In October 2014, I received note my mentor at work needed help with something that fell within my job’s responsibility. I went upstairs to his office. When I entered his room there were folded moving boxes stacked up against his back wall. I remember seeing an announcement he would be transferred to head one of our territory offices in Southern Europe. “How can I help you”, I asked. “Oh, there’s this thing on my iPad I don’t quite understand”. “Let me take a look”. It was really easy actually. I explained to him how the application worked and that was that. “So, tell me, how’s your job? Do you like it?” “Sure”, I said, “but I’m looking into new opportunities”. “So, what is it that you want most out of your career”, he continued. “Or in life, or with this company?” I took a moment to think about it. But I knew what I really wanted. I had wanted this since I was twelve years old. “What I really want is to live and work in the US”, I replied. Realizing how busy he must have been as a senior director and given the fact he was about to be transferred, I kept getting ready to leave his room and stop wasting his time. He seemed to have all the time in the world though, he was in no hurry at all.
Since he was getting ready to move, this would probably be the last time I would talk to him, maybe ever. “You know”, he said “why don’t you give your dream of working in the US a shot? Try to find a job over there. Start talking to people, think about it”. I was getting more and more excited just talking about the idea. I looked out the window, onto the courtyard of our campus. People sat behind their desk. Marketing posters of the latest product launch lit up in the stairways. My mind wondered off to the possibilities. I turned my head back to him and saw all the memorabilia he had gathered throughout the years. Pictures of team events, trophies for achieved sales goals, samples of old products. While he sat there at his desk, eating his lunch, I continued. I was still just standing there, arms folded across my chest, challenged by the unexpected life questions that were just asked casually. “Maybe I’m afraid it won’t work; I mean, what if no one moves, and there will not be an open position any time soon? Or what if something will open up, why would they pick me?” “So what”, he replied. “Forget about all these other people”. “Forget about the obstacles and maybes. If you want to go to the US, do whatever you have to do to get there. Just find your way in and take it from there. Just do it”.
And so it went. At the end of summer, 2015, I took a trip to Nike’s World Head Quarters to talk to some people about a job that had opened up. I must have been crazy, looking back. Flying all the way out to Oregon in my own time, on my own budget to apply for a job on the other side of the world. But for me, it wasn’t just a job. It was the pursuit of a dream. A dream I had had since I was a high school student. And now, twenty years later, I had an opportunity to make this dream come true.
Christmas passed, new years’, and life went its normal course into the new year, days went by like nothing had happened. Until one morning, at the end of January 2016, I was called into a room by my manager. We small talked a little about the weekend, “what have you been up to” he casually asked. “Well, I went skating”, I replied. “Sounds fun”, he said. But all I could think was, cut the bullshit, what’s up? I knew something was up. Then he looked at me very serious and said: “you’re going to leave us.” It took a few seconds for me to digest what he just said. What do you mean I’m going to leave you?! I knew we were in the middle of a reorg, but was he going to fire me now? I must have looked confused, because he started to explain what happened. “I got a call from the US, the job is yours if you still want it”. What? I was flabbergasted. I had already started to accept a little that I didn’t get the job. Apparently, there was another candidate who stepped away from the offer and the job was mine for the taking.
I got it! I did it! I was going to America!
By June 2016, I finally made it to my business class seat. My first business class trip ever. I had travelled the world, lived abroad, but this was different somehow. I was all alone, no boyfriend, no colleagues and there was no plan or project. This was a one-way ticket to the rest of my life, I thought. After a ten-hour direct flight, I looked out the window, and there it was, across the river, my new home: Portland, Oregon.
As time passed, I got used to my new habitat. I made friends, went hiking and camping in the mountains surrounding the city and enjoyed Portland life, with its Thirst Thursdays in the Pearl and rooftop BBQs. And I became a Snowboard coach for a local high school, which meant going up to Mount Hood twice a week. Life in Portland was good.
I learned how to appreciate life at campus too. I saw Phil Knight – the founding father of Nike – while having lunch at the Mia Hamm building. Another day I sneaked into a celebration for Serena (Williams, the tennis player), after winning her 23rd Grand Slam: ‘Greatest Ever, Greatest Ever’, we chant to her in the Bo Jackson sports center. I also managed to get a ticket to a special lunch with Nelson Farris and Jeff Johnson, the companies’ storyteller and the first employee. They were Nike celebrities. People you read about in Shoe Dog. But here at the heart of Nike you could listen to their stories firsthand. And finally, one day after lunch I passed Mark Parker, our CEO, he worked in the building next to mine. I gave him a polite nod, then he turned and said ‘Hi’… Oh My God. The CEO of Nike said hi to me!
I didn’t know at the time those would be my final months in the US. But my dreams had come true and I had a sense of magic, what if I dreamed up something else, could I have that too?