I woke up around three a.m. with a sharp pain on the bottom right side of my stomach.
“Too much peanut butter and bananas,” I reasoned, as I stood up to grab some water from the kitchen.
As I laid there in bed, staring at the ceiling, my mind wandered to a slow-motion scene of clumsily falling down the stairs before I could receive my diploma. It was a few days before graduating university.
The thought faded and I started to drift off back to sleep.
The pain came back a few minutes later, this time throbbing in increased intensity.
Oooww, that’s definitely not the peanut butter.
I beckoned my roommate and he drove me to the hospital. Fortunately I got there before my appendix burst.
I woke up the next day with three small incisions towards the bottom of my stomach where they had performed the surgery.
The doctor told me to rest for a couple of days and gave me some painkillers for the time being. I was able to go back home, albeit a little bit drowsy and disoriented.
I got back home looking forward to a several-day Netflix binge and some much-needed recovery time before the stresses of walking the podium and entering the “real world.”
That afternoon I received a phone call from the HR manager of a company I was interviewing with. The job was to be based in Tokyo, but they had an office in California.
“Good news. We’d like invite you to the final round of interviews. This will be at our office in San Fransisco, so we’ll have to fly you out from Texas. I’m booking a flight ticket for you for this Friday morning, in 2 days.”
I was ecstatic.
“Sure, I’ll be there!”
I was caught up in the excitement of the moment and failed to mention that I had just gotten my appendix removed.
But somehow it didn’t really matter — the company was my top choice and I really wanted to work there.
I printed out my ticket, boarded the plane, and arrived in California a couple of days later, wearing a full suit, tie, and an amazing Texas-shaped golden lapel to showcase my heartfelt pride.
It was almost summer and it was pretty toasty.
Sweat dripping profusely, I made my way to the The Ghirardelli Cafe to meet with the president of the company. I took a seat outside and waited for him to show up, trying to control my breathing and enjoying the cool breeze from the ocean.
Out of nowhere, a scarf-clad man leapt over the fence with a boyish spring like Marty McFly from Back to the Future (although without the hover-board). He was wearing stained jeans and a tight-fitting, pink collared shirt.
The president waved at me, extended his hand and sat down.
I tried to give him a firm handshake but due to my absurd lack of hand-eye-coordination skills, I formed a crow-like gesture as if I had talons, and he shook three of my fingers.
“Why’d you wear a suit in this weather?”
Not a good start…I failed at the basics of handshake etiquette, plus I was overdressed.
“Umm,” I stumbled gracefully with my words.
“No worries, it’s always better to overdress than it is to underdress!”
Whew, thank god.
There was a jolly hobo singing next to us and making sexually inappropriate jokes at passerby’s. For the first few minutes, we kind of just watched him and enjoyed a good laugh.
Great, we both have a sense of humor…
Eventually, the interview started. Fortunately, as far interviews go, it was pretty casual. He questioned my motivations, dreams, aspirations and so forth.
I had brought him a gift from Texas — a coffee mug with a large orange T on it — because it was the nice thing to do. Apparently he liked that kind of thoughtfulness, thinking it indicative of my potential to provide great ‘customer service.’
I’m f*cking nailing it.
The meeting ended after about 30 minutes. The mood was positive and he concluded by saying that they were pretty much ready to give me the job offer.
Awesome! I was beaming.
But, he said there was just one more person I had to meet. Another senior executive in the SF office, who was not available until the following morning.
“Wait a second,” I interjected, “My flight actually leaves this evening, so I can’t meet him.”
He gave me a confused stare.
In a mix of excitement, nervousness, and possibly haziness from the Vicodin, I had actually misread my own itinerary.
D’oh! Attention to detail had never been my forte.
He calmly read me my own itinerary and showed me that my flight was tomorrow.
I had an extra night, but no clothes.
Feeling some pity perhaps, he pulled a $100 bill out of his shiny leather wallet and slipped it across the table. “Go find yourself a hotel and be at the interview tomorrow, 8am sharp. Good luck!”
