Excited for my Master’s degree!

As some of you may know, I’ll be a Master’s student at the University of Texas at Austin (McCombs School of Business) this fall. And if you couldn’t tell, I am super hyped.

  • I miss a collegiate environment. To be honest, I didn’t take college too seriously the first time around. I loved learning and I loved hanging out with my classmates, but in terms of professional development… very lacking. I hated team projects, I didn’t do interview practice, I fudged my way through a lot of p-sets, etc. This is a bit of a “do-over” for me.
  • It’s an opportunity for a career change. I’m aiming to get a position in investment/wealth management upon graduation; however, given that I took a little deviation from finance (plus the fact that I slept my way through my investments + options & futures classes in undergrad), I’m going to need a little boost from the advanced degree and going through the classes.
  • I’ll be in downtown Austin! That means after class, I can just hop a bus and be at Ballet Austin for dance classes. I can do a part-time internship if I absolutely want to. I can fully explore the downtown area, which I didn’t get to do while working at Giant Noise.
  • Case studies!!

Classes start mid-July, with intensive courses in Financial Management (probably the equivalent of 15.401) and Valuation (probably like 15.402). Shouldn’t be too hard (good review, at least), and will give me some time to work on career management and getting to know my cohort.

Interesting tidbit: my sister will be a freshman at UT next year too. Disturbing tidbit: she’s 6 years younger than me. Damn… has it really been 6 years since I first stepped foot on MIT‘s campus?

Saying goodbye.

I’ve run a PR/marketing business on the side since I was young.

At the age of 15 I started officially doing jobs for people – a logo design here, some web design there… SEO projects here, press releases here. Promotional posters, advertising buying, analytics, social media management…

It grew and grew. I had official clients I billed on a monthly basis. I got placements in some amazing media outlets. I learned a lot about marketing analytics, got a job in public relations, and even got accepted into the best Integrated Marketing Communications program in the nation (Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and Media).

But now… I think it’s the right time to lay it to rest.

You could call it a childhood dream, in the same way that tons of students grow up playing violin competitively or dancing competitively, and then give it up in college. Having done a small tour of the PR/marketing world and continuing to do it on a freelancing basis, I’m finally coming to terms that it’s not for me.

Do I still admire the work of PR, marketing, and ad agencies? Absolutely. But there are many goals in my life that are simply not compatible. For example: I really want to re-enter the finance world as a financial advisor. At the same time, I wanted to run a PR/marketing agency. And run a coaching business. And a dance academy.

There are only so many hours in a day. And ultimately I need to decide what is important to me and what’s not.

So I offer a big thank you to the PR/marketing industry. The world that nurtured my love for business development, gave me a platform to stand on, threw me into the shark-infested waters of the adult world way well before my time, and gave me tough love to figure out things on my own.

Now it’s on to bigger and better things.

Things I’ve learned…

… during the past 2 weeks working for myself:

  • It is a lot easier to get up in the morning knowing I don’t need to “report” to anyone at the stroke of 9:00.
  • The Barnes & Noble cafe is starting to know my order (broccoli & cheddar quiche with a San Pellegrino).
  • RFPs are a nasty beast and we should stop trying to fill them with fancy-schmancy language. Keep it simple!
  • I’m really really excited about my master’s degrees. And studying for my CFP. Not so much for the CFA though…

Some other interesting tidbits:

  • Signed up for a ton of dance classes. Taking Adult Jazz, Hiphop, and Ballet with the Cedar Park Dance Company; doing some ballet classes at Ballet Austin; and will be taking advanced classes with the teens at Star Dancers Studio. Excited!
  • Bought myself a Macbook Pro. After a year of wanting one. Much more portable than my HP Envy (which is slowly dying), and much meatier than my HP Chromebook (which will probably go to the boyfriend).

Ultimately, I just feel really empowered and productive. Even if it’s just doing something as simple as setting up a website or rewriting a resume. Love working from my laptop – anywhere, anytime. I can do work at 2am if I want. I can sleep in until 10am if I want. I can work from the bookstore or my couch or the froyo place down the street…

Some big things coming soon, stay tuned :)

If I could turn back time…

  1. I would have pursued dance pre-professionally. Would have taken a full 15-hour courseload during high school and then attended summer intensives.
  2. For that matter, I would have actually joined my high school’s dance team when the director begged me to audition.
  3. I would have done my due diligence and found the Beijing Dance Academy Syllabus for Chinese Dance a lot earlier, learned it, taken the exams, and have my entire teaching certificate set.
  4. I would have joined a competition team at a local studio and spent my weekends rehearsing, traveling, and competing.
  5. I would have figured out what I wanted to do a lot earlier in life. (Well, technically I always knew what I wanted to do – just never had the inner strength to ignore the naysayers.)
  6. I would have chosen a single major in college (probably Finance) and spent literally ALL of the rest of my time taking dance classes so I could remain flexible. 4 years of not dancing intensively has made me as flexible as a 40-year-old. I’m not even joking.

