There’s no place in the world like New York City.
Anything and everything is possible as the pulsating life radiates off the skyscrapers and sidewalks, filling your veins with ambition and vigor. You can see amazing shows, eat anything you want at any time of the day, explore world class museums, become filthy rich, meet all sorts of people from all sorts of places, and achieve dreams you didn’t even know you had. There will always something new to do and there will always be more you can accomplish. Complacency cannot exist, and the best version of yourself has the chance to hungrily ravage through the seemingly endless opportunities.
It can also eat you alive.
There will always be someone a step ahead of you and you can always be doing more. Don’t think about slowing down; hundreds of people will roar right past you. In a city of 8.4 million, I guarantee someone is better than you. Failure is inevitable.
My life in New York City as a “starving artist” over the course of being in and out for over 5 years violently swung between these two extremes.
Some days I’d get a callback for an audition, go to a great dance class, have a fun side-gig involving free food, and top it off with a slice of my favorite pizza in the world, Mamma’s Too! Other days I’d get cut within the first 5 minutes, I’d work a grueling catering gig with imbecile co-workers for $18/hr wondering what I was doing with my life, my grocery bag would break in the middle of the street, and I’d be stuck on an express train with someone yelling out Bible verses competing for attention with a Mariachi band at the other end of the car.
An oscillation between an exuberant zest for life and morose depression is equally stressful as it is thrilling. The incredible highs of exceeding my own expectations comes at the cost of abuse and pain, resulting in a tumultuous love affair with the city.
Here’s what happens:
- I arrive at a new subleased apartment and unpack my bags with a pep in my step, ready to take on life.
- I hit the ground running with dance classes, auditions, and gigs. I feel a sense of euphoria from my accomplishments and progress. The city is my cheerleader, pushing and encouraging. I can do anything.
- The 100 mph lifestyle starts to take its toll. Waking up at 6 am to go the gym, an audition, a job, and dance class starts to seem more daunting than exciting. Each day becomes an obligation. I force myself through out of fear of falling behind. It’s eat or get eaten.
- I recognize I need change. I go see a show, get together with friends, and eat great food to reinject myself with motivation. I find those highs once more.
- The fatigue creeps in. I diligently lift myself up.
- Eventually, I start losing the battle. My strength wanes. The city puts away it’s pompoms and switches from cheerleader to repressor.
- I spend my days at underpaid jobs that I’m massively over qualified for working with shockingly incompetent people while entitled New Yorkers yell at me for some reason of another. I can’t seem to book a job or catch a break.
- Then I strike gold. I get a dance contract that takes me out of city. I’m flooded with a sense of utter relief and happiness to be leaving.
After anywhere from 3 months to 8 months later, I go back. The cycle begins again.
On the outside, it is idiotic to run back into the arms of a city that has caused pain, struggle and hurt. But I look back on those times with a warm fondness and strong sense of pride.
Humans have an incredible ability to muffle past pain while remembering the good, and in hindsight, I relish my weak moments. Each low taught me something new about myself, the world, and others, and I can confidently say I’m a better, stronger person than I was at 22 (although I may still look like I’m 17 with the sleeping habits of a 85 year old).
As the ever allusive “they” say, “I did the damn thing.”
I worked nearly 200 bullshit jobs ranging from handing out newspapers in Union Square to sampling out caffeinated sparkling water in bodegas. I’ve dressed up like Waldo, a hot dog, and a mermaid for promotional events. White lies on resumes forced me to learn new skills on the spot like operating a cotton candy machine, setting up a green screen, and dealing black jack. If you’ve seen someone doing a job and wondered, “how do you even get that job?” I’ve done it.
It felt demoralizing at times. Handing out breakfast sandwiches on the sidewalk and getting people in the Seaport District to take a survey on an iPad felt like a low blow after earning two degrees and graduating with distinctions in both fields. However, it paid for the bills and then some. Reaching complete financial independence and being debt free with a descent investment account on top an IRA is an accomplishment I’m proud of. (Need a financial advisor? I’m wildly unqualified but available for bookings 🙂 )
It also gave me my springboard to have a professional dance career. I danced at Hershey Park, I did three different cruise ship contracts which took me to nearly 40 countries, I got to jazz hand across the East Coast in a national tour, and I performed at numerous events throughout the greater New York region. All I’ve ever really wanted to do is dance. And I did.
I frequently fall victim to my own brain.
I beat myself up over feeling lost in where my professional life is headed next as I grapple with not accomplishing more. I “should” have clearer goals, I “should” be directing my time and energy towards “productive” tasks, and I “should” have my life more together.
Then I reflect on the past 5 years, and admit that I’ve kind of done a lot. I’m quite self-deprecating, and giving myself a pat on the back for anything, particularly in front of someone else, feels awkward, uncomfortable, and unwarranted. I can’t help but think, “but I could have done better…” However, taking time to recognize that hard work pays off and focusing what I did do rather than what I didn’t do seems like a good mental health exercise.
Now I’m in Tasmania, Australia with my fiancé, enjoying living in a place out of the reach of Covid. (If you’re interesting in my 28 day saga, click HERE)
I’ve recovering from the latest, and most severe, abuse New York has heaped on me. Sticking out Covid-19 absolutely sucked. I had unrelenting anxiety, I never slept, I was depressed, and had a glum “downhill strategy” approach to life. But, once again, “I did the damn thing.” I got a job, I went to the front line, and my balance sheets were in the green.
After nearly two months since I left, I’m already looking back at the time with a sweet fondness and appreciation.
Complacency is the death of success, and my biggest fear is waking up at 80 years old, confused as to where my life went. New York can be a cheerleader, repressor, lover, and abuser, and it simply does not permit you to stay still. And that’s why I love it.
Will I run back into the arms of New York City once more?
Only time will tell.