The Magic of Italy

Two years ago I was trying to figure out what was next in my life. Do I start my own firm, work at a different company, or go back to school.

I was facing a rough patch but a few months earlier had booked a flight to Italy to stay with someone who I’d met only once before at an airport lounge on New Years. It was an incredibly crazy thing to do and I am so glad I did it.

I spent the week before Christmas experiencing the European lifestyle and just decompressing from the stress of it all. It was in Italy, just after leaving the colosseum that I got a job offer and also decided to apply to get my MBA. That trip helped inspire me to choose Oxford when the time came.

This past Easter I was invited back down and as I started to prep for a handful of exams it was exactly what I needed. A rooftop with sunlight, a view of the harbor, and some prosecco with friends. It reaffirmed the decisions I’d made and helped me start to see ways of living that I want to incorporate into my life in the future. From being truly a local in the community to being the life and host of a party.

Having finished up my MBA this weekend I have felt a bitter-sweetness as the amazing year comes to an end. And so to combat this I booked a flight down to Italy again and am just a few hours from landing in Napoli where I’ll have amazing food, great friends, and a chance to decompress from it all.

Something about these people, this place, and the pasta is truly amazing. I am looking forward to a weekend of rest & relaxation that will recharge me for whatever comes next, be it a job in the UK or back in the states. Italy has become my happy place and I’m so happy to be back.

The Change of a Year.

1 year ago today I landed in the UK. I’d spent my flight flirting with the flight attendant who I eventually went on a few dates with. I cleared customs and hopped into a cab I’d had waiting for me to take me to Oxford.

I walked up to Lincoln college, grabbed my keys and dropped my bags while I made 3 trips to collect all of my stuff because the street was closed for a fair and the cab couldn’t make it through.

Exhausted I unpacked my things and went out in search of carbs. I’d seen a place called Mission Burrito a shop that promised San Francisco-style burritos. FALSE!

These tasted nothing like even the lowest of Tex-Mex in the states known as Chipotle. It was terrible. I moved into my flat and settled in for a year of classes, new people, and (although I didn’t know it yet) absurdity.

The past year has been one of the best I’ve had as I’v enforced the time to grow individually as I discover myself. I’ve also spent the time I needed learning the previously foreign language of Business that seemed to be all around me at my old job.

I spent today showing my parents inside colleges and various bits of life in Oxford. We met the children of great men, saw the colleges that inspire literary generations, and experienced the Oxford I’d lived in for the past year.

I am so grateful for the year I’ve had and hope that I am able to keep the lessons I learned (both in and out of class) in my heart as we bid farewell to the town we will always call home, Oxford.


“David, don’t feign modesty – you are an American, it doesn’t look on you.”

Last night an amazing friend (who may be reading this) sad this to me as I tried to downplay a compliment she was giving me. It’s a force of habit that I have to downplay compliments and praise about me. It’s also something that I’ve had bosses tell me I need to work on in the past but I still haven’t found the way to just accept it.

It is really hard for me to not feel like an ego-driven jerk when I just say “thank you” to praise. To me it sounds very much like I am taking praise that is unworthy or that is for things that I don’t deserve. It’s hard for me to accept that there are things I’m good at without letting my ego get in the way.

I don’t have the answer yet but I think I need to work on being sincerely grateful in the cases when it happens. Usually a trite “thank you” is just that, trite. It is disingenuous and petty and is something I don’t want to be a part of. But true gratitude is something worth aspiring to.

Does anyone have any good ways to start expressing gratitude on a daily basis that I can add to my morning or evening ritual?


Reflection is a helpful thing even though it hurts.

As I’ve traveled and lived in Europe for the past year I have, at times, been a typical American asshole. Demanding things be a certain way, getting frustrated that people don’t think through problems the same way I do, and in general wasted a lot of my life yelling at things that really aren’t worth losing sleep over.

Lets put it this way, I’ve lost a lot of sleep.

In dealing with the bureaucracies of the trifecta of an Academic Institution, in the committee driven United Kingdom, that has 800 years of precedent to uphold I have lost a lot of sleep trying to make things ‘better’. I put better in air quotes because I want to make it better for me (and I assume other consumers) but recognize that I am not the only stakeholder or arbiter of what ‘better’ is.

