Have you ever faced a moment that might change your life?

Do you remember the feeling? It’s a lot of nervous anticipation combined with excitement and cautious optimism. There’s also a lot of, “how did I get here?”

I know the feeling, because it’s exactly how I feel right now.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a coffee shop just one block away from the National Geographic headquarters. In one hour, I’ll pack my bag and walk into the lobby, where I’ll be met by a stranger. She will lead me through the building into a conference room where there will be more people I’ve never met. I then have ten minutes to present my research from the summer and try to convince this group of strangers that they made a good investment when they decided to give me a grant. Oh, yea, and this group of strangers consists of some of the top leaders in the field—they are archaeologists, zoologists, writers, photographers, conservationists and anthropologists.

No pressure, right?

So as I sit here, between obsessively practicing my presentation and downing cups of coffee (but let’s be real – it’s not like I need more caffeine), my mind wanders to all of my senior friends who have experienced this exact feeling. That feeling your life is about to change.

When I was a freshman, seniors seemed in a league of their own—the three-year age difference felt like an unbreakable barrier. Although I had senior friends, our friendship was relatively superficial, as there were few that I found I could really relate to. It didn’t bother me much, I had plenty of underclassman friends to occupy my time, but I never quite understood the difference between the seniors and myself. Yea, they’re about to graduate, but we’re all college students, right?

Now that I’m a senior, I see things differently. As underclassmen, you may not know what you’re doing for the summer, but you know that ultimately you’re coming back to W&M. For the immediate future, you’re set. As seniors, we’re staring down a path with a “Road Ends Here” sign, and a great, empty void beyond it. Some view this void with great anxiety, but I find it unbelievably exciting (although ask me again in March and see what happens).

Our last year at school is dedicated to filling that void. Weeks consist of information sessions, job applications, Career Center appointments, and stressed conversations with friends to commiserate about it all. And within that are dozens of tiny moments where you get that feeling. You feel it in that moment right before you hit the “Send” button for that cold email to your dream employer. You feel it right before you drop the application for that fellowship you’ve been dreaming about for months into the mailbox. You feel it as you’re straightening your tie in the waiting area, right before the interviewer calls you in. And although you know there were hundreds of moments that led you to this point, this is the big one. Could this be the moment that changes my life?

Of course, there will be our fair share of rejections and dead ends. But we have no way of knowing, and that uncertainty keeps us pushing forward with each application and interview.

This presentation could be nothing more than a chance for me to practice my public speaking. They could be uninterested or preoccupied. They could be perfectly pleasant, but forget me as soon as I leave the room.

Or, not. I’ll have no way of knowing. I can only focus on putting my best foot forward and hope for the best. Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do anyway?

For now, it’s time to go! Fingers crossed!

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