Tag Archives: grad school

The Second Coming of My Life

Watching my hands shake violently as I attempt to calm myself down  without anyone noticing, I realized that I really desperately need to make a massive change in my life. There is nothing in the world that will make this the right career fit for me, and I have the choice to either continue falling straight on my sword each time I fail to produce results, or doing a 180 and running in a completely new direction. I’m ready to run.

I’m 33. That’s not old but it isn’t young either. It’s old enough to know better to jump into the same old situation yet again. I’ve created a conundrum for myself, in which I’m too senior to qualify for junior roles where I can learn how to do my job better, but too inexperienced to be truly qualified for the senior roles. An old business acquaintance not too familiar with my professional contributions outside of my public resume this week asked me if I’ve be interested in a very senior level marketing role in his organization, where he is on the executive team. He assumed I had the appropriate experience to take on this role but I don’t. And I’m so tired of this whole “fake it to you make it” because I’m horrible at faking it. I can’t even get my head around how to do a good job.

Today, I’m again fantasizing about grad school. I go back and forth over whether I should pursue an MBA or a design degree. The MBA would definitely make me better suited for my current role in its more senior incarnations, but the design degree would set me up for a job that I have a chance to actually love – thus, the design degree is probably the better choice. Either way, I need to take a standardized test and apply within the next month or so, which is a lot to do for someone who hasn’t prepared at all yet other than to categorize all the elements of math that I’d need to learn in the next 30 days. I can always wait another year, but I feel like it’s now or never at this point.

The best situation would be to stay in my current role and do the best I can for the next 8-9 months and leave for grad school in the fall. I’m sure I’ll be the oldest in my class by far which will be disheartening but maybe I’m finally mature enough to get a lot out of school (which I definitely wasn’t in undergrad) and I’d learn a ton and be employable for roles that I’d actually want once I finish. I’m less concerned about finances at this point – I’m still worried about retirement and such, but being as right now I’m not unable to afford a house and miserable in my career choice, I might as well be unable to afford a house and happy. Right?

I’m keeping the grad application thing secret as I probably won’t get in anyway and I’m trying to learn how to be self motivated to study for the tests. I really would like to just focus on the standardized test at a separate goal which, if I complete that and do well enough, I can move on to the next part of the journey which is actually applying to the schools. The problem with that is all the apps are due between Jan 1 and Jan 15… it doesn’t give me nearly enough time to pull together my portfolio and such. The MBA programs are a bit more flexible as I can apply to later rounds, so I might go the MBA route anyway and find a school where I can take a few design classes. Either way, I think the educational route will help me break out of this decade-long funk. I’ve learned a lot, but I need a massive shift right now, or this will be the rest of my life, and I can’t handle not knowing what I’m doing and falling apart on a daily basis.

 

I don’t care about money anymore.

For the last almost 15 years of my life since I graduated from high school, I’ve felt overwhelmingly lost. I may as well have been wandering blindfolded through Siberia with my hands tied behind my back. Somehow or other I’ve managed to float from one job to the next, things I never really wanted to do, but it all just happened. I got really good at faking it enough to get hired in only the things I didn’t actually want to do.

I always return to my $325k+ networth, because that’s my one heaping achievement at this point in my life. I don’t own a house. I paid for my used car outright. I live in a relatively modest one bedroom shared with my boyfriend. I have no kids. I barely have a social life. I spend most of my time working or thinking about work or doing something related to work, despite not being nearly as productive as I should be. And I’ve given up on all of my dreams for fame or fortune. Right now, I just want to find my calling. I don’t need a six figure job. Ironically I find the more money I make the less I want to spend, the more I want to save – and I’ve figured out I can get away with about $3k a month in expenses, or less if I was desperate.

Part of me thinks I’m absolutely crazy. I should be fighting for my current life, my current job, with every ounce of my being. It may not be enough – I may just not be intellectually capable of doing a good job in this specific type of role – but I should at least be trying with all my might. I don’t feel like I have the right to be burnt out at this point – it isn’t burn out, it’s just the wrong fit. My whole life has been the wrong fit.

