The Business Of Being Awesome

For the last few months now, I’ve been working with a great team of classmates at MIT Sloan on a podcast called The Business of Being Awesome. Erica and Lily started the podcast last year, and after being featured on episode 8 (below) of the first season, I wanted to be more involved.

I’ve been helping with strategy for the podcast, and then miscellaneous marketing efforts. It’s been a really fun team to be involved with, I’ve gotten some good press, and I even got to write a fun blog post about online dating. I’ve stolen the copy of this from the website, and put it below.

https://soundcloud.com/bizobapodcast/episode-8-the-necessary-evil-of-networking-bizoba

A love affair with online dating

I would deem 2011 the year “Kate Dates.” I went on at least 40 dates that year, purely for the enjoyment. There is something about finding someone who at the very least agrees with you on some political issues and probably a lot more. My website of choice was OkCupid. I chose it because it was free and I was still in college; I kept going back because I loved it.

My profile was amazing, and I took good care of it. Anytime that year I went to a new, good movie, it was instantly added to my “favorites” list. Granted, it probably wouldn’t make my top 10 cut long-term, but I liked to stay relevant.

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Not all my dates were good. I remember one guy who intrigued me because he was in medical school. He was seriously the worst of them all.

One guy confided in me that he had been married while on our third date… this didn’t sit well with me. Been there, done that.

Another guy really liked playing games and we had fun going to the Chatterbox in Saint Paul, where with food and drinks you could play any game (including video!) that you wanted. When he leaned in for that kiss though, I felt more like he was my brother and knew that was the end.

There is one date in particular that sticks out in my mind. I went out with this guy because he liked math and basically said he was a math professor “I work for the math department at the University of Minnesota.” You’d think that by date number 36 I’d be a little jaded, and maybe I was, but I still loved getting to know someone new. On the date, it was clear this guy was looking for something serious. Bless his heart, but I felt bad telling him “I’m just here to have fun, nothing serious…” Needless to say, it was one of the most enjoyable dates I had been on and I was looking forward to another.

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The next day, I went to Colorado where, lo and behold, OkCupid also has a presence. I quickly updated my location so I could meet a guy or two while the friend I was staying with had to work. This was the first time I met an actual married man, who was actually in an open relationship. It was interesting from an interview perspective: I had tons of questions about logistics, trust, intimacy, and the fact that they had children together. His wife’s boyfriend was around the house a lot and had met their children – this was a bit too much for me, but was definitely an eye-opening conversation.

Today, I’m engaged to the math professor [not a math professor] and couldn’t be happier. Yet, because of our relationship (rather than in spite of), I still love exploring the world of online dating.

Last year, I took a course titled Analytics Edge at MIT where, get this, we explored how analytics can give companies a competitive edge. One of the companies we did a case study on was eHarmony. We also discussed other social networks, specifically Hinge and how it leverages your existing network to connect you with 3rd degree connections. So fascinating!

Of course, I had to create a profile on Hinge, just to see how it worked. I remember the text I sent to Joe:

Me: “Hey, I joined Hinge fyi… #research”

I would hate for a coworker of his to stumble upon my profile and mention it to him and have him not know about it. We are all about communication.

This past weekend, his little sister was in town. She is currently single, and to be honest, I haven’t approved of her former boyfriends either. Wanting her to find a good match, I suggested we create her a profile. I chose Tinder, probably just because that’s what I think the kids are into these days. We also did Coffee Meets Bagel, so give me some credit.

Another friend of mine is also looking to find someone (coincidentally, it is the friend I visited in Colorado!). I’ve consulted with him on his dating profile, and am still trying to convince him to give me full rains. Think about it: if I had access to his account and his calendar, I could literally schedule dates I felt were a good match. I would obviously send him notes on our conversations beforehand, so he wouldn’t be caught off guard on something. The other side of me cringes at the idea of a relationship being founded on lies though… so I haven’t actually done this.

If anyone out there wants a consultant to help them with their online dating, I am your woman. I won’t actually independently chat with them, nor meet them for a first date, but other than that, count me it.

Originally posted on The Business of Being Awesome on April 1, 2016.

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Hoops

The process of finding a job is very strange. I’m not sure if any company is “straight-forward” in this anymore. One job I recently applied for required two 1,000 word essays, along with a resume and generic application. Thankfully I like to write, and I’m also hopeful that the essays weeded out a few people who weren’t really interested in the position. One friend of mine actually confessed she didn’t apply when she saw that requirement.

