The Placebo Effect: the Decaf Edition

I have resisted the business world for so long and for one simple reason: the suits. I never imagined myself to be a suit and heels sort of girl. I prefer wrap dresses and flats– professional, but comfortable for mind, body, and feet. Hence my hesitation in applying to the Albright Institute for Global Affairs.

In beginning my application, I was agreeing to comply with the following stipulation: on that day that I present my proposal to Ms. Albright herself, I would be standing in four-inch patent leather pumps and a Calvin Klein suit. I had backaches just thinking of it.

And when, of course, my interview day came, and I was asked what my biggest concern about the Institute was, I paused and then professed my inability to gracefully move in heels. The response was overwhelming laughter, and then Joanne, one of directors, said, “Well here’s your opportunity to learn!”

Fast forward seven months and I find myself in Pendelton 239W, in the aforementioned backbreaking attire, preparing with my wonderful and always entertaining group mates our policy proposals on securing Information and Communications Technologies (ICT).

Due to a sudden invitation to a state dinner with the president of China, Ms. Albright has had to cancel her Wednesday visit. Given that Wednesday was our group’s scheduled day to present, we naturally assumed we’d be given an extra day. Since there were eight groups, it was only logical to conclude four on one day and four on the other. As the fifth group, we considered ourselves a part of the “other.”

However, as the Yiddish saying goes, “Man plans, and G-d laughs.” And indeed He must have been giddy with glee because instead of giving us an extra day of preparation, He privileged us with the fifth and final time slot on Tuesday evening. Yes, after four other presentations and a panel on the future of liberal arts education, ICT would begin to revolutionize the way we think about the future.

If not for the special ladies in my group– Marge, Sam, Julia, and Caroline– I doubt such an unfortunately scheduled presentation would have gone as gracefully as it did. In fact, when we finished our presentation, Ms. Albright winked at us and said, “Ladies, this was absolutely terrific.” And then looking straight at me she added, “And your example on the text message revolution in the Philippines was simply fabulous.” (And yes, it did have a bit of a flamboyantly gay New Yorker twist to it.)

Lucky Number Five

Perhaps, however, the most miraculous part of the entire experience: the lack of coffee. On the day we presented before the Madame Secretary, I had no time to escape to Starbucks for my daily venti. Between the snow, sleet, ice, and 8 am arrival time, I was forced to choose between blow drying my hair and inhaling my daily cup of Jo.

In order to avoid sudden death upon stepping into the AM blizzard, I opted for the former. As a result I did not catch pneumonia or any other unfortunate wet hair related disease. I did, however, feel overcome by a tremendous sense of lethargy, and spent much of the subsequent day leading up to our final presentation downing mugs of Tazo Chamomile tea. In other words, I succumbed to the decaffeinated tea gods that be.

When 4:45 arrived, I was calm, collected, and ready to share the wonders of the mobile cell phone with the 35 other fellows forced to listen. Given my propensity for hand motions and the liveliness of my fellow group members, we were able to transcend the border of boredom and bring both the fellows and Ms. Albright into the presentation.

The moral of the story, my dears, is not that one should refrain from coffee on a daily basis. But rather, if one should find herself presenting to a former secretary of state on the future of information technologies with little time to spare, she can, in fact, forego her true source of happiness for a placebo: decaf.


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