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September 8, 2016, marked my two-year anniversary of living in New York City. While two short years in no way connotes a sense of experience, nor warrants an advice-based article on New York living, did a big event even happen if you don’t write a personal essay about the experience? In all seriousness, I’ve surely stumbled, succeeded, and spent enough money in this city to warrant a few thoughts on the subject—despite being a full eight years away from being knighted a “true New Yorker” in the eyes of natives.
My experience thus far goes something like this: Aside from a few high school friends and friends-of-friends peppered throughout the city’s five boroughs, I came here with the intention of meeting as many new people as possible and essentially starting from scratch. Coupled with my lofty professional aspirations, the move was a high-risk, high-reward type of situation before I even left my hometown. Like many who set their sights on the most competitive city in the world, my goals carried immense pride as well as fear, resulting in an experience that’s been two-parts exhilarating and one-part terrifying. I viewed “making it” here as a testament to both my talent and my toughness, two character traits I valued deeply and feared bruising.
Although I did manage to secure a job in the field of my choice a few weeks before moving, affording myself but a sliver of stability and direction, life still felt very much up in the air when moving day arrived. Since that fateful day just over two years ago, I’ve amassed a slew of experience, both good and bad, that has taught me a lot about life and how to make the most of it. What follows is what I hope to be a refreshingly candid list of what moving to a new city entails, from the personal to the professional and everything in between.
In the weeks following the move, I was constantly on edge—an unwelcome side effect of abruptly changing everything and everyone in your life. I had a new job, new friends, a new morning commute, a new environment—changes that are invigorating, yes, but can feel overwhelming as you adjust to your new normal. Without the crutch of familiar faces, I was forced to navigate a new city by myself, something that intimidated me from the start. But there in all the discomfort lies perhaps the most transformative lesson I’ve learned during my time here: Life grows out of discomfort.
Finally, I felt the truth of clichéd sayings like, “Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.” The experiences gained are well worth the five seconds of awkwardness and discomfort you’ll inevitably feel when going to a party or a networking event by yourself. Learning how to lean into and move past feelings of discomfort, rather than avoiding them altogether, has tempered my anxiety, deepened my maturity, and grown my confidence in immeasurable ways. I can now walk into a room full of people I don’t know with the ease of a seasoned pro.
The Disney version of this story would paint a glamorous new city or an adventurous trip abroad as the solution to all of life’s problems. While living somewhere new can certainly add depth to your character and change you for the better, you cannot run from your problems—physically or emotionally. Challenges are indiscriminate and relatively immune to the positive changes a new geographic location can bring to other areas of your life. Unfortunately it’s easy to pin lofty expectations on a single action, intentional or not. Although there are many upsides to exploring a new city, it’s best to remember that a move will not function as a Band-Aid for all of life’s problems, so don’t expect it to.
When life feels overwhelming, it’s natural to want to analyze, perfect, and control the world around you. Moving has made me realize that trying to control the future is a fruitless endeavor that only begets more analysis. Life is about being able to thrive in the inconsistency, a state of being that happens to be one of the only consistent things about life in your 20s.
“Blame it on the evolution of our brain’s ability to multitask—that and the fact that the pace of our society leaves us no choice but to do a constant mental juggle,” writes Jessica M. Miller of our society’s struggle to live in the present. “[But] when you pay attention to your five senses, you can’t listen to your internal reel, which taxes our stamina to handle the external input.” Miller claims that simply designating a specific time in your day to focus on what's in front of you will enable you to see your world with “fresh eyes,” rather than always looking ahead to the future.
I made the mistake of naively assuming that my freshman year of college would be just like the movies, only to feel immensely disappointed when the first few months didn’t measure up. Unfortunately, New York suffers from the same media-inflicted disease, having been depicted in countless romantic comedies and glamorous TV shows. Although it’s hard not to have an expectation of what New York will be like, I promised myself I wouldn’t take the same unrealistic approach to my move.
Most notably, I made an effort to remind myself that it’s human to experience feelings of homesickness or stress in a new place, and that it’s perfectly okay—if not mature—to appreciate solitude. “In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation with something to say that is authentic, ours,” writes Sherry Turkle in a New York Times op-ed on the power of solitude. “If we can’t gather ourselves, we can’t recognize other people for who they are. If we are not content to be alone, we turn others into the people we need them to be. If we don’t know how to be alone, we’ll only know how to be lonely.”
Right now, at my two-year mark, this is perhaps my biggest takeaway from this experience. Moving will show you that you’re more adaptable, resilient, and determined than you ever thought possible; it takes a certain kind of person to be able to build a whole new life for yourself outside the four walls of your comfort zone. As a highly conscientious person, I feel an immense sense of pride for taking the leap of faith, doing something that scared me, and trying something new despite my reservations. No matter where I end up, I’m confident I’ll always look back on my years in New York with a sense of pride, appreciation, and wistfulness. And that, right now, is enough.
Have you left home for a brand-new city? Share your experience in the comments below, and shop our favorite books on New York living.