I MADE IT amanda's Story

“Clinton and Jackson,” said Lola. For kicks and giggles, Lola was what I named the monotone voice announcing each stop on Bus #60 routed to Cicero and 24th Place. Among the foothills of the City’s high rises and monuments, today’s bus ride had me nestled between an angelic grandma with Burberry loafers and a bearded hipster with black-rim glasses.

Leaving these two travel companions behind, I stepped off the bus. Within seconds, I tightened my wool scarf to barricade me from the chilly November air. In hand I had my trusty sidekick as I walked a few remaining blocks to work in the West Loop. Every morning a Starbucks latte accompanied my trip to the office.

Upon entering Aumiller Younquist, a commercial interiors firm, something felt different. The early birds at the office, a.k.a the owners, seemed incredibly quiet and focused. I figured there was just another tight deadline.

Brushing it off, I approached my desk. It was such a lovely sight. Not only was it perfectly organized with multicolored Post-Its and detailed floor plans, but also it was the epitome of pride. Having graduated alongside the recession’s kickoff in December 2007, my desk said “I made it.” Although I was only six weeks into my dream job as a commercial interior designer, I had this feeling of satisfaction. I proved to myself that four-and-a-half years at UW-Madison supplemented by nine months of interviews, rejections, and high hopes were not a waste.

After setting down my latte, Danielle tapped my shoulder. She wanted to privately meet. Danielle was great. She interviewed me for the job and was one of the firm’s senior designers. Despite my wool scarf still around my neck, I followed her down to the conference room.

To my surprise, already in the conference room was Dan, one of the “quiet and focused” owners from this morning. Danielle sat down next to him with me on the opposite side. Each uncomfortably stared at me with with their dropped eyes and frozen faces. My heart started to race with confusion and worry. Then Danielle started to talk.

“You must know that you are very talented,” she said. “This is what makes my next few words incredibly difficult to say.”

Uh-oh...gulp.

“We recently were notified that your project has been cancelled by the client. There was not enough funding considering the state of the economy. What this means is that we have to let you go.” Her voice started to quiver when she said “I am so sorry.”

My eyes started filling up with water while my face turned white as a ghost. Within seconds Dan handed me a severance check that would hardly pay my next month’s rent. Danielle handed me a list of references to contact for new employment.

Feeling like the rug was just pulled from under my feet, all I could fathom was a quiet “I understand.” As I walked back to my perfectly organized desk wiping the first tear to roll down my face, Danielle walked to Claire’s desk and tapped her on the shoulder. Claire started the same day I did and was on the same project that got cancelled.

Within a block of my former employer’s office, my eyes were no longer full of water. Instead, they resembled Niagara Falls. Countless tears streamed down my fresh rosy cheeks after returning to the chilly November air. “I just lost my first job."” My brain could not stop saying this. “I just lost my first job.” There was a silver lining, however. Not only did my Starbucks latte leave with me, but it was also still warm. Hardly enough time passed during my layoff for it to get cold.

I couldn’t bear getting back on bus #60 and hearing Lola’s voice to go home. It would just remind me of a trip I likely would never take again into the West Loop. Instead, I dragged my feet almost two miles to my studio apartment.

After settling in and breaking the news to my parents, it was about 6:30 pm. Exhausted by the disappointing day, at 6:35 pm I became chilled by the freezer air to grab food for dinner. A fresh pint of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream sat before me. It was Dublin Mudslide, my favorite. This particular pint had oodles of chocolate swirls. Thank goodness. Having embarrassingly reached the bottom of the container within minutes, I also embarrassingly felt like I hit my rock bottom. Then, something happened...

My brain went off autopilot. No longer was it saying “I just lost my first job.” The pitiful site of an empty Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream container must have triggered me to think something else. Instead, I started thinking “There is nothing to worry about.”

And quite frankly, there really was nothing to worry about.

Don’t get me wrong. There was no doubt that what just happened was incredibly disappointing, but life was not over. I had money saved up. I had my degree. I had my health. I had gumption. Having already gone through the belaboring task of job searching, I knew what had to be done.

The next day I woke up at 6:00 am to carpe diem.

The chilly November air was again part of my morning routine. Only this time it kept me awake on a four-mile run along Lake Michigan. Within blocks of returning home, I managed to make a pit stop at Starbucks for my daily latte.

In my studio apartment, I sat at my desk. It was incredibly organized just like the one I had at Aumiller Youngquist. However, this one didn’t really say “I made it.” Instead, this one offered the advice of Nike. “Just do it.”

I pulled out the list of references from Danielle and turned on my computer. With my latte creating the lovely espresso scent in my apartment, I updated my resume and cover letter. Within an hour, I emailed a combination of 20 architects and interior designers to get leads on employment. The next few hours entailed visits to monster.com, indeed.com, and careerbuilder.com.

Days, weeks, and months passed. Each day was comprised of similar activities. Fortunately I also had my Starbucks latte to keep me going. Eventually my phone started ringing with calls to schedule interviews. However, they unfortunately led more to disappointment than to a job. For example, I landed an interview with an international architecture firm. The firm was on Michigan Avenue. It was breathtaking with its ornate architectural details, marble-tiled floor, and modern furniture. The position was for a junior-level interior designer.

Approaching the end an hour-long interview wearing a painful, yet adorable, black pair of Michael Kors pumps, I thought “This is it…I bet it will be just a few days before I get a job offer.” Then, I heard...

“Well, it was really wonderful meeting you and we’re glad we brought you in. Unfortunately, the position you applied for just got filled this morning. However, you’ll definitely be considered if a similar opportunity becomes available.”

The only words I could again fathom in response were “I understand.”

Wobbling onto Michigan Avenue with a pierced frown, drooped back, and portfolio in hand, my perfectly done cat eyes for the interview looked to my phone. To my surprise, I discovered a voice message. A woman called about an internship that I applied for about two weeks prior.

I was dumfounded. Of all the jobs, this was the least expected. It was for an unpaid Marketing and PR internship at an industry nonprofit called the U.S. Green Building Council. At first I thought it was not worth the time. However, my gumption thought differently. I wanted to work. I wanted to stay in the architecture and design world. I took the interview. It was the best decision.

Throughout the course of a year, I uncovered a new passion. As I worked alongside my daily Starbucks latte, I once again had an incredibly organized desk. However, its size couldn’t have been much larger than my desk from third grade while the office was about the size of my studio apartment. Nevertheless, I loved it. I learned about email marketing, wrote articles, did graphic design, plus much more.

Although my internship was unpaid and not the typical position for a college graduate with an interior design degree, it was what I needed. Let’s just say the desk from my internship also said...

“I made it.”

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