But I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not completely on the wrong path. There are elements of my role, the industry I am in, which are more than fulfilling. I just know that the only thing that stands between me and a life I can be proud of is the GRE. Yes, there’s graduate school as well, but the GRE is the big giant monster standing in my way. When I say this out loud it sounds like I’m throwing a pity party but I’m really not that intelligent in the book smart sense of the term. While I need a billion hour of study on quant to score decently on that section, I feel like I have a chance to master quant if I put my mind to it. I’m terrified of verbal, surprisingly enough, because my comprehension skills are limited.

Clearly I’ll need to study a lot for the GRE. With an undergraduate GPA of 3.2 (barely, it’s a bit all over the place) I don’t know i fan self-respecting graduate program would seriously consider my application without some crazy stellar GRE score. I’m talking top 95%. Or, you know, I just don’t go to grad school, and I figure out something else. But the longer I think about it… you know… 10 years or so… the more it’s clear that I need to go back to school to get where I want to be. There are specific programs I want to apply to, and all of these are at top schools to where I wouldn’t have dreamed of applying for undergrad. And I still think it’s rather funny I’m considering applying to them for grad school. If I were to actually get in, I think that would be the first actual accomplishment of my life that I’d be proud of.

At the moment I’m trying to figure out how to arrange my studying. I’m not opposed to putting $1000+ down on a class, but I feel like it would make more sense to TRY to study on my own and take the test first – see how I do after seriously studying on my own for two months or so, and then go take a class or get a tutor to hone up on the parts I couldn’t learn on my own. The whole prep class thing reeks of scam — the GRE is supposed to be the type of test one can learn themselves. And would 8 weeks of classes really get me where I need to be? Tutors are crazy expensive though. I realize compared to a $100k graduate program spending $5k on getting in is really not that insane. I just don’t think a one-size-fits-all type of program would really work. So I’m going to see what I can do on my own first… probably. I’d like to double down on quant first. Answering verbal questions is frustrating because I can’t go back and “work” them and figure out what I did wrong – other than memorizing words. And I SUCK at memorization.

In any case, the next 4 months of my life = intense GRE study. I need to approach this like a game. The game is the GRE. And I want to win it.

The Cost of Preparing to Actually Do Something

After a long debate (with myself) I’ve punted my short-lived plans to become a therapist in lieu of returning to my consistently-returning plans/desire to be a UX designer and product manager. While graduate school is not required for such a career change, I’m the type of person who likes to have formal training from a well-regarded institution in order to properly credential myself for the future – and to learn best practices, theories, and generally have an opportunity to try things out in a supportive environment. Furthermore, given my undergraduate and professional background, a degree from a well-regarded school would be extremely helpful in making a switch and moving up quicker once I do.

With a 3.2 GPA and a transcript that looks like a schizophrenic went to school (I believe I graduated with 320 quarter credits were my 3.2 is definitely what you would call an “average” of quite a range of grades (let’s just say my first two years were rough and I randomly did well in certain academic electives), I need a killer GRE score to get into any of the programs that would be worth attending. One of the great things about the GRE today is that you can also use the score to apply to MBA programs. I don’t plan to do that off the bat – my ideal scenario would be become an interaction designer for a large company that would help support an executive MBA education, which I would then use said GRE score to get into if I wanted more formal business training at some point.

The plan really makes sense. I’m not sure exactly which school I’d go to, but I do have a list of about 10 with 5 top choices. I’m a bit worried that somehow I’ve gotten so old that I will be the oldest person in any of these programs (probably) as looking at their photos of “current students” makes me wonder if they are accepting middle schoolers. Regardless, I must remind myself that graduate education has nothing to do with age, it’s all what you make of it and everyone brings different life experiences.

For me, I’m getting excited about the potential of this really happening. It’s going to be a nutty next five years of my life, that’s for sure. Just playing it out here — if I apply this fall, that means I would be accepted to a program for fall 2016. I plan to be getting married in spring or fall 2016, and ideally getting pregnant shortly thereafter – which means I’d both be pregnant and have my first child while in graduate school. I’m not at all sure if this makes any sense, but at least beyond the biological requirements, I know my man would be very helpful in taking care of the kid while I do things like study and attend class.

