A while back I auditioned for Columbia’s Director of Toughness and made it all the way to the final round. It was one of the most unique experiences, although it has taken me a while to finally write about it.
Last August, Nedra from Adventure Mom sent me a link to a job opening at Columbia Sportswear. The company was seeking one man and one woman to adventure around the world testing Columbia’s gear in harsh environments. Yes, that meant getting paid to travel, testing your limits, going on epic adventures, and working with one of the biggest outdoor companies in the world.
It generated quite the buzz on social media (as I’m sure you could imagine), and I decided to get together an application before I left for a trip to Iceland. I never expected to hear back.
I was home for about three days before I got an email stating that I was chosen for a final interview. Excuse me, what? Who? Me? When? On Tuesday? In PORTLAND?
Okay, deep breaths.
At first, I wasn’t sure what to do. Here I am in Michigan, in the first week of my senior semester, just getting back from Iceland, with last-minute airfare to Portland costing around $600. But then I knew that if I didn’t go, it would be a major regret. Even if I didn’t get the job, the experience itself would be worth it.
I booked the flight with the last pennies in my checking account. I packed a small backpack and wound up at the airport at 3pm on Labor Day. I had T-minus 23 hours in Portland to attempt to catch up on sleep, prepare for a once-in-a-lifetime audition, shower, catch a red-eye flight back home, land at 5:15am, and be back to work by 8am.
I arrived in Portland only to find out the last minute Couchsurfing host I requested lived about an hour out of the city. I got my backpack, jumped on the train into the city, and hoped for the best. My initial thought was to just sleep outside the audition address (I mean that’d prove I’m tough, right?), but I needed a shower. I jumped on the plane covered in dirt and sand that I failed to rinse off before I left and my hair looked like it came straight out of Grease.
I splurged on a $55 Hotwire Deal and charged the room to my credit card. The deal took me to an overly fancy hotel room where the clerk saw how messed up I looked and gave me a complimentary upgrade. Sometimes looking like a lost homeless person pays off I guess.
On no more than a few hours of sleep I was up before dawn and walked the couple miles into the city center. I was one of the first people in line, and soon I realized how small my chances were.
There were two people who DID sleep outside the audition space the night before, Olympic athletes, people from Naked and Afraid, a dude who’s climbed Everest, a guy who’d been struck by lightning…multiple times. This list goes on, and I started to wonder how the hell I got a call back.
“Hi, my name is Shalee, and I’ve done relatively nothing in my life compared to all of you.”
Pretty soon the media crew showed up and it was lights, cameras, action. I mean, I knew it was a big opportunity, but damn. We found out that every interview would be taped by multiple cameras, that there would be an entire crew around all day, and we even had to get makeup done. Thank god I showered and shaved my pits.
By the time my audition came, I knew in my heart that it wasn’t my trophy to take. I was surrounded by extremists, athletes, nomads, and it seemed like everyone there could be on the cover of Outside Magazine. I was happy that in a short time I made some incredible new friends. Every single person there was intriguing, kind, and funny. Hell, I didn’t care who got it, because there was not a single person there that I didn’t think deserved it.
I got lunch with some dude who I later found out made it to the final of American Ninja Warrior and was also an Olympic athlete, and I just sat there pretending I had my life semi-together. I made great friends with two amazing girls from Oregon, who I’m still waiting to go on an epic adventure with. My audition time arrived with nothing but good luck vibes, and into the studio lights I went. Normally I love interviews, but I’ll admit my audition wasn’t fantastic and I let intimidation get the best of me.
Those of us who auditioned are now a sort of adventure fam. Those who won gained the opportunity to travel the world, a segment on Jimmy Kimmel, and a kick ass 6 months working for a kick ass adventure company.
After getting some good beer at Momo’s with fellow adventurers, I said a hearty farewell to Portland. It was 11:30pm EST time, and I had work in approximately 8 ½ hours with a layover in Las Vegas. Let’s just say things didn’t go as planned (shocking).
I flew Spirit, who I’ve sworn to never fly with again and again. The flight to Vegas was delayed so I chilled face down on the airport floor for an hour. When I arrived in Vegas, there were four of us on the flight who had the same tight connection to Detroit. We were told the flight was being held an extra 5 minutes for us. We got to our gate, the plane was in the terminal, and I thought we were home-free.
After standing and staring at our plane for ten minutes with no one at the gate to take our tickets (all the Spirit workers had gone to the terminal next to us, because seven people on our flight from Portland had been left behind since their plane to Oakland decided to leave 10 minutes early) a stewardess on the flight finally came and told us she’d be right back. She went into the terminal, boarded, and the plane detached from the gate leaving us behind.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? ARE YOU FUDGEIANDSHGOASHIASFW KIDDING ME?
Platinum pissed. Double platinum pissed.
I was exhausted, hangry because I didn’t want to pay for airport food, and 2.7 seconds from personally losing it. After a long argument with a Spirit agent, our only option was to board a plane to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, then another flight to Detroit.
In other words I would be flying to every single corner of America, in a single night, miss work, and get a middle seat the entire way. Thankfully, that was the last of the Spirit drama (for now).
I got a call a week later that said I didn’t get the job, but it didn’t matter at that point. I was glad I went and I knew it happened for a reason. I left with more ambition, new friends, and the drive to keep exploring. Most importantly, I realized dream jobs do exist, even if you don’t always get them.