Sliding Doors: When a Missed Opportunity Has Big Consequences

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Note: I wrote this post the day before the COVID-19 lockdown began in Denmark. The timing didn’t seem appropriate to release it then, and perhaps it isn’t now, but I still wanted to get it “out there.” I know I’m not alone in this, but since the start of the Corona Crisis, job searching has gone from “extremely difficult” to “nearly impossible.” The points I make, particularly toward the end of the post, are even more relevant now than when I wrote them. 

“Wow,” my wife said, as if the gravity of the passage of time was finally hitting her, “you graduated in 2017.”

She was reading through my latest CV. This wasn’t her first reading. She had read through it, or one of its countless variations over the past several years, probably a thousand times. And yet, for some reason this fact stuck out this time.

2017.

Yep. It’s been nearly 3 years since I’ve graduated.

In my post “Almost Famous” I wrote about nearly becoming a host of a travel show. I can look back at that “sliding doors” moment–that great “what if?”–with a sense of amusement. Who knows what my life would have become if that had happened? I can’t even say for sure if it would have been a net positive.

The other great sliding doors moment, one which I alluded to in that post, is not so amusing. In fact, it continues to reverberate to this day. The echo of that moment still reaching through time to change the course of future events.

The event, which started in late January 2017, should have been a joyous one.

It started when a local wind turbine component company, KK Wind Solutions, offered me an internship. I was thrilled. Thrilled. I’d be writing my thesis on CSR compliance and reporting, turning it in, and getting practical work experience directly after completing my master’s program. Epic, right?

Except for one little thing.

KK Wind Solutions messed up the paperwork for my work permit in Denmark. I waited for three long months for the state to approve my visa before ultimately being denied. Not for anything I did, but because the company did not fill in all the necessary information. In response, KK Wind Solutions told me to wait a few weeks while they considered the next steps. Then finally, they emailed me to call the whole thing off. The company was struggling with the macroeconomics of the wind turbine market, and at some point while my application gained dust in some government office, they decided not to go through with the hiring process.

It was June by then. The other summer internships I would have applied for were all gone. The process had cost me precious time–time that would soon be used against me when I applied for Danish residency under family reunification.

I now had a new nightmare emerging: the long, frustrating, and costly process of becoming a Danish resident.

I understand it was a business decision. Nothing personal. They had a new CEO and had put a hiring freeze in place. They didn’t think about my career, or about my immigration status. They couldn’t have known how devastating it would have been to me, because I didn’t know how devastating it would be. And a million things could have gone differently since that day. Unfortunately, it was devastating. And things unfolded exactly the way they did for the next three years.

2018.

How can I properly describe the depths of depression, listlessness, and anxiety that comes from being “in” a country but not in a country? I was allowed to be in Denmark. But I wasn’t allowed to live in Denmark. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t visit the doctor. I couldn’t take classes. I couldn’t take Danish classes. I couldn’t check a book out from the library. I couldn’t even volunteer to work with some non-profit.

I could wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Around April I got a second rejection from Denmark.

We appealed.

We applied for residency under a different law.

We waited.

Spring turned to summer.

Summer turned to fall.

Fall turned to winter.

In December, Denmark granted me temporary residency.

2019.

All things considered, 2019 was better. Things were actually happening in 2019. I could volunteer. And I did. I could find work. And I even managed to finish the year with a part time gig!

2020.

Here I am. Mostly recovered. Mostly.

That first incident with KK Wind Solutions, which seemed significant but not devastating at the time, is still hurting me in subtle but profound ways.

Most importantly, it cost me a chance to get real experience three years ago. And when you’re trying to start your career, there’s nothing more valuable than “experience.” My lack of experience cost me jobs at Aarhus University and Arla Foods last year. And BESTSELLER and LEGO this year. (And these are just for positions that I managed to get an interview for, not the countless of applications that ended with a form rejection letter).

The battle with immigration, which wouldn’t have been nearly as long nor as costly if I had been able to take that first job with KK Wind Solutions, also essentially cost me a year and a half of life. That’s not nothing.

And lastly, it has a lasting impact on my confidence.

With every CV I write, phone call I make, or interview I have, I’m a nervous, second-guessing mess. I cannot get out of my own head. I’m always expecting the worst, and that in turn creates a self-fulfilling prophesy.

In job searching as in dating, the person you’re trying to impress can smell your desperation. And it stinks. Nearly three years on from graduating, and I am desperate, indeed.

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