett cites Portman's Harvard degree, Oscar nomination, and baby bump as evidence that "there's no penalty for those who aim for the lead, seize the stage, and strut their stuff — their femininity as well as their professional fervor."

As someone who is in the process of applying to the Boys-Club-Known-As-Business-School (current admissions statistics from BusinessWeek’s top 30 business schools show that women account for only 30 percent of admissions), and possibly later entering into the bigger Boys-Club-Known-As-The-Corporate-World, Hewlett's article seems both misleading and harmful.

The article is misleading because it uses an A-list actress as an example of a woman able to balance life/work without sacrifice, when having a fiance and pregnant belly is hardly evidence of anything other than a lack of successful contraception. The hard part isn't getting inseminated: it's everything that comes after that. We hadly know anything about Portman's private life, so it is impossible to judge her relationships and happiness in aspects other than her career. However, even if we were able, how useful would it really be to compare a Hollywood starlet to a female executive gunning for a C-suite position?

Hewlett's article is harmful because it obscures the real issues that women face in a corporate environment. There is a real penalty that these women (and men too) face: logging long hours on the job inevitably means that you're going to miss out on extracurricular, family and social engagements. At some point, there is necessarily going to be a trade-off where workers have to evaluate their priorities and recalibrate their ambitions as necessary. You can't have it all.

As Hewlett points out, companies including Time Warner, Deutsche Bank, Novartis and Intel should be lauded for the steps they have taken to implement programs that address gender imbalances and help to provide a hand up to women with high potential for senior-level leadership. Studies have shown that senior-level male executives already provide this type of mentorship in an informal way for their male underlings, so these formalized programs are a good way to level the playing field.

However, to deny the very real and tangible penalties that women face due to their career ambitions is in effect to belittle the sacrifices and trade-offs that are fundamental to many leadership-level positions.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Confessions of a Quarter-Life Crisis

I have a bit of a confession to make:

Approximately a year and half has past since the last time I updated this blog, and I don't feel the least bit guilty about it. I haven't taken the GMAT. I haven't applied to business school. To be honest, I haven't even studied for the GMAT yet. So, what have I been doing? I've been embracing the opportunities which seem to keep on falling in my lap. It's quite extraordinary, really.

At my day job, our Executive Director stepped down, which opened up some opportunities for me to take on significantly increased levels of responsibility in several areas. In my preliminary business school application research, I had identified leadership as one of the key areas in which my applicant profile demonstrated weakness. So, I'm delighted that these new work opportunities have allowed me to step up to the plate and take a leadership role on new projects.

Moreover, on top of the day job stuff, my freelance side career has taken off like wildfire. I have been doing freelance writing and photography for various newspapers and magazines for a while, and at first it was mostly art exhibit reviews. But, I've more recently been tasked to cover music in addition to visual arts, I've somehow managed to snag a major freelancer spot in steady rotation for some pretty significant publications with circulation numbers in excess of one million. (To put it in perspective, that's a higher circulation figure than Forbes Magazine and Harvard Business Review, combined.) This means that I've been taking a lot of vacation days from my day job so that I can fly around the country, photographing and writing about rock music festivals and band tours. But it also means that I have hardly had time to make my bed in the past year, let alone apply to business school.

It has been exhilarating to have my career(s) take off like this. However, I also know that this is not sustainable in the long run. So here I am, back again, at the beginning.