On a sweltering morning in August of 1992, I was living in New York City, fresh out of grad school. The entire city seemed miserable that day, as the mercury surged upwards, hitting 90‐plus degrees before 8 a.m. Everyone was surly, damp, and unhappy, save for me.

As I strolled up Park Avenue South, I violated all the rules I'd learned in the past five years living in Manhattan. I smiled. I nodded. I made eye contact with each passerby. I even committed the cardinal sin of saying hello. People rushed past me, assuming the heat had driven me out of my mind. What strangers on the street didn't know was that my joy stemmed from finally having landed a job.

The country was still recovering from a recession at that time. I'd quickly learned that a grad school degree was no guarantee of success, no promise of gainful employment. I'd interviewed for months and had been in a full‐on panic as late spring turned to midsummer. My mailbox was full of ding letters. I papered the walls of my studio apartment with rejections from places like Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan. I was miserable. Until then, I never knew how many ways a letter could say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” or how a single sheet of paper could alter my destiny.

The idea of not working was entirely foreign to me. I'd maintained some form of employment since I was 10 years old and had hustled to find neighborhood grade‐schoolers I could escort to the door of their classrooms for a small fee. While my parents were emotionally ...

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