My parents immigrated to the US in 1988 to fulfill their dreams of owning a home with a backyard in a neighborhood where their children could ride their bikes freely. It was challenging. They came here with nothing; my mother cleaned airplanes, while my father was a bus driver. With no college degrees of their own, my parents fought to give their children a chance for a better life. They struggled to build their legacy and reminded us daily that if we worked hard enough, we could make it anywhere. I kept that sentiment after my college graduation when I decided to leave my small town and take a chance to find success in New York City. I arrived in the middle of Times Square in 2012 with no job or apartment lined up. My early jobs varied from distributing flyers, cleaning offices, and even tagging clothes for Fashion Week.
Finding My Own Way
Life seemed uncertain, and I understood there were no guarantees. I found myself wondering many times if I had made a mistake. I struggled with how unprepared I was and the failures and missteps that followed. There is a frame on my wall today that holds my one-way ticket to NYC and a crumpled napkin I scribbled on with the basics I needed to make it: food, shelter, job, and transportation. I kept these items close each time I moved. One room I rented turned into an unsafe situation, but I couldn’t afford a new place. I ended up sleeping on the floor at one of my jobs until a friend I met through work let me stay on their couch. Then a family gave me a room in exchange for babysitting and cleaning. They didn’t let me pay rent so I could save enough for an apartment.
That period of my life was difficult and humbling, but I’m grateful to those who showed me kindness and the little things that reminded me of my mission. I looked at these trials as learning opportunities that were preparing me for a future I could not see.
When I kept getting rejections and no responses to job applications, I had to take initiative and ask for help or I wouldn’t make rent. Unfortunately, I didn’t do this right away and it took me botching a major interview, which I originally thought went well, to show that my blindspots were keeping me from advancing to the next round. At this point, I was now willing and motivated to ask for feedback. I had the drive to move forward, but I needed input on how to get to where I wanted.
The Turning Point
I emailed a staffing consultant and met with her to go over my resume and how to navigate interviews. It was terrifying to showcase my imperfections and have my interview responses and emails picked apart. I admit it didn’t feel great after the initial session, and I wasn’t getting job offers immediately. I continued to show up, despite my discomfort and embarrassment, because I wanted to achieve my goals of working and living in Manhattan. She helped me find temp jobs during the week while I babysat on the weekends. I listened to her recommendations, and eventually she called to say I landed a full-time position. I cried on the subway platform when I got the news; it was the first time I had been offered a salary.
Eight years later, I’m still working in Manhattan, but my goals and struggles look different now than when I moved here. I continue to work on my strengths and my blindspots, as difficult as it can be sometimes, even if it means asking for help again. I take every opportunity to learn from others as well as offer guidance to those just starting out like I did. During hard times, we can lean into each other and lend our expertise and time to help those in need. It’s those moments when we can be of service that help us put things in perspective and focus less on what we don’t have.
Each of us will continue to face different struggles and setbacks in life, but the dreams we have for ourselves and our families push us to show up every day. The lessons we learn and the feedback we receive in the midst of it are what propel our dreams forward. Building a legacy doesn’t happen overnight; my story isn’t over yet and neither is yours. The journey itself can create incredible meaning in one’s life and for later generations. Just like for my parents, who, after 16 years, were finally able to show me and my brothers our new home with a backyard. They were happy to say they had finally made it.