How to Change the World: Final Musings of a Haas Senior

 

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There were a few options I had for my last topic here on the Haas blog. I could’ve written about friendships; creating memories; how college was the best four years of my life. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot I have to say about those things. But those rosy and optimistic topics would be dissonant with what has become truly important to me as a senior about to face the real world.

Every day over the last semester, I’ve woken up and thought about how to change the world.

In part, I have Haas to thank for this overconfident audacity. Haas has opened doors for me that I never thought were possible. The peers and professors that I’ve been fortunate enough to meet at Haas have opened my eyes to the range of things that are achievable.

But part of my fascination about changing the world also rests on the fact that as I get older and learn more, the striking quantity and magnitude of the world’s problems become increasingly manifest to me.

Take environmental issues, for example: in today’s world, the EPA itself has removed data about climate change from its website, and is on the verge of being drastically de-funded. Heat waves are sweeping across the world, literally killing thousands of people, and the Arctic ocean is soon to be devoid of ice. Half a million people die in India per year from bronchitis, lung cancer, and other diseases linked to the toxic air. Meanwhile, people in China, including my baby cousin, sometimes cannot be outdoors without a mask. In fact, when she visited me a few years ago, she was amazed to see blue skies in San Francisco.

Or disease: I have friends and family who have been afflicted by cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s, among many other illnesses. If this could happen to someone living in America, how bad can it get in some places around the world, where access to clean water and fresh food is a luxury, and health care is non-existent or absurdly expensive?

How about national security? Terrorism? Increasing income inequality? People dying from a lack of basic health care? Increased nuclear proliferation? Racism, prejudice and division?

I don’t mean to cast a dismal perspective on the future, but these things scare me. I am terrified by the overwhelming proportions of the things wrong with this world. But – I am also an anomaly, because as young people, we don’t have to worry about these problems yet.

…We didn’t have to worry about these problems.

As soon as we step out of the halls of this university, these problems will become increasingly ours, year by year, until finally we will someday be in a position to impact them. And for some of us, not just impact – change.

Do not be daunted by this truth. As young people, we have something that older generations might not: that overconfident audacity to wake up and say “I want to change the world”. The arrogance that our bosses will hate, because we speak up too much and “don’t understand how the real world works”. The big “millennial problem” of being way too idealistic and out of touch with reality.

I don’t think this is a problem. I think it is exactly what Haas meant to instill in us – that as individuals we have influence. That as businessmen and women we can exact change. That the only way things can change is if we have the courage to try.

I ask you to consider this: why did you enroll in Haas and choose to study business? Did you want to make money? Did you do it for the “prestige”? Or did come here because you wanted to someday be a leader? I assure you money and prestige exist everywhere and in all fields. Leadership is something much more valuable and rare.

The state of American leadership today might be described by some as “sad!”, or “horrible!”, or even perhaps, “a disaster, a complete disaster!”, but I beg to differ. Walking through the halls of Haas Business School every day and witnessing the tremendous boldness and talent intermingling on this campus has convinced me that this class has the potential to solve our problems, as long as we continue to dream and strive collectively. You are all the future leaders of the world, and I look forward to someday reading about your successes and thinking back to a distant and wary time when we still were uncertain about whether climate change would make our planet uninhabitable, or fearful that our family members might have to suffer through cancer or diabetes.

Class of 2017, I don’t yet know how to change the world, but in true Berkeley fashion, I’ll race you there.

Fellow Haasholes: Congratulations on your imminent graduation. Go out there and do your thing.

So you want to be an investment banker? (Or accountant, or consultant)?

As the summer nears, many juniors at Haas are beginning to worry about their summer internship and how to do well. I know there were many instances in which I freaked out before last summer, and I’m sure many of you have the same questions:

How do I get an offer? Are the hours as long as people make them out to be? Am I going to sleep under my desk? Are people going to be mean to me?

