Era of Hospitals, Hotels and Airports: Personal Commentary on Consulting throughout America
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It was said that when Captain Hernan Cortes landed on the coast of Veracruz to begin his conquest, he told his men to burn the ships so they had no choice but to live in this new land. They couldn’t go back even if they tried. It had to be this way. Otherwise, retreat would always be an option.
Today, I officially sabotaged my ties with every consulting firm I’ve worked for in the past two years. It was The End — it was severed ties, burned bridges and goodbye emails that sealed the deal. It had to be this way — it wouldn’t have worked otherwise.
It was over.
The era of hospitals, hotels and airports was over.
. . .
It took me too long to end this chapter of my career. Consulting was like a drug to a workaholic like me: when I first realized that I could work over a hundred hours a week, get paid more and do it as much as it was physically possible, I jumped on it. I abandoned my nine to five at a top hospital in SoCal to work throughout the United States. I started off in Seattle, then moved to the South and then finally to the East Coast. I learned more than I could have ever imagined and this article traces the personal growth and social commentary throughout the two year journey of consulting throughout America.
I remember leaving LAX for my first contract at 25 years old. I was standing in line for coffee at five am. My backpack was hanging open and someone behind me politely suggested for me to be more careful with my belongings. I remember thinking: how was I going to survive traveling, if I was so careless about my wallet the first 10 minutes of being on my own? I promised myself that I would be more vigilant.
I landed in Seattle. I rented my first car, went to see family and started my first job as a consultant at Deloitte. I had a gorgeous two bedroom apartment, with cleaning service once a week. I worked all hours of the week. Prior to this, I had roomed with friends but never on my own. For the first time in my life, I was completely alone: when shit hit the fan, I was alone; when I was upset, I was alone; when I was crying, I was alone. I never knew true loneliness and now it was my roommate.
Loneliness and I met at odd hours of night, when insomnia would also join the slumber party. We had dinner together. We spent entire evenings in silence together. We sat together when things went horribly wrong. It showed me the heartache of being alone but also the glory of being alone: loneliness taught me some of my best lessons. It taught me how to find company within myself, be at peace with silence, be comfortable with just the sound of my own living, breathing and thinking. Loneliness taught me how to pick myself back up.
Before the move, I had family to talk to at night. My dog would always sleep next to me. My friends were available to meet over drinks and dinner.
A few months after moving to Seattle, for example, something devastating happened. I sat alone in my apartment, states away from my closest friends. Without their company, I felt off center. I felt hallow, scared and lost, uncomfortable in my own skin and head. The typical loneliness and insomnia slumber parties now included new guests: regret, worry and shame. I dreaded when the work day would end, the sun would set, and I would be left alone with my thoughts and an empty apartment. The worst, destructive thoughts came out at night.
I’m sure you’ve experienced something like that — where the loss of a relationship, realization of a betrayal or unveiling of a truth tears down the security of your reality, haunts your waking hours and leaves you cold, open and bleeding — perhaps it’s lingering guilt, a grave mistake, an avoidable mishap with serious consequences?
Loneliness taught me how to deal with life’s lows on my own. Since Seattle, I’ve learned to deal with disappointment, tragedy and misfortunes without the warm, loving support of family and friends. I still struggle with the emotions. Sometimes, I lose sleep, lose my appetite and lose focus. But after having loneliness as a roommate, I gained perspective and confidence: if you let it, everything you feel will pass. Like a cosine function in calculus, life is a wave of events and emotions — it has highs and lows. Ride the highs, Mannie and get through the lows in the most positive way you can. Loneliness taught me how to take care of myself whether someone else was there or not to help. I get up, wash my face, put on makeup, and go to work. This is going to pass. I began to trust myself. I eventually embraced solitude. I live alongside loneliness now and no longer see it as an unwanted stranger — it’s an old friend who visits once in a while, depending on where I am or how long ago I’ve seen my loved ones. It’s a part of my life.
. . .
After Seattle, I moved to Houston and then began to work in rural America, including South Dakota and Nebraska. I met incredible people, with generous hearts and beautiful souls, who thoughtfully brought me spices for my bland hospital food and sweaters for the periodic hospital drafts. I met interesting people, with complex personalities, charming mannerisms and complicated pasts. I met ugly people, with hatred and hostility emanating from their body like heat waves.
