“Don’t just count your years, make your years count.” – George Meredith
I found myself back in Kentucky for the holidays in December 1992 after nearly a year living in Germany. While it was nice to enjoy the comforts of home, eat mall food and be served free glasses of water in restaurants, I was missing the castles, rolling hills and dry white wines of Wurzburg, Germany. I had grown in countless ways during my year working abroad, but I knew it was time for me to figure out the next chapter of my life.
My work in Germany had focused on managing product inventories for a global manufacturing company in the town of Schweinfurt, known as the “ball bearing capital of Germany.” The prior spring, I had graduated from Tufts University with a degree in Political Science and vague thoughts of graduate school. I never imagined how formative my time in Germany could be, and how it might lay the foundation for a career in marketing and a love for other cultures.
Once back in the States, I had to decide where to live and start my career. My brief stint in a marketing rotation in Germany had ignited my interest in branding and advertising, but I was not sure how to channel that into a new job. Fortunately, I once again had Sara to look to for guidance and support. She had returned from Germany several months before I did, and her desire to launch a career in journalism had landed her in New York City. While I still had little idea of what career I should pursue, Sara pointed out that New York was a hub for so many industries, and with its international flair, I might find a company interested in my German speaking abilities.
In January, I took Sara up on her offer to crash on the floor of her Upper West side apartment. From there, I set about trying to find a job, doing my best to cobble my experience as a waitress and various internship adventures into a story of marketable skills. In the absence of Linkedin or the Internet in those days, I relied on the want-ads in the New York Times. I applied to positions that led to far more rejection letters than interviews. By late January, I was facing the prospect of returning home to Kentucky jobless when my younger sister Liz suggested I check out the Yale career services office when I next visited her. Five years my junior, Liz was a sophomore at Yale, so I took the easy two-hour train ride from NYC to New Haven. I borrowed Liz’s ID and entered Yale’s career library. It was there that I found the perfect opportunity: a Conference Coordinator role working in the Wall Street Journal International’s newly formed conference division. The WSJ had developed a marketing partnership with the German business daily, and my German skills were a good match for helping manage the day-to-day overseas relationship.
By February, things started to fall into place for me in New York. I landed the WSJ job and worked closely with my German counterpart across time zones to plan joint promotions and the annual European Chairman’s Symposium. I sublet a furnished apartment in the West Village for eight months, then moved into the top floor of a Brooklyn brownstone with my college roommate Ben. I became adept at navigating the subway system and discovering which happy hours served free food, both important survival strategies for twenty-somethings living in New York.
All the while, Sara was an important part of my life. We’d meet for dinners, take walks near her apartment in Central Park and talk frequently about our jobs and dreams beyond New York. We also began a tradition of celebrating our birthdays together that we’ve kept up for all these years, long after both of us had left NYC. We’ve celebrated in Chicago and Boston, and other destinations including Athens, Ga., and Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. In 2018, we celebrated my 50th in Kohler, Wisconsin, and the following year Sara’s husband planned an amazing surprise celebration back in Kentucky for her milestone birthday.
Our birthdays in 2020 were subdued affairs, as most celebrations after mid-March that year were. We toasted over Zoom and talked about how we took for granted things like flights to see one another and dinners out. Fortunately, this November life has returned to normal enough that we are planning to meeting in person once again. To be continued…