Turns out, I made it to the next phase in that application process. Instead of it being a live interview though, whether via Skype or in person, it was a recorded video interview. Specifically, the HR representatives pre-recorded the interview questions and then I had 2 minutes to respond for each. At first, I was excited about the process. I was able to do it on my terms, where and when I wanted, with only a deadline to guide me. I spoke to people who have gone through similar interviews and got some insights, which was really helpful.

But then there is the strategy of the interview, which is where my nerves kicked in. In 6 total minutes (3 questions with 2 minutes each), what is more important: conveying the best answers or showing one’s true self and personality? Obviously it is a combination of the two and probably some other components, but I felt like a lot of my experiences were shared with the essays. I tried to view the video interview as an opportunity to show that I can present myself well and be an engaging speaker. I’ll let you know soon if that was the correct approach.

Yay recruiting

Before I get into it, please let me acknowledge what a great privilege it is to be graduating with my MBA from one of the top 5 institutions in the world. In the grand scheme of things, I’m highly employable and don’t need to worry about employment in the long term. I’m extremely fortunate to be where I am.

That being said, business school has been hard work and the perfect job has not been just handed to me at the end of it. Recruiting is a trying process that is emotionally stressful and very deflating. I often leave a rejection feeling “unemployable…” but I do have a tendency to be dramatic.

During the last week in October I had 7 interviews and received rejections from all. The level of competition for these roles is crazy. The first rejection came for a rotational program that I was extremely excited about and thought I was perfect for. I didn’t have quite as many years of experience as they were looking for, but I felt I had a compelling story for why that was okay. I got the rejection letter without the opportunity to interview.

One job that I did interview for was one I was a little less excited about, but sometimes the best opportunities come out of those circumstances. I made it through four interviews before getting the rejection. This situation was more frustrating because even after all those interviews, they were unable to provide specific feedback. I thought the interviews went very well so it is hard to determine what I can do better next time.

I made it to a third interview for probably what I would describe as my favorite job. At some point in the process there must have been a communication error though because halfway through the interview, my interviewer realized I wasn’t graduating until the spring and they needed someone to fill the role immediately. This was frustrating because it was just a timing issue; I’m hopeful a similar role will become available closer to graduation though.

A lot of my current frustration is my own fault too. Many of my peers have offers already in the bag. The entertainment industry is just different though. Hires are made just in time and its probably crazy for me to think I’m close to closing the deal. So, it’s probably just time for me to take a deep breath, enjoy the holidays, and resume the effort in the new year. Easier said than done, but I’m going to try.

That one time I went to Ghana…

So I just got home from an amazing week in Ghana… but before I give you the full play by play, I have to go back to a lazy day at the office this summer. On July 16th, this email came into my inbox:

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tldr: write a 300 word essay to be eligible to win a trip to Ghana.

Thankfully, I was pretty bored at work and therefore used that time to write that essay. Not sure I would have spent the time at home to do it if I were busy… here’s what I wrote:

I have always had a passion for improving the learning conditions of young girls. Prior to starting at MIT Sloan, I was the managing director of a non-profit organization, Girls in Tech Minneapolis. The goal was clear: increase the number of girls pursuing technology professions by increasing their access to education and strong female role models. Even though I am no longer involved in Girls in Tech, this topic continues to be something I feel strongly about and will continue with once I earn my MBA. Girls all over the world should have better, equal access to education. It is this passion that drives my desire to learn more about non-profit education abroad.

The increased popularity of cause marketing has also turned my attention to the 1-for-1 model of non-profits. I first heard of TOMS through Hanson’s Take the Walk tour, and have been interested in the model ever since. How can we encourage more affluent people to give to those who do not have the same? By participating in this once-in-a-lifetime learning experience in Ghana, I hope to learn ways to apply this model to future for-purpose driven initiatives.

Lastly, I know this opportunity will teach me so much. Beyond learning about education and non-profit work, I will see a first-hand account of how to start from scratch. Adam Braun created something that is truly changing lives. Through this inspiration, I know I can do the same.

I also love the impact CommonBond is making and would love the opportunity to connect further! I am also a lot of fun to travel with.

A week later I got a 7am phone call from CommonBond in NYC telling me I had been selected. Cue intense excitement.

[My essay was also published on their blog, which you can see here!]


Last Wednesday, I took a flight from BOS to Amsterdam solo. Once there, I met up with Natalie, a representative from Pencils of Promise (PoP); David, Michaela and Ali from CommonBond; and Jason and Eryn, the other winners. Looking back, it’s kind of funny because I wasn’t once concerned about traveling to Africa with 6 complete strangers.

Completely unrelated, here is a photo of an Amsterdam Airport Donut:

Good donut.
Good donut.

