Monday, March 31, 2008

Abundance vs. Scarcity Mindset

If you have ever read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you may remember the discussion of the abundance vs. the scarcity mindset. I haven't read it in a while so I am paraphrasing here. But the gist of it is, if you have a scarcity mindset, your view of the world tells you that opportunity is limited and that you need to compete with others in order to achieve success. If you have an abundance mindset, your view tells you that there are plenty of opportunities available to you, so it will not hurt you to help others along the way.

One of the sessions I attended at the Penn State Powerful Women Paving the Way Conference this weekend was a panel session called "Discovering your Leadership Style." In it, a woman in the audience discussed her fears that today's women are entering the workforce with a competitive attitude and are stepping on each other to achieve success. Her fear is that this creating an environment for women in business that is worse than the male-dominated environment it is replacing. Some women disagreed, but I was one who can see her point. I have been lucky enough to work in an environment where the women supported and helped each other, to the benefit of all. I have also worked in an environment where the women were cliquey and where I felt that I had to "watch my back."

I am not sure if this phenomenon is truly unique to women (think Mean Girls), or if we just notice it more or take it more personally because we don't expect women to be competitive with each other. Either way, I believe a competitive environment can create a toxic situation. Let me be clear though, I think "competitive" can carry both a positive and negative connotation. The positive meaning suggests that someone is capable and driven to succeed. I'm referring to the negative meaning, which suggests that someone views their coworkers as adversaries to be beaten in order to achieve personal success. I can tell you from my experience that it is not fun to work in such an environment, and it can hamper productivity.

Where does this scarcity mindset come from? Many people probably have a tendency to approach the world from one mindset or another to begin with. But I also believe that much of it comes from leadership. The team I worked on where the women supported each other? The leader of that team fostered an environment where the team's goals were all of our goals, and our individual accomplishments needed to support that goal. A failure of any one member would have meant failure for the team, and we were encouraged to help each other. The job where I felt the other women were competing with me? The leader of that group did not work to foster the team spirit. As cheesy as corporate team-building can sometimes feel, people notice when it is absent and make assumptions about leadership's priorities. Our goals were structured based on our leader's goals, and as a result people realized that individual accomplishments were what got you ahead. I assume many of these people felt that helping others achieve their goals would be to the detriment of their success.

So readers, I believe it is up to us, the future business leaders of the world, to make sure that we are fostering an abundance mindset at school and at work. Don't let Mean Girls happen to your team!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Powerful Women Paving the Way

This weekend I attended a conference at Penn State (my alma mater) hosted by the Smeal College of Business and the Women in Business Club. I wasn't sure what to expect since it was the event's first year, but I really enjoyed it and I felt that every session had some relevance to me and my career advancement goals, which I think means it was a great success.

The first speaker was Michelle Austin, an entrepreneur who founded the Fluidity fitness system. You may have seen her infomercial with the free-standing ballet bar. She showed a case study of her company, including how it took her 6 years to raise capital and how much she had to learn about in order to protect her intellectual property and structure good deals with investors. In addition to making me really want to be on Donny Deutsch (click here for Austin's Interview) one day, it made everyone there want the Fluidity bar :)

The second speaker was Anne Weisberg from Deloitte. She is one of the authors of Mass Career Customization: Aligning the Workplace With Today's Nontraditional Workforce. According to Anne, the reason why most flexible work arrangements don't reduce attrition rates or otherwise don't live up to expectations is because they are always set up as exceptions to the norm. Also, tradeoffs such as reduced pay that come with the arrangement usually aren't clear to those outside the arrangement, so it can breed resentment among other employees. Deloitte is implementing Mass Career Customization, which allows each employee to customize their career-life balance across four areas: pace of work, workload, location/schedule, and role. The tradeoffs for "dialing-down" one of these areas are clearly stated, and the choices are incorporated into the employee's performance expectations and review. For example, if you are going to work 80% of full time hours, it will be clear to everyone that you are also receiving 80% pay and your goals will reflect the reduced hours you work so that your performance rating will be fairly assessed. I think it's a great idea and I'm encouraged to see that a big company like Deloitte is giving it a try. I hope other companies join in, because once the baby boomers start to retire in large numbers, companies are going to have trouble finding and keeping good knowledge workers. I think a system like this could help keep people who might otherwise leave. There is an activity on the website where you can customize your own career/life preferences, check it out.

