Creative Writing — text only

Life Imitating Art, LA Style

All the world’s your stage in this city of stars

By Steph Kong

Los Angeles is known as a city of and for actors: everyday, people pack their bags, leave their humdrum lives and head to LA to pursue their dreams.  They scan lists of open roles, practice and re-practice their lines, put on their Sunday best and then head out to audition after audition after audition…  It’s a tiresome, perhaps unpredictable existence but it is the dream of making it big, of nailing that all-important audition, of taking on the role that will lead to fame and riches that makes it all worthwhile.

Wait a second…  is it just me, or does this sound vaguely, even uncomfortably familiar? That’s right, Andersonites: in a land known for its unemployed actors, do you get the sense that many of us are in fact unemployed actors in our own right? A band of talented and very beautiful individuals growing disenchanted with every failed audition? Dreamers that, in moments of fatigue and unrelenting rejection, think longingly back to the life that we left behind and wonder to ourselves, “Was it really that bad working at the Dairy Queen in Wichita, Kansas?”  But also realists that, as we examine our dwindling savings and battered motivation, wonder whether we should give up on our dreams and just wait tables at the Olive Garden this summer?

Amazingly, I have somehow managed to land a sitcom for the summer and while I constantly worry about the possibility of my sitcom being canceled, for the time being I feel very lucky and excited. I am also blowing my yet-to-be-earned paycheck like whoa.

To be sure, I’ve certainly faced many a failed audition in the span of my acting career.  I’ve lived through the loop of hope leading to stress leading to anxiety leading to disappointment. I’ve felt sure of landing that dream role… only to be told that I’m the alternate and please don’t call us, we’ll call you if anything changes.  I’ve lived off of spaghetti O’s on toast, wondering if all the talent and potential that so many people said that they saw in me would ever amount to anything.

Despite my recent sitcom success, I admittedly often feel frustrated in this LAlien land; I have moments where I wonder why I gave up the comforts and dependability of my old life to take on the erratic existence of an actor. And I feel like during these low points, you really have to think about what there is to be gained and what you must do to gain it—because if America is the land of opportunity, then LA is certainly its younger, hotter, silicone-enhanced cousin!

I give myself pep talks during these low points, exhorting: you moved out to LA, because deep within, from the time that you were a child, you knew that you were meant to be a STAR.  And there was no way that a person as talented as you was going to make it big in the cornfields of Mountain View, California. NO! Quit your job! Pack your bags! LA is the place where people get seen before they get scenes. Where you gotta hobnob to get the job. Where people are born to do… oooh, my thoughts run amok. Focus focus focus.

During moments where you feel lost and a little bit sad, remember:  someday—maybe someday very soon—you will step out and prove your talents and you will be showered with applause. The bright lights will feel so good on your face and deep within your heart, you will feel the satisfaction that only comes with following your dreams and emerging victorious.  All the world’s your stage… you just have to ace that audition.  And if you believe it… well, you know how that one ends…

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Free To Be Me

Gettin’ My Swag on at Company Events

By Steph Kong

One of my very favorite things about company presentations, in addition to being able to show off my business casualness, is the free stuff!  I for one, have absolutely no morals, so when given the opportunity to approach a table full of free goodies, I do so freely and with unabashedly sticky fingers. I left the Clorox presentation last quarter having acquired a bottle of PineSol, Gladware and other exciting consumables.

Now, you may think that’s tacky; however, I vehemently disagree.  And should we find ourselves in the midst of a heated debate, I would invite you over to my Mountain Fresh apartment, serve you some delicious Hidden Valley Ranch dip and successfully convince you that business school is your oyster and even if you are technically trespassing in private oyster farms, you are truly free to collect as many pearls as you can fit in your mouth.

