The Time I Got Sage Advice (From a Crazy Scotswoman) on the Train

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet interesting people in the most serendipitous of ways. This is the story about how I got some powerful advice from one of them.

When I was studying abroad in London, I spent half my week taking classes at UNC’s Winston House and half my week working in Reading for Bullitt Group Ltd. The commute to and from Reading took me about an hour each way, and my rides home would often involve looking out at the sunset through the train window. I’d often get to Paddington Station for the last leg of my journey and find crowds of people all trying catch the 5.30pm train home.

On one particular Thursday afternoon, the train was packed full to the brim i.e. we were sardines and the train was a puddle.

Courtesy of Rafael De Nadai

An older lady got on the train next to me and asked if she could use my arm for support (she had a bad knee). Being the polite Zambian girl that I am, I agreed. The lady – who I will call Sophie for the sake of this story – was from Scotland and was visiting London for a few days. She had also clearly had a few pints at the bar because she started singing Ndihamba Nawe (a classic South African song) when she found out that we had both lived there.

As the train ebbed and flowed, all the passengers were thrown closer together and further apart in uncoordinated ways. I happened to fly into the chest of a (rather attractive) man, but quickly regained my stance and continued to support Sophie. Being the boisterous woman that I found out she was, she projected into the train cart, “Who needs Tinder when you can be this close to someone on the commute, huh? Might as well hold on to him.” She then proceeded to not-so-subtly nudge me in the arm. *cringe*

After 25 minutes of chatting to Sophie and balancing in the train, we got to our stop at Euston Square Station. I walked her towards her tunnel so that I could exit through mine. She thanked me for being a support on the train and then looked me dead in the eye. I want you to know that in my head, this was the point where she could have either kicked me in the knees with her good leg and mugged me, or given me a hug goodbye. Thankfully, it was the latter.

When Sophie released my embrace, she held my hand and said, “Don’t ever put the key to your happiness in someone else’s pocket.”

“I won’t,” I replied before she headed off to catch her next train.

Sophie was wild and energetic, and I believe that her zest for life had allowed her to experience its ups and downs. Her advice – which I received two years ago, almost to the day – resonated with me. I know that it’s a common saying, but at the time, I’d never heard it before. I feel like everyone should. Hearing it from a random 60-something-year-old woman I met on the train made it all the more special for me.

Sophie’s words remind me that I have to be the owner of my happiness. I should never put the weight of my worth on someone else, or rely on them to influence my entire outlook on life and my personal worth. My life is mine to live, and though I enjoy spending it with others, it’s important to balance that with an independence of thought.

As someone who values empathy and emotional intelligence, it’s very easy to let the moods of others influence your own to a debilitating degree at times. I’ve had to learn to control that better and to be able to genuinely empathize without fully inserting myself into the problems of others. It’s a learning process, but Sophie’s words help guide me along.

Though I’ll probably never meet her again, I’ll always remember the words of that crazy Scottish lady on the train. Thanks, Sophie.

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