Dreamers Never Quit: How To Beat The Odds And Make It In New York City
When I moved to New York City, I had clear expectations for the life I intended to create for myself.
I'd easily make new friends to frequent happy hours and exciting restaurants with. I'd mingle with the movers-and-shakers and hone my creative side. I'd find "The One" and fall deliciously in love, with the city as our romantic oyster.
I nodded with patient appreciation as friends and family dished their wary advice that this city is indifferent to my wildest dreams, but having packed up my optimism and procured confidence, I wasn't going to let their vicarious fears stop me.
New York was my unshakable dream. Until, it wasn't.
Looking back, not only did I not play my cards right, but I'm also not sure I had a full deck to start with. I made so many wrong decisions, but here is how you can get it right.
The Independent Introvert
Strike One: I was stubborn in my introverted independence.
Make new friends? I already have friends and lifelong, genuine, meaningful friendships; they're just nowhere in sight. Plus, how could I be expected to crack the hard shell of New Yorkers and develop new, adult friendships at this stage of life?
Instead of overcoming my fear of shallow friendships, I chose the safety of my apartment over the uncertain seas of new faces. For some people, making new friends comes easily, but as an introvert, that process can be painful and stressful.
Admittedly, I also wanted to prove to myself I could navigate this new city independently, and I wouldn't shy away from any experience for lack of accompaniment. However, the mistake I made was fueling my independence with solitary activities, and making excuses to avoid putting myself out there and share experiences with someone I'd just met.
Sure, my independence was intact, but I was insufferably lonely. I had to overcome my ego and acknowledge that, while I am perfectly capable and self-sufficient, it is infinitely more fun to plunk down at the local wine bar, scope out the dishes at Smorgasburg and wait in line for Shakespeare in the Park with new friends.
If I could master navigating the subway system alone, I could certainly undertake the task of making friends. And so, I set my mind to making some. I started saying yes to every social opportunity and invitation, especially the ones I tended to decline, all while ignoring my inner introvert screaming for mercy.
I joined the office running club; I signed up for writing classes. All of those formerly solitary activities took on a social life of their own. Consistency paid off, and slowly but surely, I met like-minded New Yorkers.
Now that I've established those quality relationships, from time to time, I can afford to slink back to my couch for a rejuvenating night of comfortable solitude (read: Netflix movie spree), without the fear that I'm settling in for a lifetime of urban seclusion.
The Long Haul
Strike Two: I strengthened my wings, but I neglected my roots.
In my first six months as a New Yorker, I traveled a lot. A first-world problem, surely, but I had two meaningful excuses: a blog focused on travel-inspired stories and a long-distance relationship. I didn't necessarily want to drop anchor and forfeit either, but I had arrived in NYC with expectations for a lifestyle that was suddenly unsustainable.
Instead of pausing to adjust, I resisted settling in. Though the moments at home were painfully quiet, I kept my mind busy by thinking about the next adventure. Somewhere along the way, my focus on the life waiting for me on the other side of a plane ride had turned into complete indifference toward my life in New York.
I neglected to notice how dangerously stagnant I'd become while waiting. Six months in, it was no longer a question of how long, albeit temporarily, until I leave New York again, but a disintegrating conviction as to why I had come at all.
Could I make it here? Was this dream worth the sacrifice? The constant focus on "What's next?" was inevitably stealing the sustenance of today to feed the clouding hopes of tomorrow. As a result, my soul was starving for attention.
I realized I couldn't possibly have an open heart to New York, if my mind was always someplace else. I had to make the decision to focus my attention on the here and now, not just on the future. Fortunately, a blog can take a backseat, but no person deserves to experience that sort of delayed departure.
I'm not suggesting the best way to fall in love with a new city is to be single, nor that you should end a relationship based on distance alone. Every relationship fares the test of time and distance differently.
It comes down to prioritizing the compromises you make. What's important is knowing your limits. Eventually, you, and your relationship, will need a safe place to land.
The Silver Lining
Strike Three: I focused on the "less" in the "less is more" equation.
I moved to New York for a promotion at work. And with great responsibility, comes great amounts of money. Or so I thought.
Following a whirlwind week of apartment hunting, I found myself with less money, less space and less conviction in my decision-making. I was putting down first and last month's rent on an apartment, and the furthest thing I felt was security.
The move to the city of my dreams turned out to be financially and emotionally debilitating. I was learning a hard lesson, and I needed both an attitude and a lifestyle adjustment.
I adapted by seeing each obstacle as an opportunity. I realized everything I thought I had "less" of in my New York life was complemented by a "more."
When I grappled with feeling broke, I found myself seeking ways to define my wealth in other ways. It opened me up creatively. I couldn't afford to continue traveling (and travel writing) as much as I had previously, so I looked to the city for alternative hints of inspiration.
By changing my creative need for more, I found a way to continually glean inspiration with less. The "broke" I felt a year ago wasn't caused by the number in my bank account, but by the unrealistic expectations I'd set for myself upon moving to the city, in pursuit of my writing dreams.
Yet, it was spending the time, not money, on my passion for writing, and redefining what creative success would mean to me that inevitably opened doors for sharing my work. I was rewarded in a currency more valuable than money: through meaningful conversations and genuine connections.
Where I sacrificed personal living space, I discovered the beauty and possibilities of shared, public spaces in Central Park, Bryant Park, that picturesque above-ground railway known as The Highline, Prospect Park and Union Square Park.
In New York, the space you lose by compromising on living square footage, you make up for with the blocks of a sprawling urban jungle. This also helped with that tendency toward introversion.
A park is a lovely place to happen upon a kindred spirit who's also coincidentally into yoga, dog-walking, kite-flying or break-dancing. Or maybe, it's just catching a classic, black-and-white movie played on the inflatable big screen, while sharing a bottle of sauvignon blanc in the park.
I'm confident I struck out in my first year as a New Yorker, and there's a better way to adjust to life in the big city than the way I went about it.
As for those vicarious fears, the fair-warnings and the naysayers, some of them are valid. This city will break you because it can. It will not apologize that it's made life harder than you imagined, less affordable than you planned and made you question what you signed up for.
But that is New York.
It wasn't built on forfeited dreams. It was built by those who dared to keep dreaming big, while quietly drowning out the inevitable internal fears. They are those who have asked, “Who am I to do this?” and have answered, “Who am I not to?”
So, muster the courage to fight through the hard times, not succumb to the loneliness, hang on to those dreams you arrived with and chase them, just keep chasing them. You will make it.
Every circumstance is temporary. Everything good and everything bad is fleeting and cyclical. When you're down, remember that a change may be just around the corner.
And when you're up? Absorb that moment of happiness because I'm willing to bet you've worked hard to earn that smile on your face.
In the end, every up was worth the down; every more was worth the less. How to beat the odds and fall in love with New York is the greatest lesson I have ever learned.