Living alone teaches you so much about yourself. You learn your strengths and limitations, and you learn to live with yourself.
When I moved to NYC early this year, I had absolutely no idea what I’d be doing. I had a dream and I was here to fulfill it, but I didn’t know how to attain it. I wanted to be a feature/magazine writer. I also wanted to be a freelance photographer. I wanted to establish my writing and photography in New York, a livid city bursting at the seams with the passions and creativity of other writers and photographers. It was like a magnet, and I was drawn to its core.
I remember soaring over New York that night in January, watching the golden lights blinking up at me from my plane window. Manhattan was a massive grid, lined with flowing rivers of silver and gold. The concrete jungle stretched out beneath, ready to embrace me. But was I ready to embrace it?
A weird feeling stirred in my chest. I was definitely glad to be in New York again (my first visit was the summer of 2012, 6 months before I graduated), but my excitement was overshadowed by some unresolved emotions. From the start of my final semester, everything had breezed by way too quickly. Graduation, moving out of my lovely apartment, traveling the West Coast with my family whom I hadn’t seen in 2 years, saying goodbye to them at the airport at the end of our family vacation, returning to Arkansas and packing my stuff for the big move to NYC, and leaving Arkansas and everyone else that I’d come to call home: my friends, my roommate, my American family (the Neals), my cousin and her husband (Dina & Rob).
I’d resided in Arkansas for 2 years, and I’d learned to appreciate the Natural State for its Southern charm and beauty. I had a plethora of memories there. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to everyone and everything I’d known. I wasn’t ready to leave my comfort zone because now I wasn’t an undergraduate; I was a fresh graduate stepping to a whole new world of possibilities… it sounded exciting but also really nerve-wrecking. I barely had time to let everything sink in. Before I knew it, I was on the plane to NYC, where a new chapter of my life awaited in the glittering mass below. I felt like I was in a daze, trying my best to keep up with the changes around me.
The moment I stepped out of the airport, I was hit by a cold gust of wind, the kind that literally penetrates your bones and rattles you up. It was the middle of winter, and everyone knows that winters in New York are often cold and brutal. That night, I bunked with a friend because my place wasn’t ready yet. I had trouble falling asleep. Sirens blared in the streets outside, but I barely heard them over the audacity of my thoughts. My anxiety kept me up, because it started to dawn on me that I wasn’t in Arkansas anymore. I was in New York, and now I was going to have to pray really, really hard that I’d find a job or internship in writing very soon… because if I ran out of luck, I wouldn’t be able to stay past February.
Needless to say, rent in this city is crazy. I won’t get into that.
Well, it definitely helped having friends in New York. I had people to talk to, and that made things a lot easier. When it was finally time to move into my new place, I suddenly felt all grown up. I have my own place now!
I moved into a basement (converted into a cozy one-bedroom apartment) at the beginning of February, and have been here since. I spent the first few weeks prepping it up with necessities, but I was constantly aware of the fact that I needed a paid internship/job to stay on. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it past the end of the month. I applied for jobs every single day, only to be met with unanswered emails. It was discouraging, but I learned to let it roll off my back. Thankfully, God was great. He opened doors for me to stay in New York, which led me to where I am today 🙂
The first few months weren’t easy. I’ll be honest. As much as I was thrilled to be in New York, I was often consumed by the fear of not being good enough. I felt like my efforts were lost in the sea of talents surrounding me. I mean, this is a city filled with millions of talented, inspiring individuals who are chasing the same dream. At the end of the day, it all boils down to how badly you want it, and how much you’re willing to risk to earn it. For the first time, I witnessed raw passion.
Most of them didn’t grow up in New York. They hailed from different parts of the country, and some even came from various sections of the globe. Driven by their dreams, they all seemed coated with the same resilience, a toughness that stems from months and years of resistance and determination.
I spoke to several people, and realized that New York has that affect on a lot of people. It can feel like of the most ruthless cities in the world. You can be surrounded by a million people, but still feel all alone. The longer I lived here, the more I began to understand why people have said that only the toughest will survive in New York City. This city will push your buttons. It will drive you up the wall. From the eyes of a tourist, New York is a fascinating city with plenty of attractions. What they don’t know is that New Yorkers often feel trapped in this rat race. Some people feel dragged down by the pressure. Others feed off the competition and the fervor, and I believe that’s where they get their resilience from. New Yorkers are tough, but they weren’t born that way. Strength isn’t acquired until you’ve been pressed against the cold, steely edge of defeat.
Living alone has it’s pros and cons. There are days when I miss having a housemate. I wish I had someone to share the chores with, someone to cook for (I hate cooking for myself), and someone to talk to at the end of a long day. I don’t get to see my friends every day, because we’re all busy with our jobs. I see them over the weekends, and sometimes I see them for a quick dinner after work. It’s always nice seeing a familiar face here.
But when you live by yourself in a foreign city, you can’t rely on others as much as you used to. You need to watch your own back all the time, because no one’s going to do that for you. That’s where establishing trust comes in. You need to trust yourself to solve your own problems, even when you think you’re incapable of dealing with them alone. You need to be your own teacher and learn from yourself. You’ll have to use your experiences as a textbook to figure out what works and what doesn’t, while trying to work through everything with a positive attitude. Most importantly, you’ll need to challenge yourself to keep going above and beyond what is expected of you, and keep exceeding your expectations. Know your limits but never quit trying to exceed them. That’s how you grow.
Soon enough, you’ll understand that you need to become your own hero because everyone is busy trying to save themselves.