Dear Lucy

January 26, 2014 7:02 pm

Dear Lucy... problems with fat and fiction

I moved from the UK to pursue my MBA in France so as to be part of another culture. Some of this cultural immersion is affecting my waistline. I cannot think of a better way to start my day than with a pain au chocolat, and to finish it with a slab of camembert. I now have less time to burn off these treats in the gym. I’m not sure how French people stay so slim, but this is not happening for me. Please help.

I am troubled by your asking me this. Losing weight is the easiest thing in the world. There are two ways of doing it, and neither is exactly secret. Either you eat less or you exercise more. You ought not to need an MBA from Insead (or wherever you are) to work that out. So if you don’t have time to go to the gym, then you have to eat less. Instead of eating a massive, oozing slab of camembert every night, make it a dainty sliver. The reason French women stay so slim is that they don’t eat greedy British portions.

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. . .

We do a lot of group work on the MBA and there is a person whose attitude disturbs some of us. They have great difficulty in accepting others’ ideas and, as such, make people feel bad. At the end, the work reflects only this person’s “personality”. They seem unaware and I would like to give some feedback but want to avoid conflict as we will be studying together for many months. Should I raise the matter and, if so, how?

No, don’t raise it. There is absolutely no point: these are deep flaws in your classmate’s character and will not be changed by a fellow student pointing them out. All that will happen is that this person will conclude they were justified in making you feel bad, and redouble their efforts in the future. Instead, what you need to do is to be more assertive/belligerent/manipulative so that you and the rest of the group don’t get steamrollered. They are in a minority of one and there are a lot of you, so if your projects reflect only his work, that shows the real problem is not that they are belligerent; it is that the rest of you are walkovers.

. . .

My best friend was on my MBA programme a few years ago. One of the classes has changed very little since he was here and he has tipped me off a lot about what we will be studying and how to handle it. My classmates think I am a genius – which is nice. How likely is it I will be found out?

I assume that they have no reason to connect you to the friend who did the classes a few years ago, in which case there is very little danger that they will rumble you directly. However, it is quite likely that they will notice that something odd is going on, especially if your performance in all your other classes is clueless. To be a genius in one class and a dolt in all the others looks very fishy indeed. In any case, I’m not sure how much this low-grade cheating will help you in the long run. Being tipped off about what is in the lessons only gets you so far. To get a good mark in the end surely requires some mastery of the material. If it doesn’t, then all of you are wasting your time.

. . .

I am fully committed to the MBA, but I have other priorities too. Also, how I manage my time is different. While some people like to have the weekends to work, I prefer to do the hard work during the week (until late if necessary) and leave the weekends free, not reading MBA emails. How should I get it across to my groups that this doesn’t interfere with the quality of my work?

When I went to university in the UK some 30 years ago, we had the reverse problem. The aim was to appear to do no work at all and yet still to get top marks. That meant doing a good deal of serious swotting in secret, while making a huge song and dance of any non-work things you were also up to. I suggest you see if this long-neglected wheeze still works. Be flagrant about never touching a book at weekends; when you get great marks for your work, get one up on your colleagues by calmly telling them that the key to success is not to work longer but to work smarter.

. . .

I was supposed to complete a paper for my team as part of our class assignment. However, I told them I was ill and went to the cinema instead. Now I feel horribly guilty, especially as they have all been kind to me. Should I confess or keep quiet?

Don’t even think of confessing. If you do, they will be despise you and rightly consider you a shirker, a liar and an all-round attention-seeker. The scale of your guilt following a minor misdemeanour shows you are a decent sort who isn’t made to skive and lie. To assuage your conscience, work harder next time. Take on more than your share, then tell yourself that you are quits and that your guilt can stop bothering you.

. . .

A classmate of mine is very attractive but shows no interest in me at all. I can’t concentrate around him. Any suggestions?

Go and sit somewhere else. If he shows no interest in you, that is almost certainly because he has no interest in you. It seems you have tried the usual strategy of trying to get on with your work instead, but found that discounted cash flows are a feeble weapon against a serious object of desire. It leaves you no option but to put yourself as far away as possible so that he is not there, looking irresistible, every time you raise your head.

Lucy Kellaway is an FT associate editor and management columnist and writes the weekly Dear Lucy advice column

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