Jun 30, 2009

Seen on a wall in London


Stream of Un-Consciousness

Gaaaaarrrgghh - Damn alarm - Have to get up already? - Why's alarm so loud? - F***... really loud now, what's going on? - Hold on, that's not the alarm - That's the fire alarm - Why is the fire alarm on? - Is it already 5am? - Do I need to catch my train? - Wait, no, I'm in London already - Fire alarm's still on - Maybe I need to get up? - What time is it? Midnight? - OK, getting up now, have to go evacuate - Wait - Maybe shouldn't go downstairs in underwear and flimsy pj T-shirt thing - How about I put on the bathrobe - And hotel slippers - Why are hotel slippers always so big? They should make small hotel slippers - On second thought, might look a bit strange if I go downstairs in the bathrobe - OK, putting on sweatpants and fleece now - Keep the slippers, though - Do I need to take anything with me? - God, that alarm is loud - Don't know what I should take with me - Hey, how about the Blackberry? - OK, out the door now - That large man in a pink shirt is saying something and pointing - Ah, right, fire exit, thanks dude - Hmm, it's actually quite warm outside - Taking my fleece off - Oh wait, am only wearing flimsy pj T-shirt underneath - Keep fleece on, then - Wow, loads of people down here in bathrobes - They look a bit silly - Those other people must have come from the bar, they look really nice - I look like shit in my sweatpants and fleece - But better than those people in bathrobes - God, I'm tired - Hey, look at that, I took my Blackberry with me - How about a little facebook status update - Still really tired - Oh, the firemen are here now - Wonder if there's actually a fire - Not sure the Blackberry was the right thing to save, come to think of it - Why don't I use it to take some pictures, though, that will pass the time - OK, this isn't fun, can't we go inside now? - Really want to be in bed - Seriously - Let me back in - Now.

Jun 27, 2009

A Perfect Day

I woke up at 10 to my ipod, in my own bed with its satiny sheets and just-so firmness. A little after 11, I finally emerged for coffee and a bowl of cereal (Country Store, how I've missed you) while catching up on the news and my favourite blogs.

Outside, the sun was shining and it was wonderfully warm when I walked out, elbowing past the tourists taking pictures (my house has a certain notoriety) to catch five minutes with Sophie, hairdresser extraordinaire. Of course, it being the sales and all, I couldn't resist popping my head in a few shops, notably the infamous Prune which once again managed to wreak havoc on the old porte-monnaie. Don't judge me, the shoes were 40% off. And it's a disease. I swear.

Once I got the shopping out of my system (and the euros out of my bank account), I grabbed a salad and gazpacho at the Daily Monop and plopped myself down for an impromptu picnic in front of the Pompidou. This is the good life, my friends. How could I have ever considered leaving Paris?

Jun 26, 2009

Oh Goody, It's Friday

I wake up later than usual (just before 7am) feeling pretty excited about finally leaving this grotty hotel. The hotel is a different one from the one I posted about last week, and much worse, which serves me right, I suppose.

The guy comes in with my room-service breakfast (who would have thought I'd ever get sick of those?) and tries to have a chat, although it really should have become clear after 5 days of this routine that grunting is about as much conversation as I can manage before my third cup of coffee.

Once he finally gives up and leaves I turn on BBC Breakfast. This is when I find out Michael Jackson died, and it sort of throws my whole day off, to be honest. It's like realizing this is going to become one of those "Where were you when..." events, and you'll actually have to remember this dingy hotel room with those awful floral-print curtains forever.

Which explains why I'm still a bit shell-shocked when I finally wheel my suitcase into the office, but apparently no one at BM cares so I get over it and conduct yet another client interview. And I have to say, I'm pretty good at these, and by the end of the half hour Janice is putty in my hands. There's even an outside chance she might name her new puppy Res. Great puppy name.

I break up the rest of the day's slide-producing monotony with a quick Itsu frozen yogurt run, some blackberry messengering with an OBT friend, and Wimbledon streaming in the background, until it's finally time to go home. And that's when I have a serious "OH F***!" moment, as I drop my ring into the locked confidential papers bin. I burst into tears and a few minutes later there are three people fluttering around explaining how "the young lady lost her engagement ring". I don't correct them, in case it makes them sort it out faster. It doesn't. Apparently I need to wait until Monday.