The next seven hours were filled with wine and movies… but nothing really worth mentioning here. We landed late on Thursday and went to bed soon after we checked in. Early thoughts? — Ghana is hot.

Friday morning we left Accra for Ho early. There, we were welcomed by a great group of students who had been in a PoP school since 2013. After a performance of a traditional dance and the recitation of a poem, we were each presented with beautiful pieces made personally for each of us. Within minutes, rain started pouring and the students went back to their classrooms. We then got to see the inside of a PoP classroom and to observe students learning. The great thing about PoP is that in addition to building sturdy structures for children to learn in, they continue to support each and every community through teaching training and onsite support.

IMG_1960In Ghana, the teachers are taught tools to support active classroom engagement. And by active, and I mean active. The kids sing, dance, and move around because that’s a part of their culture. Outside of recess, I don’t remember ever having that in elementary school.

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The junior high school was a different story. Currently, PoP only supports elementary education, due in part to their focus on literacy and obvious financial constraints. The junior high structure was over 20 years old and was in pretty bad shape. The mixture of rain and a “faulty roof” clearly impacted students’ learning experiences. Here, they are moving their desks so their books don’t get wet.

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I left this community with mixed emotions. On one hand, I was so inspired to meet such great children. At one point, a handwashing station tipped over and multiple boys jumped up to help put it back up. The students even show up early to sweep the classrooms – there is so much pride in learning. That isn’t something I’ve seen in the United States – children just ready to jump up and help. On the other hand, the conditions are pretty bad. I can understand not being able to learn when something as common as rain interferes.

Next, we went to a site that showed an example of the “before” environments. Can you imagine going to school here? Whether your answer is “yes” or “no”… it gets worse…

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On Saturday, we were honored to attend an inauguration ceremony. After a few speeches and being gifted a goat (literally), we got to see the before and after. Saying it is a stark contrast is an understatement.

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A “classroom” under a tree with just a black board and two benches
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The new PoP built school.

Even more touching was the way the children ran and cheered into the new school once the ribbon was cut. After both getting dance lessons from the kids and teaching them to nae nae, we went back to the hotel to drink some beer and tell some stories.

That night, we really got to know each other. Up until then I wasn’t sure if my style was gelling well, but after a few good stories I had at least a few of them on the dark side.

Sunday… just.. wow. We went to a community near Togo where there must have been over 100 community members on site helping build. With PoP, they provide supplies and skilled labor, but require the community to provide the unskilled labor. It both ensures that the community is committed to bringing in the new school and that it is something they truly want. To see 50 grown men giving up their Sunday to literally make 4000 cement blocks to construct a school… I was just in awe. I think football dominates Sundays in the United States.

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After that we got in a small taste of tourism when we went to a monkey sanctuary. We were told a beautiful story about the history of the land and how monkeys came to be as important as they are. Then we fed them and I nearly lost my shit.

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And all of a sudden, Monday was our last day. We visited a commnity where PoP is piloting e-readers. It was so cool to see a classroom full of students on e-readers in the middle of a village with minimal electricity. They were actually in the middle of a sexual education lesson when we began observing. It felt rather intrusive but also really neat that they are learning about that at a young age.

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I left Ghana with such great respect for both the people in the communities and the impact Pencils of Promise is making. The children and families I met have such a strong desire for education and bettering themselves. They are hardworking and kinder than I see most days. Because of this trip, I know I will be a life long supporter of PoP. Beyond that, I formed great relationships and learned about starting a company from a fantastic CEO. I believe I have an even better appreciation for education and am excited to discover how I can impact the next generation. I have a deep understanding of what some lives and cultures in Ghana look like, and I will continue to reflect on the ways life differs in the United States. I believe this experience has even influenced the way I will raise my own children some day. It was the trip of a lifetime and I am so thankful to have been given this opportunity. I’m pretty much pinching myself right now.


 

Update 10/23/2015: a version of this post was also published on the CommonBond blog.

I’m going to be a producer!

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I went to a conference my first weekend here in LA. It was a Film in California conference and while some of it focused on tax credits specifically for filming in California, there was a lot of useful information.

The best part of the day was a panel I attended that had producers from True Blood, Ugly Betty and Mad Men, and a Vice President of Physical Production from Paramount. After hearing more about their day-to-day roles and the impact they have on the content, I decided that it is the job for me. But production isn’t the easiest part to get into, especially for math nerds without any film background. So, for the past 2 weeks I’ve been reaching out to tons of people and meeting with various production assistants and anyone else that will meet with me. The more I hear about it, the more I’m sure it’s what I want to do.

