John: Where did you grow up?
Nicole: I was born and raised in California, born in Oakland and raised in Oakley. Equal distance from Manhattan to mid-Long Island Huntington. Suburban life in the Bay Area, west coast.
John: Tell me about Oakley.
Nicole: Oakley was a small suburban town east of San Francisco. It’s been rapidly growing over the years and even though it has become an actual city with an ever-growing population, in my memory it will always be the same family town with one main grocery store, no high school other than a neighboring town to attend, and mostly farm land surrounding the area.
John: What made it special?
Nicole: The small-town vibe for all of us who grew up in that environment. Bike rides along the delta waters and being able to enjoy the freedom of what it meant to be a kid growing up there. Kids could go outside with the unspoken rule of being home when the streetlights came on at night. Something you cannot do these days.
John: Was it like Huntington or like East Meadow?
Nicole: To be honest, I do not really know what East Meadow is like. I’ve only been living in New York for 8 years. I am not completely familiar with many of the surrounding areas. However I do love Huntington, I feel at home here.
John: Was it ritzy, or was it more blue-collar
Nicole: Blue collar, absolutely.
John: Why did you come to New York?
Nicole: For my career. I was in retail management with multi-store experience as well as had been a part of 17 new store openings across the country. The Vice President of my company called me directly and proposed an opportunity regarding a new position they were creating for me located on Long Island (for the expansion of stores on the East Coast). I had only attended my local community college and did not have the life experience of moving away from home like most other young adults I knew, so I decided to take the job. It was an all-expense paid for the opportunity. I also was not married nor did I have children, so it made sense for me to get on a plane and go. I was happy to be thought of as “talented enough” for the VP to call me directly.
John: So, you came to New York and you worked fashion retail. What happened next?
Nicole: It was the biggest personal and professional growth experience of my life, which I am still continuing to evolve. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. Professionally, the individuals that were running the North East area didn’t have the same moral values that I was used to with this company, especially given my long history with them. So, when I realized it was not a situation that could be corrected, it led to a mutual separation. I didn’t want to be a part of something I couldn’t be proud of. I had been with that company for a long time. I watched it grow from 56 stores to over 500 in plans, so I was not prepared for the outcome that had happened.
John: Did it hurt your ego?
Nicole: Absolutely! I was only living here for 1 year at the time. I had spent so much time and energy over the years on the development of my professional career I didn’t notice I was sacrificing so much of my personal life in the process. I had left my family, friends, current relationship and home that I own to move across the country alone, only to feel like I had failed myself. Although it ended up being the best choice, it was a difficult pill to swallow.
John: What made you stay in New York?
Nicole: I spent 8 months unemployed but used that time to refocus on myself. I traveled some of the east coast, was able to spend the holidays with family and enjoy the spirit of what it truly offers without the stress of work. I knew in my heart of hearts that California wasn’t for me. I had vivid dreams in my teenage years of being in Manhattan, and after moving here I had a sense of peace. Like I belonged. The time gave the opportunity for me to learn what was important and the direction I wanted to take. It allowed me to figure out if I wanted to remain in New York or move back to California, it’s now 7 years later and I have no plans of returning.
John: What do you love about New York?
Nicole: I love the culture and the historical presence, the people, network ability, the vibe, and overall energy. Also, geographically I think it’s great. Anything you could ever wish for or to do is within a 2 hour, at most, drive in any direction. It’s also better for my health as well.
Nicole: I have Raynaud Phenomenon.
John: Tell me more about this.
Nicole: It is a condition where all blood flow in your fingertips and your toes is lost when there is a temperature change, it’s like ET. Everything goes numb and turns white. In California, it could be 110 degrees outside and when I went inside to an air-conditioned room of 80 degrees, it would happen. It’s because the climate is so dry it makes it feel to the body that a much more dramatic change has occurred. But here, I could go from 70 degrees inside to 40 degrees outside in winter and it’s not as severe. It still happens but because the outside is humid, the shock to the body is not as dramatic.
