The things I wish I’d had the confidence to say in my first interviews

I sat in the interview for the major publication — a big newspaper for a big city and its big surrounding metro.

I was a 22 year old college senior, desperate for a place to go and write when I was finished with school, but with no real experience besides a handful of unpaid internships and an editorial position at an online student publication.

I didn’t even want to write for this newspaper. I wanted to be a copywriter. But I suppose I figured I’d take this interview to get practice.

The editor sat across from me at a giant metal desk that took up two-thirds of the tiny, bare bones room they’d given him for the day to conduct interviews.

He’d come all this way to do some recruiting at our j-school. So there I was.

I shared with him some clips and attempted to charm (aka bullshit) the crap out of the editor.

“Well, unfortunately, we have all of our entry writing positions filled,” he said, “And, we actually only hire Yale grads.”

“Then why are you here?” I said.

“Why are you wasting my time?”

“Why are you wasting your time?”

Only I didn’t say that. I didn’t say any of that.

What I did say was nothing. Nothing memorable. I shrank into the itchy, woven chair I was sitting in that demanded slouching. The little confidence I did have deflated like a sad balloon.

I’ve heard horror stories about insane questions and hoop jumps interviewers ask of applicants. I guess It’s not unusual that people holding interviews come across kind of … douchey.

But what I think interviewers forget is that just as they’re interviewing an applicant for a right fit, applicants are also interviewing a job, a company, a culture, a boss.

But when you’re 22 and the economy’s in the toilet — especially the economy that hires WRITERS… with ZERO experience — you tend to lose sight of that fact. You put up with a douche bag or two.

I had seven interviews for a job once. Six on the phone. And for the seventh, they flew me down to meet the team. I left at 6am. The cab dropped me a mile away from the office. I walked to their high rise in 100 degree Texas heat in the middle of July.

I interviewed with the team for eight hours. They told me they liked me. They seemed cool. The work was copywriting. It wasn’t the sexiest copywriting. But it was a start.

And in the final hour, the whole team and I met in a conference room for rapid fire insanity. “Do you ever cry at work?” “Are you scared of moving away from Ohio?” “Do you clash with people?”… DO I CLASH WITH PEOPLE? Like, if I did, I wouldn’t tell you anyways.

You’d think I was going for a C-level gig. I wasn’t.

I’d wished I’d had the cajones to tell them their interviewing was ridiculous. That they should know by now if they liked me or not. I wished I’d had the walk-away power to, well, walk away.

But I had no confidence.

None.

Yet, I did have work ethic. And I had proof from keeping a minimum wage job for seven years. I had an auto-sorting brain that created outlines as stories unfolded. I had a ginormous heart. And spirit. And I also had drive.

If I could do it all over, I’d forget the bullshit. Because that’s all it is … bullshit.

I’d tell them straight up, “look, I don’t have experience. But I can promise you that I will work my ass off. And I won’t settle for good work. I won’t stop until I’ve done great work. And I can’t prove that until you give me a chance to.”

And if it was a company who decided they’d want to string me along for seven interviews and ask me questions about how likely I was to cry at the office, I’d walk away.

Imagine my surprise when I interviewed at my current company and they were interested in my heart. And my years spent volunteering. And they were excited to invest in me as a writer. And show me what kind of stuff we’d be doing as a team.

Our graphic designer and my now great friend applied to a position at our company right out of college that required 5-10 years of experience. In her interview she was honest and passionate (and had a kick ass portfolio which helped.) She told us straight up, “Obviously I don’t have ten years of experience, but I do have raw talent. And I know I’ll do great work.”

And we were sold. Our CEO and creative team created a position for her. And now she’s kickin ass.

Honesty in interviews, imagine that. That’s no bullshit.

The best thing I ever did in all of my entire college.

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It was something like 4 o’clock on a Thursday morning. I walked to the kitchen and pounded my head on the counter until coffee magically came out of the machine. I looked at the assortment of bags packed on the floor by the front door—my cute Vera Bradley duffel looked funny hanging out with my fins and snorkel. I headed out the door towards the Aquatic Center with bright eyes. Athens, Ohio had been kissed by one of its first frosts of the year, all the more reason to get the heck down to Florida. As we packed up the trailer and everybody put themselves back to bed, I reviewed what had engulfed my stress for the nine weeks prior: OU SCUBA.

“Did you know SCUBA is actually an acronym?”: the only thing I actually knew about it going into the class.