Every single contract taught me something new. I learned how to really listen when people told me lies: did they smile more to cover up their ugliness or less to purposely show me their hostility? I perfected my intuition and learned to trust my gut, even if I didn’t know the exact reason why. I learned to be non judgmental when people confided their deepest, darkest secrets to me over hospital cafeteria tables and local bars. I perfected a poker face and constantly challenged my own beliefs and values in the privacy of my own room, unlearning values I was raised with and learning ones that aligned more with my own views.
In South Dakota, I learned to be careful after being pulled over at 3:30 AM and told to sit inside a cop car. Is this how it felt to be pulled over in the middle of nowhere and fear for your safety? Episodes on Dateline of women who were raped by police officers and videos of black men shot point blank were some of the few things that came to mind. I experienced true fear for the first time, realizing how conflicted, vulnerable and unwilling I was trusting a stranger in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. Finding me quickly would be virtually impossible. No one really knew where I was when I was working (or my schedule or my route for that matter). I didn’t even have cellular reception in some areas.
It would be frighteningly quick to shot me on this solitary road. The invincibility and immortality I unknowingly held dear was shattered. How many lives were ended by an officer and a gun on a solitary road, with fear and adrenaline running their system?
After being noticed by cops, I was ignored by locals in some states. I ate breakfast made by people who supported Trump, sitting next to people who didn’t say a word to me. Was this how people felt after segregation was outlawed? Technically included yet clearly separated? Sticking out like a sore thumb with my dark hair, big eyes and olive skin tone, I walked through historic towns that asked me outright if I was an undercover FBI agent. I didn’t get it.
Back home, I never appreciated how precious, beautiful and sacred multiculturalism is; I never knew how easily I took it for granted growing up. In my hometown, diversity was an inherent component in our communities and it was respected, expected and acknowledged: notes to parents in elementary schools were sent in both English and Spanish. We had celebrations in which students dressed up in their respective cultural outfits. Potlucks included kimchi fried rice, tacos and curries.
In some parts of America, however, diversity is a threat that is addressed head on with resistance, anger and hostility. Consequently, understanding personalities, prejudices and behaviors in small towns of America is crucial to understanding where we are today as a nation; I finally understand how Trump came to power.
. . .
. . .
After mid-America, I moved back to metropolitan areas but on the opposite coast. I worked in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Boston. At Boston Medical College, I would walk to the hospital past drug addicts who resembled zombies from Walking Dead. Firsthand, I saw the methadone mile, homelessness and the opiod crisis. I looked at the ghostly, vacant faces of addicts, wondering if someone still existed in this shell of a broken body, if someone still searched and hoped this person would, one day, come home clean. In Boston, when I got sick, I took ubers to clinics and learned how to take care of myself without health insurance, without friends and family. In other states, with mild problems, I self diagnosed and self treated reading textbooks and utilizing what over the counter medications, alternative meds and life changes were available.
In New York, in its beautiful concrete jungle of sirens and suits, Manhattan taught me how to be tough. It beat the naivety out of me, teaching me the same lesson over and over again until I finally learned. You can’t trust people so easily Mannie. I learned to take things slower, cut out the bullshit and move on when the familiar red flags waved signaling it was over.
. . .
Consulting taught me more than I had ever initially signed up for and more than I could have ever known to ask for. It taught me about the world. It taught me about people. It taught me about myself.
After quitting today, I am not sure what’s next. I know it won’t be what I’m doing right now. I ended that today, sealed the envelope and closed this chapter of my life. I burned those ships.
If there is one thing that I know for sure, though, is that I’m a fighter. Regardless of what trouble, heartbreak or fear I’ve had in the past two years, I’ve always gotten up to make the next flight out to a new town. Some people would pack up and go home. I get up and do it all over again.
I cannot wait to experience the next chapter of my life, wherever it takes me and whatever it is. What can that be? Well, I’m currently applying for (more) graduate school. I’m waiting to book flights to work with refugees in Bangladesh. I’m reviewing a job offer in Manhattan. Similar to conquering untouched lands in the 1500s by ships of explorers, the possibilities are still endless today.