Huh. There seems to be a trend here…

Unfortunately, dance is one of those things that kind of disappears after college (along with cheap food, student discounts, and all-nighters you actually want to pull).

Adult dance programs are few and far between, and none really offer rigorous training with a focus on technical ability. Instead, it’s more of a “learn an art, get fit, and have fun” environment – nothing wrong with that (and I applaud older adults who want to learn a new artform) – but at the same time there are young professionals who do want to pursue it semi-professionally.

Competition lifestyle disappears after age 16 unless you’re in a hiphop/street crew which participates in competitions like World of Dance. Or you could be a ballroom dancer, which seems to only exist after you become an adult.

If only I knew as a child what I knew now.

Career Break / Sabbatical

Some of the most inspiring people I know are acquaintances I’ve met over the Internet. In particular, I wanted to give a shoutout to Geraldine of The Write Woman, whose fairly recent “I quit my job to pursue my passion” storyline has really struck a chord in me and led me to do the exact same thing.

As some of you may know, I was living in San Francisco for a time, working as a cog-in-the-wheel at a large, global consulting company. And it was there that I realized: it doesn’t matter how many companies I cycle through, or what industry I try to break into, or where I’m living. I’m always going to be miserable as long as I’m shirking my passions in the name of security, risk-averseness, or climbing the corporate ladder.

A year and a half after graduation – and putting aside what I really wanted to do in life - I waved goodbye to the rat race. I let my mask fall. I started listening to the voice inside my head instead of those around me (well-intentioned though they were).

And I quit my job.

I had done it once before, in the name of trying to switch industries (which I did, to much success). It ended up not making me happy. The job function, I soon discovered, was not what made me happy or unhappy. It was the fact that I was constantly working as someone else’s caddy, someone else’s assistant, someone else’s underling.

I don’t claim to know it all (in fact, I know very little), but I want to take responsibility for the things that I do know. I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted to take an hour-long lunch break to swing by a yoga class (and not be chewed out for not sitting at my desk glued to my email). I wanted to be able to close my laptop, leave the office, and not have to field emails at 11pm on a Friday night. I wanted the freedom to tell my clients, “No means no, and you can contact us during normal business hours unless there is a crisis.” I wanted to advise the right thing, not necessarily the most profitable thing. I wanted to make a difference that translated to actual numbers, not intangible feel-good fluff.

There are no shortcuts in life, and I don’t expect there to be. However, one can agree that there are definitely roads that are much more fulfilling to walk than others.

So what am I doing now? I’m taking an official “career break” (or “sabbatical”, if you like fancy terms) before starting my Master of Science in Finance (MSF) at the University of Texas’s McCombs School of Business this fall. This doesn’t mean that I’ll be idle – in fact, I just might get more done during the next 4 months than I have in the past year. Some plans:

  • Work a part-time job OR do some major work at a nonprofit I care about
  • Aggressively pay off credit card debt
  • Study for and take the GMAT
  • Study for the CFP (Certified Financial Planner) exam
  • Study for the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Level 1 exam
  • Tutor for one of the big companies (Kaplan, Manhattan, Princeton Review, Varsity, etc.)
  • Take Japanese classes and take the JLPT in December (ideally the N4 level)
  • Go through a ton of math classes on MIT’s OpenCourseWare (including: Differential Equations, Linear Algebra, Real Analyis…)
  • Get my Zumba certification (finally! after 2 years of trying!)
  • Train for and run a 5K
  • Learn how to figure skate
  • Go swimming at the local YMCA every day
  • Write and publish a poetry anthology (a life dream since I was 12)
  • Attend a Startup Weekend
  • Start laddering on Starcraft 2 again
  • Sell off anything valuable in my old bedroom to Craigslist/eBay
  • Consider flipping Airbnb rentals for side income (partnering with a few acquaintances)
  • Start a college app / career coaching side business
  • Work on The Big Project (oh yes, it’s finally happening, and it’s going to consume. my. life.)

I have enough in savings to cover living expenses (which are fairly minimal, as my two great roommates participate in the “what’s mine is yours” philosophy in regards to food and utilities). Everything else will be funded through resourcefulness, part-time jobs, and TaskRabbit gigs. The caveats:

  • Credit cards are cut up and/or literally frozen.
  • All purchases must be made in cash / debit.
  • All purchases must either be essentials (rent, utilities) or contribute directly to any of the goals above.

This is going to be one hell of an adventure.