I have been frustrated that the housing officer has taken vacation the week all the new students are meant to move into their housing. That my college hasn’t been aware of the longer schedule of the MBA vs. other degrees (despite having had MBAs for over a decade now). I’ve been frustrated at the lack of feedback for essays and the arbitrary grading system that takes months to get back. I’ve been frustrated by service staff who don’t bring me my check fast enough because they could turn another table if they were snappier about it.

In all of these encounters – and many many many more – I’ve found myself at times asking for the impossible or unreasonable given the limitations of a system we are working in. Be it asking for something that the person I’m speaking to doesn’t have the power to grant me. Or requesting something be done right this second while I wait instead of giving someone time to accomplish the task.

Today there was an issue and I was taking the lead on getting it resolved using many of the lessons in getting things done vs. just ranting that I’ve learned over the past year. As I was approaching the end of the exchange with an action that we would be back shortly and expected a solution, I saw someone I know very well step in and start exuding some of the behaviors I’ve tried to curtail in myself this past year.

Who is to say which of us was right or wrong? Which of us would accomplish our goal of getting a solution to an all around admittedly shitty situation? In the end all was taken care of and we will never know whose methods were better, however as I saw who I once was it was very interesting to see the difference between that mindset and the more relaxed, peaceful, “this too shall pass” mindset that I’ve been working on.

Je t’aime Paris

When I was in first grade, my family visited Paris. The trip started off with me, as the youngest of 4, was given a bar of chocolate by my older brothers (7 & 9 years older). This was as we were boarding the flight and I eagerly ate the entire bar of chocolate probably before take-off. My parents were up in first class but not too long into the flight they were aware of my gluttony.

You see, my older brothers were not being nice, they were being older brothers. It was a bar of laxative chocolates, suggested dose for my age 1 brick. Actual dose I ate, 12 bricks. Chaos ensued on the flight over. So I arrived in Paris dehydrated and pooped out.

We played tourist to no-end on that trip with most of it spent in McDonald’s without play areas so that my dad could take work calls. We went to the Louvre and mocked the mimes. We went to Monet’s garden, ate cucumber sandwiches, and looked at the lillies. We went to Notre Dame and didn’t see a single hunchback or singing gargoyle. We went to the crown jewel of tourist traps to satiate a family of 6. The Hard Rock Cafe.

It wasn’t until getting into Paris last night and spending the day with Mom & step-dad walking and taking the hop-on hop-off bus around the city that I remembered a lot of these stories. It was today that I realized where my hatred of tourist traps comes from.

Like many strong emotions, this despise of all things tourist came from my childhood. From that long-ago trip with the family where all we did was stand in line, wait at McDonalds, and see old fuddy-duddy art that I’d learned about on Encarta.

I’ve been to Paris three times this year and am finally seeing what I missed all those years ago. I am seeing the Seine and the beauty that river cities hold. I am eating amazing food and watching the Parisians enjoy their city. I am watching the multiculturalism of Paris against the stark contrast of the drive to preserve the French way. I am falling in love with a city that for two decades I have mocked based on the worst travel of my life. I am so glad I’ve had the open mind to start this lovely journey.

As I learned from one of my mates at BYU as he tried to teach himself French … Paris, je t’aime.


It was a wedding to aspire to. Set against a European backdrop that was “home” and surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones the bride and groom were beautiful. The ceremony included groomsmen in full morning coats – tails and top-hats – and bridesmaids from multiple countries as their courtship spanned great distances.

This wedding was my first full taste of what Oxford SBS looked like as it was one of my best friends, her father calls us brother and sister, who was marrying a graduate of Oxford SBS class of 2012. I attended their wedding and was blown away by the experience. For context, the wedding was literally featured in Brides magazine a few months later.

But what blew me away were the people. The SBS classmates who had come from all over the globe to see their friend get married and to party and celebrate with him. I met a dozen students that October evening and chatted with them about the program and their experience. It was at that wedding that I bumped Oxford from low on my list of schools to the top.

The inclusiveness and camaraderie that the class exuded was on full display and I was smitten by it. More so than from any other MBA program.