The source of my great enthusiasm for swag can probably be best explained by my previous employment: a major tech company in the SF Bay Area best known for throwing free crap at employees. Here’s a hint: it rhymes with Boogle. If you are now classmates with any of my former colleagues, you will notice some things about us:

1)  We are almost always wearing a piece of clothing containing the name of said former employer. In what I am assuming was a continuous feat of cheap brand advertising, our former employer was constantly supplying free branded clothing. It’s our 5th birthday—here’s a t-shirt!  We opened a new café—here’s a t-shirt!  It’s Thursday morning—here’s a t-shirt!  Hey Anderson – love the section t-shirt from Orientation, but I’m waiting for more. It’s been Thursday morning at least 10 times already…  let’s get to it….

2)  We can never say no to free food, even if it’s served in the context of the most god-awful company presentation ever. Marketing for the North American Man/Boy Love Association… mmmm, I’m not sure…. wait, they’re serving eggrolls???? I’m there!!  Call it withdrawal, call it being cheap—I don’t even care. All I know is that food is 75% more delicious when it costs no money (it’s an inverse relationship—negatively correlated, if you will) and I am intrigued by the covariance in taste and price. It’s eerie, in fact.

3)  We even have a special way of pronouncing “swag.” I had questioned it when I first started working at the company, but quickly adopted the new pronunciation when several free track jackets were hurled my way. Ask any Xoogler how to pronounce S-W-A-G and inevitably, we will say “schwag.” This is not a lisp or an alcohol-induced slur (well, maybe sometimes it’s the latter) but rather a verbal tribute to the excitement, the greatness, the soul-enriching experience that is getting free stuff.

In fact, look “swag” up in any thesaurus and the synonyms “plunder” and “booty” should appear—which goes to show, swag isn’t just free stuff.  It’s not just something you come across, quickly stick in your backpack and then look around to make sure nobody saw.  Swag is gained. It’s fought for. When you set your sights on swag, you use any force necessary to make the acquisition and then you enjoy the spoils as a true victor.

So the next time a CPG comes on campus to talk about their great company, don’t feel bad about leaving with half of your week’s shopping list. They wouldn’t have brought their products if they didn’t want you to prove to them that yes, I love your bleach. And yes, please give me a job. Being a contender for a kickin’ internship means that you prove that you are proactive and strategic in getting what you want. And there is nothing more admirable to a recruiter than seeing a student, preferably in business casual attire, karate chop a fellow classmate in the neck in order to secure a much sought-after bottle of BBQ sauce. It shows gusto, my friend.

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Do’s and Please Don’ts

Helping Out to Help All of Anderson

By Steph Kong

I was sitting with my learning team today, pretending to do homework but in truth gossiping and otherwise goofing around, when one team member received an email with the Do’s and Don’ts of behavior in recruiting events.  These emails are nothing new—it’s just another of a litany of communications from Parker CMC reps and Anderson club leadership ; while they can be rather funny because of the obviousness of the points included, sometimes they’re actually pretty sad when you stop to consider how daft even the most intelligent of students can be.

One of the points in the email encouraged students to eat at corporate events in a reasonably attractive manner and if said task was too difficult, to refrain from eating altogether.  We all had a giggle at that one, until another team member mentioned that during a company sponsored pizza lunch, a student was seen eating a slice of pizza in what can only be described as a “gerbil-like manner.”  He then performed a dramatic re-enactment, following which we all agreed that the actual visual must have been pretty hilarious while also very disturbing.

Now, I’m not sure how people grew up or whether in the quest for diversity, Anderson has started admitting people raised by wild animals (what an essay that must have been!) but I for one am deeply concerned that obvious missteps in social etiquette will slowly erode the reputation of Anderson and lead recruiters to think of us as the school of gerbil-people.

I wonder what steps towards self-optimization can be implemented to help alleviate such instances of public grossness and thus improve the overall image of the Anderson student body. For example, if you are concerned about your level of attractiveness while eating, maybe it would make sense to practice in front of a mirror. It is worth noting that such an activity can also prove helpful in the dating world, when even the faintest morsel of ill-placed spinach can mean the difference between “YES, I would LOVE to come in” and “oooh, I have to go home and feed my cat…”  Clearly, training oneself to be an attractive eater has many benefits.

