Paulo Coelho’s book, The Alchemist states – “I have inside me the winds,the deserts,the oceans, the stars and everything created in the universe. We were all made by the same hand and we all have the same soul”. I had my colleague tell me about this book on how a young shepherd boy goes on a journey searching for a treasure but at the end realizes that the treasure lies within himself.
Such is the power of self – Self love, self belief, self respect and happiness within yourself are the most important components that make the true ‘you’. Have you ever had a chance where you found the true worth of yourself or some turn of events that made you realize that you actually are capable and worthy of a lot more than usual?. I had this opportunity that knocked my life during the year 2015. It helped me discover the new ‘me’ and made me realize that I was just enough for myself. For a girl with a conservative Muslim background – a corporate job is a level high in terms of freedom given to girls/women. But the year 2015, leveled up my game and increased my freedom by giving me an opportunity to go to New York city on account of my job. I did not realize what this journey had in store for me but it definitely turned out to be life changing.
New York city – ‘The city that never sleeps’ they say is the one city I adore and admire and is close to my heart. New York city has people of all races, and every person living there is just focused on their own lives, nothing else. The hustle you notice in this city is like no other. With the clock ticking, people are literally in machine mode – they go to office on time, back home on time, party hard, travel harder and have lots of fun. This city is always beaming with the crowd that is up and running.
This city is the reason I had a complete mindset change after the journey of 4 months came to an end. These 4 months were a pretty good time for me to jump up from low to high (from homesickness to enjoying new company, new people, new environment) and most importantly, it taught me some lessons that I will carry on for my entire life. For the entire journey, it was all in me to take my decisions, be happy for myself as I did not have my family friends around,to choose my plans, push myself to do different things etc. Everytime I went against my comfort zone and attempted something I’m not used to doing, I ended up meeting a new side to me. New York has definitely been the turning point of my life teaching me lessons that I have only read as per motivational quotes but never felt within me that ‘I was enough’. Let me share with you the lessons of power that have shaped the ‘new’ me –
Change is slow to accept at first, but beautiful in the end – From a background of having been in a complete comfort zone, safely and securely growing in the guidance of my family’s inner circle to venturing out to another part of the world all by myself and realizing that it is all in me and how capable I am for much more in life made my journey beautiful. From being homesick and agitated at first in the beginning of my first few days in New York, making emotional calls to my parents on how much I was missing them to independently handling it all and assuring my parents that I was taking care of myself in this new city. From finding the city completely systematized and punctual to getting adapted to these systems was one change I embraced. This definitely helped me to learn the value of time. When I first received my apartment keys and shifted, I found my apartment really cute with a hall that had big windows with a view to Times square (my apartment was in the heart of the Manhattan city – Times square), along with a kitchen that was mine as back home ,my mom owned her territory (the kitchen), a beautiful room with door sized mirrors and a cozy bed that had really thick mattress like those in cartoon shows and my bathroom had a round shaped mirror with bulbs around them similar to the ones that movie stars have in their make up rooms. I could not have asked for more but the first night when I shifted, I could not sleep in that dead silence of my apartment. I had inner fears that built up in my head and I just could not sleep. It was more so because I am not used to being alone at all. With my parents or my brother around I was never left alone. This is the main reason I could not stay all by myself nor ever enjoyed my own company.
Next morning I spoke to some of my colleagues and shifted in their big apartment, that helped me feel safe and get company but that did not last for more than a month. I found it difficult to adjust with my colleague that I decided I would shift back to my own apartment as it was anyways vacant. That big decision which I took one morning, was a sign that someday I had to live my life on my own, on my terms. That night after office, around 11 PM I shifted back all my stuffs to my apartment to begin my new life of solitude again. This time I was more determined not to create unnecessary fears in my head and I was going to live by myself and do things that I love. I did not inform my parents of my decision as they could get worried that I was living all alone I assumed. So I chose to lie everytime I spoke to them on calls that I have my colleagues around. My parents are not tech savvy, so I did not have any video calls with them and I saw them only when I returned home after the 4 months of rotation.
You own your world – Another mantra of New York for me was to own my world. It took me sometime to start living by myself, but I was up for the challenge. I began to arrange the stuffs, love every place of my apartment from the cozy bed to sitting by the windows and watching the crowd rush, which has always been my favourite pastime ever since I was a little kid (When my mother had a lot of work at home, the first thing she used to do was make me stand against the windows, holding those bars so that I got busy looking at everything outside and she could focus on finishing her chores to spend time with me later peacefully. This time I really loved standing and holding the window bars staring outside, shouting in excitement looking at moving vehicles and that is how I developed the liking for windows at home hahaha). While being in my apartment I began to have a systematic plan everyday for myself – Wake up at 6 am, talk to my parents first then get ready to go to office, pack my lunch,get back home late depending on my work schedule, clean all the vessels and sleep by 12AM around. I literally had just 6 hours of sleep every weekday but that did not make me feel tired or fatigued. I think it was in the air of New York that I could manage a lot of things and still not feel tired.
