Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: Another Year Gone...What's Next?

I hardly know where this year went.  Time goes faster as we age, but this year seems to have shot past me in the blink of an eye.  I felt truly renewed in having a purpose and a goal on several fronts, and I've made progress in all of them. 

I wanted to take my fitness to the next level.  Well, I started running and I've done two 5k races.  In 2011, I want to do at least 3 and maybe try for a 10k.

I've contemplated grad school for the last 5-going-on-6 years, and this year I had the Great Business School Epiphany.  In 2011, it's officially Game On as I re-take the GMAT and complete my applications.

There have been some setbacks here and there, namely in my dancing world.  I feel as though 2010 was a rather static year in which life's distractions made it difficult--if not impossible--to advance, so I'm going to mix it up in 2011 and find my new groove.

Meanwhile, even though I'm orchestrating a move out of the country, I continue to enjoy my job and I want to take it as far as I can for as long as I am able.  Believe it or not, I'm actually looking forward to going back on Monday.

I'm very much looking forward to the next year.  In 2011, I will celebrate 10 years since graduating high school, which almost seems like nothing, given that my generation has stayed very much in touch with one another via Instant Messanger and later MySpace and Facebook.  While I've been at home in Pittsburgh, the topic of a class of 2001 reunion has come up with a few of my friends, and we all seem to come to the same conclusion: Is there a point?  Like I said--we all pretty much know what everyone else is up to because of the Internet.  I don't even know what sort of governing body puts together official class reunions.  Student Council?  Is there an Alumni Association?  I haven't a clue, and I may not even be around to celebrate anyway.  Which is a shame, really, because I've been telling my BFF Lindsey for the last decade that I would pretty much handcuff myself to her and drag her to our class reunion if I had to.  Even with the social media keeping everyone connected, I think it would be a real laugh riot to get everyone together again and see what happens.  Nothing truly takes the place of real time, face-to-face interaction.

It's been a fun year full of adventures, discovering new friendships, and re-discovering ones that have been around for awhile.  Thank you to all of my family and friends who have been a part of it all.  May you all have a happy and prosperous New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Reverb10: Gift

This month, gifts and gift-giving can seem inescapable. What’s the most memorable gift, tangible or emotional, you received this year? 

I'm struggling to come up with something as quickly as I have been able to for the other questions, but if I sit and ponder on it for a bit, the overlying theme I keep coming up with is the gift of...belief?  To explain: in 2010 I have had more people than I can recall before who have come out and told me that they believe in my ability to achieve my goals.  I think it's a direct result of my finally opening up to the world at large and bothering to share what those goals actually are.  Besides the grad school thing, I also took up running, which really gave me something to focus on this year. To have people cheering me on to meet my little running goals all along the way has really helped me keep it up.  When I tried running in 2007, I shared that with pretty much no one, and I fizzled out within a few months.  I do struggle to believe in my own abilities, and just having one person saying, "You can do it," with all sincerity means the world to me.  Great things will follow when you allow yourself to be open to accepting such gifts.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reverb10: Achieve

What’s the thing you most want to achieve next year? How do you imagine you’ll feel when you get it? Free? Happy? Complete? Blissful? Write that feeling down. Then, brainstorm 10 things you can do, or 10 new thoughts you can think, in order to experience that feeling today.

