It took me a while to get how youth makes it easy for us to view the world through rose-colored glasses. When we're young, we tend to assume that we are special; and that crazy things, upsetting things, or life-altering things won't happen to people like us. We assume that we'll be sheltered and untouched by any sort of turmoil forever and we'll get whatever we want—because we are young and amazing, and that's what life is like for special people like us. And then one day...
For me, the upsetting thing that woke me up was a pretty serious car crash. I made the poor decision to turn across two lanes of traffic and was met by a speeding Camry. As my car spun out and everything went white, I was sure I was experiencing what it feels like to be dying. The car was totaled, miraculously I was mostly fine, and that's when everything changed for me. I decided that the normal, boring life I was living every day wasn't enough anymore. I needed a big change and a new life.
I came to New York City entirely on my own in late September of 2005 at the age of 26 to, despite who I thought I was, find out who I really am; and to hopefully become who I've always wanted to be. Have I succeeded? Yes and no. The road hasn't been easy but that really depends on how you look at it. Some might say that I'm lucky. Others might just be like "WTF? that's terrible! I could never go through that..."
But when all is said and done I think I'd be most likely to agree with the people who called me lucky.
Discovering yourself is not that easy, either. It's actually really hard and pretty terrible, and for me it required making too many of the sort of little horrible mistakes that you're supposed to learn from, and completely ignoring the timeline I thought I was supposed to stick to because that's what everyone seems to do: get married to your college sweetheart before the age of 30, buy a house, settle down, and maybe have a kid or two after a few years. I ignored all of that for sure.
Because, I thought, how can I be supportive of someone else and accepting of all their quirks and minor flaws, and know how to grow with them if I haven't yet experienced more, grown more, and figured out who I, myself, am all the way? I can't accept someone else's flaws and love them in spite of it all, the way they deserve to be loved, until I'm able to do that for myself. And how can I be responsible for and guide some tiny new humans' lives when I'm not even sure I'm doing what I want with my own yet?
I needed the experience of being selfish and self-sufficient in a monster city for a while. So I put off the whole serious relationship that leads to marriage and kids thing. And I became seriously ambitious. I think, in many ways, New York will tend to do that to you.
Over nearly a decade as a New Yorker, I've experienced heartache, joy, passion, excitement, loss and pain. I've learned how to support myself without any help from anyone else, learned what it feels like to be laid off, made it through everything that goes along with job loss during a down economy and doubled my income in the process, dumped someone really important to me, been dumped by someone really important to me, gotten a few tattoos, made friends, lost friends, changed my diet and lifestyle, started a food blog, became a semi-professional photographer, traveled across the country and across the pond, carved out a flourishing creative career for myself, and learned that success doesn't always happen the way you want or plan for it to.
All of these experiences and lessons are priceless for any young woman yearning for more than the expected path—any young woman wanting to learn how to support herself and do life her way.
New York is like no place else—it is not London, it is not Paris, and it certainly is not like any other major city in the United States—and New Yorkers are an entirely unique bunch. We band together when the situation calls for it, and we'll tear each other apart when the situation calls for that. We are all at once ambitious, quiet, loud, friendly, rude and a little bit crazy. You have to be a little bit crazy to live the way we do.
When I was first moving, I looked at a third-floor walk up 1-bedroom apartment in Hell's Kitchen. The shower stood on a platform in the kitchen and the toilet was outside in a closet in the hallway. And I considered it—it was within my budget. The price? $1,600/month and there was just enough space to split the rent by sharing it with a roommate.
"That's New York," seasoned veterans will say, and most of us wouldn't have it any other way. But to the newcomer it seems ridiculous. And then one day you find yourself the seasoned one saying the same thing to another newcomer.
Today is my nine-year NYC anniversary. After nine years of soul searching and self-reliance in the big city, I can say that I know more about myself than most people discover in a lifetime. I've experienced more than enough to know very clearly and firmly what I like and don't like, what makes me happy, and what would be a deal-breaker for me. I'm not afraid to say no, or to walk away from a situation that doesn't feel right; because I'm no longer afraid of being alone, or lost, or scared. I'm not afraid of uncertainty, I'm not afraid of change, and I know that no matter what happens I'll always be OK. I know my own quirks and minor flaws well, and I now know that when one of them is a deal-breaker for someone else, I don't need to change or pretend to be what I am not—because another someone will come along who loves that very thing about me.
All of this amounts to what is probably the most powerful lessen I've learned: discovering who you are and loving who you are is the only thing that matters. Everything else is secondary.
So here’s to nine years of learning, loving, losing and then learning and loving some more. And here’s looking forward to all of the exciting new things yet to come.