John: So you feel better here?
Nicole: Absolutely! Physically I feel better, it’s a huge difference. My quality of life has improved because the feeling in my extremities remains.
John: What else do you like about Long Island New York?
Nicole: I enjoy being in a central area. Having Manhattan and the Hamptons 1-2 hours east or west. Twenty minutes north or south brings either kind of beach; rocky on the north shore and sandy on the south. In California, the opportunity to participate in sports is limited unless it’s an activity your high school offers. On Long Island, there are so many opportunities to get involved in sports or other activities within the community. There are always people to see and meet being it is such a huge networking community on the island which is completely different than Where I grew up in California.
John: Do you feel we are at a much faster pace here?
Nicole: No, not at all. Here, the density of the population along with a smaller area makes it feel like it’s busier but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is.
John: I understand. What does the future hold for you?
Nicole: That’s the conundrum I’m facing now.
John: Tell me more about this dilemma.
Nicole: Fifteen years ago I was in a relationship, unfortunately, that person passed away in a motorcycle accident. Since then I have had many difficult times ranging from heartbreak, loss of friends and loved ones, an abortion, moving across the country, loss or changing of careers, and other situations as well. Within these years I have also had amazing accomplishments that I am so proud of from thriving professionally, being brave enough to move across the country, purchase a home, and the rebuild of a wonderful life. 2020, like many others, has afforded me time. Time to reflect and unknowingly “wake up” regarding everything that I’ve been through or done these last 15 years. What I’ve come to notice is that I’ve been living life on autopilot. As I become more self-aware I am learning that the dramatic situations and trauma I have gone through have created gaps in my mind and my memories which is scary to realize. So to circle back to your original question, I am currently working on changing my life’s direction. I am fortunate and blessed with the ability to be able to have this time to reflect on life. I wish to go back to school with a focus on helping people become better versions of themselves and to help them deal with trauma and loss so that no one has to go through what I had to go through. If there is one thing I would change if I could go back in time, I wish I had received help sooner. Learned tools of how to heal and cope so my mind didn’t need to protect itself by causing me to not recall memories of my past. The bravest thing someone can do for themselves is learn how to ask for help and accept it.
John: Why go back to school? Why not start a 501c3 charity that helps people deal with loss? I know there are so many people out there on their own, which I’ve learned from my daughter who is a psychology major. She told me that there is such a shortage of people to help those in need. Even as a recent graduate, she was assigned to people suffering from the worst stages of mental illness because there is no one else for them. Maybe it is a better idea to start a charitable foundation. There is a lot of philanthropy, especially here on Long Island.
Nicole: If I knew how to begin that I would.
John: I will make sure that you have that information tomorrow. You’ll be up and running immediately and you can start helping people immediately. I can tell you right now there are people out there that need help.
Nicole: Having this lack of knowledge is a roadblock. You don’t miss what you don’t know. If you don’t know where you’re going, or how to get there, how are you supposed to walk that path? So, I am currently learning how to ask for directions.
John: It is like having a memory problem when you don’t know you are having a memory problem.
Nicole: Right. I have no problem being honest even if it might make me sound ignorant. If I’m not honest, how can I learn.
John: No, I don’t think so. I think it makes you sound human.
Nicole: It is what it is. Everyone is learning as they go. If I can make a difference in someones life in a positive way, I have done well.
John: Yes, and I’m your biggest fan. I’ve seen a major change in you. I’ve seen you go through ups and downs you always come out the other end as a more knowledgeable and heartfelt person.
Nicole: I try and do my best.
John: I see the growth and it is a beautiful thing to witness. I feel privileged to watch you grow and it is why I want to share your story because I think it is like a miracle in the making. In fact, I think maybe that is what we can call the story, “A Miracle in the Making.”
Nicole: Thank you, I think that is a great title.
John: Thank you very much for the interview. I look forward to seeing how things evolve for you and checking in for part two of this interview.
Categories: Nicole LaPonsie