I’m sitting in my cubicle, surrounded by three different computer screens and an office filled with people who have worked at this company for decades. There are times during my lunch break when, somewhere between scrolling through Instagram and chatting with my co-workers, I’ll remember where I am. Or more specifically, what I’m doing. I’m on my very first co-op work term. It surprises me every time I remember.

I applied to the Carleton undergraduate program with the intention to be a part of the Co-operative Program. I shed my naive freshman status in second year, and with this came a bit of self-doubt. I started feeling more and more uncomfortable as the co-op orientation date approached. Perhaps I had achieved the grade requirements to enter, but what if I couldn’t find a placement? Or worse, what if I did find a placement and I absolutely hated it? I had multiple “what-if” flow charts percolating in my brain before I had even congratulated myself for making it this far.

It would have been easy to become overwhelmed with the co-op process in my second year. Juggling full-time studies, a yoga teacher training course and a commitment to Carleton University Women in Business club meant that I had zero days off each week. Simply having a movie night with my roomie felt like the ultimate luxury. Occasional visits with Blue the Therapy Dog were much appreciated.

So I decided not to view the online co-op course as another chore. I saw it as important preparation for one of the coolest experiences I would have yet. Instead of complaining about my busy day-to-day schedule, I set a goal to chip away at my co-op tasks at least once a week. This made me feel productive, without feeling overwhelmed. I tried to put in enough effort to make myself proud, without compromising my other priorities. Every year that I’m a student I am made more and more aware of my mental health. My mental health wavers, but I am committed to returning to mental wellness every day.

After completing the online co-op course, I began searching for a co-op placement for Fall 2018 when I returned home for summer break. Living in the GTA, I wanted to find a placement close to home so I could make nearby connections. There were three things I would miss in Ottawa: my twin sister, my friends, and most importantly, the Panda Game. I’m convinced our unexpected loss meant that I simply wasn’t meant to be there.

Living outside of Ottawa meant I had to conduct my own personal job search. The Carleton Co-op website rarely posted co-op placements outside of the Ottawa area. I was tasked with searching for and securing a placement almost entirely by myself. I was also competing with co-op students from other universities and colleges in the GTA.

The available co-op jobs I could find on the internet were limited. The Carleton Co-op Office had taught me that the jobs we see online are only a tiny portion of the actual available jobs that exist. Most open positions are only advertised internally within a company. This means that the public, or anyone outside of the company, or even the department, are never made aware that a job opportunity exists in the first place. The seed of self-doubt I had planted earlier was starting to grow roots. But I didn’t let it blossom.

Thanks to the online co-op component, I was able to send inquiry letters to various companies. I tailored each and every resumé to whichever position I was applying for. My mom and sister helped me design networking cards. At this point I had even started planning my third-year timetable, believing it was my destiny to return to school since I wasn’t receiving any co-op job offers. It turned out the placement I would secure was right around the corner. Literally.

I was successful in obtaining a placement with a company that was 15 minutes from my house. My work hours are amazing, making my weekly schedule a dream. I have every evening off and weekends free. My calendar is filled up with coffee dates and pizza nights with old friends instead of assignment deadlines or readings to complete. Being able to spend 8 months living with my family again is an awesome bonus, too. I feel like I am back in high school but with less drama and more of a tendency to be in bed before 9:30 pm.

If you have the opportunity, I truly recommend entering the Co-op program. Seeing how you can contribute to a company with the skills you have right now will give you some insight into what you want to do in the future. Equally, if not more important, you may discover what you don’t want to do in the future.

Although my placement seems unrelated to, or even opposed to my academic focus, I’m so grateful that it turned out this way. It has forced me to learn new skills and reject ways of thinking I would rely on simply because they were familiar to me. I’m able to meet professionals with diverse backgrounds and work with content I’ve never seen before. Feeling so disoriented at the beginning of my placement resulted in one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had.

The past three years have been a major transformation period for me, as it probably has been for most students after they graduate from high school. For those of us who have pursued university studies, lockers have been replaced by lecture halls. Some of us have chosen apprenticeships instead. Some of us have dived straight into our career fields. Whatever the extraordinary circumstances we’ve all gotten into, it’s safe to say that some plans burn out, opportunities rise from the ashes, and we all become just a little better than who we were before (regardless of what happens).

I think I’ve grown as an individual because I gave myself a chance. Now I see self-doubt as a challenge, not an obstacle. Surely, I’m no poster-child for believing in myself 100% of the time. The self-doubt I experienced before securing my placement likes to tap me on the shoulder every so often. I just shrug my shoulders and get back to work.