Coming to the end of my academic career, I realized I hadn’t really learned a whole lot. Let me explain. I spent 2 years of my undergrad trying to figure out what I wanted to major in. I took every course offered at university, I tried to wrap my brain around psychology, failed miserably at astronomy and was bored out of my mind in philosophy. Accidentally I fell into communications and not only was I actually good at it, I enjoyed what I was learning. I stuck with communications and now here I am 3 years later, preparing to graduate and enter the `real working world. ‘The only issue was I just didn’t feel ready.
Delaying my graduation by an extra year wasn’t planned but I took this time to really understand what it is I want out of life. I decided to enroll in the co-op program offered at school to see if I was ready to work a real grown up job. Prior to co-op my work experience consisted of random mall jobs, Wal-Mart and a pet store. At first I didn’t really take co-op too seriously but then I saw all my friends land these amazing jobs, working for non-profits, large companies and even some jobs offered at the university. I watched as each one of my friends traded in their supermarket uniforms for blazers and dress pants. Suddenly they were social media coordinators, special project assistants and junior communications directors. Meanwhile, I was still a “certified pet expert” at the local pet store.
The following semester I took co-op a lot more seriously, the first time around my resumes was far too childish, my cover-letters were not tailored to fit into the jobs I was applying for and I needed to work on my interview skills. The next semester I received a lot of interviews, but I didn’t get any job offers. One thing I didn’t think about going into co-op was the competitive nature of job searching. Everyone wants the same cool job downtown working at some tech start up, however not everyone is going to land that job. All employers want experience and relevant skills, which I had neither of.
Somehow, I managed to get a job offer at a trucking company working as an entry level data analyst. I was so beyond excited to become a data analyst, even though I had no idea what the job actually was. The job was in White Rock in a very secluded area, it was a 9-5 job that would later switch over to 6 pm to 6 am (I know it sounds insane but I was desperate for a co-op job). I was just so excited to finally have a grown up job that I didn’t care what it was.
Very quickly I learned that my job was more difficult than I could have ever imagined. Basically the job was taking information and plugging it into the computerized system. Sounds easy, but it really wasn’t. Not to bore you with all the details, in short, I was awful at my job. I hated the job so much, I was dreading coming into work every day, I had emotional breakdowns in the staff bathroom, I could feel my other co-workers eyes burning into me every time I made a mistake. I felt so stupid, so isolated and I was terrified every day coming into work wondering if it would be my last. It should come as no surprise eventually I was fired. Kind of.
I technically needed to stay at my job until the end of co-op to get a passing grade at school. The great thing about co-op is that there is a safety net. Unless you are a god awful employee, you will not get fired. Instead of “getting fired” I got moved from data entry into doing odd jobs around the office. Basically I made posters, made photocopies of things, cleaned office spaces, that kind of thing. During this time I did a lot of self-reflecting. I was so angry at myself for failing and for letting myself down. I had no idea how to cope with this hurt and disappointment I caused myself. Everyone around me said it was no big deal, that I was young I’d find my path somewhere down the line. No one really understood what I was going through. I was 22 (at the time) about to graduate, with no sense of a direction as to where I was going. The only thing that got me through this time was writing. I fell back into an old hobby of mine and it became my escape while trying to hide my tears and fake a smile through the work day.
About a 6 weeks left into my co-op, I got the opportunity to cover for the driver’s hiring manager, while he was on vacation. Easily the best part of the entire co-op experience. For the first time since starting my co-op I felt appreciated, useful and it helped I got my own office with a view. For my last few weeks I helped hire new drivers and served as a translator for the main manager. At the very end of my co-op term I came to love working with the drivers.
Co-op helped give me skills I didn’t know I had. I persevered through a situation, I learned how to deal with failure with grace, I learned how to adapt to new surroundings and I learned that a life without passion is a life not worth living. A year ago, before co-op, if you would have asked me what my plan was I would have told you, my goal is to graduate university and jump right into an office job and work a 9-5 for the next 20 – 30 years of my life. Today I can proudly say I don’t want that.
I’m currently finishing another co-op term for a different company in a completely different field, and I love it. I love what I do, I love my team and I am damn good at my job. But I’m not staying here. I plan to do one more co-op term before I officially graduate (which will be August 2018 hopefully!) university because honestly, I have learned more about myself and more about the world working than I ever have studying about it through a textbook.
I understand the usefulness of education and I would never devaluating what I learned in university but I just came to realize that there is more to university than just writing papers and taking exams. University is about finding yourself, shaping who you are as a person, perusing a passion or a dream. University has so much more to offer than just a degree. The last year of my university degree has been by far the most challenging and most rewarding.
I would never trade the lessons I learned through co-op. I would go through all of it all over again in a heartbeat because I really don’t think I would be who I am today without it. Every person you meet will have a different co-op experience, but for me, I needed to fail so I could learn how to pick myself up and try again.
Most importantly my co-op experience gave me the opportunity to test out the future I had planned for myself. And now, a good 6 months later, I can say, my plans are ruined. I have no idea where I will go or what I will do after university but I do know, I will be okay no matter what comes my way because, to quote Winston Churchill “success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
So don’t be scared. Try, a job see if you like it and if you suck at it or realize it’s not for you, it’s okay. Keep your head held high and more on to the next opportunity that comes your way.