Sunday, March 23, 2008

All you need is...

A good hike from time to time : a friend who’s willing to join, nice weather and a beautiful bit of nature. Tadaaaa : all three were present today !
We went to the « Gorges de Franchard », definitely one of the most amazing spots in the forest I have seen up until now. Huge rocks, sandy clearings, a lot of pine trees,…It felt so good to use my brain for nothing else than to decide where to put which foot first, and to figure out where the hell we were on the map :-)
Up and down steep slopes we went, under and over rocks, following little blue signs. For two hours. The fact that some nice Easter pastry was waiting at home made it all the more motivating !
Anyhow, it cleared out my head and made me feel better – I hope it did the same for my friend. If a 2-hour hike can have this effect, than my prospects for the near future can only be bright : next weekend we’re going on a 2-day hiking trip in the French Vosges mountains ! Can’t wait…

"The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness." - John Muir

Friday, March 21, 2008

Stormy France

Last night another storm was raging over the French countryside, blowing the curtains of our bedroom window in every direction. As I lie awake until the small hours, I was trying to digest different things, in no particular order : my own emotional fatigue, a friend’s distress, the greasy pizza I had for lunch, the Ben&Jerry’s I had for dinner.
Life in France can be « not so nice », especially when :
- your car gets hit by a crazy French taxi driver, who then calls his French taxi-driving buddies to sign up as witnesses of the accident…only to make up their own version of the events (thinking about you C)
- the new sweater you've just bought, even though you couldn’t afford it, has already a tear in it.
- Even your hamster seems to have a cold because of the non-stop shitty weather
- Things are just not turning out as you’d wished / hoped they would

With my head heavy as a bowling ball, and my stomach still in several knots, I’ve decided to take the day off. Me, myself and I tucked away in the little flat in Barbizon. Trying to switch off the thinking-mode, and switch on the TV instead.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


The famous and much discussed Professor Fernando Bartolome is organizing sessions on “Managing the Relationship Between Professional and Private Life”, open for anybody interested (notice the lack of the “fashion words” Work-Life Balance). The first session was this morning at 8.30, the next one, for those who couldn’t get out of bed, will be on Saturday 28 March. Please go if you haven’t been yet.
I’m glad I was one of the 15 early birds. Fernando made quite an impression. I like him. He cuts through the crap and is very down to earth. A pragmatist who knows what he’s talking about. So he likes to swear and he’s into insulting jokes. So what? I can handle that. What I can handle much less, is the wagonload of confrontational issues he sent me home with. I felt slapped in the face, turned inside-out, and in emotional turmoil when leaving the amphi after three hours. Running my head of for an hour didn’t help. Two easter eggs didn’t do the trick either.
Maybe I’ll just start reading the articles he gave us.
Sleepless night, here I come again !

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Just N

When I arrived in January I had an hour long coffee chat with a life / career coach. We immediately got on very well, and that one hour proved to be a very interesting conversation providing a lot of food for thought. One question stuck with me : « What could be the positive aspects of change ? » It may sound silly, but I never considered this before. For me change was/is difficult, annoying, painful, disturbing, unbalancing, destabilizing, stressing, a wall I had to climb, to avoid…in one word : bad.
Anyway, I didn’t take the Life Coaching. Simply because I couldn’t afford it. So I was gladly surprised to find an email in my inbox yesterday from E, the Life Coach herself. To ask me how I was doing, how I was dealing with all the changes, and to have another cup in the Insead bar. Which we did today.
I’m still convinced she’s an interesting woman, who is very good at her job. She asks the right questions, and makes you think (hence this introspective post…). And it’s just nice to talk to someone "neutral" from time to time.

One of the things we discussed today, is my *need* for something to do. There’s the teaching of course, but alas reduced to 50 % of the hours as one of the students went back home. I could, as the cliché goes, "write a book". I just don’t feel the necessary enthusiasm when thinking about it (anyway, more than enough writing going on with this blog). There’s the gym, but I don’t hear anyone saying « wow, how good of you..Look at what you’ve done ! »
And maybe that’s what I’m missing most. Working hard at something, seeing results, and …getting acknowledged for it (be it in words, in gifts, in grades, in simply feeling proud of yourself or just in pure cold cash). It amazes me how much my job "defined" me, even if I wasn’t feeling 100% happy in it. I was N, the HR Advisor, 5 days a week, responsible for a whole lot of people and a whole lot of stuff. Now, I’m just N. And for my self-image and self-confidence that doesn’t seem to do it. Not an employee, not a wife, not a mom, not a student,…
Just N, in France. Writing a blog, making new friends from all over the world, being more socially involved than ever before, doing laundry, ironing too much shirts, encouraging P, living in a foreign country for the first time in my life, speaking every language but my own, dealing with more change than I can handle. Coming to think of it : more than enough !
(so why doesn’t it feel that way, and where is the acknowledgement …sigh)

Enters : the competition

The warm up–phase is definitely over and the race has started.
Who has already had first interviews ?
Who’s already in the kingdom of round two / three / four ?
Who got an offer and who didn’t?
Anyone a signed contract yet ???
I don’t like the atmosphere that comes with it, even if I’m only watching it from the sideline. Maybe it’s also because I’m on the sideline, that I’m convinced that everybody will find the right job sooner or later, and that the MBA will pay off one way or the other.

