Jersey Shore and a Part-Timer’s Guide to Free Time

Jersey Shore Stereotype.

Over the last year and a half, I’ve somehow been able to keep a pretty balanced lifestyle. Sure, I’m consumed with an inordinate amount of reading and class work, but I’m still finding it possible to fit in some fun time for myself and my fiancé, Ashley. Here, I will give some recommendations to current and future part-time students on how you can still fully apply yourself to the MBA and still feel like you’ve got a life through the lens of one of this generation’s highest quality TV shows, “The Jersey Shore.”

STEP 1: Don’t live your life in front of the TV. Before I started school, my regular work day went something like this: get up, work 9-hours, gym, eat dinner, television. TV time would last from 8:00 till I went to bed. That’s three hours a night! With my newly acquired MBA math skills, that’s about 15 hours a week…an eternity for a part-time MBA student. The cast of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” teaches us that you should never waste a second (granted, all their seconds are spent getting wasted, but that’s neither here nor there). The point is that I’ve drastically cut down the amount of television I actually watch and instead use this time to get some work done. When the weekend comes, I’m set up nicely to enjoy it.

Wise Man.

Step 2: Work on the weekends…but do it early in the day. In the words of Pauly D, “Sometimes you gotta put sleep aside, bro…and get your GTL on.” I couldn’t agree more, especially since GTL stands for “Go Tackle Learning.” I strongly recommend taking advantage of your weekend mornings. Usually, I head to Starbucks on Saturdays at around 8:00am. It’s cliché, but I’m productive there. I setup my computer, get out my highlighter and get to work. I’ll usually hang around there until early afternoon, and then meet Ashley for lunch. All books are forced close by 4pm, at which time I call it quits and commit the rest of the day to quality relaxation time (i.e. movies, dinner, etc.).

I have the rest of my life to be tired, but let’s be honest…most of us are only tired right after we wake up. This weekend, get the motor running early; open your eyes, throw a little cold water on your face, and faster than you can say “yeah buddy,” you’re ready to go for the day. Think of what else you’d be doing if you weren’t working during this time. If “sleeping” is your answer, you might want to make an adjustment.

HA HA.

Step 3: Do your best to stay ahead of your course work. Getting ahead is a one-time effort. Once you’re ahead, staying there is easy. We can all take a lesson from “The Situation” in this respect. His hair doesn’t magically spike itself. Rather, there is a concerted effort on his part to diligently prepare.

As an MBA student, preparation is critical to a sane lifestyle. I recommend “staying ahead” by doing your weekly reading assignment BEFORE your class lecture on the subject. It might take a little extra effort to get ahead, but doing so gives you the slack you need to enjoy some free time. A perfect example is the last minute trip I took a few weeks ago. I felt a lot better about making the trip because I was ahead on my class work. Of course, now I’m “on-time” and will need to work to get back ahead of schedule, but at least I’m not behind schedule.

Feel free to share any tips you have on giving yourself some extra free time…or on how to create the perfect blow-back. Keep those fists pumping and be sure to give yourself some free time to enjoy.

Networking: Real vs. Fake

Okay, if you’re like me, you came into Kogod hearing the word “networking” coming for all corners of the building. There are formal definitions out there that essentially define networking as the harvesting of people who, when combined together, will somehow benefit you. That sounded like a great idea to me…so I figured I’d try networking.

How did I first start networking? Why, I created a LinkedIn profile of course! Once I learned the ins and outs of the online networking platform, I quickly began building what became a second Facebook account. Within a couple weeks, I had over 100 connections, almost all of which were personal friends, scientists, golf club attendants, a farmer, or a combination of these. What a network! I was clearly really good at this (or at least clicking a mouse button) and I didn’t have any doubt that I was going to land my dream job.

Recently, I decided that I will be concentrating in finance. I love the material and know it’s something that I will do well with. I started thinking about where I would want to go, what company I’d like to work for, what actual positions were out there; and I came up with a pretty good list. Then I had a nice little reality check.

I was talking to my beautiful fiance about where we would want to go, and where a good place to work might be, and she kindly chimed in with, “Do you even know anyone in finance?”

Uhhhhhhhhhh. Well I have a network on LinkedIn, so I must know someone, right? WRONG. I looked through my account and the only finance connections I had were the Facebook equivalent of people that you “friend” after one too many chocolate milks on a Thursday night at college. That’s when I realized that networking is so much more than just knowing people…but I still didn’t actually know how to network. So I took a new approach.

