Back in 2011, I was living the not-so-high life in New York City.
My sisters and I were in a two-bedroom apartment in a five-floor walk-up on the Upper East Side. If you’re doing the math, that means one sister was sleeping on a couch with her belongings divided between two closets. (I’ll give you one guess who that was…)
At the time, I was struggling to figure out my path in life.
I had gone to undergrad for journalism but was having a hard time finding a job in the field, or even knowing if that was something I wanted to do long-term. I had been living with my parents to save money but was starting to feel like time and money and my future were getting away from me. And dating? After an emotional breakup and a family crisis, I was struggling with a general distrust of love and relationships (and men), so the dating well was dried all the way up.
Basically, I felt like I was failing. Like I was late for my life. Like I was in the wrong life. Like I didn’t have a clue what I was doing or where I was going.
So I took a chance and moved to New York. Not exactly a major leap as I was born and spent the first (almost) 12 years of my life there, but it was pretty much all the change I could handle at the time.
I was lucky to get a job with a book agent fairly soon after getting settled, and while the work was enjoyable (I read manuscripts all day), it wasn’t the life-changing industry job I’d hoped it would be.
To supplement my income and pay our astronomical rent on time, I applied for a job at a high-end (translation: super expensive and frequented by celebrities) hair salon near Central Park. I had front desk experience and figured it would be a fun way to bring in some extra cash and surround myself with the energy of the city.
What I didn’t realize is this short-lived job would provide me with two wise and necessary (and kinda random) pieces of advice that would be a catalyst for finding my path in life (and in love):
The first piece of advice came before I had even accepted the job. After a quick phone interview, I was invited to the salon for an in-person interview with the manager, Lori.
I arrived feeling excited and mostly prepared, but also a bit nervous. Interviews always make me feel a bit self-conscious, like I have to concentrate on presenting the best version of myself or risk being rejected.
Lori and I chatted for a while about the job description, hours and schedule, and what training was involved. One thing that stood out was that we weren’t in a stuffy office for this conversation; instead, we sat on the main floor among customers getting highlights and blow dries. Toward the end of the interview, Lori encouraged me to take a few minutes to walk around on my own and chat with the stylists, colorists, assistants, and receptionists.
I must have looked confused because she quickly clarified her reasoning: “Yes, we’re interviewing you today, but you’re also interviewing us.”
Then she went on to explain that while half the interview was about her deciding if I was the right person for the job, the other half was me deciding if this was the right job for me, something I honestly hadn’t considered before. Whether it’s a new job or a new relationship, we spend so much time trying to figure out if this potential employer or partner finds us impressive. Do they like me? Will they choose me? And we often spend less time asking ourselves: Does this job or person fit into my life? Is this where and with whom I want to be?
And because we disregard our needs and wants, we often end up in situations and relationships where we’re constantly having to prove ourselves. Where we’re constantly wondering if we measure up. Where we’re constantly confused about whether we’re on the right path or not.
Since that conversation, I’ve tried to make it a habit to figure out what I want and need before committing to anything—a job, a relationship, even a vacation. And I ask myself: Regardless of whether they choose me or not, is this truly the right place or person for me?
The second piece of wisdom came a few weeks into working at the salon. I arrived earlier than usual on a Saturday morning to answer phones and check out a VIP client. As I walked up the steps to the third floor and turned the corner to the receptionist table, I saw an unexpected face in the mirror: Anthony Bourdain.
He smiled warmly as he chatted with his stylist and I started setting up for the day, all the while trying not to be an obvious fangirl. Not too long after, he stood up—all six feet and four inches of him—and walked over to pay for his haircut. I had interacted with many clients by this point, some famous and some not, and while the majority were polite, the overall vibe was direct, rushed, and go-go-go.
But this interaction was different. Bourdain didn’t appear to be in a rush. He introduced himself and asked me my name. He made small talk about the weather and how beautiful of a morning it was. He was kind and gracious and humble.
Then, as we were wrapping up, he asked me what I had come to New York to do, what I wanted to be. The question felt random but also knowing, like he could tell I was trying to figure things out. I mumbled something shyly about having gone to school for journalism and wanting to be a writer. He told me that New York was definitely the right place to be for that. And then he said: “If you want it, I’m sure you can make it happen.”
He then tipped me—generously—thanked me again, and gave me a kind smile before heading down the stairs.
Our encounter wasn’t long but it has stayed with me. His advice was simple but in a world that can feel increasingly pessimistic, particularly as we get older and are trying to find our way, I was grateful for the hope, the optimism, the belief that, as Paulo Coelho says in The Alchemist, “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”
And four years ago, when I woke up to the news that he had died, I was reminded of his words: “If you want it, I’m sure you can make it happen.”
I took those words in as I sat in a life that was finally starting to feel right for me. A life I shared with a partner I had chosen after finally prioritizing my wants and needs, eating breakfast in my first solo apartment, which was far from New York City, a place I finally realized I didn’t actually want to live.
And I was paying for this apartment with the money I earned working at a job that finally felt like a good fit. A job I had finally made happen. A job as an editor, and—you guessed it—a writer.