Wednesday, October 29, 2008

sticks and stones

I learned a lesson this week- one that was long in the making. Like many recent college grads, I tumbled headlong into my first real job and the lines between work and personal life rapidly blurred, obscured by workplace camaraderie, too many hours spent in the office, a hectic travel schedule, and plenty of wine-infused dinners. This perspective is reinforced by a culture that values hard work above all else, and often frowns upon any encroachment of personal life.

Furthermore, I happen to work for a company that consistently reminds us that we are a "family," and that we should support each other, work as a united team, and all the mushy-feel good stuff you believe when you're 22 and your brain is still intoxicated with youthful idealism.

If this is starting to sound cynical, that's because it is, to some degree. Because, to quote an old adage (as ancient as last week’s episode of The Office), “The office is not a family….it’s a workplace.” Despite all the soul-warming lip service we give to being a team united in one mission, at the end of the day, it is still a workplace. Now, I don’t want to totally disparage my organization, because the majority of employees do strongly believe in our mission of providing compassionate patient care. Still, there isn’t going to be anyone there to hold your hand or wipe your face when you mess up, and the prodigal son won’t be welcomed with banners and stuffed pigs (thank God-how gross!).

In fact, at times, it more resembles a high school, albeit one with an extraordinary number of students with potbellies and receding hairlines. I’m not sure why I’m surprised by this, but I still am. I spent the vast majority of my years growing up longing to get out of a small town of small minds, rife with petty chatter and vindictive rumor-spreading. In the city, I thought, surely people would be more open-minded, and would have better things to do than chatter mindlessly and mendaciously about everyone around them. But I quickly realized college, a place where liberal minds and free spirits supposedly run free, was much the same. It’s human nature, and it’s not limited to a small town or school: people gossip. In fact, we’re biologically predisposed to it:

And I’m no exception. While I don’t think I’ve ever been malicious, I’m sure my gregariousness and facetious tendencies have had me working that same regrettable rumor mill more than once. I’m just pissed because I got bitten by the rumor bug the other day. Something I said, offhandedly and in my mind, innocuously, somehow got passed around the organization like a grown-up game of Telephone. And unfortunately, unlike in kindergarten, the phrase in question wasn’t something along the lines of “Johnny picks his nose” or “Sally has a wedgie,” and after being skewed and inflated several times over, my statement was no longer so innocuous. In fact, the incendiary version could have had serious consequences at work, and the merely dealing with the (untrue!) rumor itself forced me to choose between fighting an uphill battle or compromising my integrity.

So I learned my lesson: Yes, as a workplace, we do work together- most days as a team- to achieve a mission that hopeful does make a positive impact on humankind. However, as I embark upon a career in public health, I can’t make the mistake again of thinking that a non-profit or service-oriented organization, however kind-spirited, will be any different. Like the humans they’re composed of, organizations are flawed. And most certainly are not a family- anything I say can and will be held against me. That doesn't denigrate the goodness of what we try to accomplish, it just means reigning in a little bit and remembering- it's work for a reason.

As for me, since I tend to speak much too freely and too frequently, a good rule of thumb would be to begin to ask myself the question posed in an article I recently read about servant leadership:

“In saying what I have in mind, will I really improve on the silence?"

(notably, my post stops here!)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

word count, character count...count me out!

For the past month or so, I have been composing, deconstructing, and recomposing my personal statement(s). Because I am a perfectionist when it comes to writing--just about the only thing over which I'm incredibly detail-oriented-I have been spending hours upon hours scrutinizing each sentence. And since I'm not so detail oriented in other areas, I overlooked a key instruction- word and character requirements. I had most of my word limitations down, and as much as it pains me to "kill" my own sentences, if chopping adjectives and slaying extraneous phrases were a crime, I'd be a serial killer of Ted Bundy proportions.

