Tag Archives: new york

Day 1.

I have to be there at 9:15. I’ll shoot for 9:10 to be safe. It takes 30 minutes to get to the office according to Google Maps. Factor in 15 minutes of going the wrong way. I’ll need 45 minutes to get showered and ready. So I should get up at… uhhhhhhh… 7:40. I’ll set my alarm for 7:10, 7:20, 7:27, 7:32, and 7:38.

Just in case.

At 6:00 AM I was up and getting ready. I need to make a good first impression. Clothes: Jeans or chinos? Dark or light? What matches with grey? Is this too wrinkly? What color shoes? Where’s my belt?

Chinos. Light. Orange. No. Black. Hanging in the closet, where I put it yesterday.

The walk was longer than expected. The humidity of New York City took no prisoners this morning, and I was born with sweat glands similar in strength and size to Old Faithful. I felt sweat beading on my forehead and the center of my back. No no no, not today. Don’t get sweaty.

Thirty minutes and one shirt soaked through on both sides later, I made it to my building. Right on time. I called up.

“Hi, it’s Dan Whitman.”

“Hi Dan. I’ll be right down.”

“Ok! Great! See you soo-”

The phone hung up before I could get out my last exclamation point. I fanned myself frantically, hoping to cool myself down to the point that when I entered the office my new coworkers would think that I got sprayed with a hose rather than caught in an isolated thunderstorm.

My escort arrived to take me up to the office. In the elevator, my new coworker and I struck up conversation.

“Where are you from?” he asked me.

“Originally right outside Harrisburg but I lived in Pittsburgh for the last five years,” I spoke with excitement, entirely too quickly. “I went to school at Pitt and then worked there for one year before moving here. Well, actually, I lived in LA for two months after school interning and then went back to Pittsburgh and then here.”

“Nice.”

“Yeah!” Two quiet seconds. “What about you?”

“The DC area. Virginia. We used to drive to Philly and back for a cheesesteak and see who could make it there faster.”

“HAHA NO WAY that’s really funny haha did it take long to get there?” What am I doing? That’s not funny. That wasn’t even a joke.

“Like four hours or so.” We exited the elevator. “Here, this is our office.”

He showed me to my desk, then took me around to meet everyone else. I remembered every third name. Those that I couldn’t remember, I made up. I later found out that there is no Shelly, Brian, or Alyssa in my office, nor was there ever.

I walked around the office in a way that can be only described as snake-like, contorting my body into completely unnatural positions so that my new coworkers weren’t able to see the Great Salt Lake continuing to form on my back.

“There should be some paperwork for you to fill out sitting on your desk, and I think HR will reach out to you for orientation sometime soon.”

“Ok! Awesome! Thanks!!” Why am I still talking like this?

I took my seat and thumbed mindlessly through the paperwork sitting on my desk. Looking up, I glanced around at everyone else in the office, working hard on this or that. It was then that I came to the realization that I had no idea what I was doing.

The first day of a new job can be brutal. Especially the first day of your first real, salaried, I-don’t-know-anyone-or-what-I’m-doing-is-it-hot-in-here-where’s-the-bathroom-I-NEED-TO-PEE-RIGHT-NOW job. You’re aware of everything you do, from the way you talk and shake hands down to the way you sit in a meeting or walk to the copier.

While everyone seems to be doing important work, you’re setting up your voicemail and hoping that no one can hear you record and rerecord your greeting seven times. While your neighbor has three computer screens with different Excel sheets open, you’re deciding on the non-alphanumeric character to end your password with (the dollar sign, obviously, because you’re there to make money). And while your coworker is typing frantic emails about things that need to be done “ASAP BECAUSE IT WAS NEEDED YESTERDAY” you’re figuring out which height is just right on your desk chair.

Note: You are never able to actually get it at that height and settle for just a little too low.

You’ll need to learn a whole new language that is spoken in your office and your office only. “The Q3 BSRs are done except our major markets don’t include TRPs.” You’re lucky to catch an entire sentence without an acronym. In high school we’re told that learning a foreign language makes us more marketable to employers. In reality they should be teaching us how to rattle off arbitrary combinations of letters and numbers that sound like they could have significance.

