No one has it figured out

November 17 2014

A large number of Nepalis work or study abroad.

Recently I found myself speaking to a young man preparing for his first year of college. He was scared as hell, understandably so, leaving behind his family and everything familiar to attend college in Louisiana. This would be the first time he traveled outside Nepal.

I was 17 when I left the cornfields of Longmont, Colorado for Manhattan’s concrete version. It was terrifying, and I cried the entire plane ride from Denver to LGA. My flight was just over three hours, and it took everything in me to not unlock the hatch. This guy was looking at three days of travel, layovers in several countries, and an immigration officer waiting at the end.

We talked about what he could expect — pop music and football fields, red and blue plastic party cups, kids from different backgrounds, movie popcorn, pizza delivery — and what not to expect — daily dal bhat, the hum of electric generators, saris, cows in the road, bargaining over prices. I taught him how to pronounce Baton Rouge.

I was told to study Humanities because this is what students were advised if they didn’t know what they wanted to do. I focused too much on grades and too little on experiences. It wasn’t until later I realized how valuable relationships with professors could be and that some my greatest lessons would be learned simply living in New York City. What I know now, at age 30, I failed to recognize then:

Nobody knows.

Some people are just really good at pretending. That kid who marched into the lecture hall, back straight, broad smile? I envied him. He said he was going to be an actor. I think he is selling shoes now in Lower Manhattan.

I had a girlfriend who lit up every room she walked into. Her laughter was contagious. I studied the way she talked to the lunch lady to try to figure out how she did it. One night I found her crying in our tiny dorm room closet, something I always did when she was out lighting up the city. She didn’t know, either.

Everyone is flailing. We fly through the air until we find something to hold onto: love, a promotion, a career change, money, a new job, adventure. We’re always wanting something, unless we give up or stop trying.

And this is one of the secrets of Project Exponential, it’s why dinners work. There’s a chance Your Something — your work, your passion, your failures, your connections — might be what someone else needs to find Their Something. And they might have exactly what you need to move forward with yours.

The student in Louisiana is fine. He likes Pizza Hut.