So despite my eagerness at finally getting a couple days at home, I'm pretty grumpy when I climb into the Eurostar. Especially because my eternal hope that I'll meet a hot, bilingual guy in the train is once again dashed as I realize I'm seated by myself. Eurostar should seriously consider running a little dating service on the side for some extra cash, especially for its Business Class passengers. All those people travelling to and fro across the channel for work surely have lots in common, and it would make for a much more entertaining trip. Granted, if you and your date don't click, 2h15 can be a bit long, but maybe they could have an eject button or something.

I'm telling you, there's a great business idea in there somewhere...

Jun 23, 2009

Not-quite-lean consulting: A typical start

[The following is based on real events that have occurred repeatedly over the last 10 months, though some liberties have been taken for half-hearted humourous effect...]

Day 1, 9:05 AM: I've just joined the team, I'm smiling and shaking hands and desperately trying to come up with a mnemonic device to remember everyone's names. Which is when Important BM Guy tells me it would be very useful to The Team if I interviewed some people to get their thoughts on This General Sort of Thingie.

"This General Sort of Thingie...?", I inquire, hoping to get some clarification.

None is forthcoming, other than the fact that the first of the interviews starts in 5 minutes. No time for a second latte, then.

Day 1, Interviews 1-3:

Res: "Hi, I'm Res. I'm working with Important BM Guy and we'd really like to get your input on This General Sort of Thingie."

Interviewee Dude: "Well, that's a pretty vast topic, anything in particular you want to discuss?"

Res: "Well, ummm, we're just really keen to hear your thoughts on what you believe is critical when it comes to This General Sort of Thingie" (i.e., this is my first day, I have no idea what I'm talking about, please don't give me a hard time...)

Interviewee Dude: "Ah, OK. In that case [insert random brain dump here]."

Day 1, rather later than I would like: After 3 interviews, those large, highly productive neurons I was hired for have managed to identify key themes and points of interest in the quagmire of random brain dumps. So, eager beaver me types up a beautiful list of insightful questions and emails it to Important BM Guy, cc: Rest of Team, to see if we're all on the same page before the next round of interviews.

No one emails back.

Fast forward to beginning of Week 2: By now, I've conducted many interviews (and have mostly managed to stifle some very loud yawns), drafted detailed interview notes, and gone through several artistic iterations of powerpoint slides summarizing all this stuff.

Which is when Important BM Guy steps back in to the picture.

Important BM Guy: "What's this shit?" (tact not being one of Important BM Guy's key strengths)

Res: "Ummm, it's the results of those interviews you asked me to do". [sotto voce: "Dumass."]

Guy: "But it doesn't talk about Three Super Specific Never Previously Mentioned Points."

Res: "Err, no..."

Guy: Audible sigh

Res: "So.... you want me to call all these guys back and do the interviews again?"

Guy: Smirk, accompanied by one raised eyebrow.
Clearly he assumes my question is rhetorical. By now, I should know better.

Jun 20, 2009

A Week in Review

Monday: I wake up at 5am to catch the 7.13 Eurostar to London. For the first hour of the journey, I try to be good and look at colourful slides on the pharma industry. When my eyes start glazing over I give up and watch 2 episodes of Damages, trying to figure out who the Glenn Close character most reminds me of.

Bleary-eyed, I walk into my team's "kick-off" meeting already wishing the day was over. We do the obligatory tour de table description of personality type / development goals / team norms and then get to the substance. Which is when I realize everybody's talking in molecule names and I'm in big, big trouble.

Tuesday: I discover Itsu at lunch. I fall in love with Itsu. Especially that low-fat Japanese duck soup. I decide that maybe in my future reincarnation I could be opening up Itsu branches all over Paris.

Wednesday: We have a big work dinner to celebrate a team member's rise to partnership. The guy is my age, happily married, and loaded, and he keeps complaining about how he only managed to squeeze in two 10Ks and one karate training this week. This is probably meant to impress, but I can't help thinking it's sad that he feels it would be so shameful to pass for just a regular guy.

Thursday: I get into work early, after only 4hrs of sleep, because I've been asked to "get comfortable" with some scary-looking financial model the manager's decided to dump on my lap. Turns out this model, built by a small army of junior consultants with geeky engineering degrees, has several major errors in it and I get yelled at because I don't catch them all within the first half hour. Give me a break, it's not quite "Where's Waldo"...

Friday: INSEAD party time, something I've been looking forward to all week. When I get there, a friend of mine who's also working at BM tells me he quit that very afternoon. Although I knew he'd been unhappy, the news throws me because he's one of the most serious, ambitious guys I know. To be honest, I'm a bit jealous.

