Holy shit.

 

It’s been over a year since I’ve last posted.  I spent 10-ish minutes re-capping the last year of my life and the big changes I went though, but decided against boring the internet with the details.

Overall, it was my first permanent move away from my family, moving to a foreign city where I didn’t know anyone, starting a job at a company that was way out of my league, and figuring out how to be happy when it felt like everything was just working against me.  Skipping over the bad parts where I cried almost everyday, gained a bunch of weight, treated poor Cody (the only person I knew in the city) like shit – I’m happy now.

I am making significant progress in paying down my student debts.  I am finding balance between work, physical fitness, playing with Charlie, and building/strengthening relationships with Cody and my new friends out here.  I initially started in a role that wasn’t a great fit for me, but am now in a place where I wake up and am actually excited to get up in the morning.  I’ve also secured new mentors who inspire me everyday, and — I have mentees who look up to me as well.  It’s insane.  I have so many reasons to be thankful and I couldn’t feel more blessed with the way things turned out.  The first 10 months in Seattle were quite a struggle, but I’m finally starting to feel things fall into place.  I look forward to what the future will bring. 🙂

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The Fallacy of Composition

Last block, I took ‘managerial economics’, which was my last core class.  Even though I was an econ major for my undergrad, it was still pretty challenging.  One of the topics my professor briefly mentioned was called ‘the fallacy of composition’, which means that a solution for one individual does not necessarily work for a whole group.  Though he didn’t go into a lot of detail, I found this idea really interesting.

This logical fallacy applies to a lot of things.  For example, some might claim that we need to pay down the national debt at the same time, while others might worry that this effort would depress the economy and cause inflation.  Others might say that Obama’s proposal to provide free community college education to all Americans might increase opportunities in some areas, but create a higher unemployment rate due to a lack of high-skill jobs in another.  In one case, it might make sense to localize control of the public school curriculum, and in another, a school could fall behind due to a lack of standards to guide a child’s development.

I am really lucky to be in a field where I am literally paid to ponder the pros and cons to every decision.  Finding solutions to problems in data is my passion, and I have always been a numbers person.  But the kind of mental processing to which most people are accustomed is merely linear thinking.  By this, I mean assuming a direct connection between one thing and another.  When we are faced with a problem we don’t understand, we tend to take a mechanistic view to identifying a solution, breaking the problem down to its individual parts and assuming that every effect has a single cause.  I think this type of rationale is valid, but not complete.

In order to truly facilitate a better world, I think it will be necessary for more people to adopt a synthetic, non-linear way of thinking.  Before any course of action, more considerations need to be made about external effects.  This is bigger than conventional game theory.  It’s definitely not easy to understand that affecting one part could actually affect the system as a whole.  This goes against everything that dictates how I do my work: you must think hard about the potential effects that can come out of a decision, even when you don’t have the data to support it.  This capacity to predict effects beyond what you are directly affecting is difficult to master, but I think will likely be the key to addressing challenges over time.  Unilateral decisions are not going to fix global warming, poverty, income disparity, or public health issues.

Systemic change is not going to happen overnight, but I hope I live to see some kind of progress in my lifetime.  Relying on numbers and statistics is important, but not as important as deeply considering the chain of events that can occur from making one choice compared to another.  When making a decision about the best remedy for the most pressing social ills, be sure to take a step back and effectively consider how others will be affected.  We need to come up with structures for thought instead of building thoughtless structures.  We need to let go of our experiences that turned us into conditioned humans instead of letting ourselves represent the human condition we once were as children.  When we were small, we found joy in bringing others happiness, and as we ‘matured’ and were burned a few times, we became more selfish and defensive.  The more people who come to master this difficult way of thinking, the better off this world will be.  We have become less alive.

I am not at all saying that I have never taken stances on issues that were self-serving.  I know I have hurt people and made mistakes.  But I think that creating a better future starts with me, hopefully inspiring others to share the same attitude.  The more we look out for each other, and the less afraid we become about making changes in our lives in order to benefit others, the more better off we all will become.  Individuals can make a difference everyday by letting go of judgment, hatred, and anger – things that all prevent us from living a full life.  Don’t get caught up in the fallacy of composition or in the numbers.  They’re a great place to start, but what’s truly important will be justified by something more.

