Let’s rewind to June 2010 and be brutally honest for a moment here. It was my first two weeks in New Zealand, and I was miserable.
I had just quit my cush, well-paying finance job, said goodbye to my supportive family and amazing friends, and bought a one-way ticket to Queenstown, New Zealand. Here I was meant to be having the adventure of a lifetime and seeing sights so beautiful I might go blind.
Instead, I was lonely. And cold.
For someone who had lived within an hour of where I grew up my entire life, landing in New Zealand on my own felt like being emergency-ejected into unknown territory. I quickly decided that to make any friends I’d have to get a job, but there were so many backpackers around and very little employment. For a few days I walked up and down the streets of the tiny town, being told at every bar or restaurant that they weren’t hiring. People weren’t as friendly as I thought they’d be; or at least not in the way I was used to. When I came “home”, it was to a tiny bedroom I’d rented in the home of an older Indian couple. They kept their house so freezing cold I never wanted to go to the bathroom or shower.
My one solace was that the mountain had opened. One afternoon, I’d come back from a day of snowboarding (alone) and needed to get gas. In NZ, you fill up your tank and then you go inside and pay whatever you owe. The cashier was a tall, friendly Brazilian guy named Victor with longish hair and a beard. We started chatting, and seeing that I was in my snowboarding clothes, he told me he was going snowboarding for the first time tomorrow. Was it hard to learn? “Well, do you have someone to teach you?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “I’m just going by myself.”
Well then it’s going to be freaking hard, I thought. I tried to save him from a day of misery on the bunny slopes. “It is really hard to learn if you don’t have someone to teach you…Try to get a friend to go with you, it’ll help a lot.” He smiled, agreed, and we said goodbye and see you around.
As I walked out to my car, I heard a little voice pipe up in my head. “Wait! I have a great idea! You should take him!!!” the little voice said.
“What?? No, that’d be so weird.” My rational voice gave my little voice crazy eyes.
“Why not?” Little Voice replied. “You have nothing better to do. It would be the nice thing to do. And it could be fun.”
“But he’s going to think I’m creepy and desperate,” whined Rational Gloria, who was already pulling out of the parking lot.
“Let’s be honest, you kind of are right now,” Little Voice retorted. She started to retreat, disappointed and shut down.
“OH SCREW IT,” Rational Gloria said, and turned the car around, right back into that gas station. I marched up to the cashier’s booth. “I could teach you how to snowboard,” I said, a little bit too loudly.
“Really?!” Victor’s face lit up with incredulous surprise. “That would be fantastic!”
We made plans to head up Friday.
The following day, Thursday, was particularly rough for me. Tired of feeling rejected by every potential employer in Queenstown, I just sat in that room with my little $20 space heater blazing. A couple of friends chatted me: “How’s NZ?!” I pretended to be away from the computer, not wanting to tell them I didn’t know how I was going to get through the day. I thought about everything I left back home. I wanted to scream and climb out of my skin.
Around early afternoon, I suddenly had the urge to just go. It’s not working out here, Go somewhere else. You could drive anywhere you want and find somewhere better. I looked at my things and how quickly I could pack them. I was suddenly full of lust for the road, for escape. Go, I thought. You have no obligations here.
Well, except one. I had promised this stranger I would teach him how to snowboard tomorrow. After feeling so shut out by this entire town, I didn’t want to do that to one of the few people I’d made a connection with. I decided to stay for one more day to keep my promise.
I spent all the next day teaching Victor to ride, and we became fast friends. I told him about how I’d love to work at the mountain, but that they had finished hiring already. “A lot of people from Remarks and Coronet [the two local mountains] come into the gas station,” he said. “I’ll ask around for you if there are any jobs.”
That day gave me some hope again. The first thing I did when I got back was find a new place to live. I found a house up on Fernhill Road to share with a sleepy-looking Australian bartender and an American guy in his 30s who was from Aspen, had long hair, cursed generously, made fun of Kiwis, and offered me a beer and plate of pasta right when I walked in. The place was a total bachelor pad but I liked these guys right away. They were vulgar, funny, and warm. I moved in that night.
A couple days later, Victor ran up to my house excitedly to tell me that he had heard from a guy from Remarks that they were doing some last minute hiring in the cafe. I was headed up there the following day anyway with my new housemate Matty, and after an awesome day snowboarding I remembered what Victor had told me. At this point I wasn’t 100% sure I needed or wanted a job anymore. I had my housemates, Victor, and was making other friends. But the little voice piped up again as I was taking my boots off in the parking lot. What the hell, you always wanted to work at a mountain. Why not go inside and give it a shot? I ran back up to the cafe before I could change my mind, and asked for the manager. I was his last interview of the day.
My first day working at Remarks, they assigned me to the till (cash register). I was studying the buttons when suddenly I heard a loud, unmistakably American voice cut through the din. “San Fran-cisco.” I looked up to see a dark-ish kid of ambiguous ethnic origin with a huge, mischievous grin on his face and a mess of curly hair on top of his head. He was eyeing up my name tag, which showed my name and hometown. “You’re not a Giants fan, are you?”
Before I responded, I glanced at his name tag. It read, “Steve: Los Angeles.”
Those who know me know how the rest of the story goes. I had an amazing season, eventually moving out of the cafe and to work on the lifts with some of the most insane and interesting people I’ll ever meet. That loud American kid from LA became one of my best friends. We were both in love with snowboarding, and one day we suddenly figured out that we were also in love with each other. After the season was done I moved to Aspen with him and the American housemate with the crazy hair and the big heart. I guess the rest is history.
I often think about that day at the gas station. What would’ve happened if I hadn’t turned around? I don’t know if I would’ve stayed in Queenstown at all. Even if I had stayed, I wouldn’t have worked at the mountain, and I definitely would never have met Steve. If I didn’t listen to that little voice that afternoon, I genuinely don’t know where I’d be today. Of course I think I would’ve found an incredible adventure no matter what route I took, and I probably still would’ve ended up in Colorado at some point. But it’s strange to think how close I came to not leading this particular life.
Before I left California, my father said, “The trajectory of our lives is often determined by seemingly small and innocent decisions.” That’s been one of the most truthful things he’s ever told me. I’ve heard that little voice many other times since. Every time I’ve listened, it’s opened me up to experiences that have forever altered the course of my life.
I guess some people would call that little voice your intuition. Some might call it your heart. Hell, maybe it’s your reptile brain. Whatever you call it, it’s definitely not your reason. The next time you hear it, don’t shut it out. Listen to it, even if it’s telling you to do something that is a little crazy or scary. Because it knows a thing or two about your deepest desires. And you just never know to whom or where it’ll lead you.