by Tamara Wescott
It was raining outside when I arrived at Penn Station the day after my 18th birthday—not just drizzling, but really pouring. I had just returned to New York City from winter break in San Francisco and was lugging three suitcases up an escalator. At least I was trying to. As I desperately stacked my suitcases on top of one another so I could carry them, I thought I would never make it. I would have to spend all night in Penn Station, stuck at the bottom of the escalator with too many suitcases, as the rest of New York City passed me by, purposefully avoiding eye-contact.
Luckily, my suitcase rolled over the foot of the only person in New York who was polite enough to ask if I needed help. She was a petite, blonde woman who appeared to be in her early thirties. I turned down her first offer of assistance, more concerned with my pride than my need for two more hands. But I had felt overwhelmingly embarrassed when I got stuck the first time between the escalator railing and had tripped over my bags, up the escalator face-first. So, I accepted her offer the second time she asked. She took one suitcase, I took the rest, and we proceeded up three escalators to finally make it out of the maze of Penn Station and into the never-ending line of people waiting to hail a cab in the pouring rain.
Her name was Rachel, and she was an elementary school teacher from California. This made perfect sense to me, as teachers are often more compassionate and understanding than most. As we spoke, I realized that we had much more in common than I originally thought. She had previously worked at a hedge fund in New York for seven years before deciding that enough was enough, quit, and moved to California. As a student planning to major in finance, my interest was sparked, as I was beginning to search for internships at hedge funds for the upcoming semester.
Rachel said the industry was too stressful and that finance and New York were definitively not for her. But here she was, back in the city, after moving away for three years. She missed having the whole city at her fingertips, so she had decided to interview for a teacher’s position at a local elementary school.
Rachel asked me what internships I had applied for before giving me the number of her old boss in case I ever needed it. I can no longer recall the name of the firm she had worked at, and I never got around to calling the number she gave me, but her offer touched me.
I had thought that by the time I turned 18, I would have my entire life figured out. I had five, 10 and 15-year plans all written out on sticky notes, and I carried them around in my purse to remind myself of what I wanted and where I needed to be. But meeting Rachel made me realize that life doesn’t move in a single line, and no one is certain of what they want to do with their life. Maybe it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t get the perfect internship, the 4.0 GPA and the perfect job after college. There would always be something else out there.
As I got into my cab, I took my three sticky notes out of my purse and dropped them in the street for the rain to wash away. I still want the same things I wanted before, but I realized I could be happy without them, too. And anyway, I have my five, 10 and 15-year plans memorized.