That Time When I Screwed Myself Out of the Job

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In college, spring break means getting drunk and acting reckless in foreign countries to get through the second semester slump. Although I studied abroad in Madrid last semester, my spring break still turned into the drunken, then hungover, then drunken again tradition for studious college kids.

One afternoon, as I daydreamed through midterms about my ambitious spring break itinerary (traveling from Madrid across Europe and back again), I felt my stomach drop—the way it drops when you just remembered you have an exam the next day in your hardest class, and you haven’t studied at all.

I’d scheduled a phone interview for a summer internship at 4 p.m. the next Monday, which would’ve been the perfect time any other week. Instead, 4 p.m. on that Monday designated my arrival at the Airbnb I planned to share with eight friends in Rome.

Fast-forward about a week, and the day of the interview arrived. Afraid of looking incompetent, I never changed the date or time of the phone call. When my friends asked how I would handle the time conflict, I brushed them off and impatiently assured them, “It’ll be fine,” all the while picturing delayed flights, full taxis and mass transportation strikes preventing me from making the call.

When I arrived in Rome, picked up my luggage and discovered how unreliable Italian public transportation is, I knew I needed to push the interview back. I worried that I wouldn’t make it to the Airbnb on time for the call and knew I couldn’t focus in a crowded train or a stop-and-start, disregard-the-pedestrians taxi ride.

When I turned my phone off airplane mode to use the precious international data I’d hoarded specifically for emergencies like these, the bar at the top of my screen read “No Service.”

No service?! My phone worked flawlessly in every other country I’d visited, but refused to work when I actually needed it for something besides scrolling through my Instagram feed. I used the spotty Wi-Fi at the airport to send my interviewer an email to explain, but lost connection as I ran to catch a train.

Unsure whether the email went through, I asked a friend to check my email on his phone, which worked (unlike mine). An hour later, we arrived at the Airbnb at exactly 4 p.m. Technically, we arrived on time for the interview, but because of the frantic emails I sent, it was already too late.

My interviewer had already replied—she told me to “take a breather” and that we could reschedule. I realized with horror that she received both of my emails, frenzied duplicates of the same message with the first cut off in the middle of my plea. In my desperate attempt to save myself from humiliation, I made it worse.

I picked the best alternate time she offered and resolved to study up and knock her socks off with knowledge and professional poise. Two days later, my parents handled the hiccup with my phone service, and the thought of my looming interview still made me queasy. Because of the time change between Italy and the U.S., I had to return to the Airbnb alone at 9 p.m., exhausted from a long day of exploring. After getting lost, I hailed an overpriced taxi while my friends shopped for souvenirs.

The minutes dragged as I waited for my phone to ring in the couple square feet of the basement where I got more than one bar of service. Finally, she called and I rattled off my resume’s list of “accomplishments” in response to her static-y prompts, knowing that her socks likely remained on her feet. When she asked why I wanted the job, I could barely BS a reason. My friends got back, and I struggled not to eavesdrop on their banter as my interviewer droned on about the duties of the internship.

A couple days later, at Easter brunch in Dublin with my friends, a two-line email informed me, unsurprisingly, that I didn’t get the internship. It stung to discover this, but not because they picked someone else. What really hurt was the time I’d stolen from my hectic but incredible EuroTrip of a spring break to stress over an interview for a job I only cared about for the wrong reasons. I should’ve been eating gelato and shopping for Italian leather with my friends.

I applied to that internship because I needed experience. My ambitions motivated me, but my heart didn’t. Once I returned to Madrid, I continued applying to different positions that I found more interesting. Weeks later, I found myself debating between two internships that truly evoked my passions and chose the internship that I hold now, at nonprofit organization called Philadelphia FIGHT.

Sometimes, we get mental pictures of how things should work out, and when they don’t, we get upset simply because it feels like it should’ve gone another way. When this happens, giving up seems so easy.

Maybe something better waits behind the doors we never would’ve opened and the “Congratulations” emails we never would’ve received if our original emails hadn’t sent as two weak excuses. Why fighting for something that just doesn’t fit?

Sara is a senior broadcast journalism major at Penn State. She loves traveling, watching cooking videos, and puppies.

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