An A-10 firing off some chaff and flares.  Showoff!
An A-10 firing off some chaff and flares.  Showoff!

  Our team is in a group huddle, starting yet another problem-solving exercise at Squadron Officer School.  At the sound of the bell, the team leader begins reading from a plastic instruction card.  We only have 5 minutes, and the card has like 50 facts, details, and other clues that might help us solve our problem.  The team leader starts reading through all the pieces of ancillary information, but at one point, one of the team members (a pilot) notes “that’s just chaff.”  The team quickly moves on and identifies the real clues and moves on to the solution.  

  The word ‘chaff’ is Air Force lingo for something that is meant to throw you off and distract you from your objective.  It comes from the aircraft self-defense countermeasure that’s meant to throw off an incoming missile, which in turn got its name from farming.

  At a full time MBA program, you’re going to get a lot of chaff.  There are a ton of opportunities getting thrown at you, in addition to a rigorous course load.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of club events, social gatherings, job fairs, workshops, info sessions, and so on…and that’s not including your own personal life and responsibilities.  So how do you stay focused?

  By ignoring the chaff.

  You don’t need to read every single last email in its entirety or do all the readings in the syllabus.  You don’t need to do everything at 100% all the time.  Instead, just focus on your primary target – whether it’s a career, a person you want to meet, or a particular skill you want to learn.  Not interested in consulting?  Just completely ignore/delete any of those bulletin emails about consulting club, or spend no more than 10 seconds skimming through the opportunities.  You have a very limited amount of bandwidth and willpower, so you’re better off conserving it for stuff that you really care about.   Be a mental miser!

  Don’t know what you want?  Well, definitely try things out, but move on immediately if you’re just not in love with it.  Love it or leave it!  If it doesn’t ignite or spark some kind of passion inside of you, it’s probably the wrong target.  Still nothing interesting to you?  Try researching just one job function or career path for a week or two, and focus only on that.  Get informational interviews done ASAP.  After that, if you’re not in love with that career path or job function, move on to the next one and never look back.  It was just chaff.

  Note: if after a year of exploration, you *still* don’t know what you want to do after your MBA…then maybe a big consulting firm is for you!  You’ll get a ton of exposure in many different industries, and you get to meet some of the most powerful people in their organizations.  

Motivation through Responsibility

Our Memorial Table
Our Memorial Table

  A couple of days ago, I posted some information about time management.  But today I’d like to talk about another factor in increasing personal productivity: motivation.  

  Last week, I married the love of my life (yes, it really is the best day of my life).  But before that, Kimi and I had a Chinese wedding tea ceremony.  At the tea ceremony, Kimi and I paid our respects to our elders and acknowledged the formal introduction of Kimi to our family.  My father’s older brother presented me with a gold ring that was passed down from my grandfather.  

  It’s a huge responsibility, and also an amazing motivator.

  I don’t know much about my grandfather, or my family history before his generation.  There are stories of the Japanese invasion, of a great-grandfather who ran a textile mill, of my grandfather’s attempted escape from China, and his subsequent imprisonment.  I never met my grandfather – he got sick in prison and never recovered.  My uncle was the eldest son, so he inherited the family ring after my grandfather passed.  And now the ring has been passed on to me.  The ring symbolizes the responsibility I have to the family, to all the previous generations and ancestors who held it before me.  Generations of ancestors who persevered through war, famine, drought, and revolutions are now depending on me to carry on.  

  To have so many people depend on you is kind of…freeing.  It’s like being in the military again – you are in service of something greater than yourself.  You are given a purpose, a reason for being.  Most importantly, you are given the highest expectations of performance.  Quitting isn’t an option.  To me, it feels like a hundred years of struggle, sacrifice, and hard work might finally pay off – but it’s all on me to carry on the legacy.  I missed this kind of pressure, I thrive under it.  

  So how can you tap into this source of motivation?  That depends on you.  If you have nowhere to start, here’s some thoughts on how to start looking:  

  • Start with service.  You could try volunteering to help a great social cause (poverty, civil rights, diversity, hunger) or attend a town hall meeting on a particular civil matter that could influence the lives of you and your neighbors.  Check for volunteer opportunities, or if you’re at Foster go do more C4C events.  
  • Join a team.  You could find a team sport that you really enjoy, and find that responsibility to your teammates.  By holding each other accountable and feeling that responsibility to your team, you might find that burning drive to succeed and improve.  I think the Foster team needs more for flag football!
  • Teach.  Try tutoring, or volunteering to teach a skill to disadvantaged youth.  Be a Big Brother or Sister.  When you take on a position like that, you’re living in a fishbowl.  The people you teach and mentor will look up to you and scrutinize what you do…same goes for when you are a supervisor/boss.  This might help you hold yourself to a higher standard, and strive to be your best self while you teach.  

How to Start Managing Your Time for your MBA

  I get asked a lot about how I was able to manage my time so effectively (between starting a full time MBA program, getting married, and doing this blog), so I’ll let you in on a secret:  I spent a couple of weeks on figuring it out!  But the single most important step I took was to start tracking my time.