The thought of both — being back in school AND having a kid — seem rather surreal and completely unachievable. Well, I’m taking things one step at a time. No matter what, my first step is getting a great score on the GRE. This is going to require a lot of studying. For the record, I’ve never actually studied for anything in my life. Between ADHD and anxiety I just tend to take tests and use logic to solve the questions. Alas, I’ve never really worked up to my potential. The reality is in order to do well on these types of tests, unless you’re a flat-out Einstein, you have to study. In high school I managed a 1230 SAT ( I believe it was 610v/620q) out of 1600… which at the time I thought was astoundingly good for a person who didn’t study at all for the test and didn’t really have any idea how she’d score.

The GRE is a whole different story though. To make it worth it, I want to aim for a 170. I’m not sure what score I’d be satisfied with, but that doesn’t matter right now. I need to aim for perfection and then deal with whatever I get. I did take the GRE once with no real prep the year after I graduated college and it was a disaster. I believe I scored a 520 out of 800 or something. It was pretty pathetic. All the math I kind of knew when I was in high school had poof disappeared from my mind. And, despite it being impossible to be a voracious writer I’m not a voracious reader, and I tend to eat my words as I write them, so my voraciousness is reserved for expunging thoughts versus consuming them — in other words, I voraciously suck at vocab. Surprise.

I’ve heard the new GRE is less of a vocabulary quiz and more focused on reasoning – which is good. I’ve always been fairly strong on the logic/reasoning side of things. That’s how I got through school in the first place. Use logic first and if that doesn’t work then just be creative. Well, that won’t fly in graduate school, but I do now value my intuitive ability to solve questions when logic is involved. I guess I get that logic mind from my math-science brain father, and the creative mind from my former-designer mom.

So now I’m wondering – how much money do I blow on GRE prep before I even take the test? On one hand, doing well on the test is the most important part of applying to graduate school. I know I need a killer GRE score to bypass my crazy educational background. And I’m fully aware that plenty of people (who have the money) spend thousands of dollars on tutors and such for test preparation (even for the SAT.) Since I live in an area with a high cost of living, it’s not unreasonable to expect to pay anywhere from $1000-$4000 for a prep program, depending on whether it’s a standard group program or personalized 1on1 tutoring. I’m sure there are people who pay even more. That doesn’t even count all the other services available for application coaching, which I plan to skip – it would be worth it if I was dying to go to a top MBA program but I think my story will speak for itself once I can prove I’m capable of handling academia. Oy.

But thinking about grad school, and what that means for my career, is definite the silver lining on my life right now. I know things will never be perfect, but I am so thrilled about spending my life designing products and services for people to use. There’s many different routes my career and even graduate education can go – there are programs dedicated to everything from design for learning technologies to designing interaction with robots and smart devices. I get all giddy excited imaging a life where I wake up every day getting to think about the interaction design of such products. Who knows where my life will lead, but I can smile at the thought of not spending the rest 35+ years of my life in marketing, and instead in a life where I focus on building great products.

Oh, but did I mention that I’m absolutely horrified about what this all means for my networth growth? HORRIFIED, I tell you. But I know I’m not the only one who has been through this, and I’ll be fine. It’s just going to make me cringe to see my networth go down for a few years before it can go up again. But at this rate in my current field I’m headed towards a mental institution which won’t be cheap either. Got to look on the bright side.

 

Tenacity and Intellect, the Perfect Combo

For the longest time, I believed that people were either smart or not smart. Either you could easily figure out how to do something or it just wasn’t meant for you. Now, to some extent, that’s true, as some people find certain things easier than others naturally. But one of the things I’ve come to appreciate in life today is that intellect only gets you so far – it’s tenacity that gets you the other however many miles you need to go. But everyone can get there as long you try hard enough.

It has been interesting getting to know my friend better over the last year as he has been preparing for a major exam for graduate school. The amount of focused studying, both self-study and via outside tutors, he put into the exam, showed me how even for a very smart person, the amount of practice required to get a great score takes a lot of work. In fact, even after taking the exam once and scoring very well, but apparently not quite as high as he wanted, he went back to the books, studied even harder, and walked away with one of the best scores you can get on his second try.