I’m even trying to line up something part-time during the school year. If I could find a local news station that needed part-time production assistance, I could feasibly do that in the morning before any of my classes. I technically could also wait until I’m done with school, but I’m impatient as fuck and want to be able to get a better job once I’m actually done. I also want to be sure it’s what I really want.

Right now, my gut is telling me I don’t want to be doing heavy strategy work. That’s pretty much the focus of my internship and I don’t know if it is the content or the work-load, but I’m not completely stimulated. Which will make for a long summer.

Things turned around!

It’s really too bad that I am so often rewarded for my ranting; it only encourages me. The day after my post about my internship frustrations, I received two internship offers for the summer. More specifically, I received an offer from a TV Network in NYC and they wanted a response within 1 business day so I applied pressure on the other company I had been speaking with to also make a decision. The pressure worked and they came to me with an offer the same day.

I went into the weekend with so much worry about the decision ahead of me. Both options were fantastic. In NYC I would be working on distribution analytics, something I’m incredibly interested in and passionate about. In LA, my job would be to manage a brand/franchise for the summer, something I have less experience in, but knew would be a great learning opportunity.

In truth, I knew my decision right away. My gut told me the LA position was the one I should take. Yet, I spent hours try to convince myself my gut was wrong, and then why it was right. I also had a lot of concern about turning a company down. I was so extremely interested in both roles though, and unfortunately I cannot be on both coasts at once. After two nights of very little sleep, I made the phone calls early Monday morning. There was that awkward time where I had declined with the East Coast but couldn’t yet reach the West Coast and was sorta concerned it would all turn to flames so I just went to workout.

But it is official! I passed the background check, reserved an airbnb room near the campus and bought my plane ticket. Wowza.

Oh the MBA Internship

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I’ve been thinking for the last three weeks about how to actually articulate my experience looking for an internship. Coming back from China I was freaking out a bit as most of my peers had already secured their summer jobs. I, however, had (and have) not. Even though I made it to a third round interview with one company, they stopped answering my emails and I was never formally rejected. I understood coming into recruiting season that this would be the case, though. Entertainment is famous for their just-in-time hiring, unlike consulting where companies know the exact number they need a year ahead of time. I knew what I was getting myself into and still I let the pressure get to me.

I thought that by going to a top business school this would be an easier process. For example, I applied to a Social Media MBA position with an tech/entertainment company. I was rejected within 2 hours of submitting my application. In my cover letter, I explicitly stated both my involvement with managing social media accounts for various organizations (Girls in Tech, Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Sloan Women in Management, etc.) and the Social Media Management class I’m taking. This, plus everything else on my resume, wasn’t enough to even get an interview.

The black box-ness is especially frustrating. I’ve submitted 40+ online internship applications, some with minor connections. I had one first round interview that I felt went pretty well, but I was rejected soon after. I requested feedback to, you know, improve my chances on the next position but, no dice.

Further complicating things is needing to decide between LA and NYC. I clearly fell in love with LA when I was there in January and have had that as my plan ever since. After spending time in China and having Joe go back to Minnesota for a week (stupid baseball), I remembered that I really like spending time with him and I’m just happier when I am around him. So, why move myself across the country from him for 3 months? Well, probably because this is maybe the last time I’ll get an opportunity to just uproot everything and try out my hand at an entertainment gig in LA without any worries. And really, even if I do get a little depressed being all alone in California, hopefully the sun will lighten the mood.

Right now I’m in the final stages with two different roles, one in NYC and one in LA. I haven’t received an offer from either yet so I don’t want to jinx it, but it would be a difficult decision to make if I were offered both. It is just such a roller-coaster of emotions – I get my hopes up and then they die and then I have to get excited about the next thing. I know it will all work out in the end but it is hard not knowing! I like to know things!

The Yarn: My Story

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At Sloan, we have something called the Yarn. Once a month, 5-6 speakers from the community are chosen to share a story of deep importance to them. Some are funny, some make others cry, but either way they allow us to connected by sharing deeper parts of ourselves. Here is a link to some previous talks if you are interested.

Being someone who enjoys talking about herself, I’ve been throwing my hat in the ring every month since school started. This last go-around, I was chosen to tell my story. What I didn’t realize until the night of was that it was an all ladies night. I especially appreciated that (it just so happened to work out that way).

For some reason, I wanted to take the easy way out. I wanted to read a few excerpts from my book to give a glimpse into my childhood. Luckily, I met with one of the organizers to do a dry-run when she asked “why read something you’ve written rather than just telling the stories from your heart?” I realized I had become a little too fond of the work I had put into developing them and didn’t want to change it. But, the truth is, I’m good in situations like those and stories are so much better when told rather than read. Ultimately, I decided to tell the same stories, which also gave me more ability to read the room and adjust on the fly.

