I’d like to ask your advice. I recently moved to New York City to pursue my career. Up to this point, it was all about getting here, and it felt like all I was working towards—that I would be a different person when I got here, and everything would fall into place magically, and I would have the perfect job, the perfect lifestyle, and never be anxious again.
And so I moved. Many wonderful things did fall into place—I was so fortunate. But I am not a different person. I have the same anxieties and doubts I’ve always had, just in a different place—a place where I want to work damn hard all the time and feel like I have no time to decompress from it all.
I’m lucky enough to know exactly what I want to do and get to do it every day. I’m excited to learn new things. Yet my confidence wavers; I start doubting everything I do and become paranoid that people are confused why this girl from the middle of nowhere would even be where I am—that I have no qualifications, I am nothing compared to all these people that hustle around me. I make mistakes. I question myself, and I’m the first person to criticize my own work.
The women you interview seem to have similar moments of uncertainty and fear, yet they overcome it. They know that they will weather through the storms, and be better for it. I feel like I’m waiting for the storms to stop, and then I’ll be able to breathe—and then everything will be perfect. But I know that’s not realistic—I’m not going to suddenly have less work, or less stress. I wouldn’t want to, either.
How do you deal with it, and keep positive? And how do you know you’re going to make it, that you’ll be OK? That maybe, at some point, you’ll be able to move out of your crappy apartment to a slightly-less-crappy apartment? So many questions! I know I’m in the right place, but I feel like I’m lost on the path from where I am to where I want to be. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks so much.
When I was 22 years old I moved from New Zealand to Toronto. You traveled to pursue your career, I traveled to pursue myself. I started a blog, and this is the first line of my first entry:
I am the new girl. Or rather, the same girl in a new place.
You left your family and friends, folded your life into a suitcase, spent your savings and your strength on moving. And yet, after all that: you are the same girl in a new place. Or rather, the same girl in a new crappy apartment.
Just because you don’t understand what being here means yet, doesn’t mean that being here is without purpose or importance. Every brave leap I have ever taken has felt like a blind stumble. It’s neither foolish nor bratty of you to assume that a big shift in your life would result in something transformational. But our surroundings are much easier to transform than ourselves. The perfect lifestyle you were hoping for is the tooth fairy of adulthood. You said it yourself: you were hoping for things to ‘magically’ fall into place. Things are built into place. They do not fall, much less from magic.
When I left New Zealand, I had similar fantasies about the version of myself that was waiting across the other side of the ocean. I was giddy at the thought of discovering my purpose and the experiences that would lead me to it. I was sure that a plane ticket and a handful of hardships was my ticket to deliverance, so much so that a small part of me reveled in my struggles. I believed that with every mistake, I was one crack closer to splitting open into a shinier version of myself. That if I hit a nerve hard enough I might shock myself into who I was supposed to be. And so I arrived. Much like you, I had a crappy apartment, which came with:
1x hammi-down blanket: exfoliation and luke-warmth in one.
Much like you, I expected my reward to be immediate and equivalent to my difficulty. That after all of my efforts, surely I would be a different person. I say this with compassion but without apology: you will never be a different person. Things about you and around you will change. They will get better. They will get worse. Often at the same time. Your apartment, hair color, friends, lovers, favorite sandwich, preferred drycleaner, might change. You will become stronger, wiser, weaker, more confident, more aware, more accepting, more broken and more impressive than you can imagine. But you are stuck with yourself. So let’s see if we can make you a better place to be.
