Reflecting on the past to appreciate the future
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...”
I took a week off from my email and blogging schedule to reflect on the past and immerse myself wholly in my new routine. Last Thursday was my last day working at YouTube HQ in San Bruno, CA. A week prior to that, there was an active shooter on that very campus. Needless to say, it was a strange and emotional week for me. The following weekend left me feeling protective of my emotions and my time. I just wanted to sit with my family and sit with my memories. I reflected on my time with YouTube and with my colleagues over the years… but mostly I thought about where I was before I had the privilege of working at a company like Google.
I’ve been writing a lot this week...just not from my desk. If you’ve ever spent a day with me, you’ll know I’m a geek about using voice dictation as a means to text and email. What you may not know, is that I write a lot of my blog content this way as well. I didn’t anticipate sharing this particular voice-to-text entry, but after sitting on it for a few days, I think it’s an important reminder to never forget A) how far we’ve come and B) to be grateful for every person, experience, and opportunity that comes into our lives. I don’t believe in chance encounters and feel as though each person I’ve ever met has provided for me in one way or another. So here we go.
On my drive home from San Bruno that Thursday afternoon, my mind began replaying every day, week, year I’d spent at YouTube. I wound up imagining myself a decade younger, living a life I barely remember. Where the 280 Hwy splits into the 101, I made a sharp decision to stay to the left towards 19th Avenue instead of my usual route across the Bay Bridge back to home.
After a scenic detour down 19th Avenue, I stopped in Cole Valley, my favorite San Francisco neighborhood. It also happens to be the place I lived just before I moved in with Mike and we began our journey together. In Cole Valley, I felt painfully nostalgic for my youth, for the carefree days of riding Muni, dining al fresco at Cafe Reverie, and having a solo beer at the dive bar next to my apartment.
I sat outside at a bistro table on the corner of Carl and Cole, watching the tech workers and their shining badges pour out of the commuter train at 6 pm like clockwork. That wasn’t me anymore. I smiled to myself watching new mothers inch their way out of their walk-up buildings, infants strapped to their torsos and remembered a time before I had kids, dreaming I would one day look just like them, raising a child in the city. I wasn’t.
I ordered a margarita because I felt festive, or sad. And later, at the old-fashioned ice cream parlor, I ordered a slice of rhubarb pie — not because I was hungry, but simply because it was my favorite as a kid and the nostalgia train was in the station. While I was sitting there, I noticed an attractive young family eating sundaes. They had a son about Max’s age and when I studied the mother (as we do), I was shocked to see that I knew her…
It was Megan, someone I knew from another life. She was my very first (read: only) friend when I turned up in San Francisco a dozen years ago. We had both been desperate to find a girlfriend to explore the city with and set ourselves up on a blind date at Starbucks on Union Street. Here, we learned just enough about each other to know we were compatible for exploration and drinks out, and thus began an important, albeit short-lived friendship.
Megan was from Connecticut and looked the part. Long, chestnut hair, large doe eyes, pearl studded earrings, Kate Spade ballet flats, and polo shirts in every color. I was the stereotypical California native. Bleached blonde hair, suntanned skin (beyond reason), faded denim, and a scar where my lip ring used to sit. What we lacked in a shared aesthetic, we made up for in our common vision of the future. We shared an idea of what success and happiness looked like — getting a job, marrying someone great, and having children. #basic
We pooled our cash together to try out nice restaurants in the Marina district, where we lived and worked — she as a nanny for a wealthy family, and me as a hostess at a restaurant I despised. Despite being busy students and working an awful lot, we used our friendship as a means to find a social life beyond just the two of us. We played off each other’s naivete to earn invites to parties and local happenings.
Four or six months into our friendship, we each found boyfriends to explore the city with instead, which I guess was the ultimate goal. We lost touch and never saw each other again. This was before I was on Facebook and that’s just how things ended back then. Over the years, I’ve wondered about Megan many times. I wondered if she ever “made it” like I did…
...and here she was. Eating a sundae with her beautiful son and husband. She remembered my name and introduced me to her husband as her “first friend in San Francisco,” which was a relief she felt the same about me as I did her. He clearly recalled who I was, although we’d never met. Knowing that she had spoken about me to her husband filled me with warmth and surprise, and I wondered what else he knew about me… What mark had I left on Megan?
And it was this thought… “what mark have I left,” that filled my mind as I finally made my way home to my current life, to my family in the East Bay. I thought of past boyfriends, teachers, pupils, neighbors… minor and major characters in my life… each one so different, so impossible to know then what lessons I’d learn from knowing them, and what’d I’d left behind that would alter their lives in different ways.
By the time I reached home, full of sugar and sweet memories, I was floating. What a wonderful journey I had that day. What a wonderful journey I’ve had in life. From wayward student to a successful businesswoman with two children. I thought of Megan, too. An unlikely duo, but we’d made it. Few people in my life today knew me like she knew me. A secret self, buried in my own memories. Yet, she smiled a real smile when she saw me.
The wildest part is I feel like my life is just beginning in many ways. This is merely Chapter 2 and I have literal goosebumps thinking about what’s next. Again, I lean on nostalgia for comfort about the future. I believe Dr. Suess is right…
"You know what you know, and YOU are the one to decide where you’ll go.”
Looking at this photo pains me (was my scalp on fire?!), but I’m instantly transported to a time before I’d heard the words, “key performance indicator” or “quarterly earnings report” and it feels kind of amazing to be coming full circle.
If you’re so inclined, I’d love to know, who YOU were a dozen years ago. Were there any minor characters in your life who helped you in a surprisingly big way? I’d love to read about it. :)