(Sidenote: This recent article about my beloved city is truly depressing....Use words, not guns, people! )

Anyway, I was merrily typing along when I noticed some tiny text near the corner of the application, visible only to eagles and the occasional superhero, indicating that in fact, essay length is based upon character count, not word count, includes spaces, and is based on an average word length of six characters. SIX CHARACTERS?!?!?! Who do they think are writing these essays, preschoolers on steroids?

This was a minor nightmare, and I contemplating hurling my laptop out the window. Of course, I thought better of it when I realized that such the only benefit of such an impetuous would be the creation of an expensive if unsightly lawn ornament for the condemned house next door.

So, I brewed another pot of coffee, plugged the computer back in, and geared up for another round of sentence-slaying. I've learned my lesson- pay attention to details, and in a nutshell, SHUT UP. I love words (and especially my words) more than those who read them, and I shouldn't subject the admissions counselors to page upon page of my ramblings. Oh, if only I could learn the art of concision! Sadly, I think that lesson may be a long time in the making.

I will leave you with one of my favorites by Pablo Neruda, a true master of brevity in its finest form:

In A Station of The Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 Grad School Blogging Project

My little blog is growing up! Baby Suit is becoming part of a graduate school blogging project hosted by as a way to provide graduate students and prospective grad students with resources and a little personal touch as they (and we) navigate our way through the process. I'm excited to be part of the project, especially because has such a strong non-profit and service-oriented mission. Since I currently work in a for-profit environment (albeit, a hospital with a patient-focused mission), the vocal little idealist in me is itching to get out and play. Hopefully, my ramblings might help (or at least entertain) someone who is going through something similar.
Just a quick background on this blog and on me:

I graduated with a BA in sociology from Northwestern University in June of 2007, and after quite a bit of reflection and research, decided not to pursue medical school. Instead, I have been working full time as part of a hospital administration fellowship program, since July of 2008, and have been bouncing around the US working in various hospitals. I started this blog in winter of last year as a way to vocalize frustrations and anecdotes as I adjusted to adulthood and a corporate world in which suits, ties, and overusage of the word "strategic" are a way of life. I realized quickly how much I missed academia and found that sitting in the back office crunching numbers didn't quite satiate my curiosity or my passion to help people work through issues relating to healthcare quality and access. My passion is the study of how social, cultural, and behavioral factors impact individuals' and society's health decisions, behaviors, and access, so I am applying for an MPH (concentration in social/behavioral health) for enrollment in 2009. I'm particularly interested in programs that will allow me a high degree of flexibility in exploring my interests, and also programs that offer focus on applied research. I love learning and academic exploration just for the sake of it, but I'd really like to ultimately translate research into action.

In the past, this blog has been a catchall for just about anything I felt like posting, and my submissions have been inconsistent. As the Idealist Blogger program launches, more of my posts will focus on reflection about current health/public health issues, graduate school, and the application process...although I am certain there will still be a fair amount of my typical sarcastic humor mixed in.

Monday, October 13, 2008

fall frenzy

Five and a Half Reasons Why I love Fall

Orange triangles of pure bliss. I can't get enough!

2. Chai tea lattes and pumpkin spice nut mix.
As I have only recently discovered, I have a penchant for almost anything that is pumpkin-flavored: coffee, weird but delicious pumpkin-coated pretzels & popcorn, cream cheese, pumpkin dip. My most recent obsession is this pumpkin spice nut mix I discovered at Target, with sugar-coated walnuts, graham cracker chunks, and pumpkin-coated raisins. It can't be good for me to be consuming such copious quantities of fake-fruit flavored"foods," but I'm addicted. Hard-core. Seriously. It's quite gross. I'm going to pay the price someday when I turn a sallow shade of orange, have no teeth intact (hello, free dental care!), and suffer from diabetes, but it is worth it, I tell you!

