I bumped into my dream employer in an elevator and embarrassed myself. Here are my learnings.
Making my first social appearance in Amsterdam and still adjusting to this first world city life, I was in no way prepared to bump into Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten. CEO of The Next Web. A man I’ve admired since I got to know of him. At Zoku. While waiting for the elevator up.
WHAT ARE THE CHANCES?
(Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten is a man of action. A self-proclaimed 'serial entrepreneur' who finds success by just going for it! His free spirit and humor shines through every Tweet or conference he speaks at, and I know the working cultures at his companies are (I applied for a job there once, more on that later) where I'd fit in 💁🏻. Also, did you know, that at one point he was the only person in the Netherlands who could juggle 7 balls successfully? Come on! I want to learn from this man.)
Anyways, what happened? Well, I lost my cool.
My heart skipped a beat realizing that the tall lanky man who just entered the building to wait for the elevator with us was Boris. My adrenaline kicked in and hysteria ensued. My gut called for action. I asked for a hand shake and let him know I was (over)excited to meet him.
Then came the elevator and we went in.
All of us.
I was so hysterical, words don’t suffice. Nevertheless, my once-in-a-lifetime literal elevator pitch went like this:
1. My bewildered friends asked me who Boris was and what he does. In front of Boris.
2. In horror I blurted out what The Next Web (he does other things too!) is. I was so embarrassed and I’m pretty sure I was just blabbing while touching my hair profusely.
3. I blurted out that I applied for a job there and didn’t get it.
4. I even name-bombed two people I know who work with him.
Boris never said a word. Or maybe he did. All I felt was my mouth blab and my heart beat.
Then the elevator opened. He fled the scene to the event.
“Why are you acting like a 15-year-old fangirl who just met Justin Bieber?”
“You’re screwing up that was so embarrassing”
My friends were right. JIHYE! WHO DOES THAT? WHO SAYS THAT?
Homeless in Amsterdam, I slept over at my friend’s place that night. I consulted with her, determined to damage control ASAP. But first- sleep! I had to pitch a strategy to Oxfam the next day.
I opened my LinkedIn in the afternoon after nailing the presentation that following morning and I let out a shriek.
“OH.MY.GOD… IS THIS REAL?”
This was not a drill. Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten requested to connect.
I accepted his request. Then I noticed a message in my inbox.
I was flabbergasted. Obviously I had embarrassed myself. But… was that fine?!
“That’s amazing! It doesn’t matter! You made an impression” said Hélène (Hyper Island producer and organizer of the event the day before), “Ask him out for coffee!”
“Is she serious?” I thought, “I guess I have nothing to lose”
That evening, in typical JiHye fashion, I wrote him an essay ending like this:
So here I am. Boris was one step ahead of me, but this is no longer for damage control. This encounter is greater than me making a fool of myself in front of someone I dream to one day work with. I write this to verify all my learnings and takeaways from the past month at Hyper Island.
After every task, activity, brief, we had to reflect on the experience and give and receive feedback to and from others. I realized this is the key to personal development and self-awareness. Reflection validates my feelings and experiences, then gives everything structure and a place to be digested and accepted. When giving and receiving feedback, the crucial thing is to speak from the “I…”, which taught me that my feelings and opinions are valid and no one can say anything about them. Because they’re MINE.
My whole life, I’ve been judged, neglected, told off for being ‘so weird’ or too myself. Literally. “Be yourself… but not too much”, people tell me. But self-doubt and insecurities, you can walk away now. With reflection and feedback validating my feelings and experiences, I realized that that validates me as a person too. Realizing this empowers me to own who I am, flaws and all. So I am owning my encounter with Boris too. Because yes, it was embarrassing, yes, he might forever remember me as the crasian* in that elevator, but it doesn’t matter. I was being myself, hysteria and all. And if Boris didn’t appreciate that, then too bad!
How do I take all this forward? It’s all in the power of “how”. The first thing Hyper taught me was ‘The Walnut’, a model stressing the importance of acknowledging every individual in a group and their strengths and weaknesses, determining a group culture, and agreeing to constantly reflect and give each other feedback. All before the actual work begins.
Having learnt by doing, I know this model works.
By laying out on the table who you are and get that accepted by your peers, anything is possible. To own that, I plan to start my traineeship that way.
The funny thing? That very same day, I finally got myself a place to live in Amsterdam. I’m moving in tonight. I have never felt so content with and conscious of who I am and my life until this point. I may never know why, but I am thankful for Boris’s message and will always treasure the encounter. I know my move to Amsterdam will bring more life lessons and I am looking forward to all of it. And maybe I’ll bump into Boris again one day!
P.S. Boris! Hope you enjoyed the read. If you ever need a student writer, someone to facilitate a team building session or an experience design thinking workshop for your next year's The Next Web conference, you know how to reach me! (Same for if you ever fancy that coffee chat 😊).
*crasian = crazy Asian