On the further side of thirtysomething and gray hairs starting to add salt to my pepper, I have decided to begin again. Personally. Professionally. I’m lucky though. This isn’t the kind of situation where I was perp-walked out of the building in front of colleagues and into involuntary vocational re-evaluation. I wasn’t laid off. I wasn’t “let go” or “downsized” or “reassigned” or the victim of “market trends” or “organizational restructuring” or “unavoidable economic cutbacks.” I’m not a member of the new “white establishment minority” (seriously O’Reilly?) who’s getting theoretically screwed over by Obama’s election or re-election. I’m just a guy who wanted a challenge. Needed a change. I wanted to remind myself what it is like to start out with nothing, to build a life and career in these times. And I’m not alone. College graduates pour out of institutions of higher education every semester and are facing the same situation. Successful professionals with years of experience are being forced to face it too.
So, late one Kuala Lumpur night, staring bleary-eyed into the bathroom mirror, here’s the challenge I issued to myself: After ten years living abroad working as an international school teacher in Venezuela and Malaysia, you’re going to move back to the US at one of the most problematic economic times in recent history and try to create a career in publishing, an area many consider to be a “dying industry” (I don’t agree with this at all, but more on that later). Oh, and you’ll do it in New York City, not only one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in but also a city that draws the best of the best in every industry to vie for work in a job market that’s experiencing George Costanza-style shrinkage. Your experience in teaching will basically be considered worthless since most people have no idea what teachers actually do and yet because they have gone to school feel they know exactly what teachers do (more on this later too, as I feel a rant coming on), and you know all of about two people in the city, neither of whom works in publishing.
Now, you may be thinking what many of my teaching colleagues actually said in the same tone of voice that Merlin uses near the end of Top Gun when Maverick says he’s going to bring the Mig in closer, “You’re going to do what?”
Yes, I’m beginning again. I gave my notice to the boss (a fantastic Australian who smiled at the news I was leaving and in typical Aussie fashion told me to “fuck-off”), put all my belongings into storage in Malaysia save what could fit in a duffel bag and a suitcase, and came to New York. Please refrain from picturing me throwing my hat into the air Mary Tyler Moore-style upon arrival, that was Minneapolis anyway, or associate me with any song about making it in New York, that includes both Frank and Jay-Z. The whole situation sounds cliché enough.
So here I am, starting over. And that means going at it like I’m starving and fresh out of college (or starving and fresh out of a job…which is actually more accurate). I may have a few more years of experience, a few more stories to tell, but, like every other rube around, I’m still the new guy. I’m still begging for work. I’m still saying yes to anything, and I mean anything, because whether you’re starting out or starting over every opportunity is a chance to grow.
And that’s how I’ve become…the gray-haired intern.