For my first move, I went to the KCCD and talked with Jen Murphy about my aspirations and my utter lack of a useful network. She put me at ease and then sent me in the direction of some people that are currently affiliated with finance at Kogod. I reached out to them using a more personal approach (ahem…email) and set up some in-person meetings. At these meetings, I have been focusing more on learning about the finance industry and what I’m interested in rather than trying to find a new job.

To lay the ground work for more meetings, I’m making it a point to create another connection at the conclusion of the meeting (a big thanks to Julie Jones for pointing out this critical step). After the meeting, I’m also trying to follow up (in another email) with the person I met, and the person who put us in contact. By the way, my version of a follow up is more or less a simple “thank you” letter with just a little bit of relevant substance.

Even with people I know, this networking thing is somewhat nerve wracking. But, only a few weeks into my new networking style, I can already say things are getting easier. I’ve sort of bashed LinkedIn here, but it does serve a great purpose both for you and the people who know you. Its major drawback, in my opinion, is that LinkedIn can mistakenly portray networking as being easy. It’s not. I’m learning that it takes real, physical interaction beyond being connected to someone “on the 1st” tier through a website. LinkedIn definitely makes networking more accessible, but it sure doesn’t make the process any simpler; nor does it make the people you know any more or less relevant.

I’m glad that I’ve started this “real” process of networking now. I’ve still got another year and a half to really put this thing into motion. And, if my stint with finance fails…at least I know I can reach out to my connection in the farming industry.

What I *might* want to be when I grow up…

Garbage Truckin'

Back in the day...

When I was a young kid (like when Wee-Sing children’s videos were cool…Google it), I wanted to be a garbage man. To me, riding on the back of a garbage truck looked absolutely awesome. In what other job would I get to be at the mercy of a giant machine and enjoy the “fresh” air every Friday morning? As time went by, more lucrative options have entered my job seeking portfolio, and the Kogod MBA is adding more and more by the semester, and even by the day. Currently, I work as a civilian (not “civil”) mechanical engineer with the government and it’s no secret that I entered into the MBA program to move on to different things. But where to go?

I’ve spent most of my time at Kogod trying to figure out what it is that I really enjoy doing and why I like doing it.  I mean, I became and engineer for some reason, right? Sure. Engineering has given me the chance to explore new challenges, collect and analyze data, plan projects, and publish my findings. All of this is great.

Look at 'em all.

That's a lot of information.

The one BIG thing I feel I miss out on as a research engineer is having a finished product. So I did an experiment, made it work, and wrote a report. If the sponsor is happy with what I discovered, then concept rides off into the sunset. Otherwise, the design is tweaked and comes back to us for more evaluation, only to be sent out again. The work we do is extremely valuable, but I’m looking to produce more than just the report, I want to help something (be it a business or product) grow and prosper.

This brings me to the idea of private equity. Instead of an indirect relationship to a product (as is the case with the engineering research I perform), something like private equity would allow me to have a more acute impact on a direction, goals, and operations of a target company. I like the idea searching for potential, for great ideas, and for the next big thing and then taking a calculated risk toward accomplishing a success-oriented goal.

Private equity has gotten some bad press as of late, but I’ve looked at this field from different perspectives and see a net positive outcome from a majority of the relationships between a PE firm and a target firm…even in the case of failure. PE gives companies a better chance; a better chance to grow, prosper, and even survive. No, it’s not my dream job of riding on the back of a garbage truck, but based on where I am today and my interests and strengths in the MBA program, private equity seems to line up nicely.

This has nothing to do with an MBA

Now I know that when I study for exams, I do a lot more than I need too. For most of my classes, I try to record lectures using a little handheld digital recorder that cost way more than it should have. I then organize the files in their own folder on my computer, sync them up with my iPod nano, and listen to them almost continuously for the 5 days before the exam. In my own defense, it’s kind of a mindless effort to just sit (or run, or drive) and listen to old lectures. I actually highly recommend it. Exam day finally comes, I get a crick in my neck from sitting in an uncomfortable chair for 2.5 hours, and then…freedom.

