Michael He

February 26, 2023

Making It

It's rare that I get the urge to write. Not a specific topic I have in mind or expanding on a note previously written, but a pure instinct to write with no pre-determined topics in mind.

As a side note, the caffeine might be the actual cause. I almost never consume caffeine during the weekdays, so when I drink tea or coffee during the weekend the caffeine actually works.

Writing under such condition is akin to opening the fridge and cooking with whatever I can find. No recipes, no prep work. Only improvisation and the determination to make something good. But unlike cooking, where following a set of principles can usually create good dishes, writing and similar forms of creative expression are much less predictable in outcome.

The fact that I am writing in such open-ended fashion is a good sign. It seems like I have more or less adjusted to this new stage of life. I am making it as we speak. Or it might just be the caffeine once again.

When I first started writing, it was a way to process my thinking during the turbulent times. A solitary routine made the passage of time more bearable. I came to enjoy it - the singular focus felt nice, so did the internal peace. If you really focus on doing something, by definition you won't get distracted.

The last year of college was a weird time in retrospect. Life didn't revert to normal. We were constantly reminded of COVID with weekly testing and mask wearing. I overcommitted academically - I don’t recommend taking 8 math courses in 3 semesters! Social life was also a jumble, as most friends were also busy and two missed years made it extra difficult to make new friends with younger students. My close friend said we are still paying a heavy price for the collapse of our social life. I agree.

Even when I deliberately slowed down during the last semester of college, having to finish my graduating thesis and figuring out life right after graduation made each week very stressful. I blamed myself for the lack of progress in job searching. It was objectively true since I wasn't throwing applications everywhere like wild darts. I thought if I put in a lot of effort, positions and opportunities that were better fits would actually give me a chance. Reality proved me wrong. I had no idea about how HR actually works. It's a miracle that things somehow worked out in the end.

Now I see that the real source of my stress was the lack of visible social safety net. The pandemic made it impossible for me to go home and take my time with job searching. I needed to find housing and find some way to pay for personal expenses, since personal savings could only last a few months. In that way I feel like a first-generation immigrant. A few trusted adults told me things would work out and shared their experience when they were my age. That made complete sense, but the fear I felt was irrational. I'm usually optimistic and pragmatic, but I was incredibly pessimistic during a time when I should have the most hope. How interesting is human nature. Whether it was ego or fear, I had to make up excuses and inner chants just to make through each day. The emotional toll must have impacted my actions and choice of words subconsciously. It took me a long time to understand the effects of those actions and make amends with people I've disappointed or distanced. 

But good things happened so quickly. Initially I planned to visit my old pastor in the East Coast after graduation as as buffer to figure out the uncertainties. As evidence to that motive, I bought a one-way ticket. Visiting his family during winter break already helped me in avoiding serious depression (in retrospect I was very close). In the three weeks between making that trip and taking the trip, miracles happened.

My current pastor and his wife learned about my situation and suggested a company to apply to. I received a phone call right away from an unknown number. Somehow I answered it and it was the recruiter for that company. We arranged an interview (with my future boss N, who is awesome) for the very next day. I called my pastor and quickly arranged a Zoom meeting with adults at church who have industry experience. They prepared me mentally.

I can't say that the interview went well. I knew nothing about the position or the industry. As soon as I tried to fake it till I make it, I realized I'd be better off being honest. At least I wouldn't feel like I am truly full of baloney. I told N that I didn't know anything about his field nor the position, but I am always interested in learning. To my surprise his tone warmed up after my confession and said if I don't mind starting from the bottom, he'd be happy to give me a shot. I promised him that I would learn as much as possible - it was the truth after all.

Afterwards I thought the result would be the same as other interviews that ended with months of no update and eventual disappointment. I threw away expectations on multiple industries and careers during this process. Without naming names, a few major companies literally left me hanging for many months and even after I repeatedly reach out in polite emails, they would only respond with cryptic messages, essentially saying no. And those previous interviews actually went well.

So you can imagine my surprise when I was having coffee with a close friend a few days later and an unknown number called me. I was about to silence my phone, but my friend suggested that I should take the call. What if it's something important? Turns out it was the company recruiter calling from her work phone. I got an offer. The office is not far from where I used to live.

I took the offer immediately. No pay negotiation (though I'd be horrified if my friends did that). I would start two weeks after graduation.

Looking back, I could say that I took the job offer not because I was sacred, but that since so many things had to work in my favor for this to happen, I'd be foolish to reject a literal miracle. That was the first time I saw a miracle as it was happening.

Of course, the coffee chat will forever be my favorite. 


About Michael He

Trying to get better every single day.