A Year of Failure (and My Decision to Stay in Nashville)

Over the past year, I’ve made a lot of plans. Whether I was planning to move to Australia on a working holiday visa, heading to Europe for a 3 month backpacking trip or attending my dream graduate school in London, what all my plans had in common is that I was DEFINITELY leaving my hometown of Nashville, TN.

As the title of this post may suggest…. things didn’t exactly work out as planned.

It is time for an explanation. Like most true stories, this one isn’t all fun and games… but like the best stories, it does start with once upon a time (and also has a happy ending!) Ultimately, I hope that I can provide encouragement to friends, family and readers who have supported me over the past year with some truth about failure. And flexibility. And what the (long) road to achieving dreams really looks like.

KNOW WHEN IT IS TIME FOR SOMETHING NEW

Once upon a time…

Soon after my 25th birthday last year, I had my own miniature version of a ‘quarter life crisis’. It wasn’t too dramatic, but I did get the tiny spark of an idea that I needed to start thinking about what was next. And that tiny spark wouldn’t go away, despite persistently trying to squash it.

At the time, I had a really good job. The kind of job with a salary that allowed me to rent my quirky, 100-year-old apartment in Nashville without a roommate, save some money and also have actual insurance. I know that the numbers say our job market should be improving and I will concede it is better now than it was in 2009… but there are still plenty of people (especially in my age group) who are unemployed or underemployed.

I’m not generally a person who condones throwing caution to the wind and up and quitting your life (my day job is to manage risk, after all). However, I am a big supporter of doing something crazy with a plan in place.

So I gave myself a year to figure out what was next, and make a move.

THOUGHTS ON FAILURE

When I finally accepted that it was time to think about an exit strategy, I did some soul searching… and aimed high. I knew that I wanted to begin shifting towards something more meaningful to me personally. At this time in my life, my ideal job would be to work with a global team focused on contributing to international policy and economic challenges such as energy, education, healthcare, sustainable development or poverty alleviation (to name just a few).

Since I’ve been working in private sector finance since graduation from University in 2013, I didn’t really know all the job options that were available.

But I was very eager to learn.

Plan A was to study for my dream Master’s Degree at my dream graduate school in my dream city, which would help me to compete for my dream job. For several months I researched housing and finance options, different degree programs, acceptance statistics and application tips. I got in touch with several of my favorite undergraduate professors who wrote reference letters for me, and I chose my first and second choice programs and submitted my application.

I was beyond excited to be able to break the news to my friends and readers that I’d be MOVING TO LONDON! While I waited for a response from the University, I remember looking at London pictures on my computer every morning before starting work.

Then I received the email from admissions saying that I didn’t get into my first choice program.

And then another email… I didn’t get into my second choice program either.

I failed.

I had the opportunity to not only be the first person in my family to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree, but also to obtain my Master’s degree. At my dream school.

But I didn’t get in.

I’d be lying if I said that it was easy to start planning an exit strategy again after that failure, because it wasn’t. It sucked. But even during the compulsory pity party, it hit me: I TRIED. How many people can say that they have actually tried to achieve their biggest dream? Yeah, I failed to achieve mine. But something about the fact that I’d gone for it – I had actually given it my all – mattered. And it gave me the confidence to keep trying.

THINGS RARELY WORK OUT EXACTLY AS PLANNED

Even if I wouldn’t be studying in London for a year, I was still interested in living and working internationally if possible. Due to the difficultly of obtaining a long-term visa when you are not being sponsored by a company or studying abroad, my plan was to apply for an Australian Working Holiday Visa and move to Australia for a year to live and work. However, I would be lying if I said the drop-out-of-society-and-bartend-on-an-Austrailian-beach option didn’t scare me.

Oddly enough, I wasn’t as scared about not knowing anyone or moving to a country I’d never even visited as I was about what would come after my Australian year. I may want to try to take another stab at getting into my dream school in London in a few years… would my Australian year help my application? While I didn’t think it would necessarily hurt, getting some work experience that was more relevant to the degree programs I was interested in would likely help more.

With Australia as the ultimate backup plan, I gave myself until June to see if I could find a dream job anywhere in the world. I updated my resume and LinkedIn profile and began applying for jobs doing all sorts of fun internationally-focused economic development and policy work in London, DC, and NYC.

I’m sure you know where this is going…. I didn’t hear back from any of them.

I decided to widen the net a bit and start applying for jobs that would expand upon my current professional experience and allow me to have a better shot at getting those fun, internationally-focused jobs in London, DC and NYC on my next move.

Nope. Nothing.

So I renewed my passport and put in notice that I was moving out of my Nashville apartment in March (my lease ended May 31st). If I got a job offer in some other city between March and May, I’d be in good shape to leave Nashville. If I didn’t get any other offers between March and May, then I’d apply for the Australian WH Visa and buy a flight in June.

MAYBE EVERYTHING DOES HAPPEN FOR A REASON

At the beginning of May 2016, I celebrated my 26th birthday with one last birthday brunch at my Nashville apartment, convinced I’d be moving to Australia in a month. Within 10 days of that birthday, I received and accepted a great offer from a non-profit doing community development work (which happened to be, of all places, in NASHVILLE), and I put in my two weeks notice at work. Within 20 days of that birthday, I’d fully planned a trip to Europe, bought plane tickets, booked hostel stays, had my exit interview and boarded a plane to Scotland (on the same day). Within 31 days of that birthday, I’d visited a brand new country (Ireland), completely boxed up the apartment I had lived in for over 3 years, moved out of my apartment and started work at my new job in Nashville.

THE MORAL OF THIS STORY…

…is that there is a (LONG) story behind every success. And “success” may look completely different to you at the end of the story than you thought it would at the beginning.

After all my scheming and planning to get outta Nashville and conquer a new city, the dream job ended up being right here. (Too bad I’d already given notice at my Nashville apartment when I found out about the dream job, right? But hey, that’s life.)

sarah

And they all lived happily ever after…

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