Another nasty side effect is the way sponsored students are perceived this period. And although I don’t like competition, I certainly get into defense-mode when I here comments like « a year’s holiday for them ». P is sponsored. And it sure as hell hasn’t been a holiday. I totally admit that at this moment there isn’t the same pressure to find a job. But whereas others spend a lot of hours writing cv’s, cover letters and doing interviews, P is spending at least the same amount of time helping others with all those things. He’s got more (mock-) interviews planned these weeks than your average recruiter. There are more cv’s in his mailbox than there were in mine before I left my job. Like all the rest, he’s going to a lot of company presentations, and doing some interviews, to make sure he’s making the right choice. And when he (most likely) goes back, there will be the huge pressure to perform and get that promotion within the following year. So much for a holiday. He has worked ridiculously hard the past months, he’s helping others so much that I’m getting angry at him (‘cause no time left for me), and I love him. I rest my case.

Once again, I admit that, in spite of being top of the food chain on the job market, these are stressful times for the ones who don’t have the “luxury” to go back to their previous jobs (and stick with it for the following two years if you want to benefit 100% from the sponsoring-deal). Hell, I even get nervous about other partners’ partners. I feel genuinly happy when an interview went well. I feel upset if somenone didn’t get an offer. I wish I could walk up to my HR colleagues and tell them that they’ve all deserved it, so just give them the goddamn job they want. But the game has to be played. So let’s keep it fair, let’s encourage and help, and let’s value and respect the whole team, be it active players, bench sitters, coaches, fans and, last but not least : cheerleaders ;-)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wined, dined, dead

There are ways to go from an I to an E. One of those ways is apparently getting drunk. No, I’m not proud of it. Yes, my parents are to blame. Yes, I had a great time. And, yes, I’m still recovering. But no, I’m not planning to do this more often.

What happened ? Saturday we went out for dinner with my parents (who are visiting to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday). My mom and I wanted wine. And I misunderstood the waitress. I ordered a really nice wine, and I thought the waitress was saying something about how it would be in a small bottle…Good ! But instead, the bottle was big. And the wine was just too nice. So I pretty much finished ¾ of the bottle. Around desert time, I noticed I was talking non-stop. Half an hour later, I was talking + laughing non-stop. And I really don’t know how the Villecerf party was, but I do know that I had a great time ! I drank Coke for the rest of the night, but somehow the alcohol kept doing its job…I never drink anything more than the occasional glass, and last time something similar happened to me I was still in my teens….

No time to recover though, ‘cause the following morning, after a mere 4 hours of sleep, I had to get up and wish "happy birthday !". And I had planned the entire day in Paris. With a nice lunch, a visit to Montmartre, a boat tour on the Seine, and a dinner to end the day. I did it all with a big smile and seemingly full of energy.

Today, I’m dead.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Accurate acronyms

I was already labeled as an HSP, and as of today I’m also officially known as an INFJ!
That’s right, thanks to INSEAD and the organized MBTI workshop of this morning, all the partners are now aware of their personality type. So I am Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling and Judging. In a few understandable words : I need time on my own now and then, I focus on the future, on patterns and possibilities, I base my decisions primarily on my values, principles and on subjective evaluations, and I very much like a planned and organized approach to life and prefer to have things settled. I couldn’t agree more.

Some scores were a bit unsettling though. Like my very extreme results on both Introversion and Judging. If I am really thàt introverted (and deep down I know I am), than I can only be proud of all the efforts I have made the past few months to socialize and get to know people. Granted, the first week I just wanted to hide under the bed. And there are days I prefer to be on my own, or to sit in the library or a cubicle to read. But all in all : thanks to some very extraverted people I got to know, I’ve done pretty well ;-) .
The Judging thing is something else. Yes, I’m a control freak. A big one. And whereas I can force myself to be more extraverted if I have to, I cannot, by no means, say "we’ll see what happens" and feel comfortable with it.
I try though. For our last city trip to Berlin, I did NOT read the entire guide before leaving, nor did I make a to-do-and-must-see list for each and every day. I try not to get upset each time dinner plans get changed or canceled – and a few times, I even succeeded ;-). But it’s not easy. I really wish that I could just take things as they come from time to time. That I could, for once, be the one who arrived half an hour late at the party, but smiling and not caring, instead of being the one sitting there ten minutes too early, all stressed ‘cause I rushed to get there on time. That my mind could be as flexible as my body (can I show off here, and tell that I can place my hands flat on the floor, bending down with straight legs, or is that totally beside the subject ?)

Anyway, if one of these days, you see me walking up and down the streets of Fonty all by myself, it’s not because I’m an introvert who wants to be alone. Nor is it because I’ve planned in my schedule to walk 5 km each day between 19.00 and 20.00 pm. It’s because I’m going to a dinner party, but I’m actually right on time or (probably) too early again, and I’m forcing myself to go in just a bit later :-) .

