Thursday, December 8, 2011

Harvard Shame

More like Harvard Fail. As in, I had an Epic Fail while I was at Harvard. But not when I was a student there. Nay, my life as a an MA candidate was uneventful, and I did indeed receive the coveted, oversized Latin diploma that I proudly keep in its giant red envelope under my cat's scratch lounge. Clearly, the sight of Sheba sharpening her claws in a cute little rhythm on the cardboard will deter diploma thieves. But I digress.

"What's that? You want this diploma under my scratch lounge?
Come and get it!"

A couple of years ago, I was invited to come back to campus and be part of a panel about careers that my old program, Regional Studies, was running. I was totally stoked but pretended to not care. I'd just come back from a summer stint in Bangladesh, and I figured I'd chat casually about what I do. As a result, I - DID - NOT - PREPARE. What a HUGE mistake!!!

The big day came, and I scooted excitedly to the CGIS (Center for Government and International Studies) building, where I used to take classes. I saw some folks that I'd had drinks with. Cool, cool. The other two panelists were women, like myself (honest! I'm a woman!), and once they started talking I knew I was dealing with quintessential Harvard Achievers. Worse, I was in a panel with them! One talked about knowing exactly what she wanted to do while she was in the program, and then going ahead to the Middle East and doing just that, rising to a high position rapidly through her determination and competence. The other woman was in the freaking CIA and had brought recruitment fliers. WAH! WAH!

So when my turn came, I awkwardly told the room the truth: that I had no idea what I wanted to do at all, ever, in life; that I just fell into my job; that I'd just been abroad; blah blah. Then I even more awkwardly tried to compensate by saying that school networks help out, citing my Middlebury Alumni Network (which I knew College Boyfriend used like a crazy person in his ruthless quest to become an investment banker), and the fact that a fellow Harvard alum helped me get my job. So, uh, people, um, if you ever, like, don't know what to do in life, I mean, in terms of careers, someone will help out. Don't have a plan or anything. You don't even need to, like, think about it. Someone will step in. Your connections will guarantee you placement in an office somewhere. It worked for me, right? Right?

(crickets) (unblinking Harvard students and program coordinators)

So in conclusion, I fled the room as soon as the panel finished taking questions (mostly they asked the CIA analyst about her flyers). I comforted myself later by saying that the people in my program were mostly foreign nationals already employed by their governments anyway, why did they need the career panel? My humiliation was further compounded when, in a fit of politeness, I thanked the panel moderator for the opportunity to speak -- and she didn't bother replying, she was that disgusted with my lameness.

I'm not exaggerating here. I went out for a drink with one of the people who went to the talk, and he said my job sounded "flaky" and I was switching jobs, right? I wish.


On the bright side: I did switch jobs! Two whole years later! And I learned two valuable lessons: one, be prepared, and two, if you're not, the world did not end, get over yourself already. Geez.

The end.