Ok, I'm going to set the obvious (b-school) aside for this one.
In 2011, I want to fall back in love with dancing.  A little background for those of you who may not know me as well: I've always liked to dance socially, but wasn't really formally trained in any particular style.  I took ballet classes when I was about 6 or 7, but apparently I didn't like it and didn't even make it as far as the first recital.  I did learn some basics when I was a member of my high school colorguard and we incorporated dance into our spring competition routines, but that was the extent of it.  About midway through college I decided that I was going to formally learn a dance form, but I didn't actually achieve that goal until I started taking bellydance classes in January of '07.  I studied Middle Eastern dance continuously through October 2010 and had been performing with my studio's dance company since summer of 2008.  For personal reasons, I chose to disaffiliate with the studio this fall, so I've been a "free agent" from November on.
It has been nice to have a break and get a few more visits to the gym in these last couple of months, but come January I'm going to get moving again!  I've always been an admirer of ballroom dance and I've had a pair of ballroom shoes for about a year now.  In our studio, we performed barefoot 99% of the time and usually just broke out the ballroom shoes for big stage productions (and sometimes not even then), or some dancers chose to wear them while doing solo work.  As for me, I wore the shoes to dance in Nations of San Diego in January '10, and that's it.  It's time to dust those babies off and learn how to dance backwards.  I am particularly enamored by the Latin dances (samba, cha cha cha, mambo, et. al.), so I've found a local studio that has beginner classes on a weekday evening and we'll take it from there.  They also have high level classes for people who want to compete, which is my other big thing.  I'm a ham and I'll eventually need an audience if I turn out to be any good at it!
What can I do about it today?  Not much, really, since I'm at my parents' home in Pittsburgh.  But I do have my iPod hooked up to the speakers in my old room, and I plan to go through and weed out more old junk I've been storing here.  Maybe a good dance beat will make the task at hand that much easier.  It usually does, yes?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

T-Minus 0 Days: The Aftermath

Well, I did it.  I survived the GMAT.  However, I wouldn't say I kicked its ass like I wanted to. 

The test is administered in 3 parts in this order: 2 Essays, the Quantitative (aka Math) section, and the Verbal section.  I feel good about the essays because writing is my strong suit.  The Quant section was rough--so rough, in fact, that I failed to answer the very last question.  Not finishing every single question on the GMAT is a big no-no and severely penalizes your score.  My big problem was pacing.  Even though at one point I noticed I was getting really hairy questions, which is a good thing in a computer-adaptive test that adjusts to your level, I was taking too long to answer and by the time I still had 10 questions to go, I had so little time left that I had to take a wild-ass guess at almost all of them.

I felt good about the verbal section, however.  I kept a steady pace and finished with a few seconds to spare.  Historically, that's how it has always been for me--stonger in verbal than math, and today was really no different.  My verbal score was in the 87th percentile and my math was down in the dregs--the 28th percentile.  My overall is in the 58th.  It's also below the recommended minimum score that two of the three schools I'm heavily pursuing right now wants to see.  Now, the GMAT is not the be all and end all of your business school application.  Everything I have read and heard has indicated that the admissions committee for b-schools really does look at it holistically.  I am confident that I will produce great essays and that I will have solid recommendations.  My undergrad GPA is above average and my recent work history is pretty good, but I wouldn't say any of it is enough to easily overcome a lop-sided, below-average GMAT score.  As such, I have already decided that I will bite the bullet and take it again as soon as I am able, which I believe is in 30 or 31 days.  Most schools even give you the chance to try and redeem yourself with an extra essay in your application, but I feel like I shouldn't go down that road if I don't at least try for a better score first.

I am, of course, disappointed that I didn't reach my goal on the first try, but the thing about business is that you have to learn take a hit, figure out what the heck went wrong, fix it, and keep going.  So that's exactly what I'm going to do.

You may have won the battle this time around, GMAT, but it's not over yet!

Monday, December 27, 2010

T-Minus 1 Day: Almost GMAT Time

'Twas the night before GMAT, and all through the house...

Okay, I'm not going to go there.  Christmas is over, after all.  Plus I don't want to waste precious brain cells trying to be clever and rhyme my way through this.

But here we are at the night before the GMAT.  I've just printed out my confirmation e-mail and reviewed the directions.  Even though the testing center is in a building where I used to work about 4 years ago, they have since finished building a freeway interchange that didn't exist before, so I'll be going a slightly different way.

I'm actually feeling eerily calm.  I guess once you realize that you're at the point where you know as much as you're going to know and there isn't much more to be done about it, you can relax.  I do feel confident that I will not fall flat on my face.  It's funny--I've been saying these last few weeks that I've come to view this like a cagefight between me and the test, and today I was thumbing through my strategy book and it basically said that taking that exact attitude is often part of successful test-taking strategies.  That gave me a chuckle and made me feel better.