Soliciting feedback from fellow classmates also seems like a great way to enhance one’s performance. For example, while eating lunch with classmates, you should be bold and ask them, “Hey, would you describe my eating style as ‘rodent-like’ or otherwise ‘uncomfortable to watch?” If your friends immediately say no, then hey, no worries: if you don’t get that killer internship, it’s not due to the recruiter’s repulsion from having seen you stuffing your face. It’s something totally different—probably related to your questionable display of intelligence.

If your friends say yes, you do in fact scare them each time you eat together and they wonder how you managed to graduate from kindergarten without proving to your teacher that you have the dexterity required to handle a fork, then that’s great! Now you have confirmation and you can begin on your road to self-improvement. It is worth noting that if the response is a long pause… that is actually an answer… and that answer is YES. You have the eating habits of a caveman and this may impede your ability to build solid connections with recruiters and company reps due to induced (albeit unintentional) nausea. Practice makes perfect, my friend.  Especially in front of a mirror. Maybe with a bowl of chili. Or a Cobb salad.

Until this self-realization has been accomplished by all, we should be partners to one another: using honesty to help others reach their ultimate best when in the presence of recruiters.  So the next time you are sitting next to a classmate who is eating like a chicken in a trough wearing red-tinted contact lenses, you should feel comfortable reaching out to them and saying, “Hey buddy, you should ease up on that pizza.  You look gross right now. I care about you.”  I promise you: your classmate will appreciate the gesture and Anderson as a whole, via weeding out of such unpleasant habits, will prosper and thrive!

———-

Living, Breathing and Eating Entrepreneurship

The Tastiest Way to Support Business Go-Getters

By Steph Kong

With the much anticipated Entrepreneurs Conference occurring this week, I know that everybody is living and breathing entrepreneurship 24/7. To complete the trifecta, consider taking a break to experience entrepreneurship of the gastronomical variety, right on the UCLA campus.

When you’re not refining that business plan or perfecting that product pitch, head towards the Life Sciences Building on the southside of the UCLA campus where at lunchtime each weekday can be found two LA food trucks parked for your service and enjoyment. What is a food truck, you ask? Oh, for shame and for sadness to any person who does not yet understand and appreciate the phenomenon that is food trucks in LA.

At the most basic level, a food truck is a functional means of serving hot food on location. Most well known are mobile taco trucks, popular here in Los Angeles with the Latino community. Take that concept but replace the tacos with any of a number of pan Asian, Indian, fried, barbequed or grilled consumables and voila: you have delicious, innovative and affordable cuisine brought right to a street corner or public university near you.

In many ways, food trucks represent the ultimate in entrepreneurial efforts. Take, for example, the Frysmith, a local favorite that pairs french fries (of the potato or sweet potato persuasion) with yummy, ethnic-inspired toppings including kimchee and beef shawarma. To create their business, owners Brook and Erik bought an empty truck and through the kindness of strangers (and by “strangers” I mean any family members they could guilt into helping), were able to painstakingly convert the old delivery truck into a lean, mean fry-serving machine. As with any other new business, the pair drew up a business plan to seed money for the initial investment and advertise the location of their business (it changes daily) using popular social networking platforms including Twitter and facebook.

Each food truck carries a unique story and unique food, but with the shared intention of serving the masses and fulfilling the culinary dreams of the owner(s). Two food trucks are scheduled each weekday and the selection changes daily. Visit http://www.asucla.ucla.edu/restaurants/restaurants.asp for the schedule. Support your local small business owner—I guarantee you it will feel (and taste) wonderful.

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Two For One is Twice the Fun!

The folly of talking to A when you really mean B

By Steph Kong (not Steph Wong)

Throughout your life, your parents probably told you that you were special. Like a snowflake, you are unique, you are individual. There is nobody else in the world quite like you.

And then you got to Anderson and you realized it was all a lie.