Most of my anxiety stems from not knowing how to handle being challenged. When I was a young child, I loved math, doing multiplication workbooks over dinners out waiting for the food to be served in first grade and probably kindergarten. I loved it when it came easy. Then it got harder and I gave up too quickly. My father would get frustrated at me for not understanding things fast enough. I grew distracted and antsy and sad that I couldn’t just get everything as easily as I once did. I gave up way too soon. I gave up because I figured most things in school were irrelevant to my life.

Fast forward X # of years and – I’m still that person who gives up too easily. Who freaks out over every minor imperfection. I’ve never actually witnessed the work it takes to succeed at the highest levels of intellectual performance. And for everyone, even the most intelligent people out there, it takes work. But it’s the work, and the efficiency of that work, that defines their intellect. Focus (to keep attention on one problem until it is solved, even if it has multiple steps), creativity (the ability to think outside the box for answers to problems that are trick questions or don’t have obvious answers), processing power (how fast do you compute?) and memory (how well do you store and receive information) and determination (how quickly do you give up when it gets hard?) are the five core tenants of intellect, IMO. As a person with ADHD I struggle with all except creativity. Every person can become smart is they can fix those four tenants of themselves. Not everyone will be Einstein but we can all get good scores on exams, or be loved by our colleagues for the work we produce, if we try hard enough.

I’m thankful for being able to get to know this friend better over the past year, as his refusal to give up on what he wants, and ultimately walking away with a major victory en-route to the prize, has shown me the truth about being the best person you can be. In 2015, I want to be the best person I can be. I feel inspired. And I know this is going to be a trying but great year.

 

It’s Been One Week Since I Lost My Job.

In terms of sharing the news that I lost my job, so far I’ve only told a few close friends, and of course all my anonymous readers here (whoever you are, hi.) This morning I’m glad I had a dentist appointment scheduled at 8am so I got out bright and early, got my teeth cleaned, then walked a few miles home while stopping for a quick bite to eat. I also – and probably shouldn’t have – treated myself to a manicure, pedicure – mostly because my nail were a hot mess and I needed to get the gel polish professionally removed. I spent $80 on my nails, which was probably a terrible idea unemployed, but if I’m going on job interviews (and I am) having good looking nails is important. That’s my justification for my bad decision.

The colors I chose for my nails are bright and happy. I have a beautiful fuchsia on my fingernails and an orange pink with glitter on my toes. I know you’re all not interested in what color my nails are but my point is that things like the color of my nails can significantly impact my mood – and right now I need all the help I can get to keep myself from falling into a depression like last time I was unemployed.

Continue reading

The Unemployed Budget: Part 1

While I was getting used to the luxury of taking home $6k after tax per month – and saving a significant amount of it while not cutting my spending too much – now I need to really get frugal. On the other hand, now I have TIME which when I’m working I don’t have much of, so I want to use it and actually do the things I would do if I had time… but those cost money. It’s a tricky situation.

My networth goal this year was (and still is) $300k minimum exiting 2014. That seemed very doable prior to losing my job but now, yikes, it doesn’t seem that doable at all, save for a major boost in the stock market or accepting another gig that pays well enough to make up for lost time in a month or two. Continue reading

grad school dreaming. for real this time.

Money isn’t everything. Beyond food and a shelter over your head and some savings for the future, it doesn’t make life that much better. The older I get, the harder it is to face the substantial, life-altering decision that is pursuing that next level of education. With an income of $150k a year, give or take, makes that decision all the more challenging – or maybe just stupid. Regardless, the longer I age into a fine wine of the workforce, the more I realize that undoubtedly I’m in a patch of the wrong grapes.

