Andrea playing polo

I often hear classmates and co-workers grieving their “wasted time” at internships or in classes that don’t align with their current dream job and ambitions. It’s frustrating to think about what could have been done with that time, and what doors those “more useful” experiences could have opened. It’s even worse for students who are having trouble receiving job offers and feel like a lack of relevant experience is holding them back.

You’re not as behind as you think. Or at all.

I’m here to tell you that I had very similar grievances and worries the second semester of my junior year at UNC-Chapel Hill. After switching my major four times (not including my indecision on committing to pre-med classes), I had a depressingly disjointed résumé and frankly almost no work experience. My summers had been spent studying abroad in Ireland and going to Emergency Medical Technician School. My extracurricular activities mostly included me riding horses at Triangle Area Polo and volunteering with service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega. This means I had no research papers published and no interesting projects pertaining to my new aspirations of being a user experience designer.

To make up for all my floundering, I knew I had to do something big over my summer before senior year. Not big as in earth-shattering, just something meaningful that would give me experience in the creative technology sphere before I graduated. The only problem was that my résumé was a wreck — a totally incohesive set of experiences and skills that added up to nothing in particular. I knew I would need to find just the right company to accept me for an internship.

I applied to 63 internships.

Yes, really. Sixty-three. And I did get a number of interviews, which shouldn’t be surprising considering the sheer number of applications. However, it was difficult to get interviews for internships that I was truly excited about — positions in technology and design. No one needed a user experience designer who had been trained on ambulances and polo fields.

Until someone did.

Remarkably, I found Piavita— a Swiss veterinary technology start-up that made medical devices for horses. There was an internship position open in Berlin, Germany and I really, really wanted it. It was truly something to be excited about, and by some extreme amount of luck, I had the perfect résumé for the job.

I introduced myself over email to the CEO, and after an interview and a lot of paperwork, I was hired. I remember sitting in my bed that night in utter disbelief that things had somehow worked out.

Everything paid off.

That summer in Berlin was the greatest adventure of my life. I met and worked with the most wonderful people and gained hands-on experience in a wide variety of domains. Between street festivals and home-made dinners with strangers, I felt more in touch with myself and humanity than any other time in my life. Leaving was heart-breaking, but I knew I had created enduring friendships and memories.

My friends celebrating the Fourth of July with me at Tempelhof Park in Berlin, Germany.

I wouldn’t have had any of this without my “useless” medical knowledge from EMT school and “wasteful” time riding and caring for horses. I wouldn’t have had the perfect background without switching my major enough times to have knowledge in biology, graphic design, writing, and web-development (all of which became useful, as working at a startup demands a wide variety of skills). Finally, I would have never found Piavita in the first place if I wasn’t crazy enough to look for someplace where my previous experiences would be meaningful.

So I’m here to tell you that, yes, I have been in a frustrating, stressful, jobless position were it felt like nothing I had done so far mattered. And yes, I was completely wrong. Everything you do matters. Any experience, no matter how bizarre or astray from your aspirations, can open doors and make you stand out to the right company. It took me a lot of tries (63) but I did get a dream internship, and I am well on my way to achieving my personal and professional goals.

Don’t put your future in a box. Your life, and the people in it, may surprise you.