I finished my last exam of my fourth semester (of nine) just a couple days ago. The drive home from that exam wasn’t that much different from my other drives back from Kogod, but when my fiance called and said, “There’s a surprise waiting for you on the coffee table,” that ride became a little more high speed.

That's me in black war fighting gear.

I walked in the door to my apartment and it was clear that Santa had come early! Wrapped in fresh cellophane plastic, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 sat ready to provide me with hours of opportunity to save the world from destruction.

“Congratulations on finishing your semester!” Ashley (my fiance) said. “I’ll leave you two alone.”

I put the video game – nay!, the awesomeness – into my Playstation 3 game console, and began my quest of domination. As the opening credits started, I was reminded of my undergraduate days when my roommates and I would network our computers together and play against each other for dorm room glory.

It was a great feeling to finally have a chance to relax from the rigors of the MBA program and regress to my childish, coma inducing ways. My PS3 had been collecting dust since January. I’ve got about a month of play time, and at this rate, I think I’ll be looking pretty pale when I get back to class. I’ll probably get another crick in my neck too. Oh well. It’s a small price to pay for glory.

Résumé of the Future

MBA students have the toughest choices.

I’d like to say that everything I’ve done in my MBA courses has been relevant to my career; I’ve analyzed the Disney/Marvel merger (twice), I’ve performed linear regressions (multiple times), and I’ve determined my BATNA (ever more frequently).

One thing, though, stands out as the most beneficial exercise I’ve performed to date: My Future Résumé.

In Professor Clark’s Management of Organizations and Human Capital course, we were instructed to develop a résumé which reflected how we wanted our “next five professional years” to pan out. My first reaction when I sat down to do the assignment was a little nervousness.

Before this assignment, I was still trying to find out “what I wanted to be when I grew up.” I wasn’t walking a well landscaped and properly drained path like many of my colleagues. My path was more reminiscent of pave stones forming a crooked, yet generally straight line surrounded by grass that hadn’t been mowed in a while. Couple of weeds in there too.

The path was a mess, but the destination it was leading to was a little less unkempt. Destination: I want to be a leader in business. Vague? Duh. But it was less vague than my actual career path. When I began putting together my “5 Year Résumé,” I went into it with an open mind. Whatever I decide to “concentrate” in at Kogod doesn’t necessarily determine where I go in my career. Not to mention, my career, God willing, is going to be over a fairly long period of time. The chances of me changing my mind or becoming interested in new things are rather high – especially for someone like me.

I started with what I currently think Kogod could result in. I like the numbers and analysis we performed in economics, and I also like the soft skills I’m learning in my other classes. “Maybe Private Equity or some other financial field would suit me well,” I thought. “Maybe that’s how I start my new career when I leave Kogod.” So, the early years of my 5-Year Résumé reflected some financial analysis experience.

My thought process, however, kept coming back to an operations mindset. I’m moving away from being an engineer, per se, but I’m not losing my interest in how things are made. In fact, I love the show “How It’s Made.” So, I envisioned my career turning toward something more logistical in the products industry (rather than the services industry). I suppose, though, I could always operate a service…but, that’s neither here nor there.

You can't operate this with an Xbox controller.

I decided I’d take my “newly acquired” finance background and transition into Operations Management for a manufacturing firm called Company X. They make widgets…damn good ones, too.

There I would start managing the general operations of a factory (no, I’m not a floor manager) and then progress through the ranks employing innovative thinking and strategies to cut costs and increase employee retention. I even imagined creating a “brand new” way to incentivize my workforce. It involved a company trophy. Nuff said.

At the end of five years, my Future Résumé has me working as Director of East-Coast Operations for Company X. Sounds good to me, I guess. Is this necessarily what’s going to happen? I hope not – that’d be mad boring. MAD boring. I’m fully expecting things NOT to go according to plan. But at least at this point, my path is a little more manicured, the weeds have been trimmed back, and my destination is a little more in focus.

I figure this trend will continue as I progress through the MBA program and gain new insight to the possible career options I’ll have. I recommend that everyone develop their own Future Résumé. It’s a great way to determine how to potentially reach your goals and it helps make sure your current path (if you have one) still leads to the goals you have in mind.

Fantasy football – and friendships at Kogod

So, you’re in class with a group of people for 15 weeks at a time. You meet someone new and then proceed through the seemingly ritualistic process of becoming friends. “Hey where are you from? Who do you work for? Oh I never heard of that company…what do they do?”