Show excitement about your newfound employment, but don’t overdo it. The right amount of excitement shows that you’re ambitious and eager to learn. Too much excitement shows that you’re really, really annoying.

You have a weird side. Everyone does. Do not let yours loose on day 1. Keep the joke about the shape of that person’s mole in your head. Don’t share your story about catching a squirrel and keeping it as a pet right now. Unlike at a bar, the first impression you make in the office matters. Similarly, your coworkers are not your friends (unless they are).

Most importantly, though, remember that the first day normally kind of sucks. It’s slow, awkward, and uncomfortable. You’ll remember every minute of it – every interaction, every question, every moment you’re aware of yourself – until the next time you have a first day. But don’t worry; no one else will remember a thing.

Unless you’re really sweaty.

After finishing my pile of Human Resources documents, I uncomfortably dove into sexual harassment orientation training. I went to the website and hit start.

Oh good, it’s a video. This won’t be weird.

“Welcome to sexual harassment orientation,” the voice stated over my headphones. “This one hour interactive video will guide you through the policies and procedures your company has in place to prevent and punish sexual harassment in the workplace.”

HOLD THE PHONE. One hour? Interactive? I’m quitting this job.

One hour later I was afraid to even look at my female coworkers. I realized the day was nearing its end. I wasn’t sure what to do, so after rearranging my desk three more times and refreshing my inbox, I packed up my things to leave.

“Bye Alyssa!” I said to not-Alyssa as I headed out the door.

I reflected on my day in the elevator. Not bad. I met a lot of people, got my ducks in a row, and, most importantly, started a job I think I’m going to be happy in. I’m going to do well here. I’m excited – I feel like I there’s a promising horizon ahead of me, and this is the ship to get me there. Things are going to be great.

Feeling like a million dollars, I exited the elevator, strolled through the lobby, and headed towards the doors. When I stepped out into the sunlight, I turned right and walked towards my subway stop. Which, as it turns out, is not to the right, but to the left, turning my thirty-minute commute into and hour and fifteen minutes.

Happy Day 1.

Everything’s going to be all right.

I knew it was coming for weeks. I was nervous. And anxious. And scared and excited and every other emotion one goes through when a life changing event approaches. But this last day – the day before I left Pittsburgh, my home for the past five years – this day was the most emotional of them all.

I’d been getting my things packed up for weeks. Silverware one day, TV stand the next. I took my desk apart, then my shelves, then my bed. I took my wall hangings down and folded them up. Slowly my apartment was becoming empty.

My parents came a week earlier and took everything that I wouldn’t need for my last few days. That’s when the goodbyes started. “You’ll have to come visit!” I’d say to my friends. “I’ll see you soon, I’m sure.” “Not goodbye, just until next time.” “I’ll be back soon.” I didn’t want to be sad because I didn’t want my friends to be sad. Happy goodbyes are much easier than tearful ones.

On the morning of the day before the day I left, I was strangely proud of how well I was handling this enormously bittersweet situation. I’d had fleeting moments of sadness throughout the week, but kept it together even when saying goodbye to my best friends. Alone in my apartment, I turned on some music and started packing my clothing – all that was left in my now empty room. I started thinking about all the things I’d done over the past five years. The friends I made, the girlfriend I fell in love with, the laughs, the fights, the memories, and everything in between. The emotions that I’d been trying to hide for weeks welled up inside my chest.

Then I sat down on the floor cried like a baby.

Change is hard. It’s an inevitable part of life. It takes us out of our comfort zone and throws us into something new. We’re forced to thrive. Sometimes change is welcome, but that doesn’t make it any less hard. We try to be strong, to power through it like it’s no big deal. But the next thing you know you’re alone and sobbing on the floor of your empty bedroom.

