My Summer of Resiliency and Restoration: Lessons from my Professional Rebound after the COVID-19 Pandemic

A year ago, I could’ve never imagined I would be where I am now. 

The cliché nature of that statement isn’t lost on me. In the canon of post-COVID literature, it’s the most succinct summarization of a generational experience. The virus swept in, and just like that, we were confused, isolated, and in shock from a once-in-a-lifetime global tragedy. We had all lost something to the virus and our year in quarantine. For me, it was my confidence. A self-assured college first year at my previous university, I was engrossed in networking events, alumni discussions, and preparing for a bright future ahead while enjoying the social life college had to offer. Right before the pandemic struck, I was on a journey of self-discovery and introspection, fueled by dreams of the future.

But, in March 2020, that all fell apart. I collapsed into myself and felt hopeless about the days ahead. My fire was gone, and all I could do most days was cry into my mother’s shoulder. When I was alone, I spent my time agonizing over my current self at the time, yearning for the person I was before. When it was time to begin a new school year, I had transferred to a new university and begun doing classes online, lacking the social life and in-person opportunities I once had.  

For an extrovert like me, the loss of a social biome is a major blow. Dealing with social distancing and attending networking events online, I missed the energizing nature of traveling to different locations as opposed to staying in my room. I felt drained despite remaining in stasis for most of the day. Yet, when the new school year began and I received the vaccine, I decided to rebuild myself and begin a journey of self-improvement. As summer approached, I decided to pursue the Virginia Internship Placement Program (IPP) through the University of Virginia. Having had experience in the management consulting world, MindSalt caught my attention, and I eagerly applied. Upon discussing the flexibility and diverse nature of work taken on by the consultants and other associated professionals with the team, I realized it would be a perfect opportunity for me to hone my professional skills. I was especially excited by the group’s work with non-profits and small businesses assisting underserved communities. Throughout the course of my internship. I learned many powerful insights through conversations and processes which helped me rehabilitate my professional development. 

Quality Is Achieved Through Collaboration. My first task involved doing data analysis for a conference held by Rainbow/PUSH, the Chicago-based nonprofit founded by Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr dedicated to improving racial equity in education. Knowing the devastating effect the pandemic had on communities of color, I realized the importance of my work. At first, I struggled with the analysis and felt frozen at times, affronted by questions I could not formulate. Asking for help was not my forte, and I was worried that my lack of knowledge in the area might be viewed as a sign of weakness. However, if I wanted to prioritize quality, I had to do things correctly. In a conversation with David Deaton, the co-founder of MindSalt and my principal supervisor during my internship, he illustrated how the nature of academic work differs strongly from the world of corporate teams. Quality must be checked at every step of the way by professionals from a myriad of different backgrounds so that the client receives the best possible output. While I was used to teamwork in physical settings, the distributed workforce has different demands and it is important to be proactive while acknowledging differences in schedules. After being academically atomized for a year, I found that my intuition of group dynamics had to be rebuilt. 

Keep Plans Dynamic: After working for Rainbow/PUSH, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting for Charlottesville Business Innovation Council’s (CBIC) initiative The Hub, a new platform for the small businesses of central Virginia to centralize information about themselves, job listings, and highlight diverse ownership. There, I learned about the technological and financial investment into the project, along with key deadlines and the importance such a site would have for the community. Summarizing the value proposition, I formulated an 18-month plan to market the site, under the objectives of enhancing engagement and increasing user volumes. In conversations with our team and individuals working on the site’s launch, I realized my expectations were too strict and did not allow for changes in targets based on The Hub’s evolving success. From then on, I reformulated the plan to dynamically accommodate success on a period-by-period basis. 

Say Yes to Everything: When interning, it is important to take in as much experience as you can, especially the tasks you least expect to do. In the first meeting, when the opportunity to work on an online course was mentioned, I was surprised that a consulting firm could dabble in virtual education. I realized that it was an excellent way to enhance outreach and provide greater accessibility to clients who may not be able to obtain traditional services. The proposition piqued my interest, and I got to research online courses and create a guiding document summarizing my findings. Before, I considered such courses used in a professional capacity to be somewhat dubious, but my perspective changed as I began to do research. Had I not accepted this task, I would have never learned the nuances of marketing such a product, nor realized their value as a new avenue of branding. Every opportunity to enhance one’s perspective is truly valuable, and I am so grateful for this change and the many other occasions I received to do so. 

As difficult as it is to summarize all the benefits of interning for MindSalt, I have found that staying resilient was the most critical lesson imparted. During the internship, I had gone through the loss of a friend, but nevertheless, I had remained dedicated to achieving my goals and creating quality work which reflected my abilities as a professional. I am at my strongest when I stay focused during hard times, and this internship gave me a source of accountability and a sense of purpose I had so desperately needed a year ago. As I move into the next chapter of my life exiting the pandemic, I am beyond thankful for the opportunities and healing I have received from the MindSalt team and I will treasure everything.