I probably wouldn’t have noticed him otherwise.
My first night in San Francisco for the job trek, I reunited with an old friend over dinner to celebrate her 27th birthday. At a little past 10 p.m., we finally gave up the herculean quest to finish the ambitiously sized birthday crepes we had ordered—and asked the waitress sheepishly for to-go boxes. Then, armed with what was probably the world’s largest dessert crepe, I headed back to the Airbnb where a few other first-year’s and I were staying in Fisherman’s Wharf.
At the intersection of Jones and Beach, I passed a man sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk with his back pressed against the railing, where he apparently planned to spend the night. He issued a pleasant greeting and asked me for some spare change. Without slowing my steps, I demurred and wished him a good night.
The Pre-Business School Self
Prior to business school, I had volunteered at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter (HSHS) for the better half of a decade. Having grown up in the States as a first-generation immigrant and daughter of a widow who spoke little English and struggled to find gainful employment, I identified with those who lacked not just economic but also sociopolitical capital, and by the time I matriculated to Harvard, I knew I would spend the rest of my life serving and advocating for them, vocationally or otherwise.
HSHS offered a space to do exactly that for a stigmatized population whom I befriended over the years during and outside of my volunteer shifts. When I left Cambridge this fall, one of these friends, Harold, gave me a big bear hug, reminded me to cut back on my infamous spam-and-rice dinners and implored me to come back soon.
The Business School Self
In the madness of the fall semester, however, I had forgotten Harold and other friends like him. The barrage of classes, group projects, club meetings, recruiting events and happy hours, among others, jockeyed for my attention, as they did my classmates’. Somehow, in the process of adapting to school, my conscious became awash in a sea of activities and questions related to my learning, my professional development and my enjoyment: Where should I go for my International Experience? How can the SF job trek enhance my candidacy for work in Silicon Valley? How many drafts of my cover letter is enough?
In retrospect, in giving in to my fear of missing out on the unique offerings of business school, I seem to have ended up doing a lot of navel-gazing and little to none of that which had previously defined my values and purpose. Whereas my pre-business school self would have stopped to speak with the homeless man on the street corner, my new self was usually on the phone, too absorbed in thought or late to yet another engagement—regardless, too distracted to notice, much less stop for, anyone on the street.
A Friend Named Valentine
Several steps later down Beach Street, I remembered—for a brief moment, at least—who I was and what I had in my hands. I turned back to ask the man at the corner, somewhat doubtfully, “Would you happen to like s’more-flavored crepes?” He said yes.
The last night of the trek, I was cleaning out our rental when I stumbled upon some bread and fresh fruit that I had purchased earlier in the week. Per a friend’s suggestion, I returned to the corner of Jones and Beach, where the last owner of the world’s largest dessert crepe was huddled in the 30-degree cold. To my surprise, he remembered me, and again, he accepted the bread and fruit with enthusiasm. This time, I told him my name, and he introduced himself as “Valentine.”
When I bid him good-bye, Valentine suddenly kissed my hand. “God bless you,” he said.
On my way home, I could hardly hold back the tears. Conventionally, my peers and I refer to the fear of missing out in the context of, say, a talk by one of Yale’s many luminaries, the annual ski trip or the latest house party.
For me, amidst the enlightening, engaging and sometimes overwhelming pace of business school life, this is what I fear missing out on the most—remembering and getting to know people like Valentine.