“Hey Ali, I suggested that the girl who has the internship position you did last summer set up a meeting with you,” my boss mentioned as he passed by my cubicle. “I thought you could give her some advice on how to leverage an internship into a full-time job.”
“Sure thing! I’d be happy to!” I chirped before turning back to my Post-It note-covered desk, thinking, how on earth am I supposed to explain fluking my way into this job?
“Hey Mom, there’s that company I’m never going to work for.” I pointed at a logo along the Rays outfield fence.
Mom gave me a tightlipped smile. I think it only hit her that year that her daughter would be graduating from college with two majors – one in journalism and one in creative writing.
To borrow a joke that I’ve only heard a thousand times, that means I didn’t learn anything in college, except how to communicate that very clearly.
And I had just blown my one chance for a well-paying summer internship.
For one thing, I didn’t learn about it until after the application deadline had passed, so my application was late. Plus, confused by the mad juggle of summer internship applications, I sent in the wrong cover letter, so the first paragraph explained how deeply I wanted to work for another company.
Not surprisingly, they never contacted me, so I was pretty confident when we went to a Rays/Blue Jays game during spring break my junior year that I would never work for the company whose logo I had just laughed at.
I think we all know where this is going.
Fast forwarding, the girl who did get the internship dropped out, so they gave me a call and asked me to resubmit my resume and cover letter. After that, I had a couple interviews with an HR rep and one with a communications manager, featuring my well-rehearsed spiel on how a creative writing major actually teaches valuable skills (most notably, how to think of arguments for why creative writing isn’t a useless major), and for a little bit of personal flavor, I also sprinkled in the story of how I accidentally killed my goldfish in a car accident.
In a shocking turn of events, they decided to hire me as the corporate communications intern.
Considering the fact that when I showed up for my first day, everyone in the office already knew the story of my late goldfish, I can only assume that somehow clinched it for me.
Through no fault of my boss, I really didn’t know what I was doing the entire time. But I read once that one of the reasons Ronald Reagan managed to inspire people was because any time someone asked him a question, he would sit up straight, smile, and say, “I’m so glad you asked that question,” even if he had no idea what to say after that. So, I decided to try that little presidential fake-it-till-you-make-it policy. My boss would ask me to do something, I would give a cheery affirmation, then I’d go to my desk and quietly sweat.
The second semester of my senior year of college, my boss emailed me to say that they wanted to hire me; all I had to do was submit my resume and cover letter.
As I uploaded my resume and cover letter, onto my account on the employee portal, I noticed something – when applying for the internship, I had uploaded the wrong cover letter the second time, too.
Error 404: brain not found.
On my first day after graduation, I showed up at the office sporting a new ID badge with an employee picture that was somehow worse than my intern photo (although at least they spelled my name correctly this time). My supervisor showed me my cubicle, introduced me to my new team members, and then we went out to lunch.
“So, Ali,” he smiled slyly as we took our seats. “Do you have any pets?”
After explaining how I’ve spent the last year-and-a-half debating whether I have the time and resources to give a fish the care it deserves, I turned to tell the story to the new hires and learned that they had already heard about my poor goldfish.
The only bad publicity is no publicity, right?
Last Wednesday was my one-month anniversary as a full-time employee. To celebrate (or maybe coincidentally), the company gave us free baseball tickets and a half-day. Lounging on the Tropicana Field party patio with my coworkers – right next to the logo I had pointed out to my mom about a year ago – it really hit me how inexplicably everything had come full circle.
Public seminars are a $400-500 million industry. We read self-help books on setting goals, watch TED talks on exuding confidence through power poses, and paste together motivational vision boards. We all want to know the ten steps to success or how to improve your life in just five days.
But sometimes we don’t get an instruction manual. Life doesn’t always operate in a linear, logical way. It’s messy and imperfect and sometimes there’s no single magic key that unlocks success.
Maybe we really don’t have control over what happens in our lives. I guess all we can do is have a good attitude, do our best, and trust God to work everything out in the end.
And maybe have a killer fish story.
(Oh wow, that was too soon.)
“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)