I can pinpoint the exact moment I knew I was in the wrong career. I was at some kind of networking meeting at Nobu in Tribeca.
Couple of things:
- Nobu is a very expensive sushi restaurant owned by Robert DeNiro. Rich celebrities and other people who want to pretend to be rich for a day go there to spend ridiculous amounts of money on small plates of sushi and pretend it’s worth it for the ‘flavor’ when really, it’s a huge fucking ripoff but no one says so because they don’t want to seem poor. DeNiro sadly wasn’t there when I went, but I don’t even think seeing him could have made that lunch enjoyable.
- Tribeca is the most expensive neighborhood in Manhattan. And that’s saying something, given how much it costs to find a place anywhere on that fucking island. Tribeca is where Beyonce and JayZ, Jennifer Lawrence, and Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel live.
So there I was, meeting representatives from a company that takes all your data that you thought was private from online shopping sites, and sells it to people like me. We then use it to sell you some more stuff. That you likely don’t need. Yeah, this is a thing, and I’m part of the problem.
It came time to introduce ourselves formally, something American people take very, very seriously. It’s never just, “Hi, my name is Justine, I’m a Supervisor at my company and I’ve been in New York for three months,” which is what I said.
It’s things like: “Hi, I’m such and such from some company, and I’ve been there for three months. I recently made the move to New York, and it’s been super exciting but challenging. I think the highlight for me is selling stuff to people who don’t even need more stuff, super grateful things are going well for me, and I’m super happy to be meeting you and having lunch with you today! I’m super excited to start the conversation about working together and hope we can circle back about it and align on a game plan after today.”
OK so I slightly exaggerated the number of “super”s but the more I listen to Americans speak in business meetings, the more it sounds fake, and like a heap of corporate cliches and over-enthusiasm. I’ve never understood this need everyone has to fucking be excited all the time, and it’s a million times worse when at a meeting like this.
The people hosting us ordered for us – they’d been there before so they knew what to get, or so they said – and as it arrived everyone pretended to not be interested in the food, and just kept talking.
“Oh so you’re from London? That’s great, I love London.”
“Yes, it’s a great city, but not as big as New York! Hahaha.”
“And, you’re Australian? I haven’t been there! But I want to visit.”
“Oh yes, it’s beautiful, but not as exciting as New York! Hahaha.”
I stared at the plate of somewhat disappointing-looking fish and waited for someone to take some, but they kept on pretending to be really interested in small talk.
“Oh, so such and such isn’t at your company any more?”
“No, they left a little while ago. Super sad to see them go though! Hahaha.”
Finally, I reached toward the food and everyone stared at me.
“I’m super hungry! Hahaha,” I said as I took some fish. Everyone waited a full five minutes before taking any, at which point I’d helped myself two more times.
More food came out, and everyone continued to pretend to ignore it, while I reached for it first each time. Any questions that came my way were so pointless that I can’t even remember them. Eventually, when we were up to the fifth tiny serving of a $30 plate of sushi, the business talk started.
“Yeah we’d be super interested in working with you, maybe we can organize a meeting for next week so we can talk more about the possibilities?”
“That sounds great, we’re super slammed at the moment but we can definitely circle back when we get to the office and align our availability.”
“Yeah, that would be super!”
As more plates came and went, I stared at the superfluous decor above our table and considered what else I could do with my life.
“An Uber driver! You love driving. That would be really fun, and a great way to see more of New York. Oh but you need a car for that. Never mind.”
“A massage therapist! You could be like Phoebe from Friends, and have your own business in your apartment, and go to see people in their apartments… and then sell out to a big massage chain for the perks like she did. Oh, but you’d need to do a course for that. Could I do a course in New York? Hmmm… look into that later Justine, that’s a good idea!”
“A yoga teacher! You could just go and teach a beginners class and make sure people know the basics before they do the more challenging classes. Or do a combined meditation class! Ah but you need to do a course for that too… OK look into that along with the massage course though.”
And then, as a tiny plate of dessert landed on the table and everyone pretended they were too full for it, I realized: “Fuck. You need money to stay in New York. Doing a course here would mean not working for a while. And, if you don’t work, you can’t stay. Looks like you’re stuck for now.”
And so we left Nobu, promising to align with the others again soon and thanked them for the super lunch they’d treated us to. As we walked towards the subway, my colleagues trailed behind me, chatting about the lunch we’d just had, and caught up with me on the platform. Their conversation continued on the train and any time I tried to join in, they gave each other a look and pretended I wasn’t there.
When we got to our stop, I walked ahead, partly because I walk fast (it’s New York, pick up the pace or get off the sidewalk) and partly because I wanted to get back to my friends. Back to people who didn’t roll their eyes when I spoke, who didn’t expect me to be super excited at the idea of using people’s personal data to sell them more stuff, and who didn’t pretend that a tiny shared plate of fish is enough for them to feel full.
This lunch started months of questioning and self-doubt. Months of agonizing over whether living in New York was worth doing something I didn’t believe in. Months of wishing I was still 23, so I could leave the job and go back to Uni, the way I had after I worked for a bank for a few months.
I’m 29 now, and just giving up and starting over is harder now than before, especially since the only thing I don’t like about living in New York is what makes it possible for me to live in New York.
That doesn’t mean I don’t think about it, every day, and wonder if what I’m doing is worth it. It is for now, but I don’t know how much longer it will be.