Back to School

Monday was Labor Day, so this week was what has traditionally been the first week back to school for students across the United States.  I figured it’s an appropriate time to return to studying myself, exploring how I can continue to grow, and blogging about what I’ve learned.

This week I returned to the UC Berkeley campus, and will be there at least three times a week for the rest of the year.  It fees a little weird, because after I graduated from business school in May of 2010, I thought I was done with Berkeley (and happily brought all of my Stanford gear out of hiding).  I was wrong.

I am now back on campus as a member of Main Stacks, Berkeley’s competitive hip hop dance group.  This first week of practice reminded me of a lesson I failed to retain in the months since I first learned it.

To be completely honest, I was more apprehensive about the prospect of getting into Main Stacks than I was about the audition process itself. 
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Earning an A (in vanquishing should-monsters)

About a year-and-a-half ago, I was one of twelve students being trained to teach Leadership Communication for the new class of MBAs.  As part of training, we were asked to do everything we would be asking our students to do, which included an assignment called “Getting My A.” The assignment is based on a chapter from The Art of Possibility, where each of the author’s students is given an A at the beginning of the semester in order to eliminate any anxiety caused by the fear of being judged/measured and to give students the freedom to take risks necessary for growth.  There is only one requirement for earning the A: each student must write a letter from the perspective of her future self at the end of the term, about what she did and accomplished over the course of the term in order to earn an A.

Because I was teaching a communications course in a small-group setting, the assignment was modified to start with “Dear team, I got my A because…” and had to be delivered as a speech.  I went home and thought about what to write.  I’m a fairly decent public speaker, which is part of the reason I was selected to teach the class.  Yet, in order to push the students who were already good public speakers outside of their comfort zones, I wanted to model the kind of growth I expected them to achieve.

I asked myself, what is it that holds me back?  What kind of growth would I have to accomplish in order to earn an A?
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The pursuit of happiness is not what you think.

“There is nothing you have to do, get, or be in order to be happy.  Happiness is hard-wired into you.  You cannot *not* be happy, because it is your innate nature.”

These are the words of Srikumar Rao, who I went to see speak at an alumni event last week.  Six months after I concluded a year of inspiration and deep introspection, I was in need of a psychological tune-up.  I went to see Dr. Srikumar Rao, because I had heard great things about his previous talks and his course, Creativity and Personal Mastery.  Bald, smiling, Indian, and a Ph.D. in marketing, he is a guru for type-A personalities.

But if happiness is my innate nature, why am I not feeling it right now?

“You do not feel happy, because you have spent your entire life learning to be unhappy.”

Type-As are a skeptical set.  But how do you *know* that happiness is my innate state?

“How do I know?  Have you ever seen something so spectacular that it took you outside yourself to a place of great calm?”


In that moment I was back on the deck of the house I lived in during grad school, where I would lose myself in the beautiful view of the area I called home.

Grad school was the most hectic two years of my life.  It was the first time I found myself needing to manage my time all the way down to 15-minute increments.  Yet no matter how worried, stressed, or completely overwhelmed I felt, that view from our deck could always give me refuge.

“Why were you transported? Because, somehow, you were able to accept the universe exactly as it was. Your habitual wanting self dropped away, so you didn’t have to do anything to experience the happiness innate in you, it just rose up and enveloped you.  I know it exists, because you remember it.

“When you are unhappy, it is because you are rejecting the universe as it is.  And the universe is not playing ball.  It is beating you.”

It sure is.

I reflected on the moments when I’ve been less than happy.  Sometimes it’s because I am engulfed by not-so-pleasant mental chatter that is preventing me from connecting with the situation or people right in front of me.  Maybe I am replaying everything that went wrong.  Or I am obssessed with trying to shape the future into exactly the way I want it to be.

Thanks to some time off between graduation and re-entering the workforce, I had made strides in learning to quiet my mental chatter, and I’m going through exercises to tame my inner critic.  But it’s been an awful lot of work, and there are moments where I wonder whether I’m really capable of just being happy.

It dawned on me that I had this “pursuit of happiness” stuff all wrong.  When people coined this phrase, they didn’t mean “pursuit” in terms of  chasing something beyond me, but “pursuit” in terms of an activity which is always accessible and I’m regularly engaged in.  I just need to choose not to forget that it’s always with me.  And reminding myself of that is as easy as remembering a sunset.

Coming soon!

I just started this blog yesterday, but I’ve been thinking about it for a couple years, so already have a bunch of ideas for post topics.  For now, the list includes:

Finding Direction: exercises in how to figure out what you want to do and how your interests can translate into making a living

Getting/Creating your dream job: leveraging the network you have, developing your network, conducting informational interviews, following-up, pitching your own internship

Succeeding at your first job/ internship (for recent college grads): managing upward, structuring effective communication, useful Excel tips, taking control of your own professional development

Personal development: dealing with the voice in your head, facing fears, managing stress, finding courage to do what you love

Keep checking back, and let me know what else you might find helpful!