Our first day was like an episode of “1000 Ways to Die”—SCUBA edition. The instructors sat us down and told us anything and everything that could go wrong while we’re diving. Like how your skin could fall off, or how you could get bubbles in your blood and your skin would fall off, or how the bends would make your skin gross right before you died, or how a shark could come up behind you and tear all of your skin off.

Then we signed a release form.

I immediately called my expert diver boyfriend crying. We had planned a big dive trip to the Dutch Caribbean with his family for Christmas break, but I wasn’t about to go near any water after this first class.

Somehow, I managed to make it to the swim test.

And to the next class.

And to the next pool lab.

And I kept going back, learning something new every time, going out of my comfort zone every time.

The next nine weeks of class gave us more information and practice in the pool than any other introductory SCUBA training I’ve ever heard of. We learned a lot of badass techniques that most divers don’t know—like different kinds of dives, swimming to the bottom of the pool and clearing our mask (getting the water out) all in one breath. We learned how to dive down, gear in hand, and put it all on underwater.

The instructors were total characters, but they also helped you keep calm, while pushing you to push yourself. I have never had a professor genuinely care so much about my success in a class.

At the beginning of pool labs, I was struggling getting my ears to clear on my way to the bottom of the pool—if you don’t clear your ears, the pressure builds up, and the pain is unbearable. My instructor brought me solution for swimmer’s ear the next day.

One instructor had me pushing myself harder than I ever had before. He couldn’t believe how horrible I was at holding my breath. (which, was actually quite horrible.)

“Are you an athlete?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m a runner.”

“Then why do you have no lung capacity to hold your breath?”

“Because when you’re running, you’re allowed to keep breathing.”

We figured out my incapacity to hold any air in my lungs was directly correlated to my incapacity to relax longer than a half second. (Picture me underwater: I’m the guy from Accepted who they finally get to meditate when they put him in a straight jacket.)

“Relax,” he’d tell me. Until I practiced just sitting at the bottom of the pool and letting myself forget that I couldn’t breathe, I was very horrible at relaxing.

It’s funny to me how often many people, upon finding out I was taking SCUBA diving, responded so very cynically. “Oh, I would never take that class. I’m too scared.”

The irony of their responses is that my reason for taking SCUBA diving is exactly that. I was scared. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to push myself well beyond my comfort zone. I wanted to poop my wetsuit.

I wanted to let myself relax.

And I’ll admit, I had to go into the aqua center a couple times outside of class to practice sitting at the bottom of the pool.

It sounds ridiculous, but I got so good, in fact, that the lifeguards were on the edges of their seats, praying they wouldn’t have to come in after me.

The final consisted of a written test and a pool test. And then we had the option to head to Florida for a check out dive to get our certification. (Well, hell yeah I’m going to take an opportunity to be excused from my classes and go to Florida in November.)

If you had told me in August that I would be SCUBA diving through pitch-black caves in just a couple months, I’d have called you a liar.

But there I was, kickin’ it with the manatees.

Taking SCUBA diving at OU isn’t for everyone. But everyone should take a course that scares the skin off of them. Whether you are a macho dude who’s taking Women’s Gender Studies or you’re an arachnophobe taking Spider History (that’s not actually a course), everybody should be pushing themselves beyond that box called comfortable that we like to live in.

My trip to the Caribbean was the greatest of my life. I dove 100 feet underwater to see the remnants of a shipwreck. I swam through beautiful reefs. I got to ask rainbow fish what it was like to star in every child’s favorite book.

I learned more about myself in SCUBA diving than any other class I’ve ever taken in college. And I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t let myself get a little scared.

*This story was published in the opinion section of The Essay Magazine.

I wasn’t born an athlete, but I decided to be one anyway.

I tried out for the field hockey team in ninth grade because I wanted to make friends, I wanted to be a part of a team and I wanted to have a cool Under Armor jacket to wear around school on game days. Fortunately, everybody made at least junior varsity. Unfortunately, all the girls were very competitive and none of them really wanted to be my friend. Also, the printers screwed up our jacket order and we never even got them.

I was the slowest person on the team. By a football field’s length. Literally, when we would run ladders (25 yards and back to the end zone, 50 yards and back, 75 yards and back, 100 yards and faint), I would glance back from the opposite side of the field to the rest of the team staring at me and questioning if maybe I had just walked the whole thing or something. We were suppose to complete this in under two minutes. I never made it quicker than 2:30. People don’t ever believe me when I talk about how slow I was, but I have a team of witnesses to explain how it worked: I made the face like I was trying to sprint, my legs and arms were pumping like I was trying to sprint, but the ground below me just didn’t get covered. It was like that cliche dream where you’re running and not getting anywhere, except I wasn’t in my underwear and nobody was chasing me.

