The tight feeling in my chest began on the drive home during one spring break evening. What started so innocently as dinner and “Zootopia” ended with discussions of the future, about already-made summer plans and already-landed internships. Now, as my hands gripped the steering wheel, my heart thumped loudly, straining at the pressure now building inside it. My breathing became shallow and dizzy, building into an undeniable panic attack.
These fits of anxiety weren’t exactly the usual for me.The last time I had felt this sensation, nearly two years ago, I had been stretched too thin after weeks of running around as a camp counselor. This time, my brain swirled around the piles of resumes on a desk somewhere miles away, the one-sided emails that never seemed to be returned and the fact that I had yet to make any gains in a summer internship search that, in my panic, was beginning to feel stale.
It only took minutes upon arriving home for my fears to overtake me as I broke down in front of my dad. I was worried that I would never get a response from anyone, that there was something fundamentally wrong with all of my applications and that I would never hear back from the places that had spoken to me and given me hope. My fears and anxieties bubbled over as I blubbered uncontrollably to my father, hyperventilating and lightheaded.
“It’s frustrating,” my dad said wryly as he comforted me, “but to a lot of these recruiters, interns aren’t people.”
There might not have been comfort in this, but on some level there was truth. The average recruiter, according to a 2012 study, spends 6 seconds looking at an individual’s resume. The tiniest error in spelling or punctuation can be cause for instant rejection. My entire life and qualifications were reduced to six seconds’ glance at some lines of print. I was not a person, I was a sheet of paper. I was not a person, I was one of countless potential grunts fighting for what was often a single position. I was not a person, I was an option to pass over.
With every rejection letter or every week that passed without response, it was hard not to second guess everything. Maybe if I’d worded one bullet point differently or sent the application in a day earlier, they’d have given my resume another look. Or maybe I wasn’t as qualified a candidate as I thought I was. Over and over, I found myself not considered for something I thought I’d be perfect for, and my self-confidence plummeted with every application that went unanswered.
I’m the type of person who has always put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed. I have perceptions of what others expect of me, and I try to rise to those standards. While I’m incredibly lucky to be surrounded by a network of supportive friends and family, I often feel a need to hold myself to the standard of what they know I can achieve. In order to succeed in the real world, I feel a drive bordering on necessity to leave this campus with the professional experience needed to be competitive as a post-grad. Now, however, as my last summer as an undergrad approaches, the fear of failing grips me for the first time in a long while. After growing up in the Bay Area surrounded by a culture that emphasizes professional accomplishments, coming into the often hyper-competitive nature of UC Berkeley only reinforced my ideas of what constitutes success. Chasing this type of future has always felt like what I was expected to do and what I have always been preparing for. But, despite my best efforts, despite the hours of applications and resume editing, it’s impossible to avoid worrying that it hasn’t been enough.
Around me, many of my friends struggle with the same thing. We are all stressed, paranoid and afraid of failing. We are all pieces of paper in a recruiter’s recycling bin, and we all feel the same pressure to succeed — hedging what we perceive to be our entire futures on three months getting people coffee and four lines on a resume.
Since that spring breakdown, so to speak, things have gotten better. I have cause to be optimistic. Even if things still don’t work out, there is always potential for something else — some other way I can spend my time, some other chance for me to enrich my mind and gain valuable life experience. It can feel impossible to remember sometimes, but a few weeks in an internship won’t make or break the years and years to come.
There is more to me than some lines on a resume. And there is more to the world than that too.