Goodbye, College. Thank You for Teaching Me.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I am finally graduating from Stanford (or so I hope...Stanford just does not seem to want to let me go...or my money, to be more precise). Well, at least I am done taking classes. Therefore 'tis now time to reflect.

To be honest, I do not remember well who I was 4 1/3 years ago. That is how my brain works. It overwrites my perception of who I am with my current self every month or so. I think it might be a defense mechanism from having been yanked out of my comfort zone (school, country, language) three times before the age of 13. But it is extremely important for me now to take a little break and synthesize the last four years of my life. So what is it that I have learned?

  1. The most important thing that Stanford has taught me is to believe in my own abilities - the ability to succeed at what I undertake, the ability to follow through and the ability to grasp things I do not at first understand. As long as I remember myself, I was always a perfectionist, but never the best. During my first two grades in Russia, I was a straight B student. The official nick name for straight B students in Russia is "horoshist" ("one who is good") and for straight A students - "otlichnik" ("one who is excellent"). And I was always a "horoshist." This feeling followed me all the way to high school.

    I went to high school where it was cool to be smart and about 20-30 graduating seniors would get accepted into Stanford each year (and I am not even talking about other top-tier colleges). I ended up taking the middle lane math and science classes (because the school system basically screwed me over by scaring me into not taking the hardest ones when I came to the United States in 8th grade...I now know I should generally ignore the advice of administrators in learning institutions). Throughout high school, I felt I was smart, but not smart enough. I was good, but not excellent. Needless to say, I never thought I would get into Stanford, mainly because I was being compared to outstanding students in my graduating class. Getting the letter of acceptance was one of the happiest days in my life.

    So I came into Stanford a little hesitant. However, over the next four years, my confidence started to build up. I realized that I was actually fairly smart and able, even compared with my Stanford peers. I also realized that I do not need to be the smartest one and the most perfect one. The biggest lesson I learned was that I just needed to deliver high-quality results. They do not need to be perfect, but they need to be on time and well thought out.

  2. The next big life lesson is to not be concerned about time constraints and not fear getting involved in different projects. Of course, you should not go overboard. But you should still throw yourself into things that you think might be interesting. You are not obligated to like them, but you are (almost) obligated to give them a try. When I was in high school, I was very protective of my time and always thought that getting involved in a time-consuming extracurricular activity would take up too much of my precious time and make my grades suffer. So I spent four years studying (and, let's be honest here, watching TV). I even spent the first two years of college studying for classes and partying on the weekends, not leaving much room for anything else. By senior year, though, I realized that I could be a successful student and get involved with activities outside of class (I also have to thank my overachieving friends for showing me the light). So I started getting involved with and signing up for everything that sounded remotely interesting (and lucrative). My GPA suffered only slightly, but I got a much richer experience out of it. So rich that, this past quarter, I took a full graduate load, TA-ed a core economics class and wrote my undergraduate honors thesis. I had no social life, but I had a hell of an academic experience.

  3. I also learned to ignore the little voices in my head that tell me I am not good enough or not smart enough to understand something. Because I am. The potential is there and I can undertake anything I want and be successful (with the others' help, of course).

  4. Finally, I learned that most 20-, 21- and 22-year old guys have the emotional maturity of 13 year-olds. It is too bad, because some of them are pretty charming. And frats on Friday and Saturday nights scare me a little.

I learned much more than this, of course, and will revisit this topic as things come back to me.

The Importance of Not Being Rude

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Being Russian, but raised and educated in Western cultures for most of my life, I have been subjected to very nice people during most of my self-conscious life. Or at least people who do not snap at you for no reason whatsoever. The skill of trusting that the random person you are about to talk to, whether it is a receptionist, a cashier, or anyone else, is not going to yell at you for distracting them (and making them do their job) gives you peace of mind. Except when you are in Russia, which I forget every time I spend a couple of years in the United States and am reminded of the minute I set foot in the motherland.

