For my STEP Signature Project, I drove over 3,000 miles across the country to intern in Portland, Oregon for Nike in Global Marketing. I completed multiple projects for my department, as well as out of the department on cross-functional teams. I also participated in an intern-wide competition where 12 teams of 8 interns competed to find a disruptive solution to a company-wide problem, and ultimately our team placed second which was an amazing experience.
This experience pushed me out of my comfort zone both personally and professionally, drastically changing my perception of myself as well as of the world. Firstly, my trip across the country opened my eyes to so many new parts of this beautiful country and was one of the most transformative experiences I have ever had. My friend who was also interning at Nike drove with me and we spent a total of two weeks driving out to Portland and back, visiting friends and camping in national parks along the way. I have always made it a priority to live a free and expressive life, but this was the ultimate sense of freedom, a sense that still gives me chills to write about. I promised myself I would reignite my passion for literature, music, and for the arts this summer, so I wrote obsessively this summer and will be sharing some meaningful quotes throughout this reflection. During the trip we had little to no idea where we would be sleeping each night, little cell reception, and yet always wore mischievous smiles from ear-to-ear: we were free and on the road. The road was our home, and as one of my all-time favorite writers would say:
“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.
― Anthony Bourdain
I took this advice to heart from someone who inspired me from the first time I watched or read his work nearly 6 years ago. From seeing a bluegrass show at Red Rocks in Colorado, to camping in the Grand Tetons and Idaho during bear season, each day brought with it new adventures. The only constant along the way was the comfort of seeing my car again after a long day of hiking or sleeping on a random couch in a new city. That car became our home, and our escape to the next destination, always on the move. I would spend hours sitting in the car, watching the mountains, fields, or desert roll past, just listening to music and journaling. I would meditate and reflect on who I really was and who I wanted to be, and I would spend countless hours listening to podcasts and debating everything from global warming, conspiracy theories, to the current state of politics.
I discovered so much about myself on this trip, it’s hard to even put into words.
The main impact that came from this cross-country trip can best be described by a few quotes about travel by two of my favorite authors: Jack Kerouac and Anthony Bourdain. In traditional academic style, I would usually craftily weave in the best parts of these quotes in order to sound sophisticated with my prose; however, both of these authors would find this a perverse representation of what they stood for, therefore I will let their words speak for themselves, better articulating the feelings of personal growth than I ever could:
“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
― Jack Kerouac, On The Road
The quotes I am adding throughout this reflection embody the changes that occurred to both my mindset and to my perception of the world after spending a summer traveling the United States and working at Nike. When examining the events, interactions, and relationships that led to these changes, I must start with the central paradox of the summer which caused me to grow so much. To paint the picture, on one hand I was working at one of the biggest corporations in the world, competing with fellow interns for a shot at a well-paying full-time job. It was an intense test of my abilities, and a wonderful chance to practice discipline and see if my education had been worth the money. On the other hand, however, I was spending all of my free time exploring the west coast; the arts scene in Portland, the misty coastline, hiking through rivers and over mountains. I was journaling, meditating, driving to random cities, meeting new people, going to concerts, farmers markets, and all that accompanies living out west. With these two opposing sides in mind, I am a firm believer in Socrates and Plato’s Dialectic method of learning: where two opposing ideas or arguments converge and in the middle you find the truth. That is the central source of my grow experience this summer: the academically stimulating work at Nike contrasted with the new life experiences and deep reflection that came along with them. Once again, as the late great Bourdain put it:
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
― Anthony Bourdain
In regards to the relationships I built this summer, there were many life-changing bonds that came about as a result of this STEP Signature Project. I met 100s of other interns from around the world, many of whom I now call my dear friends. I also established a mentor-like relationship with several of my managers at Nike whom I now call on a regular basis for guidance. All of this has contributed to my newfound confidence as I approach the infamous senior year job search, and I know I can rely on these people and my experiences this summer to help guide my choices. I can now confidently say I have actual experience executing global projects for a company as large as Nike. I was able to work on company-wide initiatives with people from New York, LA, and even in other countries. One of my goals is to have a global career, and this has definitely set me up to make this a reality.
Nike became my home, and it is cemented in my mind as my dream company where I hope to start my career.
By working in a global department at Nike, I was able to learn so much about other countries and cultures, which is something that has always brought me inspiration and happiness. This circles back to my personal growth this summer, as one of my goals before the summer was to allow myself to expand my horizons both personally and professionally. So many people I have met are satisfied with such a sheltered view of the world and a safe career, and I know that would be a miserable existence for me. I don’t want safety and a white-picket fence, I want experiences that challenge, frustrate, and push me to grow. That is what I got this summer, and it confirmed that this is the life that will bring me the most happiness in my 20s and 30s. Moreover, I was surrounded by like-minded people who want to challenge themselves to grow each and every day, and this experience filled me with a newfound resolve and determination.
This transformation of my mindset has been a longtime coming, and I believe it has set me up for not only professional success, but more importantly, for personal growth. Many psychologists argue that personal growth is the most tangible and purposeful path to achieve happiness in this life, and I subscribe to this theory, especially after this summer. Anyone who has said yes to a scary new experience and fully committed to the endeavor without knowledge of the outcome will agree it is fulfilling and life-changing experience. All of my personal and professional goals are now grounded in that life philosophy: that nothing substantive comes out of comfort. It may sound cliché, but when I ask anyone to take a step back and ask themselves when is the last time they have pushed themselves beyond their limits without caring how they look or what people think, they usually blush and change the subject.
I plan to work internationally, meeting new people and learning new languages; however, after completing this STEP Signature project, I found that it is one thing to have this as a goal, but Nike taught me that you have to push and actualize to make it a reality. I plan to try and start out in New York, a city which has never been attractive to me; however, I know it will be a challenge and personal growth experience and therefore want to try it out. I then hope to work abroad for several years, eventually going back to school for a masters, and end up in Denver or out west somewhere. Thanks to this project, I now know that the west coast has my heart, I just need to develop myself more and experience new things before I can fully appreciate all the west coast truly has to offer. Thanks to STEP, I have gained a quiet confidence, a newfound appreciation for people, and an insatiable drive to achieve my goals.
I could not have had a more beautiful summer, and I find it only appropriate to end with one last Anthony Bourdain quote which I think best reflects my experience this summer, and more importantly the legacy of one of the most influential and authentic travelers of all time:
“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn. Maybe that’s enlightenment enough – to know that there is no final resting place of the mind, no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom, at least for me, means realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”
-Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018)