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7 Stages of Grief as a Grad Student

  1. Shock & Denial: “This prof is such an unreasonable prick for assigning a 30-page group paper and 20-minute group presentation.  Oh well, it probably won’t be too hard.” (7 weeks before due date)
  2. Pain & Guilt: “I should probably start thinking about that assignment soon.” (5 weeks before due date)
  3. Anger & Bargaining: “Fuck this classist education system – I shouldn’t have to get a Master’s to prove I am capable!  If I work on this shit for one hour a day for the next week, I can still finish it early…” (2 weeks before due date)
  4. Depression: “I hate group projects!  My employer is a clear example that executives don’t collaborate in real life.  Why did I even decide to get an MBA?  How the fuck did I get accepted into the program?  I’m such a stupid, stupid bitch.  I should have bought a Birkin instead.” (1 week before due date)
  5. The Upward Turn [Up]: “OMG, I selected a topic and wrote the title page!  I deserve a fun weekend. TURN UP.” (3 days before due date)
  6. Reconstruction & Working Through: “I am almost finished and it’s only 11:20 pm!  Most of my friends aren’t even done yet, so I’m in good shape.” (Night before due date)

6b. “I just want to cry myself to sleep.  Why did I waste so much time writing a blog post that wasn’t even that funny or original?  Maybe I should ask for an extension.  Maybe I can call in sick tomorrow to work on this.” (4am, 30 mg of adderall and 4 cups of coffee later)

7. Acceptance & Hope: “Meh, that wasn’t my best work, but at least I’ll pass.  Nobody cares about GPA anyways.  & at least BAE loves me and has revenue potential to support my dumb ass.”  (3 hours before submissions are closed)

8 more weeks until I graduate and get promoted to SVP of Analytics!… Right?

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European Commission vs. the United States

Today I read an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal about American tech companies, such as Google and Amazon, setting up lobbying organizations in Brussells, Belgium where the European Commission is located.  I already have this sickening fascination with legislative bodies, but I found this particular story interesting because it’s difficult to tell how much of a difference it will make for American companies to lobby a European entity.

The purpose of the European Commission is to propose and implement EU legislation, as well as monitor EU member states’ compliance thereof.  In May 2009, this body imposed a record fine of $1.45 billion on Intel due to alleged anti-competitive behavior.  5 years later, Microsoft experienced a similar fate, but was only subject to a milder fine of $732 million.

When Intel fought its battle with the European Commission, it was penalized for offering rebates to PC manufacturers, such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Lenovo, in exchange for an agreement that these companies would purchase all or almost all of their supplies exclusively from Intel.  Further, the EC accused Intel of moving forward with these practices in a deliberate effort to put its major European rival, AWD, at a competitive disadvantage.

I don’t have a huge background in business law, but for some reason I feel that if a smaller company were to engage in the same activities that Intel did, the EC would not even bother to take disciplinary action.  I hate to be cynical, but it almost feels like the EC is going after these large corporations – not only because they feel threatened by them, perhaps – but also because they know these large companies have the ability to pay such a large fine.  The activity in which Intel was engaging is not unusual, and I’ve seen many companies engage in the same type of behavior in order to compete and gain customers.

The European Commission was formed with the purpose of protecting the competitive spirit in the EU, and is comprised of representation from every member state.  I think political bodies like the European Commission play a critical role in decision-making, and I like that the opinions of every member state are considered in the formulation of any EU legislative proposals through this means.

It’s incredible how much power these seemingly outdated, cumbersome, institutions have – since the EC has a monopoly on proposing European Union legislation, companies like Microsoft and Intel that have been levied fines for anti-competitive behavior are faced with a decision: either face the risk of losing the ability to do business in Europe, or pay the giant fine.  At this point, many companies just consider this the cost of doing business abroad because they don’t want to lose the European Market, and certainly don’t want to have their foreign direct investment go to waste.