I requested to be the first to speak because I get pretty nervous if I have to sit in anticipation. I got up, told my story, and the entire time my arms got beet red from the nerves. Or maybe it was the bright lights. Yes, we’ll go with the bright lights.

Afterwards, a lot of people came up to me and thanked me for telling my story. It was really nice to get the feedback and everyone mentioned they are excited to read the book. At least 10 people told me they’d buy it, which means I only need to lock in about 999,990 more to have a chance at a book deal, right?

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These are the excerpts I was going to read. The first is the opening of the book, and the second describes a situation that occurred during 3rd grade.

“Katie, it’s all over. Everything. It’s done. The shit is hitting the fan here, it’s all over.” This was all Pat could say before his phone was taken away. I was sitting on the second floor in the Campus Center at school. It was my sophomore year of college and I was meeting with a tutor I had hired for help with my multivariable calculus class.

It’s strange, getting a call like that in a place that feels so safe. It was dinnertime and there was a lot of commotion on the floor below. I always preferred to sit near the balcony because it is so easy for me to daze out when I watched everyone else. I practically lived in that building my four years at Macalester. It was the center of life on campus, and because the student government offices also resided there, the center of my life.

My tutor was a fellow calculus student. She was extremely smart and really nice, if not a bit of an outcast, so one day after class I bashfully approached her and asked her to help me study. I quickly offered to pay her for her time, knowing that succeeding in this class would be more valuable to me than any money I could throw at her. I also think I felt comfortable approaching her because of the fact that she was a little over weight. As much as I hate to admit it, I don’t have the highest self esteem at times and approaching someone who was “below me” made me more comfortable.

Tonight wasn’t about that though. I was no longer concerned about getting all of my calculus homework done or even doing well on the quiz the next day. I had to, once again, step in to worry about, and take care of, my mother.

Yet, I had nothing to go off of. I knew nothing really, other than shit was “over.” What did that even mean? I packed up all of my belongings and rushed out of the building. I had no idea where to go- where does one go in situations like this? I couldn’t go “home,” if home even existed anymore. After a brisk walk across the campus on what had been, and I guess still was, a beautiful autumn day, I ultimately found myself outside my best friends’ dorm room.

I first met Devin and Mollie the week before classes started during orientation. It was a simmering late August day and without air conditioning, I was melting. Their dorm room door was open and on the inside, there was a fan. I hesitated for a moment, but then walked in and introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Katie and I’m melting – can I sit in front of your fan?” I pressed ahead before Mollie even had time to respond. By the chuckle she let out, I knew it was going to be fine. “I’m Mollie,” she replied, “it is nice to meet you.”

Mollie reminds me of a character I would read about in a children’s book. She has beautiful, brown curly hair, a kind smile, and a style that would make you feel comfortable leaving your kids with her for the evening. In fact, I instantly trusted her as I walked in her room that hot summer day.

After a few minutes of small talk and sitting spread eagle on the floor in front of a whizzing fan, Mollie’s roommate walked in and gave me a look that conveyed “what the hell are you doing spread eagle on my floor?” Mollie, seeing that I was at a loss for words, chimed in “This is Katie, she lives across the hall.” Devin let out an exasperated breath and I skedaddled out of there without much more than a “goodbye!” Let’s just say, this was the better of my first impressions that introductory week of college. The next interaction we had went a lot better. As a petite, blonde jewish girl from Wisconsin, Devin surprised me with her love of The Simpsons, a mutual obsession.

By the time I got to their room, tears were pouring from my eyes and I was in a deep state of panic. I couldn’t make out any words and I couldn’t decide how, or if, I wanted to tell them. Yes, something bad was going on at home, but home and school don’t mix. My life at college was in no way connected to my life at home and bridging that gap could have disastrous effects. But, what could be worse than what I was already facing?

I don’t know how long I sat on their futon hyperventilating. Mollie was sitting next to me trying to console me while Devin was handing me a continuous supply of Kleenex. I had spent just as much time in their room as I had in my own, so I definitely felt comfortable there. I knew I couldn’t be alone, but at the same time I hated ruining their evening. They were both good kids, working hard on homework, and here I was messing it all up.

I eventually began to talk.

“For as long as I can remember… my mom has sold drugs,” I said. They listened intently, with supportive and encouraging demeanors. “I just got a call from Pat and I have no idea what it means or what even happened, but he was crying. He said it was all over and the cops were there.” From what I could discern, my house was being raided. I knew it wasn’t a joke because I had heard the cops voice, but other than that I had no more information to go off. I did not know who specifically was there, why it happened (rather, what specifically set it off), or where all my closest family was.