Other than these two, my favorite speaker and a big part of the reason I attended was Sue Paterno, wife of legendary coach Joe Paterno. Sue is very involved in many philanthropic activities, including the Special Olympics and Libraries Advisory Board, among others. She and her husband also donated a significant amount of money to build a library on campus. She discussed the benefits of giving back in any small or big way that you prefer. It was a great way to wrap up the conference: although we are all going to work hard on making our careers the best they can be, it is important to remember that giving back creates valuable rewards for both giver and recipient.

One last note for anyone considering Penn State's Smeal College of Business for their MBA. I got to visit the new Business Building on campus and it is really nice. Smeal was recently ranked #1 by Princeton Review for best business school facilities and I completely agree! The program itself seems to me to be a good up-and-coming second tier program with a very small class size (<200). If that sounds like a good fit for you, I encourage you to check it out. The campus atmosphere and town are beautiful and the football experience can't be beat. I love my alma mater and I've met few fellow alumni that don't feel the same way! It was great to be back this weekend.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Decision Day X 3

Looks like Wharton released R2 decisions a day early, so Chicago, Harvard, and Wharton all notified on the same day.
Congrats to all those who were admitted! I hope that I see you in July in Philadelphia!
To all those who got disappointing news, I wish you luck in getting off the wait list, reapplying, or moving on to your next adventure. Remember there is always more than one way to achieve your dreams.

Girl Stuff

Sorry guys, this post pertains mostly to the ladies.

Being a woman in business is hard. We are surrounded by men in most cases (I am the only woman on my team, and I am the lowest pay grade too). And usually when we actually see a woman promoted to a position of considerable power, I don't know about all of you but I catch myself thinking "well I'm not as confident/powerful/smart/capable/whatever as her so I can't do what she did." Meanwhile, I have always been confident in my intelligence and ability to lead, so why do I always have these thoughts? My only explanation is that maybe women are so outnumbered in my field that I struggle to find people that I can relate to that have succeeded so that I can picture myself in that position. I think that's where I need to make the internal connection: by being able to confidently picture myself achieving success, I will set myself up to take the actions I need to take to reach it.

Lately I have found two things that are helping me make those connections. The first is a magazine called Pink. Its tag line is "A Beautiful Career, a Beautiful Life." I think anything directed at women these days discusses the work/life balance that we all try to achieve, and this magazine certainly addresses it. But it also focuses a lot on career issues, particularly issues that affect executives, like how to avoid the "glass cliff" (i.e. being set up for failure by becoming CEO during a rough time for a company), how to entertain clients, how to manage employees, etc. Every issue has profiles of women that own or run companies. It really doesn't focus much on women just starting out in their careers, but women that are already in management or higher, which is what I really like. It helps me create that vision for my future. They also have a lot of articles that focus on entrepreneurs, something I hope to be some day. It sounds silly, but just seeing examples of other women that have been able to do it helps me change my mindset and say, "yes, I can do that too." I highly recommend this magazine to all female MBA hopefuls.