The idea of customer service is only now catching on in Russia and, even then, is limited to big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg. I have no idea why, but Russian people do not have the same concept of being nice to people they do not know as the people in Western cultures. In fact, many Russians who immigrate to the United States at a adult-conscious age (teen years and older) find this niceness quality "fake" and annoying. They do not believe that you should be particularly nice to people that you do not know and should reserve your niceness, love and affection for the people for whom you genuinely feel it.

And maybe those Russians are right...when it comes to personal relationships in your personal life. But at work, it pays to be nice. I have already talked about this in my previous post on which non-financial incentives motivate me at work . One of them is nice colleagues who do not put me down to make themselves feel better.

On the flip side, I remember back to a year ago, when I interviewed with a top management consulting firm for the Moscow office. I flew out to New York extremely excited, little and naive as I was, to meet with consultants from Moscow and imagine what it would be like to work there (a childhood dream that I still hope to  someday realized). I met with a Russian manager from the Moscow office and he quickly put me in my place.

Throughout the whole interview, he was courteous, but made me understand that I am nothing. His tone of voice very clearly indicated the following line of thinking: "Who do you think you are, little girl and what are you even doing here?" Now, this consulting firm is famous for creating stressful situations for interviewees and seeing how they perform under pressure. However, this was beyond that. This was his Russian side exercising his manhood over me. In the end, I did not get an offer, but it made me think long and hard about whether I actually want to subject myself to this kind of work environment.

And this kind of work environment is why my parents think I am completely unprepared to work in Russia (whatever). I was educated in France and the United States and do not know how to deal with people being disrespectful to me for no reason, just because they hold a position of power over me (or think they do). Or maybe this will make me grow a thick skin that will be helfpul later in my career. I honestly do not know, but what I know is that even Donald Trump believes that rudeness at work has negative effects on the company.

Rudeness decreases spirit, enthusiasm and therefore productivity. So, Russians and everyone else, please stop being rude to your colleagues so that we can all just get some work done.

The Dreaded Case Study (What I Wish I Had Known 2 Years Ago)

Friday, October 31, 2008

"The mind is wondrous. It starts working from the second you're born and doesn't stop until you get a case question." - Marc P. Cosentino

In this post, I would like to cover the topic of preparing for a consulting interview (so dear to my heart). It is that time of the year and seeing a lot of my peers go through it has conjured up horror stories from last year. So let us dive in.

First of all, recruitment is horrible. It is one of the most emotionally exhausting things you will do in your life. Or at least up to this point in your life. For most (read: me), it is a painful experience. When I went through it last year, no matter how confident I was in my abilities and worth as a potential employee, I still ended up feeling worthless and empty after countless interviews with banks and consulting companies.

In the end, I accepted a job with an economic consulting firm, but was definitely not spared from rejections from several potential employers. It was an extremely stressful quarter, I felt insecure and emerged from it slightly emotionally destroyed (I was then cured in Paris..but that is another story). Conclusion? You are not worthless, nor are you not smart or not intelligent or not hard working or lacking in any other good qualities just because you do not get a job with a top consulting firm. You are probably good enough to work there, but the supply of those jobs is very limited. Another conclusion? You were probably not properly prepared for the interview and, most likely, have trouble with case studies.

Which brings me to my next point. If you want to get a job in a top consulting firm, you better be prepared. Because you will be competing with hundreds of your peers, who will be extremely well prepared. You can count on it. So start now, right after you finish reading this post. What do you do? Anything that will develop your business acumen. Most of the feedback I got after my case study interviews was that my business intuition was not exactly quite up there (whatever).

So start getting yours up there. Reading Case in Point is only the first step. Try to read up on business management. Take a few courses on strategy (bonus points if the class consists of reading cases and talking about them). Form a group with 3-4 people where you can meet weekly and talk about business-related issues. In your discussions, try to be as detailed as possible in your analysis of a business - focus on costs, revenue streams, product mix, industry, market, customers, strategy, etc. If your campus has a consulting club or organization, join it. The key is to do these things for a year before you start recruiting to slowly, but surely cultivate the consultant in you (not the week before interviews, like most people do).

