The power of a good (Cinderella) story

Last week, I spoke at “F-Up Night,” a gathering at my school where grad students and faculty share personal stories about mistakes they have made and how they eventually overcame them. The point of this event is to nurture a mindset of resilience on campus, particularly as we approach final exams and the shorter days of winter. 

This event was my idea and I’ve been working for months to bring it to my school. I am proud of how the night turned out. But with all the planning, I had no time to prepare a story of my own to tell. When my name was called, I just had to improvise. This is what I said:

“Well, good evening, everyone. So, I have not prepared a story for this, to be honest. ‘Not preparing’ is a new thing for me, something I’ve been experimenting with in the MBA program. But anyone who knows me well knows that I love to tell stories, so maybe this won’t be so bad…

My favorite stories are those that take the shape of a ‘Cinderella story.’ You know, where the main character starts out down here, in a bad place. Then things begin to improve a little, and then a fairy godmother comes along and they really improve. It starts to look like things are going to work out when suddenly, everything falls apart again. The character is back in a bad place, down low. And just when all hope seems to be lost, some last-minute moment of magic occurs, some kind of breakthrough. When the story ends, things are better than they’ve ever been and the main character is happy… or happily ever after in the Disney version.

Well, that is basically the shape of the story of my MBA internship. And that’s the story I’d like to share with you tonight. Continue reading

A battle to get my boss fired

Recently, I’ve been posting transcripts of the speeches I’ve been giving in a public speaking class. Today, I gave a speech I can’t post, but it meant so much that I still want to tell you about it.

The assignment was to deliver a persuasive speech that would convince a business to make a change. I pretended the class was the Executive Committee at a firm where I used to work and I tried to persuade them to fire my boss.   Continue reading

Change the world

Since I’ve been in grad school, I haven’t had much time for blogging. Okay, I haven’t touched my blog.

But this quarter, I’m taking a class called Finding Your Voice. It’s about becoming a better speaker by being more authentic. Rather than writing blog posts, I’m sharing the speeches I give in class. Today in class, we were asked to give speeches about what we would change about the world and how we would deal with it. This is a transcript of my speech in response to that prompt. 

* * * * *

I’m going to show you two photos today.

This first one is an image of a single mom and her daughter. I share it because I want you to think for a moment about what associations come to mind when I say, “single mother.”

Vigdis with daughter - Edit

And I’ll tell you what comes to mind for me: Continue reading

What matters?

I don’t have much time for a blog these days, in the throes of grad school. But this quarter, I’m taking a class called Finding Your VoiceIt’s about becoming a better speaker by being more authentic. Today in class, we were asked to give speeches about what we value. We were asked, “What value is so important to you that you’d teach it to your own children?” This is a transcript of my speech in response to that prompt. 

I help people…


over money.

…or at least that’s what I used to say before grad school, when someone would ask me what I did for a living.

I was a forensic accountant. And for years, my job was to investigate financial misdeeds. I followed money, and I quantified the financial impact of some terrible human behaviors.

As you might imagine, I accumulated some war stories from this work. One day, for instance, I sat at the table with a woman, her husband, and their attorneys, and we discussed how the husband had spent more than $2 million on hiring escorts over the course of the last 3 years of their marriage. And I will never forget the day when I sat down with an elderly couple and their son—a grown man, maybe 45 years old—who had embezzled more than $600 thousand from the company his parents had started.

In business school, we talk about accounting as if it’s all just debits and credits—boring, impersonal stuff. But for me, it’s much more personal. In my career, forensic accounting was a window into humanity. As a career, it galvanized my sense of what really matters in life. Continue reading

Bob Marley and I were eavesdropping

“I could be Native American,” she said. “I mean, I like turquoise.”

It was Saturday morning and I was seated outside on the patio, at a small table in front of my favorite bagel shop, just down the road from my house. I had gone there to spend the morning writing in my journal, which was lying on the table in front of me, open to a blank page. I had just begun to spread low-fat cream cheese onto my lightly toasted onion bagel—that sweet, cherished indulgence I only allow myself on Saturday mornings after yoga—when I heard the voice of the woman next to me. I froze.

I must have heard that wrong, I thought.  

I grabbed my felt-tip pen and began writing in my journal, shaking off whatever it was I thought I’d heard. She wouldn’t have said that out loud in public, I assured myself. Not in Arizona. 

But the woman kept talking and I couldn’t tune her out. Journaling was going to be difficult.  Continue reading

The challenge of now

“Our life’s work is to use what we have been given to wake up. If there were two people who were exactly the same—same body, same speech, same mind, same mother, same father, same house, same food, everything the same—one of them could use what he has to wake up and the other could use it to become more resentful, bitter, and sour. It doesn’t matter what you’re given, whether it’s physical deformity or enormous wealth or poverty, beauty or ugliness, mental stability or mental instability, life in the middle of a madhouse or life in the middle of a peaceful, silent desert. Whatever you’re given can wake you up or put you to sleep. That’s the challenge of now: What are you going to do with what you have already—your body, your speech, your mind?”

—Pema Chödron, The Wisdom of No Escape

The abominable heap

A couple years ago, I read a review of Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, a science fiction novel. The author of the review was a recent college grad with staggering self-awareness and a disheartening but realistic sense of dismay with modern tech addiction. She was exactly the person to comment on a dystopian futuristic novel, in which social media, among other modern social ills, have taken over everything. In her 20s, she was umbilically attached to an iPhone, got paid to write on the Internet, and was surrounded by friends who did the same.

I read her review, entitled “Sad as Hell,” and immediately I read it again. Then I read it again and again. And then I finally shared it with friends. Now, I have it bookmarked and I still read it periodically. And here’s the catch: I’ve never gotten around to reading the underlying novel.

Continue reading

Come on, fate

I love talking to strangers. I have a habit of getting into deep, personal conversations with new people, peeling away as many layers as I can to see who they really are, maybe hear their best stories. In my mind, there is something so thrilling about what could be. A nice-looking man at a cocktail party could turn out to be my girlfriend’s future husband, but not if I don’t go meet him and get them talking. That odd-looking fellow, seated at the bar, could be a writer, too, and maybe he’ll say the thing that finally breaks through my writer’s block.

All of this is just an extended flirtation with possibility. In each new encounter, I’m taunting fate: Come on. Show me what you’ve got. 

Sometimes my fascination with strangers leads to bizarre, and maybe even dangerous situations. But sometimes, it creates pure magic.

Continue reading

The muse whispers:

Don’t write like a man who worries that his writing isn’t good enough; is it good enough to tell your neighbor that there’s smoke pouring out of her upstairs window? Don’t sit there coughing as her house burns to the ground because you can’t think of a synonym for fire.

—Sy Safransky, Many Alarm Clocks