What does it mean to ‘navigate the unexpected?’ What does it mean to pivot?

For current university students and recent grads, the answer to this question can be seen in their lived experiences. Pivoting to online classes as COVID-19 spread like rapid-fire across the globe. Pivoting to summers working at home as job shadows were transitioned virtually. Pivoting to discover new opportunities as internships and full-time jobs alike were canceled.

Current university students are familiar with what it means to pivot: having to adjust and course-correct on the fly when your plans are uprooted. However, there are still ways to ease that transition process, both in finding solutions to the newly formed barriers but also learning through the experience that yes — things can turn out okay.

Meet Kimberly Liang.
2022 LSA Sociology grad and 2020 transfer student, Kimberly navigated one of the most recently turbulent times for college students: the COVID-19 pandemic. But facing rejection, isolation, and major changes career-wise, Kimberly still came out the other side exactly where she wanted to be.

In the spring of 2020, Kimberly’s life was upside down. Like every other college student she was forced to return home to take her classes virtually and acclimatize to the three-hour time difference from California the best she could. But not only was she forced into a virtual semester, Kimberly was in the middle of the transfer process to U-M, set to start classes in LSA beginning the fall of 2021. She was also reevaluating her intended career path, refocusing from law school to consulting, and adjusting her major as she did so.

Kimberly’s life was full of theoretical opportunities, schools, and people, but they were feeling increasingly intangible. Her sense of isolation grew, and her U-M dream seemed more distant by the day.

“I was so joyful and grateful that the following fall I was going to be attending U-M, my dream school,” Kimberly emphasizes. “But in the meantime, I had this feeling I wasn’t moving fast enough. I wasn’t a high schooler anymore, I wasn’t 18 years old. I was 20 years old, and looking around at my classmates and the people my age who seemed to be moving forward so rapidly. I felt like I was getting left behind.”

The final straw for Kimberly was her summer internships. As a pre-law student she hadn’t previously looked into internships, but as she moved onto the consulting track she sought to gain experience in the workplace, applying to several consulting internships for the fated summer of 2020.

But when the responses came in, they came in as rejections, one after the other. However, Kimberly emphasizes making the most of “no” and the value in learning from rejection.

“I had to recognize that I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do,” Kimberly explained. “I had just transferred to a new school and I was still trying to adapt to all these new changes. Getting rejected from all these internships is obviously disappointing. But in the meantime, I also felt that there were a lot of things I could do on my end: polishing my resume, networking, and gaining more consulting experience elsewhere through school clubs, organizations, or research opportunities. So it was really a turning point for me where I realized that, ‘okay, I'm not like a first-year anymore. I can't just sit there and observe how other people are doing. I have to try to get my hands and feet out of the water and really try and get something out of it.’”

Kimberly emphasizes that a key component of pivoting effectively is mindset and attitude.

“You will learn from every rejection,” Kimberly emphasizes. “You will become stronger from every rejection, but you need to have a positive mindset. If you get rejected and you reach a really down point, you need to recognize ‘it’s okay.’ It really is okay to take a breath, pause, and reflect upon 'What is wrong right now? What is happening?' And then think about, 'How can I create change so my chances are better next time?'”

However, Kimberly was still left without a professional opportunity for the summer, and her usual part-time summer job was yet another casualty of COVID.

“The only thing I knew is that all the opportunities I applied to didn’t pan out, they just weren’t there,” Kimberly explained. “And I didn’t feel like I could lay back and sit on the couch for the whole three months of summer — I would be wasting my time. So I was looking for something that would keep pushing me forward and keep progressing on either my degree or my career, and I eventually turned my eyes to academics. So I signed up for as many major-relevant classes as I could, and that was how I chose to focus my summer.”

Although it wasn’t easy to continue remote classes, Kimberly made it work, counting 2020 as a successful summer, even if it didn’t look how she originally intended it. The following summer, in 2021, Kimberly was again unsuccessful in landing an internship, and again she turned toward academics, focusing not only on classes but research with a U-M professor.

“If you are proactive and keep doing what you have been doing well, then things will work out,” Kimberly encourages. “I didn't have any sort of business or consulting related internship before I landed my full-time position, but I did take classes, I did have research opportunities with professors. So there are still other options out there for you to engage with, not just internships. Don’t limit yourself.”

That’s the happy ending to Kimberly’s story: after pivoting and “making it work” despite constant rejections from internship hosts, she begins her full-time position in August 2022 with consulting firm West Monroe as a Management Consultant.

Kimberly offers a few final pieces of advice for LSA students also working through turbulent times or facing rejection. First, she recommends seeking support from those around you.

“Reach out to people,” Kimberly advises. “Reach out to your mentors, your teachers, your friends, your family for any sort of help, because they might have experienced a struggle similar to the one that you're facing currently. Don’t be afraid to utilize your support network.”

But what Kimberly emphasizes most is enjoying the journey, while always keeping your end goal in mind.

“My biggest takeaway is that it’s not about your result, it's not about your finished product — it’s about the process: what you learn, the friends you make, and the connections you create along the way. And as long as you keep moving forward and keep having the faith that, “this is what I want to do. This is what I'm interested in. This is what I'm determined to do.” Then everything will work out at the end.”