Proud As

I failed an MBA class. I’m proud of myself.

Well, not for failing the course. That is a bit bewildering. I aced papers in the other class. The class where the papers are marked by the former Dean of the program. There’s a 17 percent discrepancy. Apparently my goals were not “specific” enough in the final paper. I’m mystified because I defined when they would be achieved and how I could prove this, but there you have it, not specific enough. Since I wasn’t giving out the grades, my logic doesn’t much matter.

Anyway. That’s not why I’m proud of myself.

When I was doing my undergrad, failing a course would have sent me into a tailspin. I would have hidden for days. Shame would have moved in, taken over and held me hostage. It would have been the end of the world.

My identity was academic success. Failing meant that I was stupid. Being stupid was the end of the world.

This time I looked at all the things I do well, all the personal and professional success, and I shrugged. Failing a course is not a big deal. It’s going to be a pain in the ass to make it up. It’s going to be expensive. Eh. It’s only time and money. Not the end of the world. I let the shame go. When it tried to come in the front door, I stood and barred the way.

This time I sent the program co-ordinator an email. Booked some time with the instructor to review the feedback. Sent my paper to my writing coach. When I didn’t like the answer about how to make good on the course (effectively re-take the course) I appealed to the program head. I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere. I have a great argument for the option I presented them (re-write a harder paper, equivalent to re-taking a final exam had there been one), but this really is a cash grab on the part of my university. They have me over a barrel and they know it; they are not going to give up a couple of thousand dollars.

Mostly what I’m proud about is that I did all of that.

I acknowledged I failed, did what I could to understand why (it turns out if you are writing about leadership goals in this program, your goal is to get a maximum rating on the emotional intelligence ranking of your performance appraisal. Anything else is not specific enough). There was a hoop, I missed the hoop. I’ve actually always sucked at academic hoops. This is nothing new. It pissed me off during undergrad and it infuriates me now.

I failed the course. I proved that I have learned a few things since my undergrad days. That’s worth a lot.


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On the Night of My 38th Birthday

On the night of my 38th birthday, I met the system admin for dinner. I didn’t tell him it was my birthday when I texted to find out if he wanted to meet. I told him that my meeting was going to end late and I’d rather eat with him than be stuck in traffic.

I was sitting at the restaurant, still in my work suit, heels kicked off under the table, drinking my wine when he turned up and called me a brat for not telling him why we were meeting. We weren’t meeting because it was my birthday, not really. Being stuck in traffic on my birthday would have been crummy, but fine. Being alone on my birthday would have been crummy, but fine. We met because he makes me laugh. He makes me lighter, happier.

The year I was 19 was the first year that I decided to work on a skill as part of my birthday. That year I chose balance. It is obvious that I was only 19, thinking I could master balance in a year. At twice that age I think if I might manage it over a life time -if the person doing the judging squints. I try for more achievable things now.

Last year I told you about gathering many I loved for my annual birthday dinner and how I was going to learn to live in the moment.

That was what I was going to do.

That wasn’t what I did.

I learned something harder, way more painful and ultimately far more useful. I learned about investment. I learned about costs and I learned about return and I learned about reading the contract carefully.

It has broken me at times in the last year. I’ve sat on my couch, in the corner, sobbing. I haven’t talked about it here. Much of it is has been murky and painful and not always simple or easy to explain. I have walked away from relationships I thought I would never leave. I find myself surprised by how much easier life is. Saddened too, that I invested so heavily into something with no return. I have gotten better picking when I invest. I catch myself much sooner and shut things off quickly.

On my 38th dinner, the System Admin made me laugh. He grabbed my ass like he always does and told me I’m not too shabby for an old lady. He reminded me that I am worthy, that I am smart and capable and most importantly, cared for. He affirmed the best of investment, when we go all in and they do too. When we get through the times that are hard and sad and reach the moments where we eat steak and we bicker over the mushrooms and he tells me that cheese cake is a vegetable for my birthday.

