April 18, 2023
By: David Huang
It was a mid-October afternoon, one of those afternoons where time seemed to pause for a second as the dying rays of the sun sank below the buildings, illuminating the skyscraper windows into brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and coral.
“So, what career paths are you interested in?” she asked.
“I… don’t know yet. Banking, maybe,” I replied. “That’s what everybody here does, right?” The autumn breeze blew across the plaza with just enough winter chill to make me shiver.
“A lot of people choose that,” she scoffed. “But you’re free to choose whatever you want. What about a PM role?”
I stared at her blankly. “Like being a prime minister?”
Can’t get a view like this in New York. Courtesy of David Huang
I remember coming to NYU over eight months ago and attending my first few club meetings. At the end of every meeting, the e-board members would always enthusiastically promote their coffee chat Google Forms, adding how they couldn’t wait to meet everyone.
At the time, I didn’t see the point of the chats. After all, wasn’t there enough information on their websites to learn all I needed to know? Or just send an email to clarify anything that wasn’t there? If you wanted to meet me so badly, why not interview me?
But in reality, these coffee chats become a way for us to learn about others – and market ourselves. When you coffee chat upperclassmen, you learn about their experiences and the path they took. Even if they pursue an industry you’re not interested in, it becomes a glimpse into the road you didn’t take – or might take in the future. You learn about how they navigated college, how they spend their time, and how they changed. And they learn about you, too. You talk to them about your experiences, fears, and motivations. Mutually, you learn about each other and leave a little more enlightened.
With a professional, it’s no different, albeit a bit more business-like. You learn about their experiences, their firm, and their industry. Maybe you’ll even ask for a referral at the end, a gesture from them to propel you on your own career-searching journey.
The lessons and knowledge I have today wouldn’t exist without the help of people I’ve talked to. Who knew PM didn’t stand for prime minister, or that “Recycle, Reuse, and Reduce” wasn’t a framework for consulting? Their advice and stories have shaped my own path in college, both professionally and personally.
Yet I think something is always lost in these coffee chats. Humans are social animals, and we crave friendship and closeness. We value knowing others who can share our experiences, understand our concerns, and be there to listen to us.
But coffee chats don’t do that. Rather, they turn the long, arduous task of forming relationships with others into a quick, standardized conversation over the phone. Why’d you choose your industry? Why’d you choose your firm? If the conversation is going well, what’s something you like to do? Ectara, ectara. It’s not like we don’t care, and we usually do, but at the end of the day, coffee chats become merely a business exchange of superficial knowledge and interests. It’s not like we can ever really become friends with the 22-year-old analyst at Goldman Sachs that just happened to be part of Marketing Society, can we? Who they are to us in our little world is just cell B91 in coffee_chat_tracker.xlsx.
It's okay that coffee chats ultimately don’t amount to a real friendship. Most conversations in general don’t. But coffee chats turn our conversations and relationships into business transactions. When we meet new people, we wonder – are they worth our time? How can they further my career? If they don’t pass our litmus test of importance, we’ll become uninterested and ignore them. Our time is precious, right? We can’t be wasting it on someone who won’t help us. I think most of us are guilty of this to some degree. We can’t be friends with everyone, and we have to pick and choose who we get to know.
Are you friends with every person you’ve met in your life? Courtesy of David Huang
It's often said that NYU can be a lonely school. Everyone is isolated somewhere in the city, working on their own projects and chasing their own dreams. But NYU isn’t the only place of loneliness and sadness. College in and of itself is a lonely experience. It’s the first time most people say goodbye to their parents and leave their homes. We spend our time in huge lecture halls surrounded by unfamiliar faces, often hundreds of miles from home. We sleep in foreign beds and stay up late in the library studying for our fifth midterm.
So, we make friends to ease that transition. We talk to and learn about others. We share in their little moments of happiness and sadness. We understand who they are, their own motivations, and their experiences.
Remember the first few days of school? It was a mad rush to meet someone, anyone who we could be with, so we didn’t look like the odd one out at the dining hall. We talked to people outside the classroom, by the fountain, in the elevator…
A lot of that original fervor and desperation is gone now. People found friends they could be with. Routines were created. And people grew busy. We began to slowly sink back into our own small worlds each lit by our own suns of desire. Different deadlines, priorities, and interests propped up along the horizon, and attempts to make friends turned into coffee chat requests scheduled sent for 8 AM tomorrow morning.
Even the sun sets on paradise. Courtesy of David Huang
The longest study on human happiness conducted by Harvard found that health and happiness in life are directly correlated to having strong relationships with others. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People sold more than 30 million copies, the same amount as classics like The Great Gatsby and 1984. Clearly, friendships are something crucial to our well-being, and something we so desperately crave. It determines who we are and how we act as people. Yet it feels all too often that these important relationships are overshadowed by other interests, concerns, and problems.
I might be too harsh on coffee chats. I’m still friends with many people I’ve talked to, and I’ve definitely continued to make friends at NYU. But for many of us, making friends has taken a backburner as other parts of our lives take precedence. We drift on a stream, the flow and ebb of the water taking us to new people. Gone is the eagerness and passion, replaced by a dull indifference. Eventually, we meet someone interesting, but that’s for fate – not us – to decide.
Why not approach making friends with the same energy and engagement we do with coffee chats? Building strong relationships is as important, if not more important, than knowing people from a firm. Instead of letting opportunities pass you by, why not take control of who you meet and who you get to know? The friends we make today become the foundation of our happiness and network tomorrow. It’s a skill so many people want to perfect and an indispensable part of who we are and what we become.
So maybe next time you strike up a conversation with someone in the elevator or in the grocery store line, maybe get to know them a little better. Make plans outside of school with your group project teammates. Take time to catch up with people you haven’t spoken to in a while.
Remember, no man is an island, entire of itself.
David Huang is a freshman studying finance and management at NYU Stern with a minor in computer science. In his free time, he loves to explore new places, make films, and follow world events.