…Because everyone in this city has a “how” or “why”
I traveled through New York City by way of Penn Station pretty frequently in college, but I had never really experienced it. It wasn’t until I mastered the arrival and departure times of trains to Old Saybrook that I figured out a way to carve out even just 30 minutes to step above ground and into what I considered (at the time) to be a beautiful chaos of people, cars, and opportunity. That day, I walked about as far as the Post Office (which is literally across the street) before running out of time, but that was enough for me. I knew then that the next two years of my college career would have to be molded differently. I knew then that I needed to work hard, save money, and figure out what it was I wanted to do with my life so that I could eventually land a job in the city.
After graduating, and after a short stint in Charlotte for an internship, I went back home to Western New York to plan my next move. Left and right, my friends were getting jobs and making their moves while I stood behind a counter asking people if they’d like an extra shot of espresso. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my part time job and was incredibly grateful for it. But, it wasn’t the career I wanted in the big city.
That summer, I dedicated hours each day to resume building, revising, revising some more, practice interviewing, practice interviewing some more, until months later, it seemed to have finally paid off; I got a call for an interview in the city. It was for a sales job which wasn’t exactly anything I was looking for, but I was desperate. (You get that way after hearing nothing but rejection.) I spent several weeks and hundreds of dollars traveling to and from the city, leaving after my 10pm closing shift in the cafe, and driving myself to Albany to overnight and hop on an early morning Amtrak to make a 9am interview. But, it seemed to have paid off because I wound up getting an offer. I needed to negotiate my start date to comply with a two-week notice to give my current job, but I got the offer.
The proceeding days were filled with nothing short of elation and planning. I worked hard, and it paid off. I was exhausted, but it paid off. I was incredibly poor at this point, but it somehow paid off.
But, my elation soon faltered. On my birthday, which was just one week before I was set to pack a bag and figure it out (still didn’t know where I would live), I received an email from the hiring manager telling me that they couldn’t accommodate my start date request and therefore had to rescind the offer.
I was crushed. I felt like I had hit a wall and despite my valiant effort at re-negotiating, they were firm (and pretty unprofessional, considering the company is now out of business) about the whole matter. That night, I was set to go out with friends and family for my birthday. Friends and family, who were all excited for me to begin this new journey in a new city. I didn’t have to heart to tell them because I hardly had the heart to admit it to myself.
After eventually coming clean, I decided to just make the move anyway. I had saved enough, I thought. I would figure it out. Plus, it would be a lot cheaper (and less exhausting) than traveling to and from for interviews here and there. I had to be local. It was my last-ditch effort that my Dad so lovingly dubbed, “Sink or Swim” or, “SoS”.
Thankfully, I had family living close by in New Jersey at the time, so I wasn’t totally on my own just yet. I still had to commute, but fortunately not as far as before. I knew I was inching my way closer to my goal, but it was a slower process than I had anticipated.
I sat on the NJ Transit one morning, and despite heading into the city for an interview, I was starting to feel drained. I was running low both on cash and drive as more time and rejections went on, and I remember that morning I was specifically feeling it. The air was humid, the hair I had just spent two hours on had thus expanded to a new zip code, my skirt shifted from being front facing to back facing, and I was just about ready to turn around and head back. But instead, I fell asleep.
After waking up to an abrupt stop upon reaching Penn Station, I quickly gathered my resume, did what I could with my hair, and re-shifted my skirt to a less awkward position before standing in line to disembark. After waiting in line for what felt like longer than usual, my eyes wandered about the train and I noticed an elderly woman drop her bag as she was changing her footwear from sneakers to a gorgeous pair of ballet flats. I immediately knelt down to pick up her bag, and on my way up, complimented her shoes. They really were beautiful.
We spent the next five or so minutes chit-chatting about what we were both doing in the city that day; she visiting her son and I looking for a job for the 8th time in a row. After saying goodbye, I picked up my own bag and took my place in the mass exodus walking into the heart of the station.
It was then that I felt a tap on my shoulder, coming from someone whom I could tell was very tall. I was immediately frightened. Did I drop my phone? Was someone about to mug me? Ask for money? What is going on?
I turned around and was confronted by a Jewish man in his 60’s who had apparently overheard my conversation with the elderly woman on the train. “I wanted to let you know that I was very moved that you took such an interest in helping and talking with a total stranger. It’s not often you see that. I also heard you mention you were looking for a job in Marketing.”
Just then, the clouds parted. Doves began flying overhead. After all the work I’ve put into the job search, could one random, genuine conversation with a stranger have been what would help me land a job?
As it turned out, the man happened to be the Director of Marketing at a hospital in Manhattan, so he was really eager to help get me started. I met with him at his office later on that day to walk him through my resume, and he explained that he’s a father himself and knows how difficult it was for his own kids to find jobs after school – especially in the city. He gave me the pep talk I needed to hear after months of trying to no avail.
While he didn’t have any Entry Level roles (at all, ever) in his office, he was able to point me in the direction of agencies he had connections with and within less than a month of waiting tables, I was employed at a Digital Marketing agency. The happiness I felt the day I got my offer was unlike anything I’ve ever felt.
Three years later, and that happiness hasn’t subsided. Not one bit.