So, I thought I would shed some light on my summer internship experience – keep in mind that because I did banking, this will be more relevant to ABC (accounting/banking/consulting) internships, but I think all of these tips can be applied to any job! Here are what I think are the few most important things you should keep in mind going into this summer:

  1. Get the offer.

Your job this summer is to get a return offer. There are a few reasons why this is true. First, if you decide that you want to continue doing investment banking, or consulting, or accounting after graduation – then you will have a job lined up one year in advance. That is an amazing proposition, and will make your senior year an absolute blast.

However, beyond that, getting offer is crucial to proving to future employers that you performed well enough that a company wanted to hire you back. Remember, the internship is essentially a 2-month interview. If you don’t get the offer, it signals to future employers that perhaps there was something wrong with your work quality, or that you simply did not perform well – that’s definitely something you want to avoid! Getting an offer, even if you decide you want to work somewhere else after graduation, is highly important.

  1. The little things matter.

This is so cliché. But it’s absolutely, 100% true. Being on time, being presentable, communicating effectively. These are the things that will get you an offer. You were hired because you are a good culture fit for the firm, and because they believed that you were capable of doing the work. And at most firms, the offer is yours to lose. However, if you become known as the “habitually late” intern, or are a poor communicator and your boss has to hunt you down for his work, then you will surely not receive a great review for your internship.

Over-communicate. Ask your boss if there is a hard deadline when they give you an assignment. ALWAYS take notes when they are explaining a project or task to you. And be on time – I cannot stress punctuality enough.

  1. Relationships matter.

People don’t believe me when I say that being a good culture fit is equally as important as being a good worker. At Berkeley, you already know how competitive it is. Most of your peers are capable of doing the work of an investment banking analyst, or an entry level consultant. At the end of the internship, your colleagues are going to sit in a room together and decide whether you should return for a full-time position. It will surely reflect well on you if:

  1. Everyone in the office knows you because you’ve worked with them/grabbed coffee with them/had a friendly conversation with them
  2. People in the office genuinely like you

Therefore, make sure that you talk to your co-workers! Don’t bury yourself in your work all the time. Walk around the office, ask people to grab coffee, ask questions, and try to make friends among your intern class and your colleagues. It will not only make your experience more enjoyable, but also help you come home with that offer.

And at the end of the day, remember that this is just an internship, and the path to a return offer shouldn’t be ambiguous. As long as you are diligent, communicative, and friendly, it should be yours.

Good luck everyone!

The Audacity to Dream

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Last year, I spoke to one of my childhood friends who had already graduated university and asked him how working life was. He told me, “to be honest, it sometimes feels like there’s no longer a light at the end of my tunnel…But it’s cool though.”

To my fellow seniors at Haas, realizing and dreading day by day that the carefree bubble of school we foolishly complained about for 4 years is coming to an end, this one’s for you.

At the beginning of my senior year, coming off an amazing vacation in Hawaii, investment banking offer signed and tucked away, I was in a great place. Happiness was a permanent state of being.

And true to my status as a senior, I disassociated myself from the clubs and activities I was doing, took a light load of classes, and prepared myself for a semester of absolute freedom.

But after a week, and then another week, and then another week, and then another week, of waking up at noon, watching YouTube for hours, and lounging around while the world buzzed on around me, the strangest thing occurred to me – I was…kind of dissatisfied.

“What am I doing…?” I said as I looked at myself, unshaven, in sweats and a t-shirt, eating my 1pm bowl of cereal.

Even though I knew I had so much to look forward to, it started to feel like there no longer was a light at the end of my tunnel – and I hadn’t even graduated yet. The repetitive boredom of being a senior with no responsibilities became even more unbearable than the longest night working in an office.

Ultimately, I realized that it wasn’t being relaxed and free to do whatever I wanted that made me unhappy – it was the fact that for the past 4 years, I’ve woken up every single day knowing what my purpose was. And now that I was a senior, suddenly not having a purpose was miserable for me.