Ok, perhaps that is an exaggeration. But for a number of students, it wasn’t until joining the Anderson family that they realized that they had a twin of the most disorienting variety: a NAME TWIN. Now, we’re not talking about names as generic as Brian Chen or Ryan Jones. We’re talking about names full of character, chosen by expectant parents after months of poring over baby name books. Names as complex and multi-faceted as Brian Chen… and Ryan Jones…and Tae Kim…

How does it feel to suddenly go from being a whole to a HALF? To go from being exceptional to being totally redundant? From being an individual, full of confidence and promise, to being virtually indistinguishable from another save for a simple middle initial?  It’s a paradigm shift so extreme – it’s liable to push any sane individual into the throes of the opposite of an existential crisis.

Though I speak in jest, I am in fact incredibly sympathetic to the plight of those afflicted with a name twin as I myself have a NEAR NAME TWIN in the form of classmate and former co-worker, Stephanie Wong. Steph and I both worked at Google, both in the AdWords division, prior to coming to Anderson. Our problems at Google were minimal, so far as I can recall; the only problem I can remember was being congratulated on my recent promotion, getting super excited and then discovering that Stephanie Wong was the one that had been promoted… not me…

But the confusion exploded the minute we were both admitted to Anderson. Consider our tales of chaos and woe:

– While finishing up my time at Google, I was introduced to fellow Googler and soon-to-be Anderson student, Terry Hurlbutt. While chatting online, she mentioned she was excited that we were both signed up for the same Pre-O trip… to which I responded that that was impossible as I was not attending a Pre-O trip…  Steph Wong was though…

– I once ran into classmate Marie-Louise Mortensen while walking down Westwood Blvd. She asked me why I was walking away from campus as she had noticed that I was on the list to attend the Entertainment & Media Association event scheduled for that night… to which I responded that that was impossible as I was not a member of the EMA…  Again, it was Steph Wong…

– Stephanie Wong, Lawrence Herbert and I were sitting in a booth together and Larry was inputting Steph Wong’s phone number into his phone as he would be giving her a ride to the airport the next day. Bear in mind that Larry had a 50/50 shot of correctly inputting the name into his phonebook. He was unsuccessful.

These are the instances that stand out the most; the remainder are just emails that ended up at the wrong place, being read by the wrong person. Which again, I can totally empathize with– I once tried to send an email to Stephanie Wong and managed to accidentally email myself. So I understand: it’s hard.

So what does one do upon realizing that one is no longer a differentiated product but rather a commodity?  Should one just accept defeat and engage in aggressive price competition? Or should one assess the Anderson market and strive to fill a niche? I’m not really sure; for insight, you should really ask a Brian Chen or Ryan Jones or Tae Kim—any of the six of them.

As for me, I will continue to try to create a unique brand identity despite the existence of a near name twin. Yes, it will be hard and sure, the confusion will likely continue. But if you think it’s impossible to establish an inimitable persona here at Anderson– well, you’d be Wong.

———-

Love in the Time of Recruiting

Everybody’s on the lookout for the perfect match

By Steph Kong

There are many easy comparisons to be drawn between the search for a job and the search for true love.  In both cases, you try to learn as much as you can about the apple of your eye so that you can strategize your eventual seduction. Following careful grooming, you thoroughly communicate your value proposition; whether you are saying, “Hey, I feel confident that I can effectively manage the P&L for this consumer brand” or “Look at this firm body. I can guarantee you that it’ll be 10, even 15 years before I get totally fat,” you figure out what you have to offer and you craft a direct and deliberate communiqué to win over that which you desire.

If you’re lucky, you get the chance for special, private time.  An interview/date is an opportunity to fact-find, exchange stories and (probably most importantly) sniff out possible red flags.  In fact, all things considered, the only real difference between an interview and a date is that the former typically involves lies concerning accomplishments and/or abilities and the latter typically involves lies concerning hygiene and/or sanity.