For me, change took the form of moving from the city that’s become my second home. Change was moving from my friends, girlfriend, and the comforts of the place that helped shape me into who I am. But change can take any form. From the death of a loved one to the birth of a child, from a wedding to a divorce, change comes in many shapes and sizes. It evokes emotions we never knew we had. It makes us feel confused, lost, anxious, or lonely. Most of all, it can feel impossible to get through.

Sometimes change is so hard that fate steps in to help you get through it.

I woke up in the morning with a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. Thirty minutes left before departure. I had to say my final, and hardest, goodbye. My girlfriend of two and a half years. Tears were shed. Neither wanted to be the one to turn and leave first. Heart-wrenchingly, we parted ways. I watched her drive down the street, out of sight. There was nothing left to do now except get into my car and drive away.

With tears drying on my face I pulled into a gas station. I stepped out of my car and instinctively hit the lock button on my door as I closed it. Then, through the window, I saw my keys sitting on the seat. Great, of all days.

I asked the gas station attendant to use his phone as mine was locked in my car. I managed to call AAA. “It’ll be about an hour until someone can get there.” Wonderful. With nothing on me but my wallet, I headed to my car to wait. It only took a few minutes for the attendant to come out of the concrete box that he works in to talk to me. He was short, mid to late 30s, and had a thick foreign accent that I couldn’t place.

After some small talk, I asked him where he’s from.

“Bhutan.”

“Where?”

“Bhutan. It’s a country in Asia, near Nepal.”

I pictured the map and placed Nepal. I then pretended I know where Bhutan is in relation to that. “Oh, I’ve heard of that. What brought you to the US?”

“Well, it’s a long story.”

I had nothing else to do, so I asked him to explain. Fifteen minutes later, the nameless Exxon attendant told me a story I couldn’t make up if I tried.

He was born in Bhutan, but his family is originally from Nepal. As he was growing up, he was learning Dzongkha (the official language of Bhutan) as well as Nepali and English. The Bhutanese government, however, looked down upon Bhutanese citizens of Nepali descent and refused to allow them to learn any languages except Dzongkha. They forced the teachings of other languages to stop and burned all of my new friend’s English and Nepali books.

As time went on, the Bhutanese government’s conflict with those of Nepali descent escalated. The military began harassing and arresting it’s citizens, eventually forcing them out of the country. When the attendant was 7 years old, he and his family took refuge in Nepal.

They lived in a refugee camp with tens of thousands of other refugees. He, his mother, father, twin brother and older brother lived in a hut made of bamboo siding and plastic roofing no bigger than the cement building where he worked now. The next hut was just several feet away. He only had access to what was available in the refugee camp, which wasn’t much.

And he lived there for 17 years.

In 2008, he and his family came to America. After living in Florida for two years, they moved to Pittsburgh. He works at the gas station where I was stranded as well as the Omni downtown. Some days he’ll work both jobs for 14 hours or more. In time, he plans to move back to Nepal so he can buy land and live out his days.

The AAA truck came, unlocked my car, and drove off. I shook my new friend’s hand and said goodbye. This goodbye, however, wasn’t a sad one.

Now, as I sit on the roof of my apartment in Brooklyn, watching the sunset across the river over Lower Manhattan, I realize that the nameless Bhutanese man’s story was exactly what I needed to hear. The struggles he went through and the strength he had in order to keep himself together gave me perspective on my situation. The change that I was going through was hard, but it could be worse.

The man’s story made me realize that I was going to be OK. The change I was going through paled in comparison to the changes he had to deal with throughout his life. If he’s made it through his struggles, I could easily make it through mine.

No matter the changes you’re facing, you’re going to be fine, too. Life throws us challenges all the time, and change can be one of the hardest. It’s easy to stay comfortable, but without change, we don’t grow. It’s hard to decide to make a change, and even harder to accept it. But when change comes your way, no matter how tough it seems, keep your head up. Everything’s going to be all right.

If you’re ever in Pittsburgh, stop at the Exxon at the intersection of Penn and Braddock and give my nameless friend the message that I never got to give him myself:

Tell him I say thank you.