Suddenly, as quickly as I had entered their room, I now needed to leave. I felt cloister phobic and I needed to yell. I needed to run and scream and cry. What I wanted was for someone to understand. Mollie and Devin were my best friends, but they came from such different families. They had perfect upbringings, parents who loved each other, enforced boundaries, and above all else, stability and security. How could they possibly understand what I was going through? How I felt like everything had been pulled from underneath me?

I thought talking to Alice might help. Alice was another close friend of mine, but unlike others, she had seen things in life. I knew that her father had struggled with alcoholism and that her family had their own faults. Mollie didn’t want me to leave alone, so her and Devin walked me over to Alice’s room.

I managed to stop crying as we walked through the buildings and underground tunnels. Often a blessing, Macalester is a small campus in St. Paul, MN. Tunnels and skyways connect a majority of the building to protect us in harsh winters. Today though, the smallness was suffocating and I didn’t want everyone to see me crying.

Once outside Alice’s room, we knocked a few times but got no answer. Eventually I just tried the knob and luckily it was unlocked. Alice was actually just sleeping on her bed. It was still relatively early, seven pm or so, so we tried to wake her up. She was groggy but was able to look up and recognize that we were in the room.

“What…? Huh? What do you guys want? I’m sleeping,” she said, clearly not happy to see us there.

“My mom has been arrested and I don’t know where to go or what to do,” I pleaded with her, hoping she would know the right thing to say.

“That sucks…” was all she managed to grumble before she passed out again. We learned later that she had taken a few pills and really had no recollection of us even coming in.

So there I was. 19 years old, just trying to make something of myself. My mom had just been arrested for drug dealing (I presumed) and I had no one to turn to. Alice was right, it did suck.


Before long, I realized something was going on downstairs. A combination of others talking in hushed voices and me always being asked where I was going if I went into the basement, clued me in. I started hanging out downstairs more, hoping to pick up on what was happening. Mark basically lived down there, playing video games or watching wrestling. Him and I became close during that time, and I developed a crush on Lara Croft.

My ploy worked like a charm. Every few hours, someone would come downstairs and enter the closet underneath the stairs. Sometimes there was a light glowing from inside and other times there was not. Once I saw inside, I realized what a dipshit I had been; weeks before, I found a roll of super awesome metallic wrapping paper that I wasn’t even allowed to touch. I thought they were just being selfish with the wrapping paper (something I understood) until I finally saw inside the closet. The walls were lined with it!

Let’s be honest; I wasn’t an idiot. The instant I looked in the closet, saw the lamps and the soil, I knew what was going on. Even though I was never explicitly told, I knew I was never to talk about what I saw in there.

So, a few months later when social services pulled me out of class, I knew what to say. The woman was really nice. She told me who she was, said she had received concerns about things going on, and just wanted to check in on me. As warm as she was towards me though, I knew she was the enemy. I knew that if anything happened to my mom or if anyone found out about certain stuff, she would take me away from my home.

The initial questions were harmless on the surface “does your mom have friends over a lot?” But I knew what she was digging for, and even though I knew how I had to answer, I was scared as shit that she would be able to see through it.

“I know she recently moved in with a man,” she began, “did you know Mark long before he moved in?” Of course I didn’t know him long, we had only lived in Minneapolis a few months “yeah,” I answered, “I’ve known Mark for a while now and I’m really happy he moved in with us.”

“How are things going living with another person now?” was her next question. “Well, even though it has basically been my mom and I forever, I’m used to having people live with us, like my cousins and stuff. So, it wasn’t weird for me.”

Soon her questions became more direct, “do you ever have bad dreams about Mark?” Instantly I got a knot in the pit of my stomach. Yes, in fact, I had been having really bad dreams lately, scary things about Mark. How did she know that? Was I being that obvious with my lies? “No, of course not, I like Mark a lot,” was all I could muster.

Next she went back to my mom. “Does your mom work at all?” Crap. This one through me for a curve ball. She didn’t work, but employment is more verifiable. Plus, it is illegal to work and not report it, so, even if she was working under the table she would get into trouble. “No, Mark has been really great and helps my mom out when she can’t find work.” Seemed… reasonable… no?

If you knew my mom, it most definitely did not. But I was banking on this woman being a stranger and not really knowing the ins and outs of who my family was.

“Does your mom like to garden?” was her next angle. “No, she hates plants. Once I got her an aloe vera plant for mother’s day and she managed to kill that thing in months!” I thought that by adding more context it would help sell my story. “Have you ever seen plants growing inside?” was the last of her questions. “No, I’ve never seen any plants.”