Remember that getting a first-round interview with a consulting company is pretty easy, given you have a fairly high GPA and a background that is loosely related to consulting. It is getting the second-round interview and the offer that is the real trick.

Finally, what you should practice is speaking and thinking under pressure. Yeah, right, how do you practice that, you might ask... Well, I would again get a friend to ask your math questions, case study questions (our of Case in Point, for example) or brainteasers (try as a starting point) under pressure. That means that you friend will not be all smiles and nods and happiness, but will stare you down somberly while you attempt to use your brain. And not give any clues. At all. And also be mean. The objective is to train your brain to function regardless of the stress that is channeled at you. This will come in very handy during case study interviews.

And here is where I hope you will let me digress. Because I believe that higher education in the U.S. has screwed us over a bit in the verbal performance under pressure department. I think back to my Soviet-educated parents' accounts of the way people were tested in schools and universities. Basically, their final exams consisted of drawing a specific question about the semester's material out of the proverbial hat, taking a half hour to prepare the answer, coming up to the board in front of 3-4 teachers (or professors) and reciting their answer. It was then followed by questions from the teaching staff, which the student had to answer, thereby defending their knowledge of the material and their final grade. As scary as that sounds, it definitely taught my parents how to perform under interrogation (by teacher/professor, not KGB).

Now, all my exams in (U.S.) high school and college have consisted of writing (group presentations do not count). Which is great at the time, until you realize that it has nothing to do with the real world. In the real world, you will be forced to be prepared for a meeting, where you will present your results. Verbal performance under pressure, people. Thinking under the pressure of people staring at you, waiting for the right answer. My parents got that training and I "lucked out." And then it came back to bite me during consulting interviews.

Digression over. Conclusion: practice thinking and speaking under pressure.

Final conclusion: good luck. You are probably smart enough to work there. Even if you do not make it, do not take it personally. But if you do, congratulations!

Overcoming Internet Addiction

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hi, my name is Irina and I am an Internet addict.

No longer can I deny that this is a problem. It first started about two years ago when I was looking for a way to consume information on the Internet. Back then, I was still (surprisingly) starving for information. Over the last two years, I have worked out a system that has consumed all my free time and has eaten into my sleep. It is no longer sustainable.

It started with answering emails as promptly as I can. Then I let Google dictate the rest of my life. I started making use of Google Reader and subscribing to any blog that caught my attention. This included economics blogs, life-in-Paris blogs and fashion blogs. I then moved on to attempting to read every article from the Gmail "Web Clip" sidebar (the one on top of your most recent messages)that caught my attention. I picked those articles based on how much the headline would spark my interest. Finally, I read all articles and blog posts for full content and understanding, which left me with no time to listen to my own thoughts.

I cannot do this any longer. This is a problem. There has to be a better system than consuming ALL the information that is coming at you, even if you have signed up for it. Now that I am back at school for my last quarter, I am busier than I have ever been in college. I still need to keep up with current events and my interests, but I have to do it in the most productive way. I need to come up with explicit rules.

So I searched for "dealing with information overload" on Google. And, of course, I got a lot of hits. I was looking for actual tips that I could implement, not simply discussions that technology is transforming the way our brain functions (there are a lot of these). Here are the few useful implementable tips, adapted from the different sources I surveyed:

  1. Commit to checking email only 2-3 times a day. Well, it is more like 10 for me right now and that is down from what it used to be. However, I now try to keep my Gmail window closed unless I am actually working directly with Gmail. I used to have this window open "just in case," but it really only resulted in me going back to it every minute or so when I wanted a break from what I was working on. Well, it is better to just look at the ceiling. It is pretty liberating to have that "Gmail - Inbox..." tab closed.
  2. Turn off GChat. I use GChat inside the browser and I used to always have it open. This leads to a great productivity loss, since I expend my mental energy on checking who is online and having meaningless exchanges with many of those people. Now, I only sign into GChat if I have the intention of speaking to someone specifically. Otherwise, off!
  3. Update RSS feed regularly. My Google Reader displays only unread posts. If there are posts that have been unread for longer than a week, chances are they are not that important. No reason to spend time on them. Hit "Mark all as read."
  4. Read off the Internet, on paper. I know that seems like a crazy idea and you are asking yourself why you would ever want to do it, considering how sweet the Internet is. Well, it helps your brain to calm down. You cannot switch from one book to another as easily as you can switch from tab to tab. It teaches your brain how to focus in case it forgot. I also find that my heart rate slows down when I read a book. Good all around.
  5. Do not try to constantly keep up on all news. The world will not stop if you fall behind. And do not be afraid to fall behind. The first two weeks after Lehman went bankrupt, I read 20 news stories about it a day. When the bailout plan came out, I read 20 news stories about it a day. Then I burned out. I could not do it anymore. So now I limit my intake of finance-related news to about 1 article a day. And miraculously, Congress is still negotiating on the bailout. I think. Or not. I do not know, because I have not read about it in a couple of days.
  6. Read a novel that has nothing to do with classes or work before going to sleep to prevent your brain from functioning at the same pace as during work. This is especially helpful for those of us who work right up until going to sleep. My current novel of choice is Emile Zola's "Thérèse Raquin." In French. Which is great, because I end up focusing on understanding the novel and trying to immerse myself in turn-of-the-20th-century Paris and the raw animalistic emotions of the main characters, which takes my mind completely off work and the Internet. Then I can fall asleep faster.
These are my first attempts at optimizing my information intake and productivity subject to the constraints of my time and energy. I think the most important realization was that I need to deal with this explicitly, make specific rules and stick to them. Or...let's be real...almost stick.

Most useful sources:
  1. How to Reduce Information Overload
  2. Dealing with Information Overload
  3. Eight tips to thriving on information overload

Should I Avoid Sounding Pedantic?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

One of the questions I fear the most in the workplace is the seemingly innocuous "How are you?" I never know how to answer this question without sounding either pedantic or stupid.

When I first started learning English at 7 1/2 years old, the first grammatical rule that got drilled into me was the distinction between "good" and "well." By the time I moved to the United States, I cringed at hearing anyone say "I'm good" or answer the dreaded question with "good." However, during the cruel years of middle school and high school, I did everything I could to fit in. Which meant inserting at least two "likes" into every sentence and adopting "I'm good" into my lexicon. This continued to work for me throughout college and I stopped experiencing knots in my stomach every time I heard a grammatically incorrect use of "good."

However, this problem is now recurring in the workplace. A typical scenario goes something like this:
  1. A coworker asks "How are you?"
  2. Mini anxiety attack. Think, Irina, think.
  3. Option 1: respond with "I'm good." How painful. That is so grammatically incorrect. I cannot do this. What if the coworker thinks that I believe this to be the grammatically correct way to respond? Then he will judge me for getting such a basic rule wrong.
  4. Option 2: respond with "I'm well." That sounds way too pedantic. What if the coworker thinks that I consider myself than everyone else in my quest to use correct grammar at all times? Especially since he himsef probably have used "I'm good" many times before.
  5. Option 3: respond with "I'm doing well." That sounds a little bit less pedantic than option 2, but it is slightly long-winded. What if the coworker has to run? What if I have to run? Will he think I am dragging out this insignificant exchange? What if I stop over analyzing everything? I really should answer now. This 2-second pause is becoming really awkward.
  6. Final answer: "I'm good. How are you? Does it look like you will be having a busy day?" Oh good, I said a few things after the "good" to distract him and divert his attention to his own thoughts. This way, he will not have time to evaluate I answer.
Maybe I am over analyzing, but I go through this thought process (in lightning form, obviously) whenever I am asked that question. What do people think? Does it matter at all? Should I just suck it up and answer with "well"?