I have no idea what I will learn this year. None. I’m sure I’ll realize soonish. I usually do when I start thinking this way.

On the night of my 38th birthday I celebrated investment. It was glorious.


Posted in Feats of Wonder, Learning Life | 2 Comments

Standing in the Same River

I am told that you never stand in the same river twice. I am not sure. Maybe.

There are times in this last three weeks that it has felt like the same river. At times like boarding school, large scale implementation projects and more often that I would have liked- junior high.

The water was cold and fast moving and it almost took my breath away.

I have been held up, kept warm, nourished.

A random classmate who is one of the kindest women I’ve ever met. I should like to be her when I grow up. (She’s younger than me, I have some catching up to do). Ms. Fab who has rescued me and comforted me and on one of the hardest days here simply told me that she was coming to get me. A friend I have called every night. Every night I call and I tell him how much I dislike most of my team. I tell him a bit about interesting readings and the fact that someone complained it is “too hard” and every night he listens to me and never tries to fix it.

And the amazing and glorious Mr. Spit. Who tells me every day that he believes in me. That I can do this. That I am smart and funny and capable and I have something to give. (My team does not believe this.)

I don’t know. Maybe this isn’t the same water. It is the same river.

And I am glad of company in it.

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If you know me in real life, you know that I’m not finding the academic portion of my MBA particularly difficult. It isn’t a breeze, there’s reading and essays and mid terms and homework, but it’s not rub your belly pat your head hard (Or impossible. That’s impossible). It’s all about time management and focus and concentrating effort on the right things and getting good at distilling an argument. I’m pretty competent at those things.

What’s killing me is the team work.

No. Actually what’s killing me is my team. I described them to someone as “not my people”. I’m not some sort of gentle flower that only copes with people exactly like her. I can make it work.

Usually I don’t have to. My clients and colleagues – the vast majority really, are kind, smart and likeable people.

They believe in collaboration. Not because it’s how you get good marks or because someone in authority said you “should”, but because when we take a single idea and we build on it together, we get something that vastly exceeds the sum of a part. When it’s done most brilliantly I don’t recognize my idea and you don’t see yours, instead we sit back at the end and we are struck by the luminosity and simplicity and elegance of what we did. We know in the marrow of our bones that we could not have achieved this on our own.

I was in a team meeting on Saturday and several members of my team were overjoyed to discover that a number of other teams were taking a patently wrong approach to a problem. This wasn’t a degree of interpretation, the other teams were wrong. This isn’t competitive. We are marked for this assignment on the merits. On the face of it, it neither helps us nor hinders us if another team fails. It’s nothing to do with us.

Save this. These are my classmates. I will be on other teams with them. They are people. Humans. Working on a team. Their assignment is also worth 30% of their final mark. Competition not only doesn’t matter, it’s not only a useless diversion from the merits of our own assignment (“we were better than the other team” isn’t actually going to get us a better mark), it’s not the world I want to live in.


I don’t understand the competition. I can see that it’s happening. I just don’t understand it. Why is that where you went?

I don’t want to understand it.

It’s not illegal, it’s not even immoral.

It’s just not me.

It’s the not the world I want to live in.

You be the person who cheers at another’s failure.

I’ll just be over here. Looking for collaboration. Looking at what we are doing and realizing that it could have been brilliant, it could have been remarkable, we could have raised the water line for all of us and how amazing would that have been. What might it have been like to think back a decade from now and realize how much we achieved building more than the sum of the parts.

I’m sad. Hurt. Weary.


This was hard to write, because I don’t want to sound sanctimonious. I mean it when I say that they can be them. I just can’t join in. That’s hard and lonely and isolating. They took a chunk out of me because I don’t want to succeed badly enough in their eyes. That hurt some.


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Learning and Confirmation

There is this terrible moment  . . . in hallways, in the cafeteria, where someone comes up to me and asks me how I’m managing. They say it with a sort of wild-eyed look.

And I sort of mumble something.