It will be interesting to see how effective the American companies that are lobbying the EC in Brussells are in shaping international policy.  Are the Europeans taking advantage of large American companies for penalizing them?  Or are practices perceived to be business as usual in the United States considered to be unfair and harmful to competition abroad?  International policy can be complex and difficult to understand because different cultures perceive things in varying ways.  I am hopeful that American corporations can be successful in any country around the world as long as we are mindful of the culture of the country in which we are doing business.  These lobbying efforts can be the beginnings of unprecedented relationship-building with Europe that will benefit business in both nations.

Empowering with Purpose: Why Hillary Clinton is an Effective Leader

Men and women around the world consider Hillary Clinton an exemplary leader.  Her leadership style resonates with many, ranging from listening intensely to being diplomatically assertive.  She has smart answers to today’s hard questions, and takes the best interest of the community seriously.   Highly skilled and intelligent, she has capitalized on her uniqueness in a turbulent political and business world to lead effectively in many important leadership roles, including First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the United States, Senator of New York, and Secretary of State.

A leader cannot accomplish anything alone – a loyal and committed following is conducive to making a meaningful difference.  Hillary has a track record of effectively driving change by use of expert and referent power – that is, influencing others to rally beside her by sharing her powerful vision as well as supporting it with facts and evidence.

Hillary’s expert power was developed over many years of hard work in numerous capacities.  She realized her passion for public service early in her career during law school, but turned her vision into reality as she dedicated the rest of her life to serving her communities and gaining valuable insight along the way.  Her ability to convert pressing issues into impactful initiatives has as contributed largely to her thought leadership in a multitude of areas.

In Peter Drucker’s article, What Makes and Effective Executive, he examines the practices which enable leaders to collect the knowledge needed and formulate action to drive a significant impact.  During her 3-year tenure as Secretary of State, Hillary took it upon herself to travel over 956,733 miles to 112 nations to fully understand firsthand the extent of her responsibility and prioritize the issues facing her organization.  One of her biggest wins as First Lady was the enactment of the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997, demonstrating her ability to build rapport and trust with both supporting and opposing groups.

Perhaps the most admirable of Hillary’s leadership qualities is her courage and modesty to assume personal responsibility and learn from her setbacks, including her loss in the primary election in 2008.  She takes criticism seriously without getting discouraged, and successfully bounces back from every downfall with a more seasoned perspective.  People are fallible, including experienced leaders –nothing is more respectable than for someone, like Hillary Clinton, to be unafraid to admit her mistakes, and move forward with persistence and determination.

It is this tremendous humility and professional will that contributes to Hillary’s referent power and makes her a “Level Five Leader,” a concept developed by author and consultant Jim Collins.  She conducts herself with compelling modesty, always awarding credit where it is due and celebrating the successes of others.  While many emulate her leadership ability when leading their own organizations and teams, she humbly acknowledges that she is just as inspired by her colleagues and supporters as they are by her, saying, “I always believed you could learn something from nearly everybody you meet, if you’re open to it.”

According to Collins, professional will means, “demonstrating an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results—no matter how difficult.”   One of the most significant initiatives Hillary spearheaded was the Violence Against Women Act in 1994.  She facilitated a shift in attitude among officials who were blocking the legislation, helping them understand how the bill represented core American values they share, while also listening and acknowledging their concerns.  She called the effort, “4 years of hard work to strengthen the relationship… getting them to see our point of view, and learning more about theirs.”

In today’s dynamic environment, Hillary demonstrates a stanch resilience to find creative solutions to complex issues and persevere in the face of difficult challenges.  It is unreasonable to expect any person to be a “Level Five Leader” 100 percent of the time, but Hillary Clinton embodies “a clear catalyst from good to great” in critical times when her judgment matters most.  Even those who disagree with her ideas see her in the highest regard as she has mastered the art of compromise and building productive relationships.  She says, “Part of the great challenge of living is defining yourself in your moment, of seizing the opportunities you are given, and of making the very best choices you can.”  As she has in each of her past roles, she continues to incorporate this philosophy into her leadership approach, guiding and inspiring others along the way.