As readers on Brazen Careerist have pointed out to me, supported by Grammar Girl, saying "I'm good" is a perfectly grammatically correct response. In this instance, "am" serves as a linking verb and it is grammatically correct to use adjectives after linking verbs. Therefore, "good" is an adjective modifying the noun "I." The reason I was confused before is that I was perceiving "good" to be the adverb modifying the verb "am." But it is not. It is an adjective. I hope this makes sense.

Also note that, per Grammar Girl, it is actually not entirely correct to respond with "I'm well" when asked how you are doing. "I'm well" refers to the state of your health, not to the state of your happiness. So you can use "I'm well" to mean that you are now feeling better (than you were before...presumably you were sick), but not to mean that you are in a good mood, etc.

The Importance of Being Precise

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In the last month of constant communication with managers, associates and fellow analysts, I have come to realize that it is definitely worth it to make the effort to be as precise as humanly possible during daily communication. Especially in a field that is so focused on collaboration and team work, one of the things that makes it truly enjoyable to work with someone is that person's effort to spend little time on explanations and directions. It is impossible to escape them completely, but it is nice to cut them down to the bare minimum.

A good portion of my work consists of creating complicated spreadsheet models with 20 tabs that all link to each other in some way. This means that, when I pass off my work to someone else, it becomes a maze of VLookup(), Match() and Index() formulas that can generate an anxiety attack in even the most experienced analysts. In order to prevent unnecessary trips to the doctor, it is imperative to be able to explain the reasoning behind your spreadsheet models, behind their "architecture" and your reasoning in general. This is where preciseness comes in.

Before I send that email or make that phone call, I usually take about five minutes to go over what I did in my head and remember the big picture. When I gather my thoughts, "column L" becomes "monthly interest payment" and "I multiply columns B and C to get the index" become "I multiply the daily stock price returns of the companies in the index by their corresponding daily market caps and sum them to get the value-weighted industry index." This is a simple example, but if I apply this effort in reasoning and explanations to all my work, I simplify life for many people. It is much easier to understand the latter sentences in each pair and it saves the other person a lot of time by laying out all information to them upfront. And as an analyst, it is my job to simplify my managers' lives.

It definitely takes a greater expenditure of brainpower to do this (...than to not even make this effort...), but it is good practice to develop this skill early on. I cannot imagine a situation when precise language will not come in handy (e.g. even if you need to conceal something, it will be easier to do if you can clearly formulate your thoughts). And even at this level, your managers will notice, your brain will develop more connections among its neurons and people will like to work with you. I know I am always excited when I get a call from such people.

Every Girl Has Thought About Marrying Rich at Some Point

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

When I was in Moscow several months ago, I met up with a male friend of mine for a cup of coffee. In this case, the word "friend" is a bit of a stretch. He messaged me on Facebook a year and a half ago, flew halfway across the United States to meet me and propositioned a long-distance relationship. I was immediately freaked out by his direct actions and slowly let him down after spending a whole day showing him around San Francisco. However, when his Facebook status informed me earlier this summer that he got a job in Moscow working in a private equity fund organized by a very powerful Russian bank, I was impressed and intrigued. Which is why we met up for that cup of coffee.

The friend, whom I shall refer to as Dmitry, turned out to be quite an impressive guy. We talked about a lot of things: getting a job in Moscow when you have work experience in America (fairly easy), convincing your interviewer to hire you even though he can hire three Russian guys for the same cost who will work just as hard (really hard), cultural differences between America and Russia (too many) and things that are culturally unique to Russia's capital (e.g. if you take the metro, you are considered a lower-class person). It was a great experience for me - I learned a lot from him that would be helpful when I try to get a job in Moscow within the next several years. I also now really liked him (of course, Murphy's law...) and could not believe I was stupid enough to reject him back when he was interested. Timing is everything. We did not work out, but that is a story for another post.

