The conference in St. Louis was overwhelming. Although an extrovert, I've never particularly enjoyed the process of networking. Coming from the woods, spending long days in a suit, passing out my resume, and boasting about my accomplishments was outright exhausting. I hadn't really expected (though secretly and naively hoped) that employers would be excited by my non-traditional business background. Still, I know that I bring loads of transferable skills and that ever-elusive Passion (with a capital P) that is so rare these days. I figured that I'd simply be myself and my natural charisma would take care of the rest.
I didn't expect to be asked, "Wait, so, why are you even here?" by a recruiter. Most companies reacted with polite indifference as I described my background in education, some were downright condescending, and the rare individual was interested in what I could bring to their organization. It was disheartening and frustrating to see peoples' eyes glaze over as soon as I mentioned working in a high school. For all my talk about feeling grounded on the Trail, I could feel my anxiety bubble up and overpower every other emotion. It made me question myself--why was I there?
The conference wasn't all bad. My classmates are an inspiring bunch, all with widespread backgrounds and goals. We operated like a well-conditioned team despite meeting each other at the conference; people were quick to share insights, offer support, and cheer each other's successes. I know I'll learn a lot from classes, but have a feeling that I'll learn even more from them. The conference may have challenged my interest in pursuing business, but this group validated my decision to return the U.Va.
So, back to that foundation-crumbling question of my purpose, why was I there? I knew, before the conference, that I was interested in learning more about how organizations are effectively run. What I didn't know was how much I didn't know. In some ways, I felt like I had traveled abroad. We all seemed to be speaking the same language on the surface, but very different dialects, and it was clear that the meaning was being lost on both sides. My tired brain all but gave up trying to justify my experience and I longed to return to the AT where I knew I belonged.
In the few days since I've returned, I've been welcomed back with open arms by nature. Wild flowers dance gently in the wind, leaves above shimmer in the afternoon light; I have re-entered the cathedral of the pines and once again feel at peace. Sure, my feet hurt a bit from breaking in new boots, but even the pain is welcomed like an old friend. I know my place out here, I thrive. After hiking 1500 miles (!!!) I should feel that way.
And yet, I can remember a time when I asked myself the same question about being out in the woods. My first night I spent sitting on the side of a shelter wordlessly as people sized each other up. I felt completely out of place and honestly wasn't sure how far I'd make it on this trip. In order to grow, we need to step outside of the world we know--and eventually that expands our comfort zone. I didn't always belong in this space, but now feel at home.
I'm hopeful that the same transformation will happen in business school. I have a lot to learn, true, but that's why I am going back to school. Returning to the Trail has reminded me how important it is to never stop pushing myself. I'm excited for what will come this fall and beyond in the business world!