Brandolon Barnett: My Rock Bottom
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For me, rock bottom was likely, uh, 2012, uh, 2012, 2013. Uh, that was the year that my mother passed away. I was applying literally to hundreds of jobs.
I ended up getting an unpaid quote, unquote returnship in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in the world. Luckily I had an adopted brother and good friend who, who lived there. So I moved in and lived on his couch. I was away from the person I love. My mother had just passed away and I felt I couldn't do anything to save her after all the money and time I'd spent studying and learning, the only job I could give was unpaid. And the most expensive city on planet on planet earth is what it felt like. Um, and there was one particular day where I was trying to catch the Caltrain to go into town. I thought I had canceled my Netflix subscription. All my funds were running low. I think I had $14 at the start of the day I was planning to ticket. And then I wouldn't have to go back to the internship, um, for another week. Uh, but Netflix charged me. And so I only had $7 enough to get into the city from the South Bay, but not back. So I took the train, went to work, did my best really. I think it was sometime around then. I encountered an article about how hard it is just to think when you're dealing with scarcity, but I'm there working, trying to, you know, do enough for them to give me a job. Um, and while I don't even know what I'm going to do, I have nothing to eat or what I'm going to do when I leave. And I did end up leaving and rock bottom for me was just wandering around the streets of San Francisco, hoping that I got refunded before the banks closed so that I could actually get home. Otherwise I'd be sleeping on the street. Um, and I did find a spot just as I sort of settled in to sleep. I kind of realized, Oh, um, the money did come through, but something has got to change with how I'm living my life. And, and something's got to change about how we support people in achieving their dreams and trying to reach their potential because it shouldn't be this hard just to find an opportunity. Um, you shouldn't have to move to San Francisco just to get an unpaid internship that can be done remotely in the 21st century as an example. Um, and so that was my rock bottom and that's when a lot of things started to change for me. And I, I started to really, I stopped being so obsessed with a particular career path and started asking myself, why do I want to do the things I do? What impact do I want to have? And what are the many different types of careers and ways that I can get there and I can make that impact?
That next day where I said, look, I've just got to get job. Like, it doesn't matter what I've done in the past. I just need to get a job. I've got to give up these dreams, I've got to give up, whatever it is that I'm trying to do and just get a job. I took a role with the, one of the emerging app developers at the time. This was, around 2013, delivering pizzas. And so I'm just delivering pizzas doing this internship, but it was, and it's happened to other times as well, but that was probably the most stark point where I just said, look, I've got to go a different way.
I'm always very stubborn. So even though I couldn't eat, I was, you know, with the money I had, I was, I was eating seven 11 bean and cheese burritos literally every day. But I just couldn't give up on what I wanted to do or at least doing something that I felt had an impact. So I just kept telling myself, you know, that's a false choice. I can, I can find a way to do this.
A few days after I hit that rock bottom, um, I got a call back from an organization here in DC at the time they were called truest. They were a technology company. I ended up getting an offer and some friends helped me. This was the Dawn of kind of crowdfunding in many ways. And so some friends helped me get a plane ticket. I flew here and left my car. I left almost all. My possessions basically found a closet to live in and here I was in DC. But the crazy thing about it was I'm in DC got a master's degree. Um, at this point years of experience, um, in the international NGO space, and I was getting paid $38,000 a year, to live in DC. So I was grateful. I was incredibly grateful just to be able to eat something other than a bean and cheese burrito from seven 11. Uh, I could get the pizza now. Um, but it was still hard. And I still just sat there thinking like, wow, this is great, but this is not enough to live off of in a, in the city like this.
There's so much institutionally that needs to change. Why are you requiring your interns to be in New York city or San Francisco? It's an unpaid job. You're saying you want applicants from a diverse pool increasingly or from all over the country. There are people of all races, all genders in Kansas city who cannot go to New York and take an unpaid internship. Why are they being left out of accessing so many opportunities? So they're institutional challenges that I can address, but I try to do what I can, what little it might be.