During weekends I enjoyed my own company, trying some of my mother’s basic dishes which were hand written recipes that I carried with me before I left my home. Every attempt of cooking them, had the exact same aroma as the ones she used to make. I took pictures of every dish I made so I could show her when I returned. Small joys matter a lot to me, I just loved being all by myself from playing music in the background, cleaning up my home, enjoying tea by the window etc. Sometimes I used to start dancing or just watched old movies on the big television and that’s how each day I began to just love being myself and in my own company. It was like I was handling my home for myself, for my happiness. I could do it all so well that I was in awe of myself. This opportunity was definitely not mine when I’m at home with my parents who treated me like a princess not allowing me to do any household chores, not even allowing me in the kitchen, though things have somehow changed now after I shared the truth with them that I was staying alone for almost 2.5 months doing just everything they thought I should not do. I loved my company whole heartedly.
Do things that make you happy – My life back home in Bangalore, revolved around doing things that made my family happy. Be it spending time with them during weekends, taking their permission for everything from meeting friends to going out on my own to doing majorly those things that made them happy. But in New York, I had my own say, I could make my own decisions from planning trips to Boston or Washington for the weekends with a few colleagues to just going out all by myself exploring new towns and places within New York, I had the power to do things that made me happy. There were no restrictions, no time limits to come back home. Overall, no limits whatsoever. Taking this as my golden opportunity of life, I began to make the best use of it. Travelling to Boston and Washington made me realize the importance, people of America give to their history and culture. Washington and Boston looked really ancient to me with their infrastructure as opposed to New York that was well advanced with it’s high rise buildings standing strong below an advanced subway system that ran down to three levels underground.
Each city had it’s own specialty from Washington being strong with it’s history safeguarded within a number of museums around a stretch to Boston that had a mix of ancient art and modern architecture. Visiting the museums, walking down the lanes from White House to shopping at H&M stores, enjoying Indian food at a famous Indian restaurant in Washington to watching whales in Boston and shopping for Lindt chocolates at the store in the heart of Boston city, everything seemed beautiful. Back in New York, sometimes when I left office early, I used to go window shopping on my own, try new outfits clicking pictures, something I’m not used to doing back home. No limits in New York helped me enjoy late night movies with my colleague (my first ever) to enjoying a karaoke night with my team members after a hectic day at work.
Nights in New York are full of life, the lights don’t dim, at least Times Square doesn’t close any part of the day or night. My team at office was a mix of people from different nations – there was a Philippino, an African, a Chinese, a Russian, an American and me, the Indian. It was a wonderful team, apart from work we discussed our cultures, the food, dressing, habits, traditions etc. I loved my team very much. They made me feel at home and also knew how close I was to my family and they never let me feel low anytime. I joined them for their Friday nights, though I never drank but I loved being in their company enjoying music and chicken wings, my favourite. It was overall wonderful to be doing things that made my soul happy.
No plan is a good plan – Especially when you are alone and your colleagues are busy with their lives, sometimes doing things unplanned is the best approach to enjoy your travel to the fullest. There have been times when I have cleaned up my home quickly and made time to just go around Manhattan city on my own. Back then, I had the passion to click pictures of every new thing or place I loved for memories of my trip for myself and to show my parents, so I purchased my own DSLR camera (I shopped like crazy on Amazon.com hahaha). I loved putting on my sports shoes (those that could not slip in the snow) and go walking with my fat purple jacket and the camera hanging around my neck. I walked down the Times square, looking at couples clicking pictures together with the cartoon characters or at the One Times square building or busy shopping or going to the famous Broadway shows. Times square was always bustling, irrespective of what time you went there.
Moving away from the crowd I chose to walk towards Hudson river that was frozen with snow. The snow was both whitish and brown but I enjoyed being there alone clicking pictures of the pigeons hovering around me and there was also a museum for fighter planes which looked awesome from a distance. At the same time I remembered my colleague who had come here in the October batch was residing at Antilier apartments (this was the biggest apartment with a view of Hudson river). I gave him a call and he invited me home. He treated me to a good meal, we chatted together, I loved the view of his apartment so much that I could see the view of the city beaming with lights (he was put up at the 18th floor and I captured the view of the city from the 33rd floor). I was awestruck. My office also had a beautiful view from the 33rd and 35th floor. Right from the sea that divided New Jersey and New York to the World Trade One building far across the corner. Diagonally adjacent to our office building was Empire State building that was beauty personified with its colorful lights each day that had some significance or the other. I found myself in the best place anyone would want to be.
