When people ask how long I’ve lived in New York, invariably, my answer is, I moved here in 2009. This is, in fact, true, but—I have to admit—it isn’t the whole truth.
I moved to New York for the first time the winter after graduating college—in large part, because my boyfriend at the time was finishing his last year at Columbia, and I was eager to close what had been a very challenging long-distance chapter of our relationship. Until then, I’d never lived outside California (as an adult, anyway), and like many recent college graduates, I’d never had to think about things like finding my own apartment or paying my own bills.
I arrived in January 2008, suitcases in tow, ready to move in to a Morningside Heights apartment I’d never seen before. I had no plan for finding a job, and no savings. But, I reassured myself, this is what one does after college—moves away, starts a new life. I was nervous, but more than anything, I was thrilled at the thought of becoming a New Yorker.
I lasted just under six months.
A variety of factors contributed to my speedy exit. My astronomical rent, which afforded me a bedroom the size of a closet in an apartment so dark I never knew what time it was, was one thing. The stress of moving to a new city in the dead of winter was another. On top of it all, the adjustment from a long-distance to same-city relationship was much more difficult than I’d anticipated.
It was just too much. I was flailing. What’s more, even though I’d always loved visiting New York City, it just wasn’t making me happy. Not even a tempting job offer—from one of my favorite fashion companies, no less—could convince me to stick it out. I moved home.
When the dust settled, I couldn’t help feeling that I’d failed. My short stint in New York felt like a waste of time, and, what’s more, a colossal waste of money. I was embarrassed. At least I gave it a shot, I told myself.
To make a long story short—and to state the obvious—I ended up giving New York a second chance. It took nearly a year, and a lot of thinking. A lot of worrying. A lot more flailing. But one day, I got a phone call from an old friend who told me there was an extra room available in her Brooklyn apartment that summer, and something about it just sounded right. There was, of course, no guarantee things would work out, but at the same time, everything about the situation just seemed to point toward yes.
I made the leap—again. And here I am.
Three and a half years later, I still occasionally find myself cringing with embarrassment when I admit that my first few months in a city I now adore (fervently! with all my heart!) were a flop. And, at times, I still find it hard to explain why I turned down that job in fashion—especially when today, I sometimes barely make ends meet as a freelancer. Why wasn’t I able to make it then in a city that now feels so comfortable? What would have happened if I had just pushed through? I’ll never know the answers to those questions, but I’m beginning to feel better about owning what I used to think of as a personal failure.
As a friend of mine so brilliantly and heartbreakingly once put it, “Sometimes you’re just not ready to be as great as the great things that are happening around you.”
I’ve never forgotten that. There’s sometimes no explanation for the messy and complicated ways things work themselves out. What a wonderful reminder that life is full of surprises, and twists and turns we could never anticipate.
Nothing, I’m finding these days, is ever a waste of time.