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Hapless Harvardite: Of Haves and Have-Nots in Recruiting Week

At the inception of this column, I pitched it to our fearless EICs as a series in which I would humorously document ventures about which I was entirely ignorant, and at which I was sure to fail.

Freedom Trail, I thought, ruing the many hours I spent in History 112 receiving a whispered tutorial on the nuances of collegiate lacrosse from my seatmate (the things we do for love!) in lieu of paying attention.

CS 50, maybe, remembering the comical number of hours required in my undergrad computing class to generate even the simplest “I Am Katie Peek” in Comic Sans 50 (thanks, Randian phase!)

That Bart and Kate fell instantly upon Recruiting Week as an ideal first dispatch would prove, alas, prophetic.

As October winds to a close, it’s hard not to see campus as increasingly segregated between the Haves and Have-nots.

Thanks to Instagram, the Haves have become highly trackable even as they return to native environs and indigenous habits: emerging from European pleasure dens to wring maximum delight from every sweaty signing-bonus dollar, deploying McKinsey offer letters poolside to provide some meager defense against the harsh equatorial sun. (Bart and Kate, too bitter? Too bad!)

The Have-nots, on the other hand, seem to be channeling the cast of Newsies, pre-empowering strike. Down-at-heel, down on our luck, facing both an uncertain future and the eternal Catch-22 of the “informational interview”: to demonstrate interest and deliver us from silence I’ll ask you, Employed Person, endless questions about your industry, the answers to which I unilaterally already know, thereby erasing forever any interest you might have had in hiring someone as comically ignorant as me. Recruiting Week, let’s do this thing!

In perfect candor (as I typed most of this from 79th and Park in pre-Sandy NYC) Recruiting Week was hardly as Dickensian as all that.

People are, somewhat to my surprise, enduringly impressed by my Harvard MBA (Section I, too self-deprecating?) and buddies from college have been generally pretty forthcoming with both contacts and coffee chats.

And as grim as it was to be told by a formerly high-flying publishing guru that my “skirt was a little short for an interview” (in my defense, I thought I was on a social coffee chat! But oh, gentle reader, deeply grim,) I guess I can’t say I haven’t learned anything?

In retrospect, the interviews themselves aren’t the problem, but more the existential panic of riding shotgun.

Like many of us here, I’m the product of a fairly active achievement drive; show me a brass ring, I blindly (and, sometimes, unhappily) reach. And thanks to an equally achievement-oriented culture, it’s always been pretty obvious what the next Impressive Thing to do would be, Ivy League to Fellowship to Harvard.

As a result, though, I’ve never had to take too much responsibility for my own happiness. Even at my bleakest professional or personal moments, I could wrap around me the fact that, however loathsome the day-to-day, I was building something all the time, character or resume or skill set or network. I could always trundle on because the next achievement was usually in my sights, and any present horror was just the requisite (and temporary) prelude.

With the HBS box now nearly ticked (presumably, I should add! Dee, you know my email if anything to discuss?) however, the only next achievement is Happy Life, a goal so vast and vague and ever-shifting it begins to resemble a mushroom cloud, with equal power to stun.

It’s the most important thing, and the most impossible to get one’s arms around, and I think about it at night and in the morning and all day sometimes.

We’ve all faced the prospect of failure before: a nod, or not, from Dee or Derrick, yes or no from Goldman or McKinsey. But with the world spread before us, with choices as wide and endless as the HBS goal was narrow and specific, the prospect of failure before us today is failure of a different magnitude: of imagination, character, courage. Of boldness, and of nerve.

I came to school thinking these two years would afford me a chance to reflect on what I was really meant to do with my life, and I’ve had that here. I know now there’s a single path that, left unexplored, will stick always in my rearview mirror, no matter how far down other roads I go.

But that knowledge hasn’t come easily, or alone. Epiphanies, it turns out, travel in packs, and so with this new sense of purpose has come a host of other revelations; the cut in prestige it could mean, at least at first. The significant change in lifestyle. How I fear to slip from the ranks of Serious People. But I might get what you can’t put on a resume: happy life.

What it comes down to is this: five years from now, I’ll have no one to blame but myself for regrets. And if nothing else, HBS has taught me that thinking for oneself is a lot like exercise: easiest when done often. After so many years of meeting the world’s metrics as much as my own, it’s taken some warming-up for the muscle memory to kick in. But it’s coming back.

Join us next time for The Hapless Harvardite Goes To A Celtics Game, or: Katie Strives Not To Be Such An Effing Bummer.

November 5, 2012
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