Firstly, don’t forget that you have the hardest part out of the way. You have done what a lot of people will never do: you have started. The choice you made to get on that plane was your first step towards wherever it is that you are meant to be. The not-knowing is not the important part. The starting is. ‘Up to this point, it was all about getting here.’ How many times did you say to yourself, If I just make it to New York City, I’ll be able to work it out from there? You made it, yet you are still holding your breath. Women especially seem to suffer from the ‘If—I—Just’ disease. If I just get that project, if I just get a boyfriend, if I just make it to that city—then everything will be OK. This is a fallacy that we taunt ourselves with over and over and over again. I no longer sleep on a lower bunk bed with a rag for a blanket in a country where I know no one. But I bitch about the size and rent of my apartment and how a new place would make such a difference. Funny that. The only way out of this sad cycle is to start accepting ‘good enough’, even if you want things to be better. To see this as a sign of strength instead of defeat is a scary thing. This is not sacrificing ambition, this is outsmarting it. It means striving for the best but being comfortable in your not-quite-thereness. It means letting yourself be happy when you think you don’t deserve it. It is taking a breath in the middle of the storm. The women you see here are no different to you. Their storms have not stopped, yet they choose to keep going.
It is through choosing that transformation occurs. Transformation cannot be bought with a plane ticket or found in a new city. It is the sum of big, tough choices, strung together with small, endless ones. It is getting on the plane, it is showing up to work, it is Sunday night alone, it is being scared of the wrong things, it is all the stupid emails, it is the shitty job you take to pay rent, it is the curious happiness that hits you when you’re walking down the street at 5PM on a Tuesday. It is mundane as much as it is brave. It does not fit into our neat boxes of beginning and end. It is a big beautiful mess.
I don’t know what I’m doing here and I don’t know if everything will work out OK. But I figure that a girl who knows what she doesn’t want is half way there to a girl who knows what she does.
How do I know that I will be OK? What does OK even mean?
I could say that being OK means to not starve, and while that’s necessary, I don’t think that’s the entirety of it. Considering you’re emailing me from New York City, where you’re working and ‘fortunate’ things have happened to you, I’m going to assume that by being OK you mean the first world version. Which is the one I’m sure most of this audience can relate to. Will I be OK? I ask my mother this question a lot. Of course she says yes. While it’s comforting, our definition of OK needs to exist beyond the false security of certainty. I could say that being OK means moving in the right direction, seeing that direction more clearly, and creating our own safety. But if we rip off all the bows and ruffles until it’s small enough to swallow, being OK really just means being loved. That all of the other desires we have, like a successful career and followers and being cool-without-trying-too-hard and a nice website and effortless everything and a less-crappy apartment and a vacation in Tulum are lovely, bullshit bonuses.
Being OK is not something that happens because your mother says so. It’s a choice you make, just like everything else. But first, you need to believe you’re worthy of OKness.
Some quick advice:
The people who are supposedly confused by your presence? They’re not, because they are busy worrying about their own lives (just like you are.) Those you admire—the sophisticated, accomplished, charismatic bunch? They too are somewhere along their own path of who they are trying to be. They are not as together, not as figured out, not as glamorous or as perfect you imagine them to be. Assumptions about other people do not help you grow, they only make you seem (and feel) small. You say you are the first to criticize your own work. Keep that up, it’s a valuable skill. But have you ever seen anything thrive on criticism alone? If you truly want to do great work, you must be able to recognize your strengths and accomplishments. Growth needs both correction and encouragement.
These are simple answers to a complicated question which you’ve asked without saying out loud: How do I feel worthy?
Worthiness is not something you tick off a self-improvement list. It doesn’t come from your achievements—Google Imposter Syndrome and read about all the queens of this world who feel like they don’t deserve their crowns. It has no correlation to social status, your middle of nowhere hometown, it doesn’t come from being able to afford an Equinox membership or from reading motivational quotes on Instagram. And because I’m still working this one out for myself, the best answer I can give you is that it comes from a reluctant commitment to yourself that turns into an honoring. It comes from a sense of mortality and a shit-i-better-get-over-myself-and-cheer-up-before-I’m-gone. It is forgiveness which turns into acceptance which turns into strength. It is slow, hard work.
And you have started. A girl who’s in the right place is half way there to feeling like she belongs.