  I had some time off this summer and I ended up getting really involved in an online game called Final Fantasy XIV – many of my friends from work were playing it and it allowed me to stay connected to them.  We were able to have a lot of fun, but it took a lot of my time because I was in a leadership position in the game.  But how much time did it really take?

  I started tracking my time in Excel, and then compared it with super productive people from history, like Ben Franklin.  

Infographic source: “Creative Routines” by RJ Andrews at

  This was a really eye opening exercise for me!  I always felt that I wasn’t spending my time effectively, but this was the first time I got a very real sense of the time I was wasting.  I immediately started capping the time I spent in the game, and I started setting up a recurring schedule/meeting for gaming with my friends. This also made our game sessions much more productive, and our little team started clearing harder and harder content.

  I also cut down on my TV time.  I very rarely just sit down in front of the TV without doing some career research, scheduling, or other ancillary work at the same time.  

  The excel spreadsheet was the easiest method for me, and the ‘clock’ visualization really helped me categorize my activities.  If you want to track your time online (i.e. time spent on specific sites, etc), check out RescueTime – a free app that does it for you and gives you some great visual data!

  For the full version of the infographic and more like it, go to RJ Andrew’s site at  

  Download the excel spreadsheet here

An Alternative Core Finance “Syllabus”

  New to finance? Not getting anything out of the lectures or reading?  Then here’s an alternative study routine for you from the MIT Sloan School of Management.  I like the way Professor Lo explains things, and as an added bonus you can download the videos and put it on your ipod for those long bus/bike rides to campus.  I think the content is presented much, much better and is very well organized.

  Watch the following sample at 20:36 for an example of how he provides a similar response, but then follows it up with an actual explanation.  This is the exact question we had in class:  how does the dividend discount model apply to stocks that don’t pay dividends?  Give it about 3 minutes.  

  If you like this teaching style a little more, then watch the movies below and read the lecture slides before each class session:


Present Value Relations (3 hrs)

Bonds (fixed income securities) (3 hrs)

Class 4 (Thurs, Sept 25th): Equity Fundamentals (2 hrs)

Class 5 (Tues, Sept 30th): Efficient Markets (3 hrs)

Note: Yes, it’s 3 hours.  Just watch the first 10 minute video and then determine if you want to watch the rest.  It goes into psychology for a bit, which I loved.  It’s an amazing lecture.

Class 8 (Thurs, Oct 9th):

1. Risk and Return (1 hr)

2. Portfolio Theory (Pt 1) (30 min)

Class 10-11 (Thurs, Oct 16th and Tues, Oct 21): CAPM   (2 hrs)

Classes 12-14 (Thurs, Oct 23rd thru Thurs, Oct 30): Capital Budgeting  (2 hrs)

Class 17-20 (11 Nov – 20 Nov): Capital Structure – no video lectures, but here are some slides that are a little better than the ones on Canvas.

Discussion on MM theory slides

What’s missing from MM theory?  Part 1

What’s missing from MM theory?  Part 2

WACC and APV slides

You can always view the complete course at MIT’s OpenCourseWare Finance Theory I site.

Little Bandera Hike before school starts

The views from the top...if it wasn't raining you could see Rainier right there!
The views from the top…if it wasn’t raining you could see Rainier right there!

  I know I said I wasn’t going to organize any more hikes, but I organized one more to celebrate the end of summer and the beginning of our MBA program!  Also, I got married over the weekend, so a gentle, relaxing hike was in order.

  I decided on the Little Bandera Mountain hike, which was vaunted by Seattle Times as one of the 10 best hikes around Washington by Karen Daubert from the Washington Trails Association.  I’ve done several others on her list and was not disappointed.  This was apparently one of the best near Seattle (on the I-90 strip), so there were pretty high expectations.

  It did not disappoint.  We pulled off of Exit 45 and immediately got onto this really pitted gravel road that would bottom out a low-clearance vehicle.  In my Tacoma we did the 3.8 mile stretch of washboard road like a champ, but I ended up spilling some of my McDonald’s coffee.  Luckily, the heroic efforts of my truck-mates saved the day with some emergency napkin triage.  

  The hike itself was really, really easy on the first 2 miles or so, and then the last 1.5 miles was…pretty steep. 

Mikey's expression says it all
Mikey’s expression says it all

  So…yeah pretty steep moves, and with the steady rain and wind it felt a little like the Mist Trail in Yosemite Valley.  Fun!

If you see this, you're near the top
If you see this, you’re near the top

  We got to do some nice scrambling around on the rocks to get to our destination…a little more than necessary because we did get lost for a couple of minutes until we relocated the trail.  The top was just a clearing with a small cluster of trees lining the trail, but the views were indeed fantastic.  Would probably be amazing on a clear day!

  We celebrated with the traditional drinking of beers.  This was a great hike, I agree with the rated “medium hard” difficulty from WTA.  Not crowded at all, compared to the other hikes I’ve done on I-90.  I will be back!

Look at the smiles! It's because they're on their way down :D
Look at the smiles! It’s because they’re on their way down 😀

  To find out more about the hike, visit the Washington Trails Association page!