Dad's downstairs cooking dinner and I might go over a few last-minute things for the test--like how to check your timing (e.g. by the 30 minute mark you should at least be on question 15 or whatever) and how to set up your noteboard efficiently, but basically after dinner I plan to just chill out with some tv and hit the sack at a decent hour.  I'm testing in the afternoon, so I have plenty of time to roll out of bed and eat a good breakfast, talk to friends, putz around, etc.

That said, I still welcome all the luck I can get!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Reverb10: Soul Food

What did you eat this year that you will never forget? What went into your mouth & touched your soul?

Wow, them's strong words.  Umm...lobster feast & wine tasters in Mexico comes to mind.  As does the lunch at my all-time favorite restaurant (El Q'ero in Encinitas) that I finally got to go to with one of my fellow foodies (Alyse).  The lasagna I ate at Buon Appetito in Little Italy in San Diego was the best I've ever had.  (Sorry, Mom.  You're still amazing.)  However, what truly touches my soul are great dishes prepared lovingly by family and friends.  So for that I look to my Ma--who has been my #1 inspiration as a cook all my life, and my buddy Tim, who is a talented cook and grillmeister who always aims to please!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Reverb10: New Name

If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?

When I was little, I went through a phase where I thought "Missy" was the coolest nickname in the world.  This was after my "I wish I had an 'h' at the end of my name so that I would be Mariah" phase. (I was a huge Mariah Carey fan.)  Since then, I have grown to absolutely love and appreciate my given name--first, middle, and last.  That said, when I wrote short stories about myself and my friends back in college, I gave myself the moniker, "Victoria".  That way I could be Tori or still even use Ria for short.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reverb10: Travel

How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

The "how" part of the question kinda makes me laugh because, well, does it really matter how I got from Point A to Point B? Unless it was by camel caravan, I think that part is pretty uninteresting.

This year I was more conservative with my vacation time and dollars than last year after making the declaration that in 2011 the Brown Family would be going to Europe. That said, I've gotten out and about quite a few times in the latter half of the year.

  • June - Vegas Vacation with the aforementioned Tara (see previous post). Even though it ended up being just the two of us and we both worked part of the time, we managed to enjoy ourselves quite a bit when we weren't doing the "Vegas Shuffle". (Long story.) I even got to cross something off of my "30 Things to do by 30" list, which was to stay out all night in Las Vegas. I saw the sun rise on our last night. :)

  • September - I attended the Kappa Kappa Gamma Leadership Academy in Columbus, OH. Awesome experience, and it was exactly the kind of thing I needed to help me realize my MBA Project.

  • October - I flew up to Portland, OR for my cousin Carmel's wedding, which allowed me to cross another thing off of my 30/30 list.

  • November - Went out to Virginia to celebrate Thanksgiving with my maternal family

  • December - I leave tomorrow for Pittsburgh to be with my paternal clan. Wish me luck with all the crazy weather and holiday traffic...

Peppered in there have been driving-distance trips up to Orange County and LA to hang at Disneyland with friends, tour Hollywood & Beverly Hills, and visit family.  I also spent a day in Mexico this spring eating inexpensive Lobster feasts and wine tasting in the Guadalupe Valley.
Coming up in 2011...

Europe. And lots of it.

As mentioned previously, my Dad and Stepmom and I have been planning to go since 2009, and I'm bringing my friend Tina with me. She studied in Trier, Germany five years ago, and we've sworn to go back to Germany together in the time since. The trip itinerary is not yet set and it's already seen quite a few configurations that has involved Amsterdam, London, Berlin, Frankfurt, Trier, and Rome. Regardless of where we start and finish, Germany is going to be the big focus. Now with my plans to go for an MBA somewhere over there, I think we're going to try to work it out timing-wise such that I can just go over for our holiday...and stay there. :) Domestically, I don't have any other travel plans for next year that would involve a plane. There may be a wedding or two, but invites have yet to go out, so let's not put the cart before the horse.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Watch Out! There's a Serial Writer on the Loose!