At the end, she gave me her business card and told me I could call her anytime if I ever needed something. I knew damn well I didn’t need that card though. So, the second I was brought back to the classroom, I took the card and flipped it into the trash. I remember thinking how bad ass I was doing that, like, I was protecting the family and no one could break me.

That evening, when I got home, my mom and Mark were already fighting about it. After visiting me at school, the social worker went to my home. Mark was the only one there at the time because he had weird work hours. This time, they didn’t even worry that I was listening. Turns out, one of my mom’s friends got upset with her because she had cut her off. So, in order to get back at my mom, she called social services. My mom vowed to never deal with the woman again, she was hysterical. She was never really concerned about herself, but as soon as anything affected me, her precious baby, she couldn’t hold back.

Travel from hell –> Pretty good week

 

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What started as the worst week ever turned fantastic pretty quick.

Traveling back from China was the worst 26 hours of my life. Physically. I’m sure I had worse emotionally, especially when I was an emo-teenager. Something I ate on Saturday, most likely the dinner of dumplings, made me sick. I didn’t realize this until 5am the next day when Victor showed up at my door to take me to the airport. I was still sleeping and hadn’t yet packed, but he was an hour early so I fully believe I would have gotten ready on time had he not been early.

Once in the car, I took out the barf bag I had been carrying around with me all week “just-in-case,” at Victor’s request. It was the mix of the driving around (which was obviously terrifying) and being up so early, and my upset stomach could barely handle it. I did make it to the airport, but the second I was through the door I had to run to a bathroom. Luckily I actually stumbled into one with an actual toilet rather than a hole in the ground.

I cleaned up and went back out to meet Victor and Anya who were seeing me off. Victor wanted to grab breakfast but I was like “omg I will just throw up again” and decided not to eat anything. We said our goodbyes and I made it through security. I wanted to buy a bottle of water because I was pretty thirsty, but apparently it is impossible to buy bottled water at the airport in Kunming. They did, however, have little water machines with paper cups every now and again so I tried to use one of those. I couldn’t make the water come out. I ended up texting Victor and he gave me instructions. It shouldn’t have been that hard.

Having something in my stomach again made me feel ill, so I went to the bathroom. But BAM! there were 15 women in line. So, I left the bathroom and used the garbage can sitting outside, right on the main walkway of the entire airport. After successfully throwing up into recycling (oops!) I made my way to my gate and painfully waited over an hour because it was delayed.

Once on the flight, still thirsty and dehydrated, I got apple juice from the flight attendant when she came around. That didn’t work either so within 5 minutes I was throwing up in the bathroom of the plane. I sat back down again. By now, you’d think I had it all out of my system. I realized this was false when I felt ill again and went to the bathroom, again. There was a line, however, and stupid me didn’t bring my barf bag with me. As I stood there waiting I was carefully evaluating whether or not I could hold it. I eyed the seat pockets of those around me just in case, when all of a sudden I knew I had to reach for one. A seven year old boy had his sticking out a bit, and even though he was at the window seat I leaned in and swiped it. And voilà, there I went again.

The flight attendant saw me this time and brought extra bags for me as well as a small cup of water. Hot water, obviously, because this was still China. I didn’t drink much more than a sip because of my inability to keep it down. I eventually went back to my seat and tried to nap. I wasn’t able to do so, but soon we started landing anyway (it was about a two hour flight). About as soon as the “remain in your seats we are landing now” announcement was made, I needed to throw up again. I felt really bad for the man sitting next to me, no one should have to experience stranger-vomit. Thankfully it was mostly liquid at this point though and therefore wasn’t overwhelmingly stinky. Yay!

He only spoke Chinese but tried to show me some hand pressure points that would help make me feel better. It was hard to hold my barf bag and really do what he was showing me, but at least I tried.

Once in Shanghai, I had to get my new ticket printed and make it to the next terminal. I found my way to the singular Delta counter in the airport and attempted to get my ticket. However, they said I needed to grab my checked luggage first, even though the woman in Kunming explicitly told me I wouldn’t need to. Okay, so I sickly walk to baggage claim 7, where she told me, only to find she meant 1. Once I get to 1, most of the baggage had come out and it was clear mine wasn’t there. This is when I began to cry. I called Joe at $1/minute because I just felt alone without any ability to communicate and sick ans arrggg.

After making sure my luggage wasn’t indeed anywhere, I went back to the counter to tell them so. While listening to them decide what to do, I throw up again. Luckily I had the extra bags from the flight. They had to check for the luggage themselves, obvi, so there was more walking around. Eventually they said “it isn’t here” and finally just printed my tickets. Because I didn’t think I would be going through security again, I bought a water which they actually sell in Shanghai. I knew I would throw it up but I was just so parched.

