It started with a phone call. An opportunity came knocking on my door disguised in the form of a series of unfortunate events. A week was all I had to wrap everything important and move away from a place that had just started to feel like home.
“You got the job! They want you there next Monday.” – for the first time in the history of mankind, an ambitious career woman cried of horror on hearing this statement.
“Are you sure? You’re kidding, right?” were the words that fluttered out of my lips. I didn’t even hesitate twice to think that I wasn’t fit for this role.
“We are waiting for your decision. Have you made up your mind?”
How do they expect me to pack my bags and leave everything to work for my dream company in a city I’ve always wanted to be in? There was only more disbelief. I wasn’t ready to accept what had just happened.
“Maa, how can this happen to me? I love my current job. Why do I have to leave this and do something else? Why do I have to uproot myself from New York and move all the way across the country?” the phone calls reverberated with hot and heavy anger.
“No. I’m going to fight this. I’m going to make sure they let me be here,” a solemn vow that turned into a series of verbal exchanges leading to a final decision – I’m moving to Seattle.
Why did I fight this so hard? I was getting a better opportunity but here I was fighting with all my might to be in a city which made me cry as much as it made me laugh. What was it about New York City that made most rational minds make incomprehensible irrational decisions?
I remember when I first set foot in the city, it was past midnight and I was strolling two overweight bags while hunting for the nearest subway station. There was a chilly nip in the air. Everything seemed sparkly. I didn’t notice as many people on the streets as I was too enamored by tall glassy buildings. Amidst them all, the Empire State shined like a jewel that night.
“Wow! I’m in New York. And this is how my American Dream begins.”
After 2 years, I was almost fully inducted into the ways of New York. Never text while walking on a busy street. It’s only manners to stand on the side of the lane. Never ever board on the first or last compartment of a subway train unless you want to see a homeless guy puking or doing indecent public exposure. Don’t talk with random people on the subway, they’ll think you’re not from here. If you enjoy someone performing on the streets for more than a minute, drop a dollar in their hat. You don’t have a pizza with a fork and knife, you fold it New Yorker style and chomp it down. Well, the last one I’m never picking up. Sorry New York, I don’t like pizza!
Everyone was always so busy. We’re all running somewhere and it’s so important to get to that place that we sometimes run over old people like they don’t matter. Getting to that place on time means so much that we pick fights with someone who got the cab before us.
But it wasn’t just the charm of this bittersweet city, it couldn’t be just that. As much as I would love to credit my absurd reaction to moving away from my city of dreams, it was something more visceral than that. I was being asked to leave the familiarity of this landscape. I had to leave behind the small family that made that place start feeling like home.
And if I took up that job offer, my dream of growing in a career path I had chosen at one of the best companies in the world was turning into a reality.
When dreams become real life, there is no scope for romanticizing uncertainty and possibilities because whatever happens next is completely in your hands. If you screw up, there is no one to blame except you. Subconsciously, I didn’t trust myself enough to follow through on my promises to myself.
It was easy to conjure up a diva version of my career when I was younger. If you grow up watching movies like Erin Brockovich and Legally Blonde and idolizing role models like Meryl Streep, Angeline Jolie, and Beyoncé, you borrow from their struggles and achievements to make something of your own. Fiction made me believe that we can overcome all difficulties to get to the other side stronger and my role models made me understand the depth of impact a successful woman could have generation after generation.
What all these women didn’t tell me was how tough it was to be a trailblazer. How every decision you take, will have a set of detractors and knowing that puts an imperceptible fear in you. You don’t want to fail because if you do, there’ll be someone to say that you should settle for less. There’ll be someone to make you feel that reaching for a higher aim is not necessary because life down here is great too. You don’t want them to tell you that because if you hear it out loud maybe you’ll start believing that to be true.
I started looking around me - at women who were realizing their dreams without detractors affecting them, at every conversation I had with these real-life champions. Whenever they were stuck in perplexing situations, they walked through their doubts and always looked for that light at the end of the tunnel while masking this wave of trepidation. And I knew that it was okay to feel like you’re shitting bricks. If you feel something like that, it’s probably because you’re doing something right for yourself.
It’s been a month since I transitioned into this new role. There were many days when I wanted to run away because I had no idea of what I’m doing. I chanted to myself a ton of times, “This is not what they taught me in school.”
I’d done hordes of internships in the past 2-3 years so that I never have that feeling. The curse of an over anxious ambitious woman is over preparedness. But you can’t prepare for everything and no one will teach you that in school.
“This is great. Thanks for your work!” – when I heard those magical words at the end of one of my first big meetings. I laughed at myself. So this imposter syndrome thing is true, huh, Sheryl Sandberg? That’s why you ask us to Lean In?
I’m not a fresh grad. But every day with every project I do, at my heart I look at it as if I’ve never ever done this before. This newness won’t last for long if I stop growing. And the day I feel like I know this, I have to move on to the next level.
Someone had once asked me at a party while we were attempting at small talk, “What would you want to do in life if money were no object?”
I’d said, “I want to be a student all my life.”
Now I know money is never an object. It’s just you.
P.S: My father suggested that I should start studying again while I'm making headway into this new job. "If you have time to fit it into your schedule, think about it. Nothing would make me happier." Felt great to know that I have a family that believes in my dreams too. Times are changing. Happy Father's Day, Paa!