Tales from the Underground

It started like any other morning on the Number 6 train, New York's notoriously crowded subway line. Still bleary-eyed and on my way to the gym at 7:15 this morning, I heard the door between the subway cars slam shut and a familiar refrain begin: "Excuse me ladies and gentlemen. I'm not going to ask you for money, or for food, or try to tell you about Jesus." The panhandlers are starting early, I thought.

But what I heard next came as a complete surprise. "No, I'm looking for a job. I work in corporate finance down on Wall Street, and I'm trying to find a job in marketing or PR." This mid-20s self-promoter was no vagabond. Dressed in a crisp striped oxford and slacks, his fist clenching a stack of envelopes stuffed with resumes at the ready, he looked every part the eager young professional. Before my pre-caffeine brain woke up enough to realize it would be great to give the kid a call - for a story, not a job - the train pulled into my station and he had disappeared from sight.

Still, the episode left me pondering networking and job-hunting in this still-tight economy. Has it come to this? Begging on the subway for a job? Nah. This kid may have had gumption on steroids, but he also had a job, on Wall Street, no less. It just wasn't the job he wanted. Or the industry he wanted, either.

My morning encounter was a great reminder that to make those things happen - to get the careers we really want, to create the lives we really desire - we sometimes need to take risks, talk to people we wouldn't otherwise, and step far outside our comfort zone. Back in May, former Fast Company managing editor Nate Nickerson wrote about embracing risk as he made a critical career decision. Sure, we don't all need to start networking on the subway. But a little gumption on steroids probably wouldn't hurt.

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