Another thing I've gotten into lately is the new pair of TV shows highlighting women in business. Alex Fleming recently recommended Cashmere Mafia on his Wharton diary*, so I decided to check it out. I also started recording Lipstick Jungle, which is a similar premise (I think I like Lipstick better-it's better written and executed, but both shows are good). Both shows surround a group of girlfriends that also happen to be successful and powerful in business. They are billed as next generation Sex in the City shows, but I think they provide something more, because the plot points go into issues that any woman that has aspirations to be an executive knows she may face: men that try to undermine her, managers that seem to overlook her achievements, struggles with balancing family life, husbands that experience jealousy or resentment for her success and the time she commits to work, feelings of guilt over the same, etc. Of course it's all super-dramatic and unrealistic in the way it plays out. It is TV after all! But it's good to have a pop culture reference point for the issues which have never really been focused on before. Lipstick Jungle just had their season finale and Cashmere Mafia hasn't come back from the writer's strike and appears to have been canceled (BOO!). But you can watch all the episodes of both shows on their websites - click on the links at the top of the paragraph.

Not to worry, I will now return to gender-neutral posts ;)

*Which I was going to link to but now I can't even find the diaries. Are they discontinued??

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sometimes Statistics Can Be Cool

Check out this post on Freakonomics by Justin Wolfers, a Wharton professor. Really interesting. I'm still planning to waive Statistics though :)

Friday, March 21, 2008

My Plans for the Next Few Months

I've got a lot to get done the next 4 months before Preterm.
Shift Work-Life Balance: I'll be honest here - this has already happened. As soon as I knew I was heading to Wharton I started sticking to a 9-5 schedule, which almost no one in my department does. I'm committed to getting my work done, but I refuse to give this job any more of my free time than the standard 8-hour day now that my end-date is within site. For it's part, my employer has nearly stopped giving me anything remotely interesting or challenging to do. Instead, it feels like they tried to think of every awful and boring thing that they don't want to be stuck with when I leave to throw over my cubicle wall. Not that I blame them, but they can't blame me either for cruising out of here when the clock strikes 5!
The Great Unclutter Project: I have already discussed my purging plans. Things are going well on that front so far. I have filled 2 boxes with stuff to be donated, filled 1 trash bag, and filled 4 or 5 boxes of stuff to be sold on ebay or at a yard sale before we move. I fully admit that I've deemed some stuff keepable that really isn't. Baby steps ... I will get there eventually.
Reading: I really want to get in some good reading-for-pleasure before I switch over to all reading-for-school.
Developing Better Habits: I am hoping that if I get better at getting consistent habits of sleeping well, eating well, and getting enough exercise, it will be easier to keep it going (to a point) once the onslaught of B-school activity hits. I understand that I am dreaming here.
Shopping for Furniture: I've become obsessed lately with searching for affordable furniture designed for small living spaces. Although I have confidence in my ability to downsize appropriately (even if my husband doesn't), I know storage and the footprint of furniture pieces is always going to be an issue. The truth is, we've never lived in a place as small as the typical Center City one-bedroom, so it's going to be a challenge no matter what. But I am excited to find some cute stuff from Ikea, Container Store, etc to make it a little easier. If anyone has any ideas, feel free to comment.
ENJOY LIFE! I plan to hit the beach as soon as the weather gets warm and stay there as much as I can until preterm. I also plan to attend as many Phillies games as I can and drink plenty of beer!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

If At First You Don't Succeed ... Go Back to the Easy Trails.

Just got back from a mini-vacation. Went skiing in Colorado. It was very fun, but I got a little too confident and ended up at the top of a trail looking down, terrified, and knowing I had no other way to get down than to just do it. Which I did, and crashed pretty bad. Wish I could say that it was worth it to try and fail, but I know I was feeling a lot better when I was rockin the easier slopes. So I went back to the flatter part of the mountain to end my day on a positive note. I think there is a life lesson in there somewhere ...

Friday, March 7, 2008

Next Project: Uncluttering!

