When I was at Stanford for a conference last year, a student there explained the “Duck Syndrome” to me. Imagine a duck gliding gracefully on a calm lake. While everything seems to be smooth on the surface, underneath, the duck is paddling furiously. This, according to the student, symbolizes the culture at Stanford. There are a ton of students there seemingly doing it all without major effort – top marks in school, leadership in extra-curriculars, position in sought-after internships, and CEO at their own start-up to boot. Did they study for that test yesterday? “Barely!” Are they stressed? “Not at all, just loving life!” Behind this facade of ease, however, Stanford students are supposedly working extremely hard when there’s no one around, like a duck paddling on a lake.
While not as severe as that of our West Coast brethren, the Duck Syndrome definitely manifests on the Cornell campus. I am constantly amazed at the feats people pull off around me. Though when it comes to my own undertakings, I think I’m that slightly awkward duck who’s paddling three strokes behind everyone and kind of going in a circle.
Here’s to shattering the illusion that everything is easy.
Every year, my business fraternity, Phi Gamma Nu, organizes a trip to New York City to do firm visits and meet with alumni (both Cornell’s and PGN’s). This year, we visited Citi, Deutsche Bank, and PwC and had small meetings with representatives from Accenture, Deloitte, Oliver Wyman, Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, Barclays, BofA Merrill Lynch, and ELLE Magazine, just to name a few. After distributing resume books to the firms, a few of our brothers got interviews/call-backs on that day. At dinner, a dozen or so of our PGN alums came out to dinner with us near Time Square. Nothing makes me happier as an organizer on the trip to see both professional successes and personal friendships forged like that. But let’s be real, when shuttling 25 people to NYC for two days and running around Manhattan like a mad person for 12 hours, it won’t be all smooth sailing. This is what I learned organizing this year’s PGN trip to NYC.
It’s always the darkest before dawn.
Whoever came up with the saying, “blessings never come in pairs, and misfortunes never come singly” pretty much nailed it. It just so happened that the day I picked for the trip months in advance, Friday, November 18th, coincided with firm-wide events at two other Wall Street bulge brackets. That Friday also happened to be the one day when the PGN alums who normally house the brothers were out of town (the traveling perks of being consultants!). On top of that, everyone who were supposed to drive had car issues, license problems, or a combination of both. There were literally moments when my co-organizers and I just sat in Libe Cafe and sighed, and then racked our brains to come up with alternatives.
Things will always work out. When you’re rock bottom in that pit of despair (let’s see how many cliches I can dump in this entry), some angelic force will always come and bail you out. Sometimes they’re just in the form of awesome co-organizers, HR folks, and MDs at investment banks.
Alums are usually amazing and will be willing to talk to you. The folks we reached out to at CAA Sports Management, Teach for America, ELLE Magazine, and the Fashion Institute of Technology were all alums or friends. Some were totally cold-emails to contacts we found in alum databases. Listen up Cornellians: our alum network is AMAZING AND FAR-REACHING. The word “Cornell” will open countless doors for you. In the same vein, when you’re an alum, remember to help out the young’uns who hesitantly send you overly-polite and formal emails. They’ll really appreciate it.
If you ask nicely, people will accommodate you. You’ll never know if you don’t ask. The rejection will never be harsh and the worst response you can get is a silence.
People are smarter than you think and can typically figure things out. For those of you who know about my Europe adventures, you are aware of my neurotic need to plan every single details of an outing. On our trip, I wanted to tell the PGN girls what kind of shoes to bring (flats), the guys what kind of ties to wear (stripes – rising to the right signifying a bull market), and everyone the exact route they should take in between coffee chats (get on the 4/5/6 at Bryant Park, get off at WTC, cross the overpass to WFC). I needed to constantly tell myself to just “chill” and let everyone figure it out. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? Have three pledges locked out of a Queens apartment and forced to wander around Manhattan til 5 A.M.*? Pssh. No big deal.
* Okay I was genuinely concerned for you guys, but I’m glad it worked out OK… kind of.