I was craving that same pervasive determination to set and accomplish crazy, ambitious goals – the audacity to dream.


Near the end of last year, I was chatting with my dad about how bored I’d been, and I told him I wanted to challenge myself with something crazy again. And my dad, who’s toiled away in the same job for decades, said: “You know…sometimes I wish I had the opportunities that you have. When you’re young, you can really do anything.”

And like a good son I responded, “It’s not too late dad. Do whatever you want, no one’s stopping you.”

And you know what? He did. Soon after, he founded a winery. He joined a gym. He even started doing yoga on Sunday mornings. Damn dad! I’ve never seen my dad happier and more ambitious than he is today.

And this semester, I started working again, just to learn and improve my understanding of finance. I trained for a half marathon. I’m taking a full load of classes. And although my schedule is packed to the brim and I’m busier than ever this semester, nearly all my time is now being spent meaningfully working towards new, crazy goals that give me a sense of purpose.

I’ve realized that we all may someday lose the light at the end of our tunnel after we graduate, whether early or later in our career. Unhappiness and dissatisfaction may find us if we lose sight of the bigger picture. Therefore, we need to hold onto our reckless, youthful propensity to hope for bigger, better things; the crazy ambitions that many of us have right now; the ones that people said you were ridiculous for even trying to accomplish.

As Steve Jobs once said to an audience of graduating seniors, “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

 

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The Difference Between Movement and Progress

The following is my perspective on (what I believe to be) the biggest problem with students at Haas.

At Haas, we don’t seem to understand the difference between movement and progress.

I’ll explain. Imagine you are hiking up a mountain. If your strategy to get to the top of this mountain was to simply move, well then you’d have a lot of options. You could zig-zag up the mountain, you could crawl, you could roll, you could walk on your hands. Maybe if you waved your arms in the sky, someone flying a helicopter would see you and offer you a ride to the top. Or perhaps you could Zumba your way up the mountain; we can get creative here.

My point is that by simply moving, you could potentially be expending an enormous amount of energy doing absolutely nothing. You are not making any progress. For my finance geeks out there, your progress to energy ratio is 0.

On the other hand, to make progress up this mountain, you would probably follow some path or trail, or carve out your own, and soon you would be at the top.

Too often at Haas, we believe that by doing as much as possible, we are making progress. By being the VP of (insert random department) in 3 clubs, participating in 4 case competitions, teaching a DeCal, and taking 20 units, we are accomplishing something…right?

*inhale* Wrong.

To be fair, it’s not entirely our fault. We were conditioned to be this way. In high school, in order to stand out among our peers, we participated in a bunch of extracurriculars, we took on any leadership position we could find, we took a plethora of random honors and AP classes to boost our GPAs. In millennial speak, we were “doin’ too much”.

In order to get into Haas, we did the same thing, joining clubs and doing nearly everything we could to make it clear to the admissions officers that we were all business. And therefore, for almost our entire lives, we have been frantically adding as many different lines to our resume as possible.

Stop. Instead of running around trying to pick up every penny you find, now is the time to walk with a little bit of purpose towards the bank.

In order to make progress in your career, or in your life, I believe that you must have some sort of direction. Time is the most valuable currency you have, and you should devote your time to things that will help you progress, rather than just filling up your time with movement.

If you are interested in marketing, then find marketing internships; start a business and try to market your product; find ways to market yourself better by networking. If you get an opportunity to participate in a finance case competition, or to be the VP of Food and Beverages or Secretary of Club Apparel in some random organization – say no if that isn’t the direction that you want to go. Be patient and find the best opportunities. Be judicious with the opportunities that you accept, as well as with the ones that you deny. Have some sort of plan in the back of your mind. I believe it is more impressive to have a few meaningful, committed experiences in roles related to your interests, rather than a laundry list of meaningless positions.

