October Great Story by Micah Houston, 2018-19 Central Inland Opportunity Access Fellow
When I got the unlikely email in October that I had passed the screening phase of the United Nations Young Professional Program and had been convoked to take the first written exam, I was thrilled! This is a program which is only open to certain nationalities on certain years, and in 2018 Americans happened to be eligible, so just the fact that I had passed the screening phase along with only forty of my countrymen/women was great news. Now unfortunately this also meant I needed to spend every evening and every weekend before the test day studying, sacrificing any work-life balance I thought I could have. But this was a great opportunity which had fallen into my lap, a shortcut into the United Nations that didn’t involve that elusive 10 years of prior experience. What’s the harm in trying right?
Surely enough, I would spend every evening after work deep in 100+ page UN reports learning about society, gender, sustainability, and all the other development buzzwords. The weekend would come, and surely enough I would spend half the day working down through the suggested reading list, filling my head with all kinds of information I thought would help me to succeed. I even paid extra to watch a webinar telling me what material to focus on, and how to shape my study plan to give me the best possible chance of succeeding on test day. When I found out that the day of the test fell on October 25, in the middle of when I would be attending a housing conference, so I planned to wake up at 5am that day during the testing window and take the 3-hour online test before the conference sessions began for the day.
To say that the California Rural Housing Summit in Monterey was hyped up for me would be an understatement. From the first day my supervisor told me she was sending me there, whenever I told anyone that I was going to be attending the conference, I would get remarks like: “that’s a great conference to attend”, or “the facilities there are amazing,” or the occasional sarcastic “ohhhh, poor you.” Needless to say, I had been pretty excited to attend ever since the beginning of my term, and after weeks of office work leaving town to go to Monterey and see the Pacific Coast for the first time in my life.
However, I knew I had a test to pass. There would be no exploring the beautiful Asilomar conference grounds in Pacific Grove, admiring the old wooden architecture of the buildings, walking on the beach, or socializing with the other conference-goers who were all happy to be back their favorite annual conference. I wouldn’t be doing that on the first night at least; instead I would study and then go to sleep early.
I got up at 5am the next day. It was still dark as I walked from my room down to the reception lobby in the old wooden lodge, complete with a functioning wood fireplace. I set up my computer, tested the internet connection, and connected to my favorite peaceful piano YouTube channel to calm me down and allow me to focus. I started the test exactly within the recommended window. I was prepared and ready.
No sooner had I begun, but the website would lag each time I went to a new question, eating up my allotted time. I started to rush through the questions, worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish. I started panicking. Halfway through the first section, I moved on to a new question, only to have a blank screen show up for me telling me the website had crashed. I was outraged, this wasn’t even my fault! My internet connection was fine, I knew how to navigate the website (I had accessed the sample exam a week prior just to make sure). I sat there refreshing…refreshing. Seconds turned into minutes but finally the website came back online. The whole time I had been kicked out had been counting against me. I couldn’t finish.
At the end of the 3 hours closed up my computer and headed to the conference, dejected. Was this how the United Nations weeded applicants out? I had even tried to access the technical assistance link, but it expired when the time allotment was finished. So did the survey so I wasn’t even able to submit my feedback on the horrible system. Whatever, if this was my fate than so be it, maybe hard work doesn’t pay off in the end, I told myself. Instead, I focused on the conference for the rest of the day, heard some really good speakers and attended some informative workshops, ate a delicious dinner, and capped it all off by joining the Polar Bear Club and plunging into the freezing Pacific, and hanging out with my new friends late into the night.
It was a memorable day that actually turned out to be my favorite of the the whole month. Sometimes you just have to let go and accept that everything isn’t in your hands. Do what’s in your power and accept the rest. Take advantage of the simple moments and enjoy them for what they are. If you try to control every factor in your life, you’re going to end up a very miserable, regretful, and unsatisfied person, and who has time for that? And the very next week, I got an email telling me that the United Nations recognized there were issues in the last exam, and promised that anyone who was affected would not be negatively impacted by it. I guess it’s not so bad after all.