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My First TV Interview

Interview (1-25) 3

On Wednesday, immediately following the State of the Union, I had the opportunity to interview on Utah Matters, a political segment on KJZZ Channel 14.  I joined my friend Marcus, who is the Chair of the Utah College Democrats, and two leaders within the Utah College Republicans.  We discussed topics including the minimum wage, fairness and equality, “free” community college tuition, the national debt, and tax reform.  With all the different people they could have brought in to respond to the State of the Union, I thought was really neat for the program to feature college students.  I had the opportunity to do some interviews when I went to the DNC back in 2012, but none of them were a full 30-minute segment like this one.  I never would’ve thought I’d have this kind of exposure at such a young age – it has been amazing and I am so grateful.

One of my biggest weaknesses is presenting – I have such a hard time articulating my ideas clearly and intelligently.  It was an incredible chance for me to learn a lot about I present the opinions that matter to me most under pressure.  It was also a great way for me to evaluate how I really feel about different issues, because the answer that came to mind first reflected how I truly felt about the topic I was asked about.  I know that the best way to improve a skill and overcome a weakness is to practice until it becomes second nature, but putting myself on the spot was probably the best thing I could do to overcome my stage fright.  It’s funny how something so scary can also be so much fun, and I hope I get more opportunities to do more interviews in the future.

With every new opportunity or big accomplishment, I reflect on where I am now, and where I started.  I am nowhere close to where I imagined I would be at this age, but I am still very proud of where I have come so far.  I am learning so much and meeting so many incredible people along the way.  I have great mentors and a wonderful support system, and I couldn’t be more grateful for my current situation.  I still have big ambitions, but I have learned to be patient – the thing that matters most is that I continue to give my all everyday.  I know it will all pay off.

 

Interview (1-25) 4

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Supply Chain

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) have failed to agree upon and sign a new contract for the last six months.  Since last month, demand planning and forecasting has been difficult, and I’ve had to raise prices to mitigate stock outs since many of our POs haven’t landed.  The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are congested and there are chassis shortages because the union refuses to work.  Some of my containers have been rerouted to Oakland, but ILWU workers walked off for three shifts there too, causing further delays.

I received an email just now saying that ocean carriers announced a $1,000 congestion surcharge per 40-foot container.  I have dozens of containers sitting in the ports right now, and many of my SKUs are going to stock out if this inventory doesn’t land in the next week.  I’ve already increased my prices to slow sales volume, but I can only do so much.  One of the SKUs that is going to stock out in the next couple of days is a Key SKU, meaning that this SKU alone drives about 10% of the revenue streams of my business.   Not to mention that Q4 is hands down the busiest time of the year in retail – The seemingly small scale disruption caused by the longshoremen’s attempt to apply pressure on management could potentially have a large negative impact on the economy and suppress sales during the holiday season.

In spite of how irritating this situation is, and the additional costs of time and money it is imposing on me and Overstock, I’m quite fascinated with these dynamics.  It’s kind of interesting how big of a ripple effect labor slowdowns and contract negotiations between unions and employers can have.  I can understand why businesses dislike labor unions, but I also see how important it is for labor unions to stand strong to negotiate better terms and conditions.  If it weren’t for unions, we wouldn’t have the standard 8-hour work days, or 40-hour work weeks.  We wouldn’t have family or medical leave, employer-based health coverage, or even weekends off.  Labor unions have accomplished a lot of things that many of us take for granted.

Supply chain is much more interesting than I thought. 🙂 There are many different levers I can pull to keep my business running smoothly, but this union’s tactics are making it quite the challenge.  I probably look like the biggest weirdo because I’m excited and jazzed up about something that is not necessarily a good thing for my business, haha but it’s really cool to see all these moving parts in action.  I probably won’t be pissed off about this whole thing until I’m impacted more directly. 😛 Nonetheless,  I hope that the ILWU and PMA are able to reach a compromise soon that benefits both parties.

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Retail Business Models

I’ve been in love with my job at Overstock since day one.  The more I learn about the business, the more I become fascinated with the industry and how Overstock fits within it.  It’s so funny because I never would have expected to see myself working in retail, let alone data analytics, but I absolutely love both worlds.

