"Put your pens down and hand your papers in" These were the last words of the first semester as I closed the paper on my finance final exam. I am not sure how much of our finance paper was actually taught in the class, but I didn't care about that anymore because I was done, officially one-quarter through my MBA. Twenty-four hours later I would be sitting on a plane bound for an all-important date in Australia with a beach, some sunscreen, and a towel. With my first semester behind me, I was able to relax in the Indian Ocean and reflect on my time at Berkeley, what I had learned, and why toilets flush counter-clockwise Down Under.
My first semester at Haas was quite the education, not just in the classroom, but also about myself and the people around me. I have to confess, the last few weeks of school I was feeling a little exhausted, both mentally and physically. After three months on campus it was actually the new city and people, not the classroom, that I was getting a little tired of. That's not to say Berkeley isn't a great place and my classmates aren't friendly, but even the most worldly of travelers and social of people take comfort in familiarity. With your social life based on the people you see everyday, I took comfort in having a lot of "Toby time" toward the end of semester where I preferred disappearing into a good book on the couch or exploring some of Berkeley's quirkier stores on Telegraph Ave., rather than go to another social event on campus.
Work/Life: A Tough Balance
Indeed, I found the balance between work and play was difficult to achieve in my first semester because I often felt that if I wasn't busy, I must be forgetting to do something. That being said, the work/play balance is different for everyone depending on their objective at school. For me, my focus is heavily weighted towards work rather than play, because I feel the job market is not what it once was, so more effort and work is needed to separate you from the crowd. But everyone is different, and for some, juggling work with their family commitments, significant others, and boyfriends/girlfriends, is a far harder task than mine as my girlfriend is still living in Australia.
Many people will tell you that long-distance relationships never work and are destined for failure. Statistically speaking they are right, but for every five failures, there is always one success story. My relationship is as strong as it's ever been, and I think it's because we communicate every day by phone, e-mail, or Skype. We commit every break to be with one another and I see my time with her as a reward for all the hard work I put in into the semester. I feel relationships fail when partners stop communicating or there are problems inherent in a relationship that only worsen as distance and time play more significant roles. However, it is true at school that more relationships falter as the weeks progress. The date of Thanksgiving is typically seen as a transitional phase between those relationships that have what it takes and those that aren't going to make the cut. The good news for the Class of 2010 was that there were less relationship break-ups by Thanksgiving than there was in last years class. Hopefully, that carries through the Christmas break.
In keeping your attention just a little longer, I thought I would share with you my most memorable moments in business school, things that you may experience in your first semester. In honor of my favorite sports show, I bring you my own version of ESPN's top five "plays of the day" from my first semester:
5. "Don't listen to economists who say you have to pay people to work. Listen to psychologists who say people will pay you for the privilege of doing it." This statement came from the always entertaining Prof. Glazer, the core marketing professor at Haas. Look forward to hearing these words of wisdom and more delicious sound bites as he takes you on a path of marketing enlightenment, stopping on the way to hear how Wal-Mart saved Arkansas' economy and why 1,000 years from now the only company people will remember from our time is Motorola…I won't tell you why but you will love his answer!
4. "In my old job…" Get used to hearing these words. This will be the phrase that you hear from some students' lips for an entire semester, and typically it's what they use to begin any question they ask in class. This four-word phrase was first brought to my attention by a second year as his pet peeve at school. I initially thought the observation was mildly amusing, and I started listening for the phrase. By the end of semester, after hearing it for the thousandth time, those words were like the sound of fingernails down a blackboard.
3. "Business school is a fish bowl." I mentioned this earlier, but business school is like living in the Big Brother house for two years, the only difference being that it's not a house but a campus! Trust me, if you were involved in drunken debauchery one night, chances are everyone will know about it before you even stumbled home and collapsed on your bed.
2. "The C Word." No, not the one your parents grounded you for saying, but the unforgiving word in Prof. Glazer's class (he gets two honorable mentions in the top five)…COMMODITY! Say this word and he will (literally) collect $5 from you for charity. His argument is that if you can take a commodity such as water, bottle it with a nice marketing story, and sell it for $50 in select stores (see Bling H20), then any product in the world can be differentiated. I tell this to my Spanish friend, Gonzalo, who uses a pair of those Bose noise-reduction earphones to study in the library. I enjoy teasing him that he spent $300 to hear nothing! "What a scam," I say. He's not so amused, and bigger than me, so I don't force the issue too much.
And last, here's my No. 1 play of the day that you will be sure to hear often by the end of your first semester:
1. "Boy, am I lucky to be here." You will hear this from students in response to the current situation in the economy. Truly, there is no better time to be in business school than now. Sure, the internship search is tough and there will be fewer opportunities, but even the most pessimistic of economists talk of a recovery in 2010. That's good news for my class and even better news for yours.
That's it for my first semester folks. I bid you adieu from Australia. As for why toilets flush counterclockwise Down Under—come find out for yourself, it's a beautiful country.
Toby Gardner is a member of UC Berkeley's MBA Class of 2010.