"This is the first day of the rest of your life. I know you can do this." Chengdu, my mentor and best friend, gave me one last hug before I walked into the terminal. His words ringing in my ears, I've landed hours later at the 2012 Oshkosh placement exchange. It was a hiring conference, my first one, to interview for jobs in Residence Life at universities across the country. For the last few months, Chengdu had put me through a very intense bootcamp to prepare for the marathon I was about to counter, explaining that I had steep competition with only a Bachelor's degree. He helped me submit over 50 applications. I had 16 first round interviews, seven second round interviews. Yeah, 23 interviews in three days. Don't ever do that. But, it was a blur of adrenaline that I felt totally prepared for because of Chengdu's help. I hyperfocused on my one objective: get a job.
I could do anything for two years before I went to graduate school. I had a plan, okay, and no one was going to steer me away from it and whatever I did, I can handle it, I told myself. What I wasn't prepared for were the questions and epiphanies that sparked with every conversation at that conference. I quickly realized that there's a lot you can't know just from reading a position description, but listening to these moments of intuition felt like a luxury I couldn't afford. This wasn't time for reflection, it was time for getting shit done. Weeks after the conference wrapped up, I found myself sitting in my residence hall room shaking. My phone was in my hand. Beloit College checked all my boxes on paper, and it wasn't an automatic "no" like the previous institution I'd interviewed at, so that was a good thing, right? But as we walked around the campus, something just didn't feel right and I couldn't put my finger on it, but again, it still felt like a luxury. Could you really see yourself living here in the middle of nowhere, Wisconsin? Schultz, what are you thinking? I don't have time to think about this, right? But I had to shove it down because Beloit College was my only option at the time. I had to get a job. I had this mission, so I tried to shove it down until University of Minnesota called. It felt like fate. It was out of nowhere and they called at the last minute because they had a glitch in their system and they're like, "Of course we want to interview with you!" So how could I say no? I pushed off my decision to Beloit so I could go to that interview, and as soon as I stepped onto that campus, it felt like magic. I was in sync with everything. I was drinking the Kool-aid of the Gophers, okay? I wanted maroon and gold everything.
I couldn't explain it. I started to see a life for myself outside of a job that I'd hyperfocused on, because I hadn't even considered my life outside of it when I was so focused on: just get that job, prove something to yourself. You have to support yourself after college because your family can't do it for you. I didn't have choices, right? I had to be right. But I didn't know I could want something that bad until I interviewed with them. The possibility it presented was actually terrifying, but only after they told me that they needed to finish their interview process and I was out of time. They had to wait three days and I had to give Beloit my decision. I picked up the phone when it rang back in my residence hall room. It was a Wisconsin area code. "Hi Kelsey, this is Beloit College. The day's finally here, no more delay. Do you have a decision for us?" No turning back now. "Thank you for your patience. I really thought about it and it would be an honor to be a part of-" another phone call. A different area code. I couldn't hang up, right? I mean, you can't stop talking on the phone. I mean I had to finish this conversation. I mean, and I don't actually know what this area code is and ... I let it go to voicemail. "Sorry about that. Um, it would be an honor to work for Beloit College. Thank you for this opportunity and I'm so grateful for it. I accept."
That same number called one more time minutes later as I did my best to celebrate with my future supervisor on the phone. I sat in the quiet, two new voicemails. The first: "Kelsey, this is University of Minnesota, I know you have a deadline with another employer, but our last candidate canceled and I can give you an update by 9:00 AM your time. Don't give up on us yet." Second voicemail: "Kelsey, I hope you're still available because I have great news. I'd like to offer you a position on our team. Congratulations, we want you to be a Gopher with the University of Minnesota." I burst into tears. I'd missed it, after all that. 50 applications, 26 interviews, and in five minutes I let my dreams slip through my fingers. It's still hard for me to talk about those five minutes because my intuition turned out to be correct, but there's a whole host of reasons it didn't work out. At the end of the day, I betrayed myself by ignoring my intuition when I was making my first major life decision as an adult.
Those five minutes are a big part of what led me to this path to be a career counselor. I think about the lack of knowledge I had then and the sense of scarcity that drove my decisions. I wonder about my students making decisions who are facing some of these big barriers, that I didn't even have to at the time. Without mentorship like I had with Chengdu, would I have known I had worth and options? If I had different identities, what messages would I have internalized that would have caused me to question and doubt myself? And how many opportunities would I have missed? Sometimes, the resolve I feel about the decisions I make in my life are intimidating to people, but I don't care because I refuse to betray myself again by not following my instincts, and I hope I can instill that resolve in my students too.