I sometimes feel that Overstock operates a lot like a start-up in that its strategy isn’t very complete or well-defined.  From my perspective, the company seems to have goals that are all over the place, and it’s easy to get lost in all the noise because we’re not just a retailer, we’re also in the tech industry.  It’s difficult to understand who exactly our competitors are, because we have so many product lines and there are competitors springing up from every direction, channel and industry.  We don’t really compete directly with Amazon, because we use a differentiation strategy when it comes to our furniture department.  But we also don’t really compete head to head with exclusively furniture e-retailers like Wayfair because we sell more product beyond just furniture.  Then, there’s also retailers who were formerly brick-and-mortar stores moving into the e-commerce scene, like Wal-Mart and Sears.  Are they competitors too?

I think that having a clear, well-defined strategy, and sticking to it is the key to running a successful business.  Rather than trying to have a hand in everything, I think it’s important to build a core competency and own that competitive advantage.

One of my favorite entrepreneurs of all time is Tory Burch.  The story of her road to success is so inspiring, and I feel that she built her company with a distinct strategy in mind from the onset.  She didn’t aim to compete head on with top-tier designers, but instead brought her own classic-boho look into the high fashion scene at more affordable prices.  There are very few designers whose style identically matches her product line.  And while she introduced a broad range of items from swimwear, apparel, sunglasses and handbags, she built her competitive advantage around her Reva ballet flats and her classic tunics, new styles for which are introduced each year and likely support a majority of her revenue streams.  Similar to Hermes scarves and Diane von Furstenburg’s wrap dress, Tory Burch built a competitive advantage around one signature item for which her brand could be built around.  Within a decade, Tory became a multi-billionaire and represented a threat to already-established mid-level brands like Michael Kors, Coach and Kate Spade  (See guys, I’m not just obsessed with her product – I’m in love with her story!).

Another favorite retailer of mine is Zara.  Zara is known as a fashion-forward retailer, but it’s funny to me because their strategy does not involve their designers bringing new and fresh designs to life.  In fact, it’s the exact opposite – Zara buyers closely monitor the attributes of products that are depleted from Nordstrom and Saks’ shelves the fastest.  As soon as they buyers identify styles that are “trending”, these designs can be seen on Zara’s racks within two weeks.  And, they intentionally hold low quantities of each style so that they sell out fast.  Thus, Zara does not risk incurring additional costs of releasing designs that don’t sell, and by limiting the quantities they have available they mitigate the cost of holding weak economic inventory.  I love this strategy because they avoid the uncertainty associated with being an “early adopter” of new and innovative styles, but are able to maximize the benefit of profitability while the style is at its peak and before it reaches its life cycle.

Even though Overstock is not primarily a fashion or apparel retailer like Tory Burch or Zara, I feel that Overstock can learn a thing or two from their strategies.  By differentiating itself, Tory Burch was able to make herself stand out among other mid-level brands.  Had Tory Burch tried to compete head on with designers of all tiers, or had the company invested additional time in developing other signature items beyond their tunics and ballet flats, it probably may not have been as successful as its competitors.  And Zara, deciding not to be the trend-setter, but instead a damn close follower of already-popular styles, probably would not have as robust of a business model if it decided to be a trend-setter as well.  Overstock should considering companies like Amazon, Alibaba,and Rakuten as competitors.  We don’t have as wide of a selection as they do in many of our stores, because the basis of our competitive advantage is in furniture.  And Overstock should not try to predict the next big fad and stock up on new and fresh inventory in anticipation – it should continue what it does best and generate revenue off of styles and attributes that have already proven themselves successful and coveted by the market.

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Ethical Compass

My first block in Westminster’s MBA program is drawing to a close, and it’s been an amazing experience so far.  It feels incredible to be back in school, and to learn new and exciting things everyday.  I’ve loved working through case studies with a room full of smart people and leaving each session feeling more enlightened.

One of the most amazing things I’m experiencing is that I am not just building my foundation of academic knowledge, but I am also learning more about who I am.  I remember starting my business ethics class thinking that I am Paul Krugman and John Cassidy’s protege, and that I am a liberal inside and out.  But realizing the ideas I was expressing during class discussions, I started to realize that I’m becoming somewhat conservative.