I'd like to take a moment to give a shoutout to my friend Tara and her blog, A Serendipitous Life. I've been following her writing for several years now, and one of the things that's fun about her style is that she dabbles in serial-style writing. That is to say, she'll take a topic or theme and run with it, whether it's about participating in date-night challenges with her husband Steve, writing about the homes she grew up in, or most recently, a series called Reverb10 in which she reflects on the past year. And every time I read one of those posts I think, "That's cool; I should do that too!"

All this writing about business school is bound to get a little old, so I'd like to widen my scope a bit. And since I'm not necessarily interested in re-inventing the wheel here, I'll borrow from Tara's Reverb10 series. I won't necessarily pick all the same topics or go in the same order, so I'm grabbing from last Thursday's topic:

How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst?

This question jumped out at me because this year the new friendship I made was so sudden, unexpected, and awesome. I am, of course, talking about Ralph. (AKA, "The German Guy") I don't know that our friendship changed me fundamentally, but it certainly gave me a kick in the pants that I sorely needed. He embraced the experience of living in a foreign country with such reckless abandon (well, as reckless as a German is apt to be) and crossed so many things off of his To Do list that I realized there was nothing stopping me from doing it too. In 2009 I had this two or three week period of total restlessness surrounding my trip to Germany in which I ran my head against the wall trying to think of ways to live in Europe. I can't explain it; something drew me in that was far stronger than just a desire to take a vacation. I used my car, my cat, and my job as excuses to stay put last year, but this year I realized that my other dream--going for my Master's--fit perfectly into the whole plan. Throughout my life I have met so many people who come to America to have an amazing experience, from our two Spanish au pairs when I was a kid to the Brazilian interns I met at Disney to, well, Ralph. I want what they had, and the only thing that has really stopped me up to this point is my own fear of not being able to clear the obstacles.

And, hey, even if I wasn't gunning for grad school, becoming close friends with someone from another country introduced me firsthand to another perspective on life in general. Everybody needs some of that.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

T-Minus 7 Days

Well, here we are at the 1 week mark.  In fact, by this time of day I should be just wrapping up.  A friend asked me how I feel about it at this point, and I answered, "Well, I'll say this.  I'm no longer terrified."

Anxious and a bit pressured, yes.  But not terrified.  Learning test taking strategies goes a long, long way in building your confidence.  (Seriously, "Jane" at work has a fruit basket coming her way...whether I bust out a 700 score or not...)

However, I'm also starting to sweat the application process a bit.  First up is St. Gallen, the Swiss school, which has its Round 2 Deadline on the 1st of February.  It's also shifted to my #1 choice for now.  I'll revisit my personal ranking system later in another post after I've recovered from the GMAT.  I now have two recommenders on board and a third unexpected offer.  I got multiple copies of my transcript from my alma mater and the skeleton of a few essay questions are already started.  This week I'd like to get a brief rundown of my history and goals to my recommenders so that they have something to reference over the next 6 weeks or so as I prepare my first application package.

All in all, I'm feeling good.  Onward!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Brunch for One

One of the worst things about where I live is also one of the best things about where I live.  My apartment happens to be in the heart of my town's "downtown" district, which in and of itself is not a bad thing.  It's just that I also happen to live on the street corner of the main drag, so traffic and it's accompanying noise is a constant.  (This is where my compulsive need to listen to music all the time comes in handy.)  However, the flip side to that is that I'm within walking distance of the library, a big movie theater, and local restaurants.

I've had a serious case of what I call "Bachelor Fridge" for the last couple of days.  That's when you have nothing to eat but a few random things, and this morning it's at its worst: 6 bottles of beer I inherited from a party and will probably never finish, a lemon, some phyllo dough, condiments, my Brita pitcher, and a bowl of oatmeal soaking in water.  I've been staring at that bowl of oatmeal, which has been my go-to breakfast during the week for a couple of weeks now, but this morning I couldn't do it.  I've been living off scraps all week, as I'm trying to get rid of food before I go back out of town.  I'll do a small grocery run later today, but I felt like a sad bowl of oatmeal wasn't going to properly fortify me for the job of getting a few items to get me through the week. 