What I lacked in speed, I made up in the ability to run forever like a madwoman. I got put at midfield, where my job was to run and run and run and run around the field the whole game and occasionally pass the ball to somebody and more occasionally just get in the way of the other team so somebody else on my team could do something athletic.

We went to field hockey camp at Penn State for a short week and I was the only girl on the team without a roommate. I spent my first night at a college campus alone in my room crying to my mom on my pay-as-you-go cell phone until it ran out of its loaded minutes.  (I should mention, however, that I spent my second night exploring State College by myself and meeting some really cool strangers which made up for my horrible first night.) I worked my ass off in field hockey, and I ended up just falling on it. I don’t know if people didn’t like me because I was unbelievably slow, irrationally positive, or awkward and said things nobody understood through my mouth guard all the time.

In the long run, I thank field hockey for introducing me to the incredible feeling of pushing my body to do things my tiny thighs and lack of fast-twitch muscle fibers never thought they could do. I loved the feeling after a circuit run. I loved the idea that I couldn’t run a football field in August and by October I was pushing five miles a game. I loved that different feeling that lingered in my lungs hours after a tough practice. I fell in love with exercise. (Eventually people realized I wasn’t competition for any starting spots and I was really good at making up funny names for everybody, so I became an important asset to the team’s morale and they kept me around for a couple more years.)

When I turned sixteen my sophomore year, I got a job at a new fitness club that was opening down the street. This club boasted healthy living and it was contagious. I saw people of all shapes and sizes doing things that made them feel good. It was about the inside, that awesome feeling of accomplishment and noticeable improvement in ones own abilities. (Don’t get me wrong, there are some BABES at this place, but a tight booty is just an external perk to the magnificent joy that partners it.) I was learning something new everyday and I was learning that it didn’t take that much coordination to do some of these things. I took what I knew I was good at, endurance sports, and I used it to help me in what I was really (really really) bad at.

Seven years later, I’m kind of more coordinated and a little bit faster. But I’m stronger and I’m healthy and I’m not afraid to test my limits. This summer, I ran my first two triathlons, backpacked on the Appalachian Trail, swam across a whole lake, got lost in the middle of the woods and practically pooped myself as I sprinted out six fear-miles, I squatted the most I’ve ever squatted in my life, climbed the hardest route at my local climbing gym and I’ve gotten to do it all with my boyfriend and friends.

I’m still a clutz. I stubbed my toe and broke it (then ran a triathlon on it and hiked on the Appalachian Trail). I slammed my hand jumping up onto a plyo box bruising my right wrist beyond usability and gashing my palm open (then finished the rest of my box jumps and leg workout). While doing pullups, I let go of a resistance band that had been on my feet to slap me in the crotch (then kept doing pullups with the resistance band in my crotch). But I still did it, right?

I love motivating others to get healthy. And I have gotten to meet some amazing motivators in my own fitness journey: the moms at my gym with bomb booties and gorgeous smiles; my former co-worker, Stephanie, who continues to push herself (including biking across the country, completing a half-iron man, and being one of the sweetest women I’ve ever met); my friends Kelly and Rachel who have the most contagious love for the outdoors I’ve ever seen; my friend Maeve who taught me that swimming can be great, because you’re out of this world; my SCUBA instructors who taught me that the only way to succeed is to stop being such a damn spaz; and my super hero boyfriend whose idea of an “off day” is hot yoga and rock climbing.I like to think that the gym could use a few more people like me, who lack athleticism but don’t use it as an excuse. The gym needs somebody who isn’t afraid to turn to the body builder next to her and joke about the resistance band that just smacked her in the between-legs. I’ve met amazing people in my fitness journey, which to be honest, just like field hockey, is why I started in the first place. Everybody should know the feeling after a good workout, “good workout” being a completely relative term to the exerciser him/herself.

One day this last summer, my boyfriend, Chris, and I went to my high school track to do an interval workout for our triathlon training. But before I could do that, I had an old score to settle with the football field: the ladder. With Chris timing me, I finished that sprint in 1:45, the fastest I’ve ever been. Maybe I would have rather made that time in high school because then maybe I would have maybe made Varsity Field Hockey (let’s be honest, probably not). However, the amount of work I’ve been doing ever since high school ladders, the amount hours I’d spent with salty sweat down my face is really what made that time so damn sweet.