AAAAAH!  Somebody slap me and bring me to my senses, right?

Before I lose all my friends, I want to clarify that I am still a rational, well-meaning person, haha.  I just don’t think I’m as much of an advocate for a “socialist”-esque community like I was when I was in college.

One of our assignments for my ethics class required negotiating a social contract with the class by way of an online discussion board.  Following was my first post:

“At a high level, I believe the role of government should be to provide the freedom and empowerment necessary for individuals to pursue their goals.  This includes ensuring the protection of persons, property and human rights, promoting hard work and productivity, and providing incentives for the market to alleviate social ills.  It is definitely important to establish a society that is just and fair, ensuring opportunity and equality for all individuals.

I think this role can be fulfilled by a civilization built around John Rawls’ Theory of Justice.  Rawls reaches his conclusion from behind what he calls a “Veil of Ignorance”, meaning that he has no knowledge regarding what his situation will look like, and thus he cannot develop principles that favor his particular circumstances.  Without knowing what his position in life will be, he will be most likely to choose principles fairest to all.  This theory includes two principles:

1. Everyone is entitled to basic freedoms (e.g., freedom of speech, political liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc.)

2. Difference Principle: There can be inequality in any society as long as it makes the person in the worst situation better off.

Building upon his second principle, I think it’s important to control the level of inequality.  I definitely want to promote a “rising tide that lifts all boats,” but I think mechanisms should be put in place to ensure that a large disparity of social/income inequality does not exist.”

It literally took me three hours to determine the theory on which I would base my proposal.  It was no easy task to determine who would become the “winners” and “losers”, and I felt conflicted when putting this theory together.  But it just seemed to be the most justified and fair.

Surprisingly, I got very few comments on my proposal, but those who did comment on it agreed with me.  Even more shocking to me was that the recurring theme among a class full of MBA students was one what emphasized socialism – a heavily progressive tax system, an extended entitlement program for the elderly, disabled and unemployed, free education, free healthcare, free housing, even free grocery… Everyone was rallying behind a classmate named Viktoria, who was advocating for such a system.  It was very interesting to see that dynamic.  I definitely would love to see a world where everyone had open access to these necessities, but such a world cannot exist.  It is simply too expensive, and I don’t think that a system with socialist characteristics as well as the ability to progress technologically and economically would not be sustainable.

So the next post I made was:

“I agree with many of Viktoria’s points.  I especially love that her contract is primarily built upon a concern for the welfare of others, and places an emphasis on giving equal access to many of the resources conducive to a successful life.  I am 100% behind the protection of fundamental human rights.  However, I worry that a society built around her contract, namely the components relating to free education and healthcare, will be too costly and presents a high likelihood for wasted resources.

When resources are provided for “free”, there will always be free-riders who game the system at the expense of actual contributors.  I don’t feel entirely comfortable with a heavily progressive tax system, because I want to enter into a society that promotes hard work and [technological, academic, scientific] progress.  Though the Ayn Rand view appears to be controversial, I feel that it is truly representative of reality – many people are motivated by greed and profit, but many breakthroughs in medicine, science and technology–solutions to many of our country’s existing social problems–have come out of a desire to accumulate wealth and prosperity, as well as the liberty and resources to do so. I fear that the imposition of a larger proportion of taxes on high-income earners (hopefully the greater contributors in a society) would be a crutch to innovation.  The tax rate should be the same among all income levels – the wealthier will still be providing a larger portion of the government’s revenue, but at least it will be fair across all income-earners.

I think that Mike’s view is a much better approach to handling the “free education” portion of her contract.  I would love to advocate equal access to resources such as education and healthcare, but I worry that Viktoria’s approach may be too costly.  By admitting individuals into a specific level of study consistent with their likelihood to succeed in that subject are, we will be making the best use of our educational resources.  I also like that Mike sees excessive taxation as a form of harm – I mentioned in an earlier post that the government’s role should merely be to protect individuals, their property and their rights from harm, and excessive taxation can definitely cripple the economy from growing and negatively impact many people.