One of the things that he said that really stuck with me was when we talked about what each of us wants out of this life. He said that, for a woman, a career as a high-powered executive and a good family life is much harder than for a man (don't I know...thank you, Cecilia Ridgeway). I agreed, but said that I need to make something of myself in this life and am willing to work hard at it. This, by the way, is being tested right now. Dmitry replied that a woman has a much higher chance of meeting and marrying a rich man when working for a non-profit or some kind of charity because men with real wealth often deal with organizations that are of philanthropic nature. This was in contrast to really hard working females in law, banking, consulting, and other upper middle class professions, who meet men at work and marry them. They then have combined incomes of approximately half a million dollars, which is really great, but not as high as others "out there."

To be completely honest, the statement haunts me to this day. A small part of me wants to just marry a rich guy, live the high society lifestyle and enjoy a financially-worry-free life. And then the majority of me hates the trophy-wife small part of me for even suggesting that to myself. Because it is not honorable and in the end I do want to make something of myself. So I'll just keep on working for now...and maybe watch out for some of those non-profit volunteering opportunities.

Disclaimer: I am by no means a gold digger. I think at some point every girl has felt like this...deep deep deep down inside. Even if she is not willing to admit it.

Also, this guy came off like a snob in this post, but he really is not. He is a great guy. I just best remember the most scandalous things that he said during our conversation.

Dealing with Long Work Hours

Monday, September 1, 2008

Ever since I actually started my job two weeks ago, I have been working kind of late. I say kind of, because I get off around 8 p.m., sometimes 9 p.m. and have gotten off at midnight a couple of nights. I have also worked at least one day during the weekend. Since we have a final product that needs to roll out to a client in two weeks, I am expected to work late and on weekends the next two weeks. I also worked two days out of the Labor Day Weekend.

Now, this kind of shift in schedule from doing everything and anything I wanted in college and doing one thing for 12 hours a day is pretty daunting. By no means is it easy for me. I like my personal time and I need about four hours of it a day. Which is proving pretty hard with these kinds of work hours.

Last week I talked to my mentor, who has been in my life for four years now. He has always helped me out with any types of questions I have, both personal and professional. He said something very interesting to me. He told me that my parents never really lay any strict rules on me about work. I always got summers off and if I did work, it would only be a part-time job of under 10 hours a week. During most of my summers since I turned 16, I went to Russia and Ukraine to party 24/7. This is the first time that I am operating under such structured time constraints. And the most important thing he told me is that everyone goes through it, that this transition from college to your first job is completely natural and that it will get better (at least in my mind).

So why do the long work hours bother me? It is mostly because I consider this time in my life a time of not only professional, but also personal growth. I want to learn how to live by myself, how to cook for myself, how to be a young adult. I want to have a personal life and be able to spend time with my friends during the week. I want to fall in love. But my current work hours do not allow for more than going for a jog and perusing through the entries in my Google Reader.

So how do I deal with working long hours consistently? Here are a few things I think about:

1. This is a time of transition and I am just learning how to live with such structured constraints on my life. Even if the work hours remain the same, I will get used to them.

2. This is a time in my career where I need to prove myself and is the best time to do it. I am young and not tied down by any family responsibilities. My time belongs only to me, so I am free to spend it all on work if that is what it takes. No other time in my life will it be this easy to work long hours. So I should take advantage of this opportunity, prove myself to my employer (and my managers), solidify a good professional reputation and then go from there. If worse comes to worst, I can opt for a less time-consuming job. The challenge of adapting to such work is a great experience.

3. Although it is an external motivation, I focus on my team. Working on a good team is crucial. I was fortunate enough to be assigned on a team where I knew the people from my last summer and whom I really like. When I am stuck in the office with them at midnight creating some exhibit, I am excited to be there. I take comfort in the fact that they are also working hard and that they really need me to help them out. They could do it without me, but why would I want to leave them when I can help and cut down the work for them? A sense of camaraderie develops and makes it actually fun to stay in the office and work on something fairly late!

