I always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a brand manager at a big consumer packaged goods company, like Nestle or Proctor & Gamble. After I received my undergraduate degree from Wharton, I moved to San Francisco and landed a good post-college position in finance. As I spent my days behind a desk, staring at black and white spreadsheets with complex financial models, I knew what would happen next. I would go to Kellogg, known for its marketing expertise, and then transition from finance into a job in brand.
I kept my head down, worked very hard, and was admitted to Kellogg. When I got there, I attended every marketing presentation, joined the marketing club and was genuinely excited when interview season began. Unfortunately, there was a glitch; I bombed interview after interview, rarely making it to the second round and never beyond that. As the season progressed without offer in hand, I grew increasingly anxious. Fortunately, I did secure an offer for a summer position with Pillsbury, working on the Haagen-Dazs ice cream brand. I breathed a sigh of relief, confident that everything was proceeding according to the master plan.
As it turned out, I did not like brand management. Not at all. As I endured my summer, I was seized with panic, not knowing what my next move would be. When I headed back to school in the Fall I was completely deflated. I was a second year at Kellogg and I had no direction. Recruiting for full time positions would begin right away and I did not even know what I would interview for. Why was I at Kellogg? Where was I going? Would my degree be a waste?
When everyone landed on campus, I reunited with friends and we swapped stories from our summer adventures. One night I found myself sharing sob stories with two other women in my class. They also hated their internships and did not know what they were going to do next. Feeling lost at a time when most other classmates were “set”, we joked about going off and starting our own thing: writing a book, opening a store, launching a business. Over the course of that year, we did launch a business, and that business was quickly acquired, and it set me off on an unexpected entrepreneurial path that was exciting, interesting and fulfilling.
It turns out I didn’t know everything at age 17. There were possibilities that I did not even know existed at that time. I had to walk that twisty-turny path in order to find my place, to discover what worked for me. I had to fail. I had to feel desperately lost. I had to go through interviews that weren’t right for me. I had to be rejected. A lot. The universe had plans for me that I could not even conceive of. It honestly never crossed my mind that I would run my own company.
I went to b-school in order to land a job but instead was exposed to ideas and options and people that would help me more personally define my future and create my own career.
The process is usually painful and difficult. Whether it is a quest for a job, a degree, love or personal fulfillment, the single thing that makes it really hard is the uncertainty. Getting rejected from 30 different jobs is painful, but if you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that you would land #31, that would certainly cushion the blows. The rejections, setbacks and stumbles are nothing to be ashamed of. They are badges of honor that you accumulate on your way, as part of an essential process.
Over time, I have learned to trust that process, uncertainty and all. We rarely land at Point B via the straight line that we envision. Walk that tangled line. Walk it deliberately. Pay attention. Trust and fail and succeed.