The bottom line is that everyone will enter the world with advantages and disadvantages.  Some people will need to work harder than others.  But my nirvana is a merit-based society that is constantly growing and innovating.  One where the government provides its citizens the freedom to do as they please so long as it doesn’t infringe on the freedoms of others, or inflict harm on others, and a society where the more privileged will do their part to alleviate social ills.  If more privileged individuals do not exercise their social responsibility to address social problems, the government should provide incentives for them to do so, but should not be the direct provider of any free public service.  The government should definitely step in when the rights and preservation of citizens are threatened, but overall I think individuals will need to make the best of the cards they are dealt in order to truly allow society to flourish and continue to progress.”

And, of course, I received even fewer comments on my second post than I did on my first.

I felt bad.  I felt like the ideas I was expressing were very different from what I’ve advocated in the past.  I just sat and thought, “Am I becoming one of them? Am I moving into the dark side!?”  But I realized that I’m not.  I am effectively applying ethical principles that seem like conventional Republican ideals to back policy decisions that a more moderate Democrat would advocate.  I’m still blue, but more of a baby blue than a royal blue.  It’s better to sit on the fence anyway – sitting at either end of the spectrum just starts too much trouble.  🙂

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Artificial Happiness

I chose the below TED Talk to complete an assignment for my business ethics class.  It really resonated with me – while I’m not the most materialistic person out there, I do place more value than most people do in frivolous things.  For example, when I lost my iPhone in Mexico, instead of just buying an inexpensive temporary phone, I paid for a new iPhone 5S at retail.  It is kind of ridiculous, but I really have gotten a lot better, I promise!

I particularly have a problem with spending ridiculous amounts of money on clothes.  A few weeks ago, a good friend of Brian’s mentioned that he bought everything from Costco, including all of his clothes.  I didn’t mean to react in a way that implied a distaste for his choice in fashion, but he could tell by my expression that I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of shopping for clothes at Costco.  As an experiment, he brought two shirts out to me and told me to pick out the one that was from Costco.  After I looked at them both closely, examining the material and the buttons carefully, I made a choice and he proudly said, “They’re both from Costco.”

After this experience, I thought hard about how I came to be such a superficial brat.  I mean, I work hard for my money, and I felt that I deserved to “treat myself”.  But I was definitely going over the top: I realized I was paying $150 minimum every six weeks for a haircut.  I was wearing $250 shoes that gave me the same amount of utility as another $15 pair I had at home.  But other than the price I’m paying for these silly things, what else am I getting?

Everyday, I receive at least one compliment on my hair.  I’m not even kidding – after I started going to Heather at Image Studios, people have constantly told me that my hair is always perfect and that I have a beautiful, sophisticated, classic look.  The same thing happens with my shoes – many people start conversations by just talking about my shoes and how they wish they could buy some.  But is this really all that I’m spending so much money for?  Why do I care so much… Life isn’t a damn competition!  I guess just wearing designer made me feel better about myself.  I just felt happier knowing that I was wearing an outfit worth over $1,000, even if no one else could tell.

My boyfriend is the exact opposite of me.  He pays $10 for his haircuts, and his favorite pair of boat shoes only costed him $15.  He would not be able to tell if I were wearing G-Star denim or Forever 21 denim, or if I were wearing Tory Burch perfume or a Victoria’s Secret fragrance.

Luckily, this attribute kind of rubbed off on me.  And guess what happened?  I bought a coral maxi dress from Amazon.com for $28 to wear to a wedding.  And I got more compliments on that dress than I ever have on my $300 dress from Club Monaco.

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This is such a simple concept for many people to understand, but for some reason I struggled with it.  Paying more for my clothes seriously made me happy – I just felt better wearing clothes I knew were made in America, or that were made of real silk.  But seeing that I was able to spend a fraction that I would normally spend on a dress I’d wear to a WEDDING of all places, and still feel just as pretty as I would in a more expensive dress, really opened my eyes, and advancing my resolve to overcome my addiction to unnecessary spending.

Following is the TED talk where Benjamin Wallace walks through The Price of Happiness.  It’s a great presentation, and it really puts the concept of conspicuous consumption into perspective. 🙂

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