Later, during a tearful chat on the rooftop terrace, my friend Banker Girl tells me that girls like us are destined to remain stuck in high-status, high-stress jobs that make us miserable, because we'll never be satisfied with anything else. One third of me is sad that my friend is feeling so low, one third is worried she might be right, and the final third wants to slap her. Instead, I grab a taxi back to the hotel. Inside I'm reeling, I want to go home, and I wish the Boy was here.

Saturday: The blues (or Audrey's reds) are still with me when I wake up this morning, so I head over to the park for a run. Seeing as I haven't exercised in longer than I'd like to remember, the run does not go well, but at least I'm moving. Then I go cheer myself up at the bookstore, and pick up one of the Penguin notebooks so I can scribble this post from a nearby Starbucks. And I take my time, too, since there's a Tamil protest keeping me from crossing the street back to my hotel.

So that was my week, folks. Let's see how the next one goes.

Jun 16, 2009

Dis-connected

Part of me feels my time would be better spent writing about Iran, but it's probably best I leave that to the better-informed and focus on what I'm good at: complaining about my own, lesser trials.

Yesterday, I became a true consultant. Not because I finally cracked the mystery of the perfect powerpoint slide, but because I too experienced the joys of setting the alarm before what can reasonably be called "morning", having your fourth cup of coffee before 8am and trying to make a hotel room your home.

Which brings me to what I want to complain about: friendly but over-priced, badly designed hotels.

My current establishment is one of those places that tries too hard, with marble and gold fittings a-gogo, and a bathroom decked out in mirrors so that you can watch yourself pee from 25 different angles at once. But it falls very short on a few essentials. For example, the wardrobe could easily fit two dozen ballgowns, but has only one shelf, that I can only reach by standing on a chair. The lights are controlled by a snazzy one-touch-button gadget, which means you can't turn on the reading lamp without turning on the 10 glaring spotlights in the ceiling as well. Sort of defeats the purpose of a reading lamp, if you ask me. But what really takes the biscuit is that this 5-star hotel has somehow managed to be the only location in all of London without any cell-phone reception of any kind, anywhere.

I even tried wandering around the back staircase in my pyjamas, waving my blackberry above my head like a mobile antenna on speed. I probably looked a bit silly.

Jun 14, 2009

A picture speaks a thousand words

In between "normal" problem-solving sessions at OBT, we also played with lego. The idea was to produce lego versions of our professional, personal and aspirational selves. My aspirational self got lost before I could take a picture, but here are my first two representations. Amateur psychologists, enjoy.

Confidante

Over a refreshing glass of Perrier this afternoon, my friend N told me how she had recently chatted with our mutual friend S, who inquired about my general well-being and noted that she hadn't heard from me in a few weeks. To which N replied that this was perfectly normal as I now typically resorted to "speaking to my blog" rather than speaking to my friends.

Ouch. Is this true?

Well, to be honest, it probably is, a bit.

The old me would have probably gotten defensive and upset at this point. But the new me is all about introspection and self-improvement and being ├╝ber-zen about all this shit so I decided to let it sink in, have a nice long think, then write about it on my blog. No, the irony isn't lost on me, either.

So why is it that I've developed this "Blog First, Talk Later" attitude? Well, mostly it's a way to structure my thoughts before I brain-dump my friends into a coma. Like many (most) people, I find it difficult to talk about the things that upset me in a calm, rational manner, especially when someone else actually intends to participate in the conversation and do annoying things like ask questions, test my logic, or provide well-intentioned advice. Half the time I don't even know what I'm talking about before I'm at least 2/3 of the way into my rant. Seriously.

By writing about it first, I can actually figure out what it is I want to talk about before I pick up the phone or meet you for coffee. Of course, it also means that I will probably be feeling better already, and therefore more inclined to have a chat about shoes, your latest boyfriend, or that article from last week's New York Times.

Trust me, you're better off this way.

My inner mind isn't the most attractive place right now.

Jun 12, 2009

Recovery

God I'm tired. Emotionally, physically, mentally exhausted.

But I wanted to let you know that I was home. That I will be trying hard to stick to the good resolutions laid out in the obligatory, end-of-OBT letter to myself. That I will therefore be looking for creative career/life alternatives. And that I will be doing all this while taking many early Eurostars.

So if you see a little brunette in a black suit snoozing in business class on the 7am to St Pancras, please feel free to tuck a little note under my complementary breakfast with your suggestions for what I should do next.