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fed up

I don’t know if it’s this stormy weather going on, or if it’s just lack of sunshine, but I’m feeling really fed up these days. With pretty much everything. Fed up with being bored. Fed up with this whole MBA thing. Fed up with not being needed. Fed up with begging for some attention. Fed up with having to pay 1,38 Euro in the cafeteria just because I’m « family ». Fed up with the 1.40m bed in our apartment, and all the nightmares I’m having in it. Fed up with the bar area. Fed up with the free tea. Fed up with cheese and wine. Fed up with waiting, and more waiting. Fed up with the pounds I keep gaining in spite of all the hours spent in the gym. Fed up with having absolutely no money to spend. Fed up with feeling fed up. And for now, fed up with doing laundry.
Tomorrow will be a brighter day, hopefully.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A luxury resort

As an HR person, I look in amazement at what is happening on campus these days. Yesterday the recruiting season officially kicked off with two company presentations on campus. Suddenly we were surrounded by suits, running around nervously (even my adrenaline levels got up just by watching them). And I just couldn’t help thinking : "why are they so stressed-out?"
Yes, there’s the huge loan to pay back.
Yes, there’s the luxury of choice and figuring out what you want to do and where.
Yes, there’s the task ahead of finding the right match (and maybe this will not be company nr1, but company nr 2 or even 3, or even the start of your own).
Yes, there’s the typical kind of "oral exam – stress" that goes with each interview.

But let’s face it : in general – MBA students are *Wanted*. Very much.
Companies send four to five of their higher management staff to INSEAD just to give a presentation. Think about what this represents in working hours, and consequently in salary spent on campus recruitment. Others pay for the cv books, and maybe even for dinners, plane tickets, weekends, you name it. Or they’ll hire expensive head hunters just to get to you. And finally there’s the sign-on bonus you’ll probably get. Outside of this bubble, people have to scan through newspapers or spend hours on jobsites.

Next to that, there’s the ocean of information MBA students are swimming in. You can talk to fellow students who have worked in your field of interest, you can probably even talk to people who have worked for that particular company. You can do mock interviews. You can get your cv’s and cover letters read and re-read before sending them, making sure they answer to all necessary standards. You can have "coffee chats" with companies before deciding whether you want to apply or not etc, etc,…….And if all that fails, there’s is still INSEAD’s Career Services….
Let’s face it : this beats the ordinary jobfair in your home town…

This being said, some itchiness is totally necessary and understandable in a job hunt. The complaints or the sky-high stress levels however, are – in my humble opinion – better left at home. Let’s face it : this is like a luxury resort on the jobmarket. So next time Career Services organizes a "let’s stress them all out-session", remember that part of the stress is probably about them and their KPI’s they have to achieve, not about you finding a job or not…
Fingers crossed and good luck to you all ! (and don’t forget the occasional yoga-session ;-)

Friday, March 7, 2008

The rabbit

Driving home after a party is always a bit like a midnight safari around Fonty. Which is exciting and fun. It all becomes much less fun when one of the animals decides to jump right in front of your car, and there’s really no way of avoiding it.
And that’s exactly what happened to us last night.
Heading towards Barbizon through the woods, we saw several boars, and finally, when we were almost home, 3 cute little rabbits sitting by the side of the road. One of the rabbits jumped onto the road. A dull "thud" followed…

We decided to turn around to see if the little fellow wasn’t suffering. He was lying on the other side of the road, not injured in any way…just killed by the impact of the car. I picked him up and put him to rest in the forest.

It ruined my evening, it kept me from sleeping, and today I feel totally worn out.
That’s probably what happens when, as a child, you’ve read "Watership Down" at least ten times …
( )

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

They're back!

And they all have a really nice tan : I’m talking about the whole bunch of people who left Fonty in the darkest of winter days, to head off to sunny and warm Singapore. Today the most seen sight on campus were people falling into each others’ arms, hugging and kissing (I now start to understand the consequences this can have when you do the same thing, but in bikinis and swimming trunks).
Anyway, throw in all the P1’s who finished their exams today, and were robbing the bar of its final beer supplies, and you can picture the atmosphere. Around noon, the bar just looked like your regular chateau-party , including the alcohol smell and the loud music. (By the way, all this was witnessed by some 20 visiting *mildly surprised* executives of an international pharma-company….)

So P4 started with some nice warm feelings (although the « Singa’s » might beg to defer on that one :-) . Spring was definitely in the air, and campus has awoken after its calm and placid winter sleep. Forget free parking spots, forget no queue in the restaurant, don’t even think about finding a free table around 1.00 PM….. Everybody has a lot of stories to tell, and people just can’t wait to catch up…I have a feeling the next few days and weeks might get very busy on the social front !

Next to the ones who are simply "back", there are also the ones who are now "here". I have a feeling they will need some time to adjust... From what I've read and heard, the two campuses are really different.
As was being proved by a conversation I overheard in the book store :

student 1 : It's sooo big here!
student 2 : yeah, I know. And you know what's really strange? Everybody lives in like...different places!!! What's it all called..Bourron-marbotte or something, Avon,....
student 1 : Yeah, I know...Sigh....

So to all you guys, whether you're new in Fonty or just back : Welcome (back)!