My dream graduate program — throwing rationality out the window — is a three year long masters program in design at a renowned STEM institution in the northeast where I’d study interaction design focused on wearable technology. Getting into the program is a daunting task alone — while my professional experience is mildly relevant my lack of ability to memorize vocabulary and mathematical equations has left me avoiding the GRE year after year (don’t ask me how I scored slightly above average on my SAT back in the day, I guess my brain just worked better then.) Even if I did get in, should I really throw away three years of earnings to earn a degree in a field that will, for quite some time after graduation, pay less than I’m making now? Continue reading

Seriously Serious About Grad School

I’ve put off going to grad school until my 30s because I wanted to wait until I was ready to make the commitment. Given my interests are so varied it has been difficult to determine what exactly I should pursue in further education, especially as I’ve moved up the corporate ladder and, without an advanced degree, started to make a six-figure salary. So right now it isn’t about the money. I don’t expect to make more by earning a graduate degree. What I expect is that I will open all those doors that are tightly shut on my face right now that I desperately want to open.

For the past 10 years, I’ve wanted to go to graduate school for human computer interaction or interaction design. While my ultimate goal is to become a VP of Product, I’d rather approach this from the more scientific and design side over the business side. I know people who clearly are the right type of people to get an MBA, which was, until recently, another option I was seriously considering. But as much as I’d love to better understand how a business works, I have no aspirations to be in charge of business operations at a company. If I ever want to be in charge of a business it will be in a very tiny startup that I founded and I learn more about how to manage this type of business by spending my time in actual early-stage startups. So I think this is the right decision.

My goal is to somehow score well enough on the GRE to get into a graduate program in fall 2014. I think this is ideal timing too because at this point I will have been in my current role for over 4 years (if I can make it that long) and I don’t think anyone would hold it against me for wanting to shift career paths. I still have a few goals to accomplish in my job today, such as working closing with a colleague on a project where I am getting some product management experience, figuring out how to iterate on our website so I fully understand a/b testing aligned to generating quality leads, and honing my semi-executive presence over the silly person I really am.

But it feels good to have a goal again. I could easily just keep plowing along as I’m doing today, and finding jobs in marketing/pr, but this would never make me happy. I value my experience in this field, as I think it’s always good in product to have a solid understanding of not only your customers but also how the overall market would respond to your story. I wouldn’t give up this experience for the world, even though had I gone to grad school 5 years ago I might already be in a senior product role by now. It has taken me a long time to accept that life is not a race and there really is no destination for the journey. There are many things that come up along the way that you don’t expect and the best you can do is let life teach you its lessons while doing some soul searching in determining what makes you happy.

I’m pretty clear on what makes me happy — building a product with crazy good user experience from the ground up with a team of people who care about the experience as much as I do, but who bring their own unique ideas to the table so we can collaboratively kick ass. I like to build products that help people, whether that be improve efficiency, make it easier to learn new things, or help people lead healthier lives. I could see doing my graduate thesis around education and social user experiences, possibly somehow tied to wearable technologies.

I’m fascinated by the future of mobile devices — while google googles are terrible from a design perspective — the future is a connected one, where we measure so much more than we do today about our daily lives. I’d be very interested in designing learning experiences for children with ADHD which are designed to capture a short attention span and help these students memorize information. Some tie in with psychology, learning, and computer interaction. This is my passion and this is what I’m going to do. I have no idea how I’ll make a career out of it, as I don’t want to end up in the R&D wing of some giant corporation slaving away at projects that never see the light of day — maybe I’ll have to start my own educational technologies business. Who knows. But it all sounds extremely exciting, compared to spending the next 30 years begging reporters to give my company a smudge of virtual ink.

The real challenge, the biggest challenge, perhaps the ONLY challenge, is getting a high score on the GRE. I don’t know for sure if I could get into my top program choice, but there are a lot of good HCI/Interaction masters programs out there and I’m very confident with my experience in technology, even on the business side, I’ll be able to get into a good program as long as I can achieve reasonably high scores on the GRE. Easier said than done. Despite being a writer and philosopher of sorts, I’m a terrible academic. Studying has never been my forte. So I need to somehow come up with a way to motivate myself to learn and retain knowledge. It’s crazy how I’ve never really learned anything in my life past basic verbal skills and arithmetic. Or, I should say, I’ve never been taught anything. I always figure things out for myself. It’s pretty crazy looking back on my education and realizing that I never let myself actually be taught anything. The good thing about graduate school is that I’d be taught about things I’m very interested in, and a lot of it is about teaching yourself and doing your own projects/research, which is how I learn.