You finally determine that, as you expected, this person will not rip your head off, nor will they steal your pen when you’re not looking. They are a good person; someone you wouldn’t mind being connected with in the future. A few laughs are shared, you both agree that the awkward comment that John Doe just blurted out was awkward, and you become friends. This usually happens right at week 14 and at that point, it seems like all is lost. Vacation comes, you pick different class schedules, and as you and your new friend go in opposite directions, violins play softly in the background of the movie entitled “Your MBA Life.”

How do you bridge the gap, keep those friends you have made, and sustain those vital relationships? You could schedule a dinner where everyone has to struggle with his or her calendar to meet up. You could count on catching up at the not-so-annual Kogod golf tournament, or you could do what a few of my friends and I have decided to do: FANTASY FOOTBALL.

Those of you following me on Twitter (@JohnFishback) know two things. One, I’m new to Twitter; and two, I’ve unleashed its one true power as a treasure trove of information on how to dominate your Fantasy Football league. I’m obsessed with the stats, who’s good, who’s bad, and I’m making trades and picking up players at an alarmingly fast and undoubtedly inefficient rate.

I’m even dishing some of the sweetest “smack talk” this side of the great Mississippi River. It’s all in fun, and it’s much more than just a way gain bragging rights; it’s a simple way to maintain these all-important friendships we’ve worked so hard to create. When I see the guys in my league in the halls of Kogod, we have more to talk about than “how work is going.”

Now, let’s get one thing straight. I’m very interested in what my friends are doing professionally, but I have to say, I feel like I’m boring people when I tell them that things are still going well for the 10th time. Fantasy Football and our friendly competition give us something we can all relate to on an informal basis. It’s fun. It’s easy. Guys AND girls can play. It’s not hard to be good, and it’s very easy to be lucky. If you’re looking for a way to keep your Kogod relationships alive, give Fantasy Football a try. If you’ve discovered another way to keep strong the friendships you’ve made, share them below!

As a note, I got destroyed in Week 1 of my fantasy football season. Time for some rash decision-making based on hearsay. Wish me luck!

Entrepreneurs and the Science Fair

My younger sister, Kelly, is a member of her high-school’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA). Earlier in the school year, she and all other members of the YEA were tasked with developing a business plan for an original idea which they created. At the end of the allotted 6 month period, the students would present their businesses to a panel of investors in hopes of being awarded money to pursue their ideas.

Kelly’s business idea was a fashion blog highlighting good deals on stylish clothing in the Rochester area with the intent to show young people, mainly, that the expensive looks they see in the magazines are affordable. Roc The Look, as it’s named, has a great following for being so new. Local businesses have dropped “twitter bombs” and nationally recognized clothing companies have given “props” to them as well. My sister and everyone she’s worked with is elated with the success of her pet project and its potential. Kelly and the other YEA members presented their ideas on Tuesday.

Kelly didn’t win top prize (but she did get some cash). As an older brother, my first inclination was that “the contest obviously was rigged”. A second thought: “Okay, well those other kids must have cheated”. Finally, I realized the truth. Kelly, in my honest and impartial opinion, had the best idea for a company. She had a targeted demographic; she was building a network; she had outside interest in her product; and she had (and still has) a real willingness to pursue the idea after the 6-month development period. These attributes were all lacking from the other students’ proposals. Why did she lose?

The answer for me can best be explained by my own elementary school Science Fair days. I won the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade science fairs – that’s three…count ’em THREE. But I never could take home “top” prize. My winning projects were cool: I made my own traffic light,  my own electronic game, and I simulated the physics of a bed of nails using a balloon and golf balls (shout out to my brother who “assisted” me on this one) . The projects were cool, but so are fireworks displays.

What the judges were interested in was the physics of a firework: What’s the force behind an explosion? What makes the colors? What’s the reasoning behind the sound? The point I’m trying to make is that anyone can set off a firework…anyone can have a great idea. But being able to explain that idea is where the real value lies.

Had Kelly really dug into the value of her business, rather than why the idea was so novel, she would have without a doubt won the top prize. As a Kogod MBA Grad Student, my seventeen year old sister’s experience has really opened my eyes to this all important fact. If you have a good idea, you need to explain its value, not just how it works.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

– Thomas A. Edison