Everything that you are going through, someone else is going through as well.
The Lion King blew my thirteen year old mind. People get paid to do that every night? Who wouldn’t want to be an actor? After the show, my grandma rented a limo to drive us to our fine dining experience at The Times Square Olive Garden. As I fell asleep that night, I sighed to myself and thought. ‘Why doesn’t everyone live here?’
Over the next few years, it became my life’s purpose to move to New York City. I constantly day dreamed of life in the Big Apple. It would be magical and romantic. I would picnic in Central Park and audition for Broadway Musicals, which I would undoubtedly book. The thought of money or reality never even crossed my mind. I wanted to live and breathe the fast paced city life. I obsessively poured over pictures and articles about the city, learning everything I could. My passion shifted from acting to writing but, New York remained the end goal.
Unfortunately, there are quite a few things you can only learn once you have signed a lease and experienced the daily grind of three subway transfers to your mind-numbing day job. What the glossy calendars and picture books of New York failed to show was the homeless elderly women that will pee right outside your window at 1 am, the hobo who stinks up an entire car of the E train during rush hour and the aggressive Wall Street asshole who will push a pregnant lady off the subway so he’s guaranteed a spot.
Don’t get me wrong, I love this city. I just want others who naively romanticize New York to take caution.
Here are some things I wish I had known before moving to this magical city:
1) Unless you were blessed by the trust-fund fairy, you will not live in the magical Upper West Side spacious sun soaked apartment of your Meg Ryan rom-com dreams. You will live in Brooklyn, or Harlem or Queens. When the harsh reality of windowless bedrooms and minimal storage space has washed over you, you will realize that Brooklyn or Harlem or Queens is exactly where you need to be.
2) There will always be a job, if you’re willing to put in the work. When I first saw New York , there were people lounging in Central Park, sipping coffee in cute independent cafes, chatting on outdoor patios. It didn’t occur to me that those tall skyscrapers were full of people working their asses off to barely pay for the lifestyle they wanted. When I moved to New York at 24, I already had a job in an office. It was a 6 week contract job. I worked 60 hour weeks while job searching and preparing for life after the internship. I was so taken aback by how expensive New York was that I thought I had to work day and night to afford my life here. I moved to New York to write but didn’t even open a word document for the first three months I was here. I applied to thirty different, but equally soul sucking, office jobs and still no offers. A week before I was to be jobless, I found myself applying to Starbucks as I cried on the phone to my aunt. ‘There are Starbucks all over the world,’ she said. ‘You’re in New York. Get a New York job’. She was right. While I could have gotten a job at Starbucks, I was in New York. I needed a job that I couldn’t get anywhere but here. Through divine fate I found a nanny job in a hip part of Brooklyn that allowed me to write during the baby’s nap time. On the weekends, I trekked to the Upper East Side to teach gymnastics and host birthday parties at a children’s gym. I wasn't building my resume but I also wasn't working 60+ hours in an office, killing the creative drive that brought me to New York in the first place.
3) It is OK to go to the bar by yourself. Sometimes you have a bad day at work and no one is answering your texts but you really need to decompress over a beer, or in my case, an embarrassingly sugary cocktail. It is OK to walk in with confidence, seat yourself at the corner of the bar and people watch all night. Unless you get snockered beyond belief, and make a spectacle of yourself, no one will notice you. The first time I did this I felt like everyone in the bar was pitying me, wondering where all my friends were. The thing I came to realize is that everyone in this city, and in life, is too wrapped up in their own lives to stop and observe yours. So what does it matter if you’re drinking a Very Berry Limoncello Margarita on a Tuesday night in leggings and an over-sized lime green sweatshirt? No one else is going to look at you twice, and if they do who cares - it’s New York you’re literally never going to see them again.
4) Everything that you are going through, someone else is going through as well. In true poor post grad fashion, I moved into a tiny apartment with four other roommates. We all got along fine, except for this one cello player who hot-boxed the apartment and ground coffee beans at 5 am. Her erratic behavior got worse and I no longer felt like I had a place to call my own. I felt so alone. I had no idea what to do. In a moment of pure futile panic, I mentioned my problem to some co-workers at the gym where I taught. They all in turn shared their crazy roommate stories with me, and amazingly all the chaos began to make me feel like a true New Yorker. I eventually moved into a much better living situation, but that day of me breaking down in front of the strangers that I worked with bonded us, and made me realize I wasn’t as alone as I felt.
5) You will find your tribe, but be patient. When I moved to the city, I was extremely alone. I came in contact with hundreds of thousands of people a day, yet it seemed like I never saw the same person twice. I couldn’t make any lasting connections. I longed for my small college town where I knew I didn’t have to make plans to go out and have a good time. I had a group of people that were mine. I still had those friends, but they were hundreds of miles away and in completely different places in their lives. Slowly but surely, I began to build a community around myself once again. The dancer who helped me with a reading of a play I wrote, the fellow import from Tennessee that would get southern comfort food with me, and the sister of my boss. Slowly I met people and began to feel more comfortable. Building a new community of friends was one of the hardest, most uncomfortable processes I went through after moving here but it was also the most rewarding.
6) Asking for help does not make you weak. This is more of a general life lesson, but it took me moving to this city to understand it. When I first moved here I was both parts petrified and mortified to ask anyone for directions. I was worried admitting I needed help would show weakness that someone could latch onto and abuse (did I mention I’m insane?). One day my phone died, I found myself in a part of New York I had never even heard of, and it was freezing cold. I turned to the closest normal looking person and simply asked where I was and how I could get to Midtown. Surprisingly, the entire subway car did not turn their heads and mock my ignorance. In fact a few people joined in with helpful tips. I know asking for directions seems like a really small step but ever since that day I’ve opened myself up more and more to showing my vulnerabilities. If I’m halfway down a block and realize I’m going the wrong way, I don’t awkwardly pull out my phone and look for a reason to change directions, I just turn around and start walking the other way. Yeah, it’s really obvious that I was walking the wrong way, but whatever. I’m fairly certain every single person who witnesses me turning around has walked the wrong way at least once in their lives. Slowly I stopped being afraid to ask for the things I needed, and it’s made me more of a complete person in the process.
Everyday that I wake up here I consider myself lucky. Just like anywhere, you have to take the bad with the good, and New York is no exception that rule. Living here might not be easy but, I knew I owed it to myself to try. I still have concerns and anxieties about living here but I find more and more that hard work and confidence goes a lot farther than people give them credit for. I might not idealize New York like I used to but, I still absolutely believe this city is magical.
Have you ever idolized a place that didn’t live up to your expectations?