4. These long work hours make me think hard about the activities I really value in my life and keep them. Everything else I need to cut out. I care about my friends and I will carve out time to keep up with them. On the other hand, shopping (which used to consume a lot of my time) has to be cut out. If I am to be successful, I am to be busy. And if I am to be busy, I cannot afford to participate in activities that I do not care about.

5. And of course, a sincere thank you from your managers is an extremely powerful example. But more on that later.

Credit Card Fraud Is Easy

Friday, August 29, 2008

Three weeks ago, I had a very unfortunate incident happen to me. I was at a seedy bar in the SOMA and made the stupid mistake of putting down my purse and jacket on a shelf next to the dance floor (I blame the Stanford bubble). I thought I would be watching the purse. Needless to say, when I returned to it from dancing, everything was gone.

This is when things got interesting. The same night at 4 a.m., my parents received a call from my cell phone. The guy on the other line told them that he works at the bar where I was, that he found my purse and that I could come pick it up the next day. Elated, I did not cancel any of my credit cards or my cell phone and ran over to the bar the next evening only to discover that he had lied to my parents and my purse was long gone. I immediately canceled my credit cards, filed a police report and waited. Over the next couple of days, I looked at online my credit card transactions with horror as more and more charges appeared on them. In total, the guy charges more than $1,000 to my credit card and checking accounts. It was horrible to watch that and not be able to do anything about it.

In retrospect, this probably was a cheap lesson to learn. I am now extremely aware of how easy it is to fall prey to identity theft and advise everyone to be extremely careful about their financial identity. You can never be too careful.

What really got me today, though, is buying lunch using my debit card. I have stopped signing the back of my credit cards. That line is now blank and the idea is that it is not authorized unless signed or unless the merchant verifies that it actually belongs to me by checking it against an ID. This guy, however, looked at the back of my card, got a little confused, swiped it nonetheless and gave it back to me.

I could not just leave it like that. So I smiled, batted my eyelashes and told him that "You know, it's not signed in the back." He got ever more confused and then dropped a bomb on me: "Oh...what does that mean?" Seriously?! Are not merchants supposed to train their staff how to handle electronic charges?! It just blew me away. So I summarized my story to him in one sentence and told him that he should really check people's signatures on the back of the card and even check IDs. he said he definitely would in a tone that clearly indicated that I should not hold up the line. I am sure he forgot about me the next minute, but I could not have just stood there. Maybe this was a small, but still step, toward greater credit card safety.

I hear that if you put "SEE ID" on the line instead of your signature, it might also work. This way, the card is not valid unless the merchant sees my ID and checks that the card actually belongs to the person who is using it. There are mixed opinions about the validity of this method - see for and against. But I do not care. Whatever might give me greater protection gets my vote.

Happy at Work

Today was a great day at work. I am amazed at how much I am still learning about myself just by the virtue of being in a professional setting and having a real job. During junior year of college, I thought that I have discovered pretty much all of myself, but was completely wrong. Over the past half year, I discovered myself at exponential rates, which is very exciting.

But back to work. I started at the beginning of August at the consulting company in which I interned last summer. The first two weeks were training and real case work only began last Monday. Since I was not a complete newbie, I was staffed on two very time-sensitive cases - 50% of my time was supposed to go to each of them. Since then, it has been a constant struggle to juggle both cases. One of them took over almost 100% of my time, while the managers and associates of the other one were wondering where I went. I spent two hours in meetings everyday, 50% of which I did not really need to attend because they were brainstorming sessions for the managers on the case. The work was piling up, I was getting called on to do little assignments by two different teams and I started to get very stressed out and frustrated.

And finally, the last couple of days everything clicked. I caught up on my part of the analysis, really dug into it and started to understand it. I felt comfortable enough to take ownership of that part of the work (however small it was in the grand spectrum of things...and it really was), understood it, could change it in any way that managers desired and felt that it was my work product.

Today was a great day because I was constantly busy from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., but I felt like I was on point at all times and all the tasks fit their time frame. I love these types of days.