Grad school boot camp is like every other software implementation, down to the crunch, it’s falling apart, we don’t have enough time and we need to deliver, project.

Knuckle down. Do only this. Let everything else fall away. Sleep enough. Be organized. Make your bed because a bit of routine helps. Play to your strengths. Drink water. It is no surprise that the day I described yesterday sounds regimented. No surprise that I returned to routine, that I started writing here so that I could process my feelings. This time it’s called grad school, but this project has had so many names. That makes it not hard. There’s volume of work, it requires a fair degree of organization and the ability to plan, but I have not had a single moment where any of this has felt out of my grasp. (the writing thing is probably my biggest stretch.)

They said I would get better at time management and at ambiguity – not knowing the right answer or what would happen next. I’m actually pretty good at time management. Working a bit more on focus and not getting distracted, but time management is ok for me. Improvement is apt to be marginal.

Ambiguity is an interesting one.

I’ll comment about that by commenting about something else. The blessing of someone you have known forever is that they know all the old stories. The challenge is when those old stories hold you in place. I think we do this to ourselves too.

I would tell you that I’m not good at ambiguity, that I am always the woman with a plan. I’ve also realized this – I arrived at school, looked around and realized that this was clearly a well constructed program and they knew they were going along for the ride. They aren’t always able to tell us where we are going, but I have no doubt we are going somewhere.

They can have the plan. I don’t need to know. I need to know what time class starts today.

I live in the consulting world. My answer to everything is . . . it depends and and here’s why.

I have a whole post on feelings and a whole post on MS, but I thought I would start here – I think I’m pretty good at ambiguity and time management. Which may well be why I’m waffling when others ask me how I’m doing.

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16 hours

My alarm goes off about 7:10. I hit snooze. Sometimes twice.

I fill the kettle and plug it in. Walk down the hall to the loo. Unlock my door again. Pour grounds into the french press. Stir. Dump in cream.

Sit in an uncomfortable chair and review my readings.

Get up. Get dressed. Do my hair. Put on makeup.

Pack some snacks. Relevant readings and note books for the day. Some knitting.

Shovel cereal into my mouth.

Make my bed.

Somewhere between 6-8 hours of lectures. Teachers, discussions, notes.

Dinner. There are 6 options at the cafeteria. Every 4th day I eat the same thing.

Team meetings and work.

Walk for half an hour while I talk to someone from home.

Dorm room to study and read and do homework and individual assignments.

Fall into bed.

That’s 16 hours.

I’ll sleep for 8.

Awake again at 7:10.


It’s a good life.

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So I’ll tell you about the bed instead

I have some MS stuff going on. Nothing serious, nothing that is going to derail the program, or, let’s face it, me, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet.

I have not slept in a single bed since I left boarding school. 1997 in fact.

Usually a king. Occasionally a queen. Once in a blue moon, a double. The bed is fine. It’s reasonably comfortable, reasonably supportive. The sheets are fine.

It’s . . . just . . . small.

Which is a bit odd, because I swear to you I fought a war in my bed last night. I woke up this morning and the pillow was on the floor, half the sheet was off the bed and the comforter had been swallowed by the space between the bed and the wall.(1).

I don’t understand it. Not that I trashed a bed, I do that in sleeping. I am apparently murder to sleep with.

I don’t understand how I had the energy to have that battle, and I don’t understand how there was the space.

Bed must be miraculous.


(1) This is not a bad thing. The comforter was designed by a colour blind, unloved, oldest child with something against authority.

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Topic Sentences

Academic writing is boring to write and soul sucking to read. Instructors label a concise paragraph “good writing”, readers find these paragraphs terse and unapproachable. Sentences are staccato and offer limited opportunities for readers to pause or be engaged. Readers feel information is being hurled at them (Hurl, C, Flail, R, 1996) and they actively disengage their reading skills to avoid being harmed by sharp and uninteresting facts. (Dullard, M, 1948). Direct and plain communication limits opportunities to inspire. The best academic writing uses a formula of Topic Sentence, Claim, Evidence, Conclusion in every paragraph. Boring Scientist James Ilivealone says “most readers would rather poke their eyes out than read an MBA paper that uses the same paragraph structure.” (Ilivealone, J, 205).  Neither a writer nor reader of an academic paper should expect to be interested and engaged by the process.


