Once upon a time nearly a decade ago, it was summer in Chicago, and I was 25. I had graduated with my master’s degree six months earlier, and moved to the city to begin a life as a minion in a PR agency and not much else. I was basically a living, breathing episode of Sex and the City. Sounds fantastic, right?
If we’re going to be honest with one another, you should know this: Graduate school was not the most amazing time in my life. It was a huge adjustment for me, possibly due to leaving my home state for the first time and moving 300 miles away to a North Shore suburb of Chicago where I knew exactly no one and choosing a marketing program that mostly helped me realize that I didn’t want to be in marketing.
Needless to say, the first few months living on my own in Chicago post-graduate school were also not the best. While I had a few friends, it became clear to me that those people would be transient in my life. The people who would end up being the fabric of my Chicago community wouldn’t start to appear for another nine or so months.
That summer, a women I sometimes hung out with dated an Irish guy for a hot minute. He was an athlete. He was doing the Chicago Accenture Triathlon that summer. He was an ex-smoker. He was kind of hard to understand.
One day, this woman, this guy, his friend, and I were sitting on the patio at a bar in Lincoln Park, drinking in the sun, and me, smoking cigarettes because I was having a beverage, and you could still do that back then.
So this guy, the one with the Irish accent, says to me (get the accent ready in your head)…
Irish guy: Why do you smoke?
Me: Because what else am I going to do with my other hand while I’m drinking?
(OK. I don’t actually know what I said.)
Irish guy: I quit smoking.
Me: Good for you. Do you want a cookie?
(I didn’t say that.)
Irish guy: You should read The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. That’s how I quit.
Me: Really? Maybe I’ll check it out… never.”
(These made-up responses sound angry, yes?)
I didn’t quit smoking. Not then. But a few months later, long after his brief romantic encounter with my friend had ended, I remembered what he said, bought the book, and quit.
It doesn’t seem a big thing, I imagine, to the I’ve-never-had-a-cigarette-in-my-life types or even to fair-weather “social smokers” who are able to drop the habit easily. But, for me, quitting smoking meant rearranging my life and my routines, and grappling with who I believed I was. It was the first step on a path that led me to running, to my friends and eventually my husband, and maybe (just maybe) to the place I am now, shedding other bad habits and preparing for more major changes.
But back to the Irish guy: Back then, I gave him credit for being the catalyst—the force that knocked over that first domino. And I don’t doubt that, in the briefest of moments, he said something very important to me. I am forever grateful to him for delivering a message. But as I think about it now, I realize I need to give myself credit for choosing to listen, taking action, and moving my life in a different direction. The truth is, I was always capable, and I still am.