There was a time when my colleague and I walked to ‘The Auto show’ (the famous international automobile show that New York hosts every year) that was going to close at 8.30 PM and with Google maps (our only saviour but a painful one) showing us unnecessary routes back then, we somehow managed to reach the venue at 7.45 PM. In 45 minutes, we checked out the major brands like Jaguar, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Ford etc and while they began to shut shop to the show we still managed to quickly click pictures with our favourite car models and walk out satisfied. The time was too short but it was wonderful that we managed to make the best of the opportunity – completely unplanned. Also, when after a good time at Madam Tussauds and Times square, my colleagues and I bumped into another colleague’s apartment, we were taken by surprise to see the entire 14-16 of our office colleagues enjoying a hearty meal and having the time of their lives. Some of these colleagues were from the long term batches, whom I had not seen from a long time to the ones who came in the previous batch. It was a wonderful time together, more like having family members around – totally unplanned again but worth it. These were the best times ever.
Your safety is in your hands – Be it in any new place or even your own hometown, you have to be safe anywhere you go because thugs or thieves or anti social elements are always there. New York taught me that my safety was in my own hands. I faced a few situations where I had to be alert and use my presence of mind to get out of difficult situations. Since I was on my own, I had to make sure I took care of myself in an unknown city like New York. The night I had been to the karaoke bar with my team members, I was returning back home alone around 12.50 am rushing to reach my apartment. The bar was 12 lanes away from my apartment then and while I was walking at 42nd Times square, I passed by an African man who was drunk. He turned back and kept calling out, “Lady, lady”. I heard his screams but I did not turn back. I managed to walk quickly to 51st, the lane where my apartment was. I was thanking my stars that I managed to get back home safe.
Another instance that comes to my mind was when I had been to New Jersey. Those were the ending days of my trip and I had to buy loads of chocolates for family and friends back home and Walmart or Cosco,the places I could buy the cheapest were in New Jersey. When I informed my team member of my plan to go there, they stopped me saying it was not safe to go alone. I somehow chose to go,more at a safer time like 4 PM in the evening. The travel time to New Jersey was 20 minutes and it was a bus ride. I managed to get the ticket and went on my own. Next to Walmart, there was a new store opened which was selling stuffs at wholesale rate. The chocolates were really cheaper than Walmart and I wanted to go ahead with buying here. I bought around 8 packets of chocolates and headed to the cash counter where I faced a problem – the cashier told me that I could shop here only if I had a membership card, which I did not have nor I was willing to let go off my shopping cart. Within no time, one of the supervisors turned up and he asked me what was the issue. To my luck, this guy was an Indian and I’m so thankful he turned up at the right time and also allowed me to make my purchase after my pleadings and with a warning that I should have a membership card next time hahaha.
The adventure didn’t end here. The store did not have any carry bags to take your shopping items home. This left me in a fix of how I was going to take back all my chocolates. I took my cart out and stood there thinking of an alternative. Suddenly, one Korean guy came upto me and asked me a question that took me aback instantly. He asked me, “With whom are you going to sleep tonight?”. I was majorly taken aback. I moved away from there quickly, went inside Walmart and approached a cashier who was an old lady for some carry bags. She readily handed me some and I packed my stuffs and left to the bus stop. I kept praying the guy was not spying on me or following me. I reached home safely and was so thankful that I was safe. I never shared these incidences with my family members as I knew they would get worried. The subways in New York are also unsafe. Some of the stations are secluded. They look so haunted and even stink that you have to time your travel to avoid any untoward incidents. Even inside the subways, while getting back from the 72nd Avenue to my apartment there have been men weirdly looking at me as if I was their prey. I had to ensure I was on my toes and even keep up my presence of mind for my own safety. So it is important to be safe wherever you go, on your own or with friends. Not everytime one could be lucky to avoid such untoward incidences.
Be vulnerable (it is okay to falter) – I am someone who likes perfection. When I feel something will not work or I will fail at it, I do not make an attempt. This has only stopped me from living my life openly with accepting my failures and downs. I have been only adaptive to things that have made me felt good, which is definitely not the true spirit of living your life. New York has taught me to be vulnerable, to fail, to accept these failures and to not know everything but yet give yourself a second chance and learn. This city has taught me to accept mistakes or lesser known things and still get ahead to the best times with no hard feelings whatsoever. The best incident that comes to my mind is when my colleague and I were duped when we went to see the Statue of Liberty. At first we tried to buy online tickets, but since we found it very pricey we chose to buy them after reaching there. We bought two $35 tickets that mentioned it would take us to the Statue of liberty and around the sea. We were hoping to get to island of the Statue of liberty but we were duped. The carrier took us only around the Brooklyn bridge, Manhattan bridge, Statue of Liberty too but just from a view. We returned to the pier and were looking for the guy who duped us with the tickets. We luckily found him but he did not answer our questions neither did he return the money. My colleague and I felt really bad about the faltered plan but I somehow managed to let it go off my head in the hope that someday I will be back in the city and see Statue of Liberty more closely and in better ways. I felt lighter after I shifted my mindset from feeling bad to what happened to instilling in me a new hope that better ways will come.
