Branding the Unknown

Belicia T. Tan
7 min readAug 21, 2020


Photo by Kelly Sikkema from Unsplash

I used to think that if I went down the wrong route, it was over. I used to think that if I didn’t get an internship for the summer, that I was doomed. I used to think that if I didn’t get into a top-tier school, I’d never make it.

I went down the wrong route. I didn’t get internships during my college summers. And I didn’t get into a top-tier school.

But, it’s not over. I’m not doomed. And I didn’t not make it. How did everything that didn’t work out, end up working out?

I branded the unknown. I let the unknown brand me. The unknown became my brand.

The day that I got rejected from my nth internship application was devastating. It was devastating because it was reality that I was going to enter yet another summer without a cool internship. It was devastating because it was yet another summer I was going to be right back on my parent’s couch. It was devastating because it was yet another summer I was going to be unsure of what I was doing.

Majority of my life, I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what I wanted and I hardly got what I wanted. Or so it seemed.

I went through my freshman year of college thinking that I wanted to do a MBA with a focus on healthcare management. But then I was told by multiple career advisors that I wouldn’t get in without a few years of work experience and a bachelors in business. At the time, I was undeclared with no work experience.

I went into the summer of freshman year with no job, no internship. Instead, I volunteered at the local hospital, providing ad-hoc patient care and managing the front desk at the emergency room. I also needed money, so I worked in retail at the local mall. I also needed to fulfill some academic requirements, so I took courses at the local community college.

I went through my sophomore year of college thinking that I wanted to pursue the path to becoming a Physician Assistant. But then I was told that I wouldn’t get in right out of college because I needed 1000+ hours of direct patient care. I was also told that I’d need a high GPA to get in. I had more B’s than A’s on my transcript already.

I went back home from my 4-week study abroad program the summer of my sophomore year, with no job, no internship lined up once again. Instead, I worked as a home health aide at a local senior living home, bitter and jealous at all my peers who worked dope internships in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street.

I went through my junior year of college determined that THIS was my year, that I would prove to myself that I would land a dream internship, while maintaining a high GPA. I studied harder than ever and recruited harder than ever. I was certain I’d become one of the unheard of success stories of a non-business major landing a dream internship, while achieving the goal of being admitted to Physician Assistant school.

I didn’t achieve any of the above. I didn’t become the unheard of success story I aspired to have. Well at least not yet.

I went into the summer of my junior year with an internship at a small biotech startup. That played out wildly. My manager ripped apart my first project and majority of that internship, I sat there with no tasks to accomplish. I had always dreamed that my first internship would consist of presenting game-changing deliverables, networking with accomplished professionals and socializing with a dope group of interns after-work hours. None of that happened. Every time I wanted to present an idea to my manager, she rescheduled. Every time I wanted to network, I didn’t speak the local language well enough to do so. Every time I wanted to socialize with the interns…well there was none, I was the only one.

Yet again I felt lost, unsure and doubtful. I wondered, how much longer will this feeling of uncertainty go on for.

But, unknowingly, it was that summer that my unknown became my brand.

It was that summer, I let go of my pursuit towards Physician Assistant school. I had all my recommendation letters, took my GRE and started my personal statements. Regardless of the knee-deep investment, I needed to let go. It wasn’t right for me.

It was that summer, I looked back and said, I love healthcare and I want to change patient access and delivery of care, but the only way in isn’t through a clinical career. Another way in is through a business management career. One that was similar to my internship, working with impact-driven health products.

It was that summer, I joined a community outside of my workplace, where I met some of my closest friends and learned to build cross-cultural relationships in the process. The only way to build a network isn’t through the work space, but it is through any avenue that allows you to build a deep connection with people you trust.

The glam and galor started, but the unknown didn’t stop.

I went into my senior year of college, determined to start over and pursue a career in healthcare consulting. I was convinced THIS would be the business management career I would pursue and flourish in. After 300+ job applications, many coffee chats, many resume reviews, I received no offers. I felt less than nothing compared to my peers who went into senior year with signed full time offers from the Big 3 and Big 4 firms.

That Thanksgiving, I made the difficult, unwanted decision of applying to grad school. To me, applying meant I had no other options left. It meant that I still didn’t know what I was doing.

But it actually worked out in my favor. All the random experiences I gained throughout my “not knowing what I was doing” phases inspired me in my personal statements upon applying.

My medical volunteer and retail experience the summer after freshman year? It inspired my vision for transforming patient access, believing that each person deserves equal access to quality-care regardless of the background they come from.

My home health aide experience at the senior living home the summer after my sophomore year? It affirmed me that I cared about healthcare, but didn’t have the motivation to continue on with direct patient care.

My internship at the biotech startup the summer after my junior year? It affirmed me that I cared about healthcare, and led me to feel energized at the thought of wanting to hold my stake in it through a business management career.

My academic coursework in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and all the courses I felt like I slaved hundreds of hours over? It prepared me for the rigor of handling work and school (later on in grad school) and provided me the training for discipline and focus needed to deliver insightful recommendations to my clients (in my future roles)

My not-so-hot recruiting strategy that I also felt like I slaved hundreds of hours over? It provided me the practice and skills I needed in order to be one step ahead in the networking game (later on in grad school)

My pursuit of a clinical career that led me to join numerous pre-health/pre-med clubs on campus? It led me to attend a panel where an alum spoke of his journey from pre-med to healthcare consulting. It was there and then that I was introduced to the career, and heard a story that inspired me to pursue my journey into the career

By the end of my two-week scramble to apply for grad school, I settled upon applying for a Masters in Healthcare Administration and utilized the recommendation letters, personal statements and the GRE exam I had completed during my former dream of pursuing Physician Assistant school.

I got rejected from my dream school, but I got admitted into the right school. The school that would provide me the network, the relationships and the experiences I needed to be equipped with, in order to head further into goals I didn’t even know about at the time.

In grad school, I landed an internship every semester and every summer, all thanks to the game of networking that I practiced for countless hours in college, eventually landing me in consulting. In grad school, I worked 30+ hour weeks, while taking 18 credits, while managing to dedicate Fridays through Sundays to my social life, all thanks to the rigor of my academic courses in college. In grad school, I realized that nothing is wasted, even when we take the “wrong” path (like me pursuing Physician Assistant school and taking anatomy…yikes), all thanks to the unknown eventually bringing me back on track.

The unknown was my worst enemy, but became my best friend. The unknown was what I feared, but became what I learned to love. The unknown led me to opportunities that weren’t optimal at the time, but became optimized with time.

The unknown is my brand, and it can be yours too.

The unknown can’t hinder your story, if you let it brand your story.

This story resonate with you? Interested in chatting? I’d love to help you and provide you encouragement over your career goals and interest and provide you best practices for recruiting. Please feel feel free to send me a DM on LinkedIn or visit to schedule a coffee chat.

Whether you’re trying to break into consulting, need a resume review, unsure of what to pursue or have a cool idea you’d love a mentor to help you scale out…I gotchu.

☕️ Coffee chats got me to where I’m at and I want to let them get you to where you want to be too:)



Belicia T. Tan

Product Ops @ Indeed // Founding team // Founder @girlswhoconsult