A wedding helped me make up my mind in favor of Oxford and as we head into graduation week I got the chance to participate in a wedding for two of my best friends in the program who got married yesterday inside the great cathedral of Christ Church College.

I’ve had the pleasure of attending services with them there for most of the year. Saving each other seats when one or all of us are running late and brunching afterwards as we discuss the sermon. The church helped bind our friendship together more than the committees we sat on or the classes we had together. It allowed us to spend time and space away from school without leaving it and that helped us grow closer.

Their wedding was again outstanding. Groomsman in morning coats and bridesmaids from multiple countries. Guests from 6 continents and more than a dozen languages spoken just int he wedding party alone. The ceremony was held in the cathedral and the reception in the gorgeous town hall just next door. With guest dancing until after 4 am I’d say it was an amazing way to start the end of my time at Oxford and a great matching bookend to the wedding that brought me here in the first place.

What struck me most about the wedding personally was how that same camaraderie existed between strangers united in the common purpose of supporting their union at both weddings. I have never been one to plan out my big day and think about color schemes and outfits, and the like. I may have protested outside the Supreme Court for my right to get married but the wedding itself hasn’t held a major interest to me.

But after last night, I know that beyond the venue, beyond the cake, beyond the outfits I will only care about bringing that same spirit of unity into my wedding. Everything else is negotiable but I want to have that feeling with me and I hope many of the guests from last night will be able to join me on that day.


“Would you like to take this hop-on hop-off tour of Washington DC?”
“No I’m from New York!”
“So you’re visiting DC then, take this tour!”
“Didn’t you hear me? I’m from New York. We despise these tourist traps and know better!”

That exchange happened between a friend of mine in DC and a tour-bus sales guy. You know the ones who sell you over-priced tickets to sit on a double-decker bus and have a guide tell you mostly true things about the city while you can take it all in and get off at various local attractions. One of those attractions always being Madame Tussaud’s wax museum btw.

I enjoyed my friend’s conversation at the time and have tried to embody that same New Yorker attitude throughout my travels. In Italy I made it a rule to keep looking for food if I could hear someone selling a “selfie stick”. It has been a great rule because I’ve never felt concerned about pick-pockets, I’ve always found amazing tasting and well-priced food, and I’ve had an enjoyable day.

The closest I’ve gotten to something similar are the student-led walking tours. These I respect a lot as its typically history or art students giving a walking tour for free to a group of people. In Barcelona I found one half-way through and at the end made certain I tipped the guy because that is how he gets paid. Those walking tours have always been well done and give me a very different flair than the tourist traps.

Well today I learned that I travel very differently from my parents. Perhaps its age, perhaps funding, perhaps, attitude. But we got on one of those busses. And to be honest it wasn’t that terrible. It was over-priced. And it was generic. But for people who have limited mobility and are jet-lagged. It wasn’t completely terrible.

I’m still going to go on adventures and meet locals and avoid tourists like the plague, but I will try to do it with less judgement in he future. These things have a place, its just not for me. Like viking river cruises, maybe I’ll appreciate them when I’m old.

A Novel in a Year!

According to the Nebula Award categories, a novel must be over 40,000 words. In the past year I have written assignments for 22 classes totaling just under 65,000 words. A novel and a half.

Today I turned in the last 3,000 words in an essay all about the power of storytelling in business and how I learned to apply it over my summer internship. With that submission I am now finished with all assignments for my MBA and have just under 2 weeks until I have my first of two graduation ceremonies. Two you ask? Surely one is enough!?!

Nope, its Oxford and they are weird. I graduate with the MBA in September 2016 as a recognition for finishing the course and ending the 12 months of academics I’ve endured. We will have a commencement speaker, parents are flying into town, the whole works.

I also graduate as an Oxford University masters student with my college in March 2017 because the college waits until all 65,000 words have been fully graded by not one but two assessors and then have the results certified after an exam board meets to ensure no foul play has been afoot or to apply a curve if they feel the need to.

What this means in reality though is that I am done. My year in Oxford is essentially over and now all I have to focus on is securing a job, a home, a visa, a country, a life after school. This means applying to yet more and more jobs, prepping for interviews, having interviews if I’m so lucky and then waiting by the phone. Waiting, waiting, waiting.