This not only helps your story when you are interviewing, as well as the flow of your resume; it also gives you a lot more free time. Use that free time to go do something worthwhile and something that could help you make progress in your personal life, like learning how to surf, playing guitar, or maybe even socializing.

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How To Break The Rules And Get Away With It

 

Food for thought: To do extraordinary things, you cannot simply follow the ordinary paths of other people.

This semester, I’ve been experiencing an identity crisis between being a rule follower or a rule breaker. I’ve found myself repeating the phrase, “I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing”, too much. And for me, that’s problematic. Let me explain:

When I was a kid, I was always the rule breaker. Back then, it was an issue: I would talk too much in class, draw on tables with pen, shove marbles up my nose – the whole deal. The few blurry memories I have of grade school all consist of detention or getting sent to the principal’s office.

Yet somewhere down the line, I became a rule follower. I became averse to the punishment of my teachers and my parents, and I decided to do well in school, pay attention in class, and walk the righteous path of a “good kid”. With a stroke of good luck, I ended up at UC Berkeley.

But when I came to college my mentality shifted again. After all, I was at Berzerkeley, the school where Mario Savio stood on Sproul and told the school administration to go love itself for stifling free speech (paraphrasing). I was gleeful that finally, I had an excuse to break the rules again.

So when I arrived, although I was pressured by my parents (much like 65% of the student body) to pursue medicine, I dropped all of my science classes and instead, surreptitiously became an intended Business major – much to my parent’s dismay when they eventually found out. Three cheers for independence.

Before applying to Haas, despite learning that important clubs and business fraternities significantly increased my chances of finding an “prestigious” career, I decided (perhaps foolishly) not to join one. Instead I became a founding member of a consulting club, which has since faded, and a mentorship organization, which withered away after a year.

Because I had failed to define a network for myself with a fraternity or club, I began networking by literally emailing hundreds of random people I found on LinkedIn and asking if I could chat with them about their experiences. I had no idea what I was doing, but it became empowering for me. If I hadn’t done this, I wouldn’t have had conversations with so many immensely talented and impressive people, including CEO Tom Reilly of Cloudera, who stopped replying because he was either too busy or because emailing an undeserving college kid was very strange.

I also wouldn’t have met two Harvard Business School graduates who turned down cushy job offers to become tech entrepreneurs, even though they had no idea how to program. And if I hadn’t become friends with them, then I wouldn’t have been inspired to become an entrepreneur myself someday.

So if I hadn’t dishonored my family by quitting medicine for Haas; and help start two failed organizations; and had no network; and therefore randomly emailed hundreds of people to build up my network; and met two Harvard grads; and become inspired to someday become an entrepreneur, then I wouldn’t have the opportunity to tell you that someday, albeit far into the future, my dream is to own a bar/restaurant, even though I don’t know anything about the restaurant business.

So how do you break the rules and get away with it? You just do. As one of my professors, Rob Chandra, told me this semester, “When I take risks, I always go big. Because when I am convinced that something is good, I just can’t get enough of it.”

I am not a model of successful risk-taking or rule-breaking. But my point is that as I reflect on all the things I did over these four years that were incongruous with the “right way”, I realize that I still turned out okay. And every time I deviated from the plan – even when things didn’t go to plan – I always gained something valuable from the experience.

So the next time you start saying “I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing”, if you’re about to break the law, stop.

But if not, and you are convinced that what you are about to pursue is good, then just go for it. If you want to do something non-ABC, please, do it – there are way too many of us. If you want to start a bar/restaurant in 20 years, hit me up. And if you want to go climb Mount Kilimanjaro after graduation, pull trig on some flight tickets. After all, in the hallways of Cheit Hall, there is a poster of two Haas rule breakers who made millions by selling mushroom farms. I don’t see any posters of rule followers up there. Don’t be afraid to break the rules. I promise you, you’ll get away with it.


Josh Wang

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