Nah, it's cold and rainy and I've earned a big breakfast.  I threw on my trench coat, grabbed the umbrella, and walked a block away to Allen's Alley.  This, again,  is where the living downtown part pays off.  And apparently Allen's Alley is the town's oldest continuously-open restaurant.  It's one of those "blink and you miss it" kind of places.  A best-kept secret to boot, because locals love it.  The first and only other time I'd been there was over two years ago, which is a shame, really.  Luckily I found room at the counter right away.  A small part of me dislikes having to do the lonely trucker thing and sitting alone at a counter to eat, but the bigger part said, "I need me some coffee and hotcakes."  I sat and took notes in my MBA Gameplan book, people watched, and had the best stack of old fashioned pancakes in existence.  Most of the people there were clearly regulars, getting called by name and a few of them even receiving a Christmas card from the staff.  Why don't I come here more often?  I can literally see it from my front stoop.

I try to appreciate those things more as I grow older.  You know, the unique gems and places you can't find on every other street corner.  Don't get me wrong--I'm a fan of Starbucks coffee and Target superstores too.  I don't think one necessarily precludes liking the other.  One of the things I'm most looking forward to about moving to Europe, however, is the more commonplace nature of small local businesses.  Places where I can go to people watch and potentially socialize, get an up front view of the local flavor.  In the meantime, I'll try to enjoy what's already in my own backyard.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

T-Minus 14 Days

Wait--what??? I'm taking the GMAT in two weeks?  When the heck did that happen!?  I found myself writing to a couple of people this afternoon with whom I haven't spoken to recently, so naturally I told them about my plans.  And that's when it occurred to me to look at a calendar and come to the realization that D-Day (or G-Day) is in 14 days.  Yowza.  I lost this last weekend of studying, and by "lost" I mean had a blast with one of my best friends who flew out from Kansas City to experience San Diego sunshine and witness the massacre of her football team.  (Obviously the little detail on the latter was not what she was gunning for.)  We spent a couple of nights in a great location right next to the San Diego Convention center, which overlooks the bay, Coronado Island, and offers views of the famous Gaslamp district and the Padres Stadium to boot.  It doesn't get much better than that.

At any rate, I have been diligently plugging away at several practice questions a night with my handy strategy book these last several nights (w/exception of the aforementioned weekend), and last night I turned this weird corner where I actually found tackling data sufficiency questions to be  I am not much different from the masses who tend to just jump in and try to start solving equations the old-fashioned (read: inefficient) way, so when the time-saving strategies that let you say "Ah-HA!" actually start clicking and making sense, it becomes more of a game.  Granted, I keep getting knocked down in this game, but I'm starting to get better at it.  I'm starting to look at it like this: the GMAT and I are going into the Octagon together and only one of us is coming out alive.  If I can just be patient and learn what the GMAT's Achilles' heel is, then I stand a fighting chance and I start to get the eye of the tiger instead of the shakes.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

T Minus 24 Days

Well, I finally bit the bullet and registered for the GMAT.  D-Day is on December 28th.  That also happens to be the last day I can access Kaplan's online prep material, so there you go.  I had been tentatively planning to take the test on the 18th, but by the time I was ready to pull the trigger today, the spots had filled up.  I decided to look and see if there were dates available during the week I'll be on vacation in Pittsburgh, and lo and behold, there was something open at the Pearson Testing Center that happens to be in the very same building where I briefly worked for Act-1 almost 5 years ago!  Hahaha, my, how things have come full circle.  While a part of me just wants to get it over with already and not have to worry about it over my vacation, the other, smarter part knows that I haven't been a strong enough studier to be ready in 2 weeks.  I will need every last minute of those extra 10 days, I'm sure.