3. Northwestern Football Games.
It's really more about getting to visit the alma mater's campus, which is gorgeous in the fall (lots of leafy trees and beautiful lakeside scenery), spending time with old friends, and enjoying the occasional NU win. NU is better than usual this year (5-1), but I always expect heartbreak at Northwestern games--we always lose just when I think it's in the bag! Hence the reason why most students yell ridiculous imprecations about the opposing team's future employment prospects (usually some outdated reference to pumping gas or parking cars and involving obnoxious key jingling). To be honest, it's alwasy embarrassed me, since in my opinion academic snobbery has no place on a football field (or anywhere, for that matter) but the strangley sarcastic school spirit matches my own predilection toward self-deprecation quite nicely.

4. Halloween
I'm actually not a huge fan of dressing up, surprisingly. Maybe this is just the type-A side of me, but I always feel like there is so much pressure to come up with a costume that is appropriately obscure, clever, funny, and if you're a woman, slutty (a stereotype which I have no intention of fulfilling!) Plus, since I'm kind of a class-clown, I feel like I should be extra-funny, and I always fail. But I still love the decorations, crisp air, scary movies, and in Chicago, the raging debauchery that floods the streets during Halloween weekend. So many freaks, so little time! I love it.

5. New beginnings
While it feels sadly less so in the working world, autumn usually marks a new beginning in academic life: a change to reinvent yourself, re-establish yourself in a dynamic social and academic hierarchy, and re-dedicate yourself to all the things you love. There's such a sense of possibility, like anything could happen (and sometimes does!). Reaching back even further, I still miss the smell of new crayons, Elmer's glue and construction paper, and all of those blank notebooks, waiting to be filled. Hitting up the supply closet at work for a new set of Post-it notes doesn't have nearly the appeal. Maybe this is why I overcompensate with so many of #1 and #2 on this list?
5.5 Applying
This only gets a .5 because it's part of the aforementioned "new beginnings." I don't love the application process itself (see yesterday's post), but it's still exciting to entertain visions of the wonderful things I could be doing this time next year, wherever that may be. Ah, the possibilities.

I could go on and on: the cold mornings, warm days, my new golden-russet-colored leather jacket (yes I did just compare my outerwear to an apple, and yes, I look badass in it!), hot toddies, simmering pots of chili, the color of lake Erie....even the trash-filled streets of Philly start to take on a certain charm (no offense to you Philly-fanatics out there!).

If only the end of fall in Chicago didn't mean the beginning of a winter that will inevitably last 6 months. Good-bye, sun....see ya in May!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

This week, I began the daunting process of filling out applications. Unfortunately, schools of public health haven’t completely converted to a centralized application forum like other graduate schools. Thus, while most of my friends who are applying to dental school or law school are zipping through their apps ( I’m sure they wouldn’t describe it that way, but you get the point!), I’m slaving away over a billion dull application pages, filling in information about my city of birth, my extracurricular activities for the past two decades, my maternal great-grandmother’s blood type, and how old I was the first time I rode a bike without training wheels.

Seriously, though, it’s quite an intimidating process. For someone like me, who isn’t inclined check if all the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted, especially when filling out piles of tedious forms, it’s an agonizing process. More than anything, it’s nerve-wracking, because etching out my name over and over again on those forms makes this process suddenly real. I haven’t put myself out there in this way in a long time. I don’t consider myself conservative, but when I think about the choices I’ve made over the years, most of them have been cautious, calculated, and undertaken only if I was fairly certain I would succeed. Interestingly enough, I’m taking the opposite tactic with my graduate school applications. Because I do love my job, I’m applying to only my “dream” schools—because if I were to give up working full time, it would only be worth it for an equally exciting academic opportunity. It’s still not an completely wild risk, since I have my job to fall back on, but it’s strange and scary to think of the realistic possibility that I might not get in anywhere. I'm not all that accustomed to failure, but I hope that in the case that I don't get admitted anywhere, that I make like an overplayed pop song and brush my shoulders off and try again.

On the bright side, at least I don’t have to answer any incredibly cheesy questions about what kind of mural would I paint on the side of a skyscraper in Chicago or who my real-life hero is (a hot-dog themed amusement park, and my grandmother, respectively) like in the undergrad admissions apps. I guess that just means I can keep my BS juices flowing here on this blog instead, then!