You take this process and iterate until you and a mate/internship mutually say, “I pick you.”  But wait: in business school, time is of the essence.  Though it’s only January, summer quickly approaches. Like an unmarried older sister forced to be the maid of honor at her baby sister’s wedding, you better get your act together, sisterladyfriend!  You don’t have time to slowly tread the waters that are “getting to know you.” No—you need confirmation.  You need COMMITMENT. You need to find a company that likes it so they’ll put a ring on it. You need an internship PRONTO.

So what do you do? Maybe you try speed-dating. In an effort to streamline the process of learning about companies and building professional networks, many Anderson associations put on “speed-networking” events, allowing participants to rotate from table to table to speak with representatives from a number of different companies.  People express mixed feelings about these events: while you get the chance to interface with a number of very viable professional partners, at times the exchanges are brief, maybe even shallow. It’s quantity over quality, for sure.

Perhaps a Day on the Job (DOJ) would be a great way to get quantity AND quality. Sure, you are in the presence of a number of other potential and equally desperate suitors; but maybe, just maybe, if you can find a way to twinkle a bit more than the next guy, you will make that precious connection and move on to the next round.  I’ve attended a number of DOJs and always found the now-singles-mingle time a bit awkward; inevitably, 5-10 students end up huddled around a frightened Anderson alum, staring at him/her with hopeful but beseeching eyes that say, “Pick me. Choose me. LOVE ME.” The whole experience ends up feeling socially and emotionally bankrupting, like somehow you are compromising something, some deeply held conviction regarding self-worth, in the effort to merely secure a moment of genuine attention.  The experience is… it so very closely resembles… somehow it feels so much like…

The Bachelor.

Now that I’ve said it, it all makes sense, right? Why, when you are circling the company employee trying to develop a deep connection in a short amount of time, you just feel kind of angry. For example, most of the time, you are friends with Annie Anderson. She’s sweet. She’s nice. She’s perfectly likeable. But the minute Annie starts babbling about how much she loves the hub-and-spoke structure of the organization, you can’t help but roll your eyes and think, “Skank!” And then you make plans to sabotage Annie’s chances by stealing all her bathing suit bottoms and flushing them down the toilet.

You stand in the circle, dying just a little bit on the inside. You think, “Everybody here is so FAKE. They don’t really love you for you. They aren’t the perfect Sonny to your Cher, Romeo to your Juliet, Bert to your Ernie. I’m the one that you really want. I love you. Lookatmelookatmelookatme.” And then when the roses are finally passed out, maybe you get one, maybe you don’t. But somewhere in the process, you start to think, wow, is this really the way to true love?

So what’s the conclusion to this madness? I guess the conclusion is just restating the obvious. It’s hard to find that perfect thing in life, no matter what it is. And it’s frustrating when, after all the work to prep and preen and present, things just don’t come through.  But, even hardcore cynic that the Anderson community must now know me to be, I believe in a thing called perfect matches.  I believe that the existence of that sometimes intangible, sometimes amorphous, but very probably wonderful thing makes the frustration worthwhile.  And, I believe that you should always do everything in your power to find those perfect matches in life. Sometimes, truthfully, you don’t really have a choice but to.

So, good luck to everybody in love and professional pursuits.  Everybody but Annie Anderson, that is.  She’s got a cheek with my fist’s name on it. Whore.

———-

Go West (or East or North or South), Young Man (or Woman)

Why you should seriously consider studying abroad

By Steph Kong

It’s the start of winter term and all through the halls of Anderson can be heard the cries of frantic first years trying to plan some aspect of the next phase of their lives. Should I apply for this internship? Why didn’t I get an interview? Where do I want to be this summer? Should I do something for Spring Break?

And then there is the question that I would argue is the most important of all: Should I study abroad next year?

Applications for study abroad are due Friday, February 4th and interested students have been attending informational sessions in order to gain insight regarding this very big decision. Because I am such a very magnanimous person, I have decided to cull and answer what I consider to be the top questions to help directionless and easily influenced first years in their decision-making process.

How did you pick your study abroad location?

