One afternoon in May 2006, my boss walked over to my desk. “Come into my office,” she said. Before I could even turn away from my computer to look at her, she had already spun around, her skirt flouncing behind her as she headed back to her door.
I was in my mid-twenties and working at a Big 5 publisher. As far as I was concerned, it was the publisher—the place I had always dreamed of being. On the day I pushed open the heavy revolving glass door for my interview and stepped foot in the lobby for the first time, it almost felt as if I had entered a mythical land. The glass-encased bookshelves that lined either side of the lobby, reaching more than twenty feet up toward the sky, were packed with a virtual who’s who of the literary and pop culture worlds. It felt almost sacred. I imagined that if I were one of the Chosen Few to work here, I would never leave. This was the end game.
The company was cinematic and so was my boss. She was the editorial director you see in all of the movies. Her reputation preceded her. In many ways, it was an earned reputation—she was, indeed, scary. She was also very, very good. To this day, I would argue she’s the best I’ve ever met. I could write a book entirely based on our exchanges, which ranged from terrifying to hilarious. But, over time, I had won her over (albeit inadvertently), and I knew that. It was a point of great pride in my life. Even at that, I maintained a consistent and healthy fear of her.
That afternoon, I walked into her office with no idea what to expect. She stopped me before I could sit down. “Shut the door.”
My mind reeled, doing a quick inventory of all the things I could have possibly done wrong.
“I want to promote you,” she said, never one to beat around the bush.
“What?” I replied eloquently.
“I want to promote you. But I want you to know that I’m going to invest a lot of time in you. I need to know you’re in it for the long haul.”
I don’t remember my exact thought process, aside from the shock. I just remember hearing myself speak, as if it were someone else. “I can’t promise you that,” I heard myself saying. I went on to explain that I didn’t think this was the place for me. I missed Boston. I wasn’t invested in the genre of books we were producing in our division. I couldn’t promise her I was in it for the long haul.
What I didn’t tell her was that I had been struggling with the mounting feeling that I was literally wasting my life. Every day that I spent in a cubicle under fluorescent lights twelve floors above the ground felt like an existential crisis. I’m wasting my life, I thought over and over and over again. This is it. My life is happening right now, and I’m spending it here. When I pressed my entry card against the pad to swing in the glass doors every morning, I felt my heart drop into my stomach. It felt like I was stepping into a cage.
But I didn’t say all of that. Instead, my boss and I talked about other things. It was the most relaxed, conversational exchange we had ever had. And then, at the end of it, she said, “So, this means you quit.” It was not a question. And it was not what I meant—not in that moment.
“I guess I do,” I told her.
And that is how I accidentally quit my dream job.
Usually I stayed at work until it was well past dark. That day, the sun still hung in the sky as I walked aimlessly along the Hudson from the PATH station to my house. Unclear what to do with myself in both the immediate and larger sense, I sat down on a bench overlooking the water. Sinatra filtered out from the open door of one of the restaurants behind me, as he was apt to do here in Hoboken.
I felt lost in a way I had never felt lost before. From the time I was thirteen, this had been the plan. The plan was always to get right here—in New York, working as an editor at this publishing house. That plan had motivated everything. It was the incessant dangling carrot. And now … now what? There was no Plan B. There was only this. After all of those years and all of the hard work it took to get here, in the space of a few minutes’ conversation behind a closed door, it had all been blown away like dust in the wind. I was now walking into a blank space, and I had no idea how to fill it.
Flash-forward five years. It was a crisp December night in 2011. The cool air felt invigorating on my face and my belly was still warm from an hours’ long dinner at a cozy, dimly-lit Italian restaurant in the West Village.
“My car’s this way,” I said, nodding my head in the direction of the parking lot, which was several blocks away.
“Cool,” he replied. “Let’s walk by the water.”
So we did. We walked and we talked and we laughed. And then he gestured behind us and asked, “Wanna sit here for a bit?”
Our conversation continued and, as we talked, I gazed across the water, looking back at the twinkling Manhattan skyline from where we’d just emerged. Suddenly, I was hit by a memory. I squinted at the view ahead of us and then spun around to look behind me.
It was the bench. The exact same bench where I had sat all those years before, wondering what would become of me. Where could I possibly go from here? And now I had the answer.
I could go on to live a life that felt like me in a city that was my friend. I could write my own books instead of editing other people’s. I could write books about my heroes—the rock and pop stars whose music had woven together the fabric of my life. And I could even sit right here on this bench next to one of those former heroes on a crystal clear December night where even the air seemed to crackle with the electricity that comes from suddenly realizing that not only is anything possible—everything is.