I am addicted to stuff. I admit it. I cannot get rid of things. I keep things because a) I think maybe someday I will use them b) they were a gift and I feel guilty and maybe I should try to use them c) I know I won't use them again, but I can't throw them away because they might be worth something! or the classic: d) they have been in this box for so long that I forgot I had them, but now that I remember that I do I don't want to get rid of them!
But if all goes according to plan, we will be downsizing from our townhouse to a Center City 1 bedroom, which means we'll lose about 1000 sq. ft. of space. I deeply desire to keep the space we do have clutter free. I don't want all this stuff holding me back anymore. In other words, I must downsize!
So this weekend I will start my journey. I have started researching on blogs and other internet means to get ideas, but I will not buy any books! No more stuff, even if it is stuff that helps me reduce my stuff!
I've drawn some inspiration from this post on I think it's easy for me to feel that I am not moving very far in distance, so therefore I have more leeway with what I can bring. This is not true! With the exception of furniture, I should pretend that I am moving overseas and approach my project accordingly. I need to ask myself the tough questions, like “Is it absolutely essential that I put this item into storage or should I give it away?” and “Does this item represent who I am today or is it who I was yesterday?” and for me especially "Does the person who gave me this as a gift even remember that they gave it to me? If not, why am I keeping it??"
I know some people are very good at keeping things simple when it comes to their possessions. I am just not, so this task is feeling very daunting for me. Wish me luck in my quest!

I'm on a Roll!

I submitted the FAFSA last night. It was so easy compared to Need Access! I also submitted the matriculation form. All I have to do now is send in the deposit check, the first of many checks I will be writing to Wharton. Then it's another waiting game to get my letter from the Fellowship Committee.

Later I'll have to go through the whole loan application thing, but I don't want to think about that right now!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Dear Wharton, Please Please Please May I Have Some Financial Aid?

I finally faxed my resume and fellowship essay to the Financial Aid Office. I don't know why, but I had so much writer's block for the essay. Once I got going I pounded it out within a day, edited the next day, and then sent it off. I wish I had gotten the inspiration to do that months ago! Hopefully it's not too late to get some money (if they deem me worthy). It shouldn't be since R2 isn't finished yet. But less than half of the class gets something so I'm not getting my hopes up too high.

In case anyone did not attend Wharton Winter Welcome and is wondering, the amount for the financial need grant is less than the range of amounts for fellowships. So if you feel like you have true financial need, you might still want to make a case for merit in your essay. I believe they consider you for fellowships first, and then grants if you don't get a fellowship. You can't get both.

Also, you can use estimates for the 2007 financial numbers required in the Need Access form if you haven't done your taxes yet. If the numbers change I think you just need to tell the financial aid office. It's better to get the forms in rather than wait until you are absolutely sure about the numbers.

Monday, March 3, 2008

For Fun - Movies You'll Make Your Kids Watch

I thought I'd take a break from the MBA-related topics and talk about something random I've been thinking about. Did anyone else's parents make them watch movies that they loved as a kid? My dad made me watch Ben Hur and Spartacus. All the buzz for the new Indiana Jones movie has got me thinking about the movies I loved as a kid and what I'd want my kids to watch (and really hope that they actually like, unlike me with my dad's movies). Here's my list:

Indiana Jones Trilogy +1
Star Wars (the original trilogy)
Back to the Future Trilogy
Karate Kid (1 & 2)
The Princess Bride

Can you tell I grew up in the 80's? What's your list?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Another Check Mark Complete!

I finally finished the financial aid paperwork for Wharton last night. The form is used for both determining financial need for grants and for inputs to fellowship decisions. I am still reeling from the amount of information they asked for. It is far more than the FAFSA! I spent a lot of time adding up medical expenses for my husband and me for 2007 and then estimating for 2008. You have to estimate nearly all your financial numbers for 2008 which wasn't easy. I also had to call my mom and see if she remembered how much I received in scholarships for undergrad (11 years ago!) Somehow, she remembered. I certainly didn't. I'm surprised they didn't ask what I am planning to name my future children, when I expect them to be born, and how much I expect them to cost between birth and college.
I know I really shouldn't be complaining, because this part of the process is easy compared to the applications. And it's good that they are very thorough with this process to ensure that it's fair. I just didn't anticipate that it would require so much legwork to complete.
Now, time to write the essay! (No, I haven't started it yet).