Needless to say, I’m very excited about this plan. It does put a huge damper on my $50k per year savings goals, and any trace hope of early retirement, but I don’t really want to retire early, I love working, and I’m miserable when I wake up in the morning with nothing meaningful to do. I need to work on that as well (doing nothing is ok) but ultimately right now I know I need to set myself up for a career that is going to fulfill me not just for a few years, but for the remainder of my professional career. Design-thinking product management, especially in the area of learning technologies and connected devices, is most definitely it.

Finding My Next Steps While Walking Straight Ahead

There are times in life that are phases to process growth, and then there are times when one is meant to grow. The later periods tend to be the most painful, but they’re necessary to evolve. I’m going through one of those right now, which seems appropriate in the last year of my 20s. I didn’t think I’d ever feel like a grown up, and I don’t quite yet, but now I get it. As life forges ahead, some things that felt like they mattered years ago are meaningless, and others, once just afterthoughts, are the most cherished – like time with friends, alone driving down the freeway with the sunroof open, lyrical piano music that forces you to slow down a near pause, and the rare spring days when flowers blossom that pass all too quickly.

I’ve been very fortunate in my life, having the chance to fall into career after career, and not go broke because of it. I don’t feel like I’ve taken great risks to get where I am, as instead at the time of any decision I always felt as if I was running from my past versus taking some great risk to reach some new level of success. I was, indeed, running towards something, but I wasn’t clear what it was or how to achieve it. So I led my life by proxy, making decisions based on what I didn’t want more than what I did.

And here I am, nearly 30, with a six-figure salary, a chance, if I get my act together, to become a serious technology executive, and enough stock options to potentially offer some cushion should my company continue to grow at its current pace – and even if they’re worth nothing, I’m carefully building my networth so I might be able to have some sort of stable future, especially as I venture to marry a man who has yet to save a penny, so I have to stop and allow myself to feel good about that. Continue reading

Dilemma: Grad School vs. Work

Some say a graduate degree (in the right subject) can improve your future potential earnings. But I wonder if taking 2-3 years out of my career right now would actually equal more money in the long term.

Assuming I’d be missing out on an earning potential of $100k per year (let’s call that $60k after tax) and I go to school for 2 years. That’s -$120k plus -$50k per year on school and other costs So In the course of two years I’d be out $220k, give or take.

Let’s say I manage to save half of the money I earn, or $30k a year, $60k total. In 30 years at 5% annual compound interest rate, by the time I’m 60 I’d have $259,316 just from that $60k. Ok, that’s not too impressive — in theory I could make a lot more with a grad degree such as an MBA, which is one potential route.) But I’d also be $100k in debt. Ok, so how does that really add up…

Sans Grad School,
Investing $30k per year for next 30 years:
$2,222,481 by age 57

With Grad School,
assuming -$30k savings lost per year in school
plus $100k in student loans
Income increase to $150k / year, $90k after tax
Savings start 2 years later @ 29
Can save $50k / year after loan repayments
3,066,135.60, by age 57 – 259,316 in lost investment earnings

BUT — it’s really hard to say if that’s actually true. That’s assuming a lot of other variables that are unknown. Namely, it’s quite possible for my income to go up WITHOUT a graduate degree, and for my income to go down WITH one. Over the long run I believe a graduate degree would make my yearly income a bit more predictable (but not by much) and give me opportunities to pursue better paying jobs, but that doesn’t mean I will want to take them. But the two years I am in school may be two years I could have spent at a startup that ends up having a successful exit, and thus the grad school would never be able to equal the fiscal value of those lost years (not to mention the experience may be professionally just as valuable, at least in getting a job, as the degree.)

So the truth is the choice of grad school shouldn’t be about money. Clearly if I get a graduate degree and use it to find a better paying job over the long term it could mean a larger retirement nestegg. But it’s not a certain to say the least, and right now the experience and opportunities outside of graduate study are.