Once I was in line for security, whoops, I saw some classmates of mine who were stationed in Shanghai for their project. I was just so so so excited to see people I knew and was able to communicate with. I just felt bad they had to watch me vomit while standing in line, but they handed me tissues and were really helpful.

You know how they always have garbages right before the x-ray machines for all the things you forgot you had? Yeah, they don’t do that in Shanghai. So when I get up to the front of the line I find I have nowhere to place said barf bag. I had to carefully hand over a warm bag of vomit to a very nice looking security woman who only spoke Chinese. She then passed it to a coworker and so forth – it finally found a garbage.

For some reason I thought that a skittle would be a good idea. Well, maybe I didn’t even think it would be a good idea but I needed something to get the taste of vomit out of my mouth. While it didn’t get the taste out because it came back up pretty quickly, it was sort of like one of those pills that makes your poop smell good. I still had to go through it but it didn’t taste as bad.

At this point, I was only 6 hours into the 26 hours of travel.

The next leg was a 14 hour flight. Once I made it on board, I warned my seat mate of my “motion sickness” just so I didn’t catch her off guard. I was on the aisle though, so at least she wouldn’t need to get up every time I needed to throw up. Surprisingly I only had to get up 3 times during that long flight, and towards the end was even able to eat some bread and managed to hold that down. Winning!

This flight was incredibly turbulent though. I really thought I knew I was going to die. And, at that moment, there was nothing I could do so I kind of just tried to stay focused and think of happy things. I ended up feeling very calm knowing that I would die, and I convinced myself that I didn’t want my last moments to be in pain so I somehow willed myself to numb away my stomach ache.

I couldn’t concentrate on any movies and I couldn’t read or play cell phone games, so I just sat there and reflected and maybe drifted to sleep once or twice. 13 hours later I’m finally in Detroit and I felt a lot more calm and not as freaked out. I didn’t even care that my luggage wasn’t there either, I just told the agents and they let me through customs anyway.

Only 3 hours of waiting and a 2 hour flight stood between me and Joe. I could handle that. I finally had real internet access again, so I watched some Criminal Minds on Netflix while waiting and then slept for the whole flight. Joe picked me up at the airport and we went to file the claim for my missing luggage together. It was actually kind of nice to not have to drag it around. Instead, it was going to be delivered!

Once home at midnight Monday morning, I slept solidly until 4pm the next afternoon. I missed class, but that’s okay in situations like this. I stayed up for a few hours and was able to fall asleep with Joe that night. Jet lag is a crazy thing.

The next day, everything in life was just so much better. My first class of the day was a new class called “Managing in Adversity.” Every class a different CEO or leader come in to share stories of how they, get this, managed through an adversity. First up? Ed Davis, former police commissioner of Boston, who was in office when the Boston Marathon bombings occurred.

It gave me goosebumps listening to the story through his point of view. All the people he had to interact with, all the things he saw and decisions he had to make. It made me want to join the law enforcement it was so powerful.

That night, I had a networking event for Netflix at the Lenox hotel. This hotel was right near one of the blast sites and was mentioned in the case we read in preparation for Ed’s talk. Even though I’ve been by there tons of times since moving to Boston, after hearing from Ed I definitely experienced it differently.

The Netflix event was awesome. I’m so in love with their focus on analytics and how they use data, I just want to work for them forever. They even had more women at the event than men, which adding this to their recent addition of Anne Sweeney to their Board of Directors, it is clear they value women in business more than most other tech companies. It is seriously such a dream company for me, I’m going to really try to pursue an internship with them even though they typically don’t bring us on.

10,000 Women Program

I knew that participating in China Lab would be a fantastic learning experience from the start. I didn’t, however, expect to be working on something so impactful.

The 10,000 women program, sponsored in part by Goldman Sachs, is an incredibly inspiring program. They take women from all over the world and supply them with the skills necessary to create and build their own companies.

All of the teams in Kunming are partnered with graduates from this program. Our CEO for Hanhung Folk Art went through the program after launching her company in 2003 and is just one example of the effect this program has. Because of my strong passion for female empowerment, I would have chosen a Kunming project instantly had I known about this partnership. Being a part of this makes me feel like what I’m working on is truly making an impact on something important.

Working with women from China and seeing first hand the changes this type of program can create it just another one of the many reasons I’ve loved this experience. I can’t wait to continue to support the 10,000 women program and women who are starting their own companies in other ways.

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Read this post at its original location here.