There will be prizes.

Jun 6, 2009

Random personal things that happened this week

*Someone said they found it strange that I felt so comfortable opening up in this environment. Maybe. But I feel comfortable opening up in any kind of environment. Maybe what's strange is that the work-me and the me-me is the same person.

*I gave someone here the address to this blog. I don't know why. In fact, as far as I know only one other BM consultant has the address to this blog, and that's because he's a good friend of mine. And yet, here I was giving away the key to my deepest, darkest, could-get-me-fired secrets to someone I'd only met 48hrs before. That's also strange.

*I was told 24hrs ago that I will be staffed in London after this (and no, it's not related to banking...), and am already drowning under dinner invitations, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

*I got invited to somebody's wedding. I don't know if he was serious.

*I realized that I'm a litigator who gets deeply unsettled by conflict. I don't know what that means.

All about (the new) me

OBT is a lot about the serious work stuff. How to structure. How to synthesize. How to problem solve. To be honest, that stuff is pretty boring.

But there's also a rather large "touchy-feely people stuff" component of the program. As far as I can tell, few people either enjoy it or get much out of it. As for me, it has led me to a rather startling epiphany, and possibly a complete reshuffling of my life.

I have always been pretty confident about what kind of person I am. I know what I'm good at, what I'm comfortable with, what I'm interested in - and what I'm not so good at. In fact, I was rated very highly on self-awareness in the feedback I've gotten this week (and there has been an obscene amount of feedback this week). Except the feedback then proceeded to tell me I was fabulous at all the things I thought I was terrible at and not all that great at the stuff I thought made me the wonderful person that I am today.

Shit.

Little by little, this week, my entire being has been analysed, dissected, and broken down into tiny little pieces. Not the most pleasant experience. But the new picture others are throwing back at me makes so much more sense. Only one problem. This new (real) me should probably not be at BM. Or in a law firm. Or in any of the jobs I have always had within my field of vision. This new me probably needs to be doing something different entirely.

Double shit.

Cleary, I'm going to have to have a bit of a think about all this.

Perhaps I'll have a glass of wine first.

Jun 4, 2009

How the other BM lives

We've almost reached the half-way point of the OBT. Key takeaway? This is not the same BM I've been working at for the past 9 months.

There are many reasons for that. Here, we take time to use all the right "tools" and "techniques" rather than get stressed out by the client and spend our time fighting fires. We talk about "people" stuff more than about "levers of profitability". We stop work at 6pm to get ready for the karaoke bar.

But these are all the differences I expected. What I wasn't anticipating is that these people are not the same people I'm surrounded by in BM's Paris office.

I can't tell you if the difference is that they're not French, or if it's the international environment in itself I'm responding to. But I like these people. I get these people. I am these people. Don't worry, I haven't taken a happy pill, I still feel like pummelling quite a few of my fellow trainees. But not everybody. My new "training buddies" are not pre-packaged, pasteurized 23-yr-olds with scary zombie eyes watching your every move to make sure you don't do anything "different." Instead they relish individuality, they're open and honest and seem to love nothing more than to talk about how BM drives them crazy and how they love Gossip Girl over a couple (more) drinks.

Before coming here my boss told me I'd be re-energized and come back to the office happy. Instead, these past few days have brought home to me how uncomfortable and unhappy I've been feeling at work, and why. So now what? Do I need to transfer? Quit? Move to a different country?

I love France in a profound, irrational, emotional way. But why is it that I can't fit in?

The scene

(Editor's note: Drafted on Sunday night)

A charming and rather remote European village (which shall remain nameless) at dusk. A (still)young woman walks through the lobby of a sprawling hotel, her movements hampered by an impressive assortment of luggage strapped across her shoulders. Clutching her room key and "welcome package" in her hands, she climbs the stairs and finds the door marked 116. Behind it lies not the cramped cupboard she was expecting (this being the era of cost-cutting) but a large suite only slightly smaller than her appartment, complete with a separate living room area, a private balcony, and a guest toilet. Yes, a guest toilet. She thought it was weird too.

Tired, and probably more nervous than she would like to admit, the young woman quietly unpacks her bag, brushes her teeth and slips into bed. Tomorrow, she knows, she will put her big, bright smile on, approach the team-building tasks with a careful balance of humour and earnest dedication, and reveal rather too much personal information than is entirely suitable at BM. But tonight, she will sleep.