Like I had mentioned earlier, I do not drink but hanging around with a team who does is still enjoyable. New York taught me that you do not have to belong to a herd to be accepted. You can still be unique and different and still be part of the herd with your own choices. I even invited my team over to my small apartment for a party where each of them got either wine or snacks or chocolates to munch and I fried some samosas for them (thanks to frozen Indian foods that are a specialty in America). It was a pleasant evening with playing games, showing them an Indian movie and also discussing our families, cultures and traditions. I am thankful to my team for teaching me some of the American habits like if you get some snack or food and someone else touches it with their hands or fingers, they do not accept that. You have to be careful when you are offering something to eat to your team members. Even the etiquette of spoon/fork, I did not know it too well but learnt it along, by being there and trying new cuisines and dishes. I also had overheated my frozen dosa in the oven at my apartment and the fire alarm rang loud. This was my mistake but I did not feel too bad about it, I was okay to let such incidents go, though I learnt my lessons through experience.
You are your own strength – New York taught me my biggest lesson of being enough for myself during my worst time there. I fell sick during the last two weeks of March, the third month of my stay. I began to throw up everything I was eating, I felt fatigued with no energy, I had temperature every night, cold and cough. This was my most difficult time ever. Since I was alone at my home and my colleagues busy closing year end audits working late I did not inform them or take help. I was on calls with my family and some colleagues back home taking help, trying home remedies to feel better. My team members kept a check on me asking me if I needed help but I told them I was managing. I felt very disturbed because of my health not just physically but even mentally. Back home, you are in constant care of your family, taking care of you, giving you food, medicines on time etc. But here I was, all on my own. No one to take care of , I had to make my own food that did not even stay in my stomach and I had to look after myself all the time.
There were times my mind was so disturbed that I wanted to go back home as I felt lonely with nobody to take care of me and I felt helpless. On the suggestion of my teammate, I even consulted a doctor there, took medicines but that too did not help me. The consultation charge was $75 but nothing worth it. Since you are alone, your mind tends to dip to lower levels in thoughts. I began to feel depressed with time. I was so used to the care of my family that not getting it caused me a lot of pain and anxiety. I had a choice to make – either pack everything and go back home in the 3rd month itself or get better on my own and live the 4th month of my trip with a happy ending. I began to accept the truth that I had to be my own strength, I had to take care of my own self for my parents atleast. I began to shift my mind from feeling sick to getting better. No amount of medicines helped me, instead it was the power of my mind that helped me feel better physically and mentally and there I was standing strong at the start of April, the last month of my rotation doing things I love and getting back to office like before. This lesson has been my constant reminder helping me realize my true strength during the times I’m low and sad.
Enjoy every moment, live life to the fullest– The entire journey taught me that every moment should be lived to the fullest. Enjoy doing things or being where you are – right from your own small home to travelling to cities, from walking down the lanes to shopping like crazy on my own, from trying out new cuisines to dresses, from enjoying the rain on Brooklyn bridge or the cold breeze by the Cony island beach, from just watching the dolphins on a carrier for over 3 hours or even late night movies with another colleague. Bollywood has this famous movie, called Kal ho na ho which means ‘There may or may not be a tomorrow’. This movie was shot in New York and highlights the fact that we should live our lives to the fullest. As time changes, there may be good times or bad but every moment should be lived to the best. This movie inspired my journey here, I even felt the scenes being in the city. I was moved completely, feeling blessed and wonderful. The best lesson of my journey.
Your experiences make the better ‘You’ – As people say, nothing comes with experience, like until you have faced it yourself you wouldn’t know the feelings, emotions, the truth or the reality. I never knew I was capable of being on my own, being confident, independent, strong and vulnerable until being all of this was my only option without my support system (my family) around. It is important to be on your own once in your life to know the true power that is hidden in you. This journey that helped me get back home as a different Zeba altogether, with the imaginary stars of confidence, strength, independence, self pride shining on my shoulders like those on the army uniforms filled me with loads of happiness and self love. This journey taught me wonderful lessons with the value of time and how important it is to love myself first and be selfless thereafter.
I have a great sense of achievement and pride to have brought forth my life’s best journey in this blog. Hope it turns out to inspire and bring out the better in you!.