I blinked myself out of a hazy snooze and squinted at my vibrating phone. It was the call I had been waiting for, but secretly dreading.
I had applied for the job of my dreams, but contrary to everything I had been working toward, I found myself praying that I wouldn’t get it. Counterintuitively, the job that I wanted was actually the job I was hoping not to get. I was about to make a major life decision, and I didn’t know what to do.
Just a Backpack and a Dream
Six months ago, in the scorching heat of summer, I arrived in New York City with nothing more than a backpack. I had just completed a six-month stint in Asheville, NC, where I spent the strangest time of my life reacclimatizing to the United States after three-and-a-half years of travel around Asia Pacific.
Following 13 months in Asia, the transition into the isolated hippie culture of the South was unnecessarily harsh. And as a cocktail bartender, Asheville was not the place to be. The way I saw it, if I could travel the world, I could handle New York.
So off I went.
Within a week of touching down in NYC, I hit the streets with my CV, stopping in at all the best cocktail bars in the city. It took a solid month, but I landed a job at one of the city’s most notable speakeasies. I was beside myself. I found my way to New York and I landed on my feet.
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An Interview with Google…Basically
Five months later, I received an offer to bartend at a luxury hotel in Beijing. Though I had already been to China, and though I love it there, I had my sights set on new locales. I wanted to see South America and Europe.
The offer was for six months, and the money was better than good. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that taking this offer would allow me to visit the places that I wanted. I could work for a pre-determined amount of time and then take off with a bulging wallet to anywhere else in the world. This was shaping up to be a pretty spectacular plan.
Until one particular email caught my attention…
Jeremy, It’s been a bit since we last chatted, but I wanted to reach out to see if you were still interested and available for consideration for a newly-opened position…I would love to set up interviews for this week and training not long afterwards…Please let me know if this sounds like something you might be interested in. Hope all is well with you and looking forward to hearing back from you at your nearest convenience.
It was a message from the manager at another one of New York City’s best cocktail bars. One of those places that release those bespoke coffee table books. One of those places that is an industry leader and that everybody knows by name. One of those places with “street cred” and invaluable industry perks.
Honestly, it’s like Google: once you’re in, you never leave.
I responded with no hesitation, and two days later I was sitting down for an interview. Our dialogue quickly turned into an in-depth character analysis. They wanted to be sure that whomever they brought on board would be the type of person they could grow with. They were serious about finding the right talent with the right personality and the right attitude. They were looking for someone to be a part of their family.
And they were looking for a 1-2 year commitment.
The Phone Call From Hell
A little bit of dribble had caked itself onto the corner of my mouth as my head hung backwards over the headrest. I was dead asleep in the backseat of an undersized VW on the way to my mother’s house when my phone yanked me from my slumber. I looked at the caller ID and, when the blood finally rushed out of my face, I answered the call.
“Hi, this is Jeremy,” I mumbled, still not fully in control of my vocal chords. To be honest, all I wanted to do was ignore the call. I never wanted to know the answer because, as soon as I did, and as soon as I heard the words “good news” through the speakerphone, I realized that I was going to have to make the hardest decision of my life.
The offer was, indeed, a good one. I would make mediocre money but I would be doing something I loved. I would be living in New York City and I would be learning and working with some of the best in the industry. I could have been a relative success story—the type you hear about where you show up homeless in New York and actually make something half-decent of yourself. I could envision the next two years of my life and I could see them taking me to some very exciting places in my career.
On the other hand, Beijing was calling. I would be living in a luxury hotel, expenses covered, working at a brand new bar with an up-and-coming consulting group. It was a six-month contract and I would get to travel.
And I would make enough money to be able to travel even more extensively after that.
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How to Make Hard Decisions
I was given three days to decide, but before I had even hung up the phone, I already knew my answer. Despite that, I banged my head against the wall for the next 72 hours. I wrote pros and cons lists. I talked incessantly about my options. By the time the second day rolled around, I was convinced everybody had stopped listening to me.
The job in New York would be difficult to walk away from. As a cocktail bartender, it was exactly the type of job I had in mind for myself. I came to NYC with my sights set high, and this was one of the first venues that I walked into when I arrived in the city. If they had offered me the job six months earlier, I would have snatched it up in a heartbeat, and I never would have second-guessed my decision.
But now it felt a little too late and my mind was already beginning to wander.
Both were excellent opportunities and I was incredibly lucky to have them. I could have taken either and done well for myself. Neither one of them was wrong.
This was the first time in my life that I was presented with two open doors and I would be the one who got to decide which to walk through. But up until this point, I don’t think I knew how. I had always been the one seeking a single opportunity, never deciding which of many to take. But now, I had two unbelievable options and this decision was going to be harder than any I ever had to make.
Should I stay in New York, pursue a career and make a name for myself? Or should I fly to a different continent, travel, and pursue my personal goals and a less traditional career path? It was a classic case of having to choose between long-term and short-term benefits.
I did a lot of reflection and, what I concluded was that, down the line, some late night at work, when my head begins to wander, it won’t be New York that I’m dreaming of. It will be the bright hues of Palawan, yurts in Mongolia, and Yacht Week in Croatia. It will be bowls of Indian curries, French cheeses, and Peruvian ceviche. It will be the sleepy mornings in crowded airports and the sweaty chicken buses in Mexico.
It will be the adventures that were never had.
So in the name of said adventure, 2015 will be the year that I get back on the road! It’s not like I ever “stopped” traveling, but I did take this past year to reconnect with my family and reground myself in my own country.
I’ll be spending February in Colombia where I’ll be exploring the landscapes, culture, people and food of South America for the first time, and I’ll participate in the second largest Carnival celebration in the world in Barranquilla!
Come March, Beijing will see me again, this time for a little bit longer than the last. There will be an unhealthy number of dumplings and endless bowls of noodles. I will see some old friends and undoubtedly make some new ones. I will get to know a culture that I have already grown to love, just a little bit more.
Beyond that? Maybe I’ll take off to Europe for a while. Quite honestly, I don’t have a clue. And that’s exactly what I had in mind.