I love you, but you’re bringing me down

I went back to New York in June not only because I like New York in June, but also because I had specific plans. As I wrote in my previous post, I intended “to make up for last year’s ‘lost’ summer, catch up with my friends and family, and take the attorney’s oath.” I did all that and so much more… I made great new friends, expanded my professional network, applied for a few awesome jobs. It’s hard to believe I was there for only 39 days—I mean, 40. (The original plan was to stay for 39 days, but I ended up staying for 40 days. All part of the story.)

In only 40 days, I got a taste of New York’s best and worst. Having to go to the UPS Customer Center in Maspeth. Interviewing with firms in The New York Times Building and the Bank of America Tower. Depending on the G train. Being offered an internship. Leaving a job interview knowing that they wouldn’t call me back. And the most amazing thing is that I can’t precisely indicate which of those experiences were good or bad. New York City, more than any other place I’ve been, reminded me that life can be surprising.

I arrived in New York reading Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” and I couldn’t finish the book while I was there. In my job search as in my readings, I left New York with great expectations: two very promising (and, in my mind, highly likely) job opportunities that could lead me back there later this year.

  1. I met a partner in a big law firm. He gave me the best job advice ever, and said he would like to explore the possibility of hiring me as a junior associate. After our first meeting, I was interviewed by three of his partners. When I left New York, he and his partners were considering whether or not to hire me.
  2. I applied for a position in human rights advocacy with a Christian organization. It was so interested in interviewing me that it paid for me to postpone my flight to California. (It was because of this Christian organization that I ended up staying for 40 days—a biblically significant period—rather than 39 days. Voilà.) When I left New York, they were considering whether or not to hire me.

I left there with profound realizations, too. At this point, I must share a few paragraphs I wrote for an email update—to my New York friends—a few days after I left, when I was in California. I ended up sending the email update without these paragraphs, because at the time I thought they were slightly bitter, but it’s interesting to reread them now. They may be slightly bitter, but they are still current and true.

For two years I’ve been asking God for job opportunities in New York (or Geneva, but leading back to New York!), while always adding, “but Your will be done.” I have come so close to offers in both places—and ended up with nothing at all. If these last two fail, I should probably take this succession of almost-successes as a negative answer.

The bottom line is: these two [law firm and human rights organization] are my final attempts to find a job in New York for now. While I had an awesome 40 days there, spending quality time with many of my friends, realizing that New York is where most of my friends are, confirming that it’s where I want to be, and feeding the illusion that (despite being a foreigner) my education and (legal, language, and other) skills would allow me to make it there as a lawyer, it may be time I get real and go back to the only place the Westphalian system of sovereign nation-states allows me to live and work without visa sponsorship: Brazil.

As of now I have no idea why God may apparently want me to be there. I feel as much of a foreigner in Brazil as in the U.S., Switzerland, or anywhere else I’ve been. Maybe that’s the damage my “internationalized young adulthood” caused me and I’ll get over it eventually, but maybe that’s just my Christian self—I’ll be a foreigner anywhere I am.

A week after I left New York, the law firm partner called me to say he and his partners were not in a position to make me an offer of employment. He did, however, recommend me to three law firms in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. All of them were quick to write me back. In my first few weeks back in Brazil, I was interviewed by all of them (and did quite a bit of traveling on my own expense for those interviews), but none of them was in a position to make me an offer of employment. And last week the human rights organization wrote that they chose a more experienced candidate.

Back to the only place the Westphalian system of sovereign nation-states allows me to live and work without visa sponsorship. Back to the job search. Back to square one.

New York loves me… loves me not.

The same day I was rejected for the human rights advocacy position, I was offered a job in a boutique law firm in Brazil. No, not one of the firms recommended by the New York partner; a fourth one, recommended by a Brazilian friend. It’s a generous offer of employment (for Brazilian standards), to do interesting work with domestic and international business contracts in Porto Alegre, the capital of my home state. Where I never thought my qualifications and experience and skills would be valued. Where I have family and some of my best friends. Where people don’t think I have an accent different than their own. Where I could sooner or later develop a sense of belonging. I still feel like a foreigner around here, but life can be surprising, after all.

I got the offer a week ago. Last Sunday I attended worship service with friends in Porto Alegre. Interestingly, the preacher spoke about human rights (!), but that’s not the point I want to make here. One of the biblical passages he displayed on the screen was the Lord’s instruction to the Israelites exiled in Babylon:

Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. (Jeremiah 29:7, NIV)

That’s the New International Version in English, but what the preacher showed on the screen was the Portuguese version, which translated back into English reads:

Seek the prosperity of the city to which I deported you, and pray to the LORD for it, because your prosperity depends on its prosperity. (Jeremiah 29:7, NIV)

I haven’t been technically deported, but it does feel like I’ve been deported back to my home state. And of course I want to prosper (and who doesn’t?). So what I must do is quite clear: work and pray for the prosperity of this city and my home state. It’s clear to me that New York is the place where I most aspired to be, at least for now. At the same time, it’s now equally clear to me that New York is not the place where God wants me to be, at least for now. And I’m sure that’s for my own good.

Why do I keep saying “at least for now?” A friend asked,

Is that part of the spiritual take on the situation?

Yes, it is. I’ll explain with what another friend wrote me the other day:

As for your dream of going to New York, I think that, although it may be God’s will not to lead you there right now, it doesn’t mean that He will never lead you back there. Consider whether this dream flies in the face of God’s principles. If this is not the case, I don’t think God would let you have this dream without allowing you to make it real someday. In other words, don’t quit.

I fully agree. I know “there is an appointed time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). It could well be that I’ll go back to New York eventually, or it could be that my time there is over. There’s no way of knowing it for sure, so I’m taking one day—or year—at a time. Yesterday I formally accepted the Porto Alegre offer, and I’m committed to staying at least a few years. Work starts next Thursday.

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