Prior to business school, I worked in India for a bit and found it interesting to witness the condition of this up-and-coming BRIC country.  So when selecting countries for my study abroad, my first choice was Brazil because I wanted to see how a second BRIC country was managing its immense growth. The facts that 1) Brazil is comprised of nearly 5,000 miles of lustrous beaches, 2) December marks the start of summer in South America and 3) my luggage was 92% filled with sunscreen are three totally unrelated points that come together to an admittedly suspicious but totally incorrect conclusion. Believe me, they were not related to my decision at all. Malcolm Gladwell has ruined your thinking.

Will I learn or practice any skills while abroad that I can then apply to my professional life?

Unquestionably: yes. In addition to the insight you will gain from classes at foreign universities, you will acquire so much multi-faceted, professionally-relevant knowledge simply from living abroad.

For example, while vacationing on the island of Morro de Sao Paulo, Erica Good and I were walking along a deserted beach when we were accosted by a would-be robber. This could have been an incredibly dire situation; however, as high-quality Anderson students, Erica and I sprang into action. With the instincts of a McKinsey consultant, Erica quickly stripped down to her microscopic thong bikini, cleverly distracting the robber. This allowed me to execute some elegant but very deadly capoeira moves that I had learned during my time in Jericoacoara.*

So, to recap: by using TEAMWORK, Erica and I quickly ASSESSED a problem, CALCULATED COST AND BENEFIT to our actions, devised a COMPREHENSIVE PLAN, and swiftly IMPLEMENTED our agreed upon recommendations.  The ROI of our actions was very positive and we proceeded to then SUNTAN and DRINK OUT OF FRESH COCONUTS on the beach. Being abroad will test you in ways you could never have imagined and you will emerge smarter, stronger and with a plethora of useful skills.

Will I return from my study abroad experience a bronzed goddess like you?

If you go to Brazil, yes. If you go to any other country, I can’t really say. If you go to London Business School, no—the inclement British weather coupled with the stress of navigating life amidst a series of transportation strikes will drain the lifeblood from your body and leave you pale in a “Team Edward/ Team Jacob” kind of way. Ask Abhijit Sagar or Jayoung Koo. They’ll agree.

I am an uptight banker/consultant. I experienced my first ulcer last week and intermittently (but consistently) spit up blood from the stress of life/ business school/ being me. Will I benefit from a quarter spent abroad?

Ummm… yes. Listen: everybody comes to business school with a different set of priorities. For some people, the idea of taking one quarter off to experience life in a different corner of the world sounds pretty great. For others, the prospect of missing out on three months of stressing out about grades, feeling depressed about the state of their job prospects and witnessing a group of the same five people hook up and then break up and then swap partners and then break up again and then swap partners and then hook up and break up in the same night… well, it’s just unfathomable.

Returning from my time abroad, I realize what a stress factory business school can be—nay, what a stress factory living in America can be.  It was good for me to gain that perspective and have the chance to reflect on the things I truly value in life—if even for just the three months before jumping headfirst right back into it.  Only you know what you want from your time in business school and if it’s three additional months of stress migraines and indigestion then, by all means—stay in LA and embrace the experience. [To be fair: living abroad can also be stressful; but at the very least, the challenges are different and you will have to adapt and address problems in refreshingly new ways.]

What are some final thoughts you would like to share on your decision to study abroad?

I guess my closing thoughts are about the value of being abroad. I’ve been lucky to have had a number of international experiences and I truly feel like there is nothing more exciting than pulling my rucksack out of the garage, thumbing through my copy of Lonely Planet {insert region of world here}, and starting to plan my next adventure. I feel like there are so few occasions in life when you will feel absolutely enchanted that when such an opportunity crosses your path, you just have to embrace it.

I will always look back on the three months that I spent in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as possessing some of the happiest, scariest, silliest, most frustrating, most inspiring and, ultimately, most memorable moments in my life. Studying abroad was a great decision for me and fit in with what I hoped to accomplish during my time in business school and I hope that you will consider it as you plan the remainder of your Anderson experience.

*This story was embellished just slightly.

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