I don’t know which is worse, the waiting or the writing? Either way it will all be over soon. I just finished the travels and moving my stuff back up to Oxford from London where it will stay for ~4 weeks. Not long before that I’ll have to make a call and find a home for my stuff while I figure out what’s next.

That being said, I am not worried. I have a degree from Oxford, a network I’ve spent a year building up in addition to the one I left back in the states. I have my past experience and new tools and skills to succeed. I could panic and freak out but if I’ve learned one thing over the year of writing 65,000 words its that panicking doesn’t solve the writing. It won’t solve the waiting either. Only getting to work will do that and that’s one thing I know how to do.

$15 Empathy

“I know you have a thankless job, and these sweets a small one way I wanted to say thank you for all that you do.” – I say these lines just about every time I board a flight longer than a couple of hours as I hand a flight attendant a bag filled with mini-snickers or other chocolates that cost under $15.

I enjoy seeing their faces light up as they are surprised and on almost every flight I have other flight attendants stopping by to thank me while slipping me goodies and-or upgrading my flight experience. Occasionally though, miracles happen. Like last night’s flight from New York JFK to London Heathrow that I had to get rebooked onto because of an earlier delay meaning I was on the last flight out and exhausted from travel.

As I summoned a smile and handed the bag to the flight attendants I was recognized by an attendant from a flight over a year ago for whom I’d also given chocolates and a smile to. He asked politely to take a look at my ticket, looked at his flight manifest and said “Mr. Baker, welcome to Business Class, your seat is now 2C – would you like some champagne?”


I was blown away and so grateful because 2C meant a seat that turned into a bed in which I passed out for a solid 6 hours. I missed dinner, snacks, and breakfast, but that sleep was exactly what my body needed to round-out the past 10 days of travel.

Later I asked him about it and he informed me they had been looking for passengers to volunteer for a later flight because it was an oversold flight. However they were also looking to upgrade a few medallion members to Business Class to free up spots in the back as well. Once we were on the plane the flight attendants have a lot of control and my kindness and human sincerity as I boarded the flight was returned with instant karma.

This is the very rare exception as its happened three times in 2 years of travel across multiple airlines. In many cases flight attendants can lose their jobs for spot-upgrades but I met some of the qualifications in this case so it wasn’t a big deal.

One of the key things throughout my 2 years bringing chocolates is that I should never expect anything in return. If I stand there waiting to be treated specially it will never happen. And sometimes it doesn’t happen at all even when I am sincere. What I’ve learned is that regardless of the perks I find myself being a better human being when I empathize with the tough job they have.

Additionally, what this flight in particular taught me is that this is not a single-round game (to use game theory language). It isn’t a one-off deal where the relationship doesn’t matter. The flight attendant who flies JFK-LHR a dozen times a month recognized me for having done the same in the past. Often times with customer service representatives I’ve found myself thinking “Well I’ll never talk with them again, so it doesn’t matter if I vent my frustration to them.” Not only do I lack empathy in those situations, I’ve literally dehumanized people.

How often do you get frustrated with the hotel check-in desk, the server at your restaurant, the internet hook-up guy who showed up late, the food truck vendor, your uber driver, your bartender. What good does that frustration, that de-humanization and lack of empathy do for you? Does it make you feel better or superior as you retell the story of how badly you were “mistreated”? How would those exchanges play out differently if you took 10 seconds to make a human connection with that person and built up a micro-relationship with them so that they were motivated to help you find a solution.

I’ve worked retail customer service and remember taking extra care of the nice customers and finding ways to use our policies to help them – something I didn’t do for those who were rude. Working as a host to a restaurant with 4 hour wait times I sat patrons who were kind and understanding ahead of others when the rules could be stretched to allow it – those who were rude didn’t get my rapt attention. While its true that sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the oil and service staff might cave in to someone who is angry just to get them to go away I don’t think the angry customer – the apathetic customer – will ever get special treatment.

Last night’s flight was a reminder that I can and must do better at showing empathy, that repeated actions have consequences, and that there is almost nothing better than an upgrade valued at $4,000+ that only cost you a smile and $15 worth of sweets.