And so here I was. An awkward 21-year old wearing a full suit on a nice summer day, a tentative job offer, and $100 in my pocket.
Those were crazy times.
Naturally, I went straight to Forever 21 and bought the tightest-fitting black pants I could find. I took off the suit and tie, kept the white collared shirt and untucked it from my gnarly pants.
I either looked like a homeless person or a teenage model. Either look would do well in San Francisco.
My plan was to stroll around, have a nice dinner and wake up refreshed for the next days final interview.
Of course, fate would have none of that.
A friend of mine had seen me check in to the cafe on Facebook and knew I was in town, so a few minutes later he’s picking me up in his broken-down Buick convertible with a group of his friends.
The next thing I knew we were drinking organic beers around 2pm, and shots from around 4pm.
Him and all of his friends were gay, so once nighttime rolled around we naturally gravitated towards, the gay district. It was my first time there.
I was new to the crowd there and people were eager to talk to a young blond European boy from out of town. Delish!
I knew this because I was getting free drinks all night…and being shamelessly squeezed and solicited from behind.
Those things didn’t bother me, though, and I had a great time — from what I remember. I think they put me in a taxi and sent me home around 3am.
The next morning I woke up at 9am smelling like vomit. I had a sinking feeling at the bottom of my stomach — partly as I was still drunk, and partly because I knew something was wrong. Terribly wrong.
I had slept through my 4 alarms. 4 freakin’ alarms!
The final interview was supposed to have started an hour ago. I frantically called the director and apologized profusely. He didn’t seem happy, but I was honest about sleeping in, not that my honesty made things any better.
Unfortunately, he had a flight to catch in a few minutes, so there was no way that he could meet me now or later.
I had blown my one and only chance.
This was one of the most terrible feelings I’d ever had. I had let the prospect of moving to Japan and starting a new, exciting job slip through my fingers. And for what? A few free mojitos and jager bombs? It was a clear example of my priorities at the time.
Woody Allen’s stupid quote, “80% of success is showing up” didn’t seem so stupid anymore — it was patronizing, but painfully true.
As I sat at the airport terminal later that day waiting for my flight back to Texas, I brainstormed all of the ways I could make up for my big blunder.
Basically, I couldn’t think of anything clever. There was no such thing as a “good excuse.” Begging for the job would make me sound desperate. Plus, I wasn’t very good at writing emails.
I silently accepted defeat, drafted a couple of simple apology emails to HR and the managing director and president, and clicked send. I figured I could at least do it as promptly as possible, and as hopeless as it seemed I still made sure to emphasize my continued interest and excitement.
Even though it was only a 4 hour flight, it was one of the longest flights I’d ever been on. My mind raced with ‘what ifs.’ Eventually I ended up writing down 20 pages of my regrets, challenges, goals, fears. Sparked by the fire of failure, all of my thoughts burned onto the paper.
For the next several days, I waited, incessantly checking emails and looking at my phone. I hadn’t received anything back from HR since my apology letter.
The email came about 3 days after I had arrived back from the debacle in California. The manager that was supposed to be my boss asked for a call later in the day to talk about things.
We spoke for about 30 minutes.
He heard my side of the story and I could tell he was listening carefully. I was honest about the drinking and the careless mistake, and assured him that “this really doesn’t happen often to me,” and could have certainly worded it better in retrospect.
It was funny that I had slept in. You see, I was on the rowing team (crew) during college, where we had to wake up at 4:15 am every day for our 4:45 am practice. I was a morning person, and my commitment to rowing was actually one of the ‘strengths’ they had seen in me during the interview process.
We had a laugh about that.
He accepted that my “one f*ck up” did not negate all of the other reasons they wanted to hire me. They also appreciated my thoughtful/quick follow up apologies, and saw how I acted under pressure.
He said this hiccup would be a good lesson as I enter the real world, full of responsibilities, like not getting too drunk and showing up to places on time.
Then, he gave me a second chance and officially offered me the job.
I felt grateful, lucky and humbled.
Graduation went smoothly, and the next month I put on my big boy pants and set off to Tokyo to start my first job.