I may have gotten my first 2 papers back. I actually was exactly average, and I know what I need to do to fix it. I will verify that with the writing coach on Sunday. I suspect I shouldn’t bring the above paragraph.

Thanks for bearing with me, it felt great to write it!

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Firstly – I know I have not posted every day in a long time, and I thank you for bearing with me. Graduate school turns out to be intense. I appreciate having a ready made space to unpack my thoughts and feelings and knowing that some of you are still listening and sending good wishes.

It turns out that roughly 7% of the world’s population has a graduate level education.

I’ll start there (and I’m going to end there too, if you were curious), because I am griping and groaning about some of my classmates and the sounds of the peacocks and how small and cheerless my dorm room is.

In reality, and this matters, I am singularly fortunate. I have a company willing to help with tuition, savings (my retirement savings, but savings all the same), family and friends willing and able to let me put my life on hold while I do this thing.

The staff say the program is brutal – they call it boot camp. I’ll not lie, it’s tough. There is a lot work coming at me. An enormous amount to read, synthesize, analyze and formulate responses to. That’s my entire academic career and a chunk of my professional career. It’s volume, but it’s not difficult. It’s just a lot of work. Put your back into it, grind it out. I’m no stranger to the 70 hour week.

And I’m griping because I don’t think my classmates like me and I can’t figure out how to make connections to them, and as much as I want to be the person who says that making connections doesn’t always matter, I think it does.

Day 2. I still feel small and alone.

I’m trying to focus on my great good fortune tomorrow. The little things that I like. The discipline of a million tiny points of light.

Here’s to Day 3.

Posted in Grad Student, Tiny Points of Light | 4 Comments

Suits and Jeans

Today was the first day of school.

I didn’t take a business degree. It bothers me because I feel like there is all this stuff I should know, because I work in business. There’s stuff I know $5 about, and stuff I google late at night because “next best alternative to a negotiated agreement?”. Who knew?

You want to talk hegemonic stability theory, the prisoner’s dilemma, Giffen goods and Aristotelian ethics? Oh, I’m all over that. I’ve taught myself the basics of enterprise architecture, I write papers on process. I haven’t stopped learning. I just didn’t take the commerce degree.

There was a guy in my class, and he was wearing a shirt and tie.

It was Sunday.

At 8:30 am.

A shirt and tie.


I upped my game from my undergrad degree. I wore a t-shirt dress and a cardigan. Nice flats. Makeup!

No birks. No jeans. No flannel shirts. My hair looked good. I had a freaking manicure!

I say all of this because before noon my voting preferences  and the idea of safe spaces – things that I hold sacred – were mocked. No one said a word. I looked around, waiting for someone or even the instructor, to raise their hand an call a time out. Nope.


These are not my people.

When I come right down to it, my nervousness for the last few weeks, my obsession over clothing, my worries and my fears:

I want them to like me.

I want to fit in.

I want to be a cool kid.


Tomorrow I’m going to be the woman to telling someone from Oak Bay- with a median house price over a million dollars, a population that is 92% white, in an area that has more private high schools than public ones . . .

Safe spaces matter.

When you are a white, straight, educated, middle aged, upper middle class man in North America, the world is made for you. You have probably never felt unsafe. You never feeling unsafe does not mean that no one ever feels unsafe. Your lived experience is not everyone’s. You don’t have to live everyone’s experience.  You do need to listen and try and understand.

It’s hard to imagine how this is going to go wrong. Who doesn’t want to hear this?

But seriously.

Screw it.

I’m wearing Birks and Jeans tomorrow.

I’m lighting the idea of people liking me on fire.

I’m wearing comfy shoes and jeans while I do it.


Posted in Grad Student, This I believe | 1 Comment