The opening line from a favorite song of mine goes, "What will be your story now?" -- A question that floats in front of every sip of coffee or morning walk of mine.
It seems we're all writing our own stories as we go along, and for years my book was writing itself. Finish high school, finish college, find a job and, on occasion, a decent boyfriend or two in between each chapter. But when you find yourself looking for work and figuring out who you're going to be, the pages aren't so easy to fill out. There comes a time when you start to wonder if you'll ever actually find a job, have enough money and, the mother of all fears, be happy.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics chillingly reminds us the unemployment rate in New York (as of July 2010) is 8.2 percent. Last week, I nervously looked down at the new shoes I purchased for an interview at a major magazine, trying to erase that knowledge from my brain. Right before the elevator door opened, I quietly told myself to relax. I took a deep breath and managed to keep my nerves at bay, acting as professional and enthusiastic as I could. After the interview was over, I left feeling scared because I knew getting a chance like this may not come again for a long time.
Interviewing has become a new form of heartbreak in the job-seeking process. When the rare chance comes along that your résumé isn't sent into an abyss of nothing and someone actually wants to meet you, you spend days preparing. You research your interviewer better than any stalker could and you tell yourself you're going to get this job. As I type this very article, I'm in the midst of what I believe is the worst part of the job-seeking process -- waiting. Each day you wonder if you're going to be rescued from this limbo of Craigslist and useless headhunters. As time goes on, after you've run out of positive affirmations and whined sufficiently to your mother on the phone, you inevitably come back to that same haunting question:
"What am I going to do with my life?"
During this week of sitting by the phone, I remembered I had a reunion looming with someone I haven't seen in more than four years. James, an old friend of mine (with a hint of romantic affiliation), was taking a detour to New York City on his way to Boston. James has been living in Austin, Texas, and even though I was looking forward to seeing him, I felt a little apprehensive. It had nothing to do with him, but rather where I am in my life. I wasn't sure how I would appear to James due to my current situation and I knew he would be a great judge because of how long it's been since we've seen each other. Despite this transitional period I find myself in, I grabbed my bag and went to meet a guy I haven't been in the same room with since I was 19.
When I turned the corner to see my old friend standing there, his beautiful blue eyes (which were slightly more distinguished and handsome-looking) looking at me, I felt really calm. With all my job searching and meltdowns, I didn't realize how much I needed a break. We walked down the block to a bar and got right down to real conversation. James was supposed to catch a bus only three hours later, and small talk seemed like a waste of time. But more importantly, he was never the type of person to beat around the bush. I could always count on him to tell me exactly how he felt, which is a quality I didn't appreciate as much as a teenager, but completely adore now.
As we got to the bottom of our glasses, we opened up about our choices. He told me about moving to Texas knowing only two people and finding a job just in time before completely running out of money. He explained how important it is to go after what you love and never stop dreaming. I found myself listening more than talking, because getting his perspective was so validating. While so many people will give you advice during this difficult time, I weighed it more heavily coming from James -- someone who was now 28 and was brave in his decisions over the years. He's approached things with a fearlessness I not only envy, but am not sure I'll ever posses myself.
"Can I be honest?" he said to me.
"Of course," I laughed. "You're getting on a bus in an hour. What have we got to lose?"
He told me how much I've grown up since the last time he saw me and said it was a nice meeting me again as an adult. "But I get the feeling you don't really believe in yourself. Maybe it's because of what's going on in your life."
I looked down at the bar for a second realizing what this process does to you. It makes you forget just how much you do have to offer, even if you are unemployed and a bit lost. "You're going to be fine," he assured me with a knowing look in his eye.
For the rest of the conversation I silently promised myself that no matter what happened with this magazine job, I wasn't going to take it personally. I guess the strange thing about life, much like finding work, is that you never know what each day brings. I had once again found the faith and encouragement I needed and from the least likely of places.
As we walked to the bus, he threw his arm around me and we told each other how great it was to catch up. I pointed to the Empire State Building in the distance, which was covered in fog, completely hiding the top half. After briefly marveling at it, he spoke of how sad he was to leave New York so quickly and I assured him he'd be back. Right before boarding, he gave me a hearty hug goodbye. "I'll see you soon," I said in his ear before letting go. And with that, he was off.
I started walking back to the train, grateful for the experience and temporarily fearless of the dreaded wait ahead of me. By the time this piece is published, I'll know whether or not I've gotten the position and am already at peace with the outcome. I've learned our stories are in fact writing themselves, and we're all on our way to something whether we know it or not. The calls we receive and the people we choose to invest in are all part of it.
Before heading underground, I glanced back up at the Empire State Building to find it exposed again as the fog started rolling east. I don't know what's next for me here in New York, but it's good to know I can trust the recurring characters in my life to make that uncertainty a little bit easier.
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