When first considering leaving The City (does anyone else think only New York gets that title or does every pretentious city dweller think their city is The City?), I purchased a book entitled, "Goodbye to All That". It's a collection of essays written by people who loved and left New York with inspiration derived from Joan Didion's infamous essay. I first started reading the book after the 2020 New Year while studying for the GMAT in hopes of attending graduate school abroad. I had exhausted all efforts to go abroad for work, and I hoped maybe graduate school would be my out. To be honest, I was not looking for a way out of New York, but a way out of the rut I found myself in; I took a job I thought would be more fulfilling than it was (but thanks for the great experience and paycheck), I was stuck moving from apartment to apartment which was all spurred by a disastrous breakup (and roommates kept moving in with their significant others to make matters worse) and stuck with the classic crazy roommate, and, as much as I loved New York, I wasn't sure it loved me back. Growing up, I had two dreams: 1) live in New York and thrive and 2) live in Paris and drink cafés all day. As hard as I had worked in New York, I hadn't yet reaped the rewards I deemed were deserved - the intangible satisfaction I had hoped it would provide since I was 10. So I thought maybe it was time to try my second dream.
The beauty of New York lies in the ability to meet new people while dining at a bar, having an unconquerable amount of activities at your fingertips, ordering Halal Guys at 3 AM, being one subway stop from a new neighborhood to experience different cuisines and cultures, making friends from all over the world, and finding your own bit of personal space in Sheep's Meadow. This beauty generally outweighs the sweaty summer subway rides, stenches you can't trace, difficulty of estimating how many groceries you can carry back up your fifth floor walkup, working longer hours than most of your peers across the country, and vying for coveted restaurant reservations. I was, and still am, entranced by the beauty of New York but it also brought so many more challenges than expected. To be fair, all the challenges I faced were not the city's fault, but were exacerbated by the city at times. When first moving to New York, I was supposed to move in with my boyfriend of five years. We broke up a week before I moved to the city and were forced to live together while broken up for a month due to the challenges of the New York real estate market (imagine the movie The Breakup, but with a 500 square foot apartment and limited closet space). I had to find a random roommate and housing within a month, all while starting a new job, since the five friends I knew in the city had already arranged housing. This worked out fine for the most part - the first three months of New York were a blur of long work hours, trying to make new friends, and building IKEA furniture (backwards at first...) that I had to haul all the way from Red Hook. At Thanksgiving I went home to Texas to find my Poppy, who was my father figure growing up as my dad passed when I was 6, was terminally ill with brain cancer. He insisted we play one last round of golf together, even though he was worn out from chemo and his body was failing him. By Christmas, it was apparent there was not much time left. I got the call from my sister in January while I was on a client site in Arizona to come home as soon as possible. My best friend at work spoke to my boss for me, as I choked with tears. My boss told me to go to the airport immediately and not think about the project they were working on until 3 AM every night. After a week at home, saying goodbye to my Poppy, helping my Nana prepare funeral arrangements, taking care of the finances, and showing Nana how to pay the bills, I returned to New York.
I did not return to New York with the same feeling of invigoration I usually felt when the skyline came into sight. The sight of the skyline usually gave me energy, like I was entering the only place in the world where I could achieve my dreams. Instead, I felt beaten down by the last four months. Nothing had gone according to plan, but it was time to begin anew my New York adventure and again find the beauty in the city. More people than I ever thought would care to know have asked me how I "got over" the grief from those first four months - the end of a relationship that was present for over a third of my life and losing the person I thought I could rely on for the rest of my life; losing my Poppy, who taught me everything from how to play poker to reading the stock market to how to pick yourself back up when you have lost everything (he deserves his own memoir); and ultimately, grieving the loss of plans I had set out for myself in New York since third grade. The answer is surprisingly simple - I didn't just "get over it". I didn't wake up one day feeling fine, ready to smell the roses. I went back to work, threw myself into my career ambitions even more, and was more determined than ever to make the memories I dreamed of in New York. Some days, I cried on the subway. Other days, I took my frustration out on a heavy bag at the Work Train Fight boxing gym. But most days, I tried to focus on my friends and all the city had to offer through random concerts, restaurants where waiters remembered us and gave us free wine, and bars that multiple generations know of that every 20-something frequents. There were so many opportunities to take advantage of in the city, it was not possible to do everything but I sure tried.
The city slowly brought me back to life just as winter turned to spring, and I was convinced the city was mine again. However, I always felt like something was missing. A new job couldn't fix it, dating in the city sure as hell couldn't fix it, and packing my schedule full of activities wasn't fixing it. Was it New York or me? Hopefully not the former, because it had been my dream, and hopefully not the latter, because that meant a lot more work to put in to fix the primary cause. I decided to put more effort into learning French again and that maybe, it was time to switch dreams. Working abroad was always a goal of mine, but it became apparent that it would be much harder to accomplish than I thought. I would almost always get a callback with my resume drop, but as soon as I explained I needed a visa sponsorship, they lost interest in my candidacy. I was in the classic, mid-twenties, existential crisis phase, questioning all my choices up until that point and wondering where to find fulfillment in my life. I decided that I needed to find fulfillment in a job given how many hours I had to work and feel like I was making an impact. Going back to school to be a doctor or a lawyer, where your impact is fairly immediate, was not feasible to me. Firstly, I was not smart enough to do that, and secondly, there was no way I was going to be able to take out the amount of loans needed to succeed. My new goal was to get into an international MBA program, live abroad, and help equalize the business playing field for women. One of the most impactful ways to equalize that playing field is by investing in women-owned businesses (they currently get less than 5% of VC funding) and helping them succeed.
So I began reading "Goodbye to All That" in hopes of finding a sign that leaving the city was truly what I needed at the time. I read all of about 2.5 essays before life got too busy to continue reading it. I was studying for the GMAT, working 80 hours a week, going through the grueling process freezing my eggs due to health issues (it is NOT as easy as commercials make it out to be), all while trying to maintain a semblance of a social life and handling an unstable roommate. I applied to just one graduate school in France - putting all my eggs in one basket was out of character for me - but I loved every bit of what this school stood for and frankly decided I did not have time to write more essays. If I failed to gain admittance, which I was sure of, I would reexamine life at that time.
Graduate school application submission. I ran up closer to the deadline than I would have liked to due some technical difficulties with video questions that were required to submit. The time delay felt more detrimental by laying out $70 for a blowout to try to look as put together as possible for the admissions officers (worked for Elle Woods, didn't it?). The next day, our company was told to work from home due to the increasing danger of the COVID-19 virus. We were one of the first companies in New York to require employees to work from home. Our work culture was not one that embraced flexible working arrangements at the time, so looking back, I should have been more worried we were one of the first offices to not allow employees in the office. However, the U.S. news did not seem too phased by this new virus originating across the world, and we were in the middle of a looming deadline at work. Working from home for me only meant I did not have to change from my pajamas when waking up at 6 AM and could go straight to work at the kitchen table instead of wasting time working out, getting ready, and commuting. The weekend after this was filled with enjoying dining at restaurants in New York that usually require reservations 90 days out. If my current self could go back to this time, I would slap myself but also convince Carbone to start delivering earlier than they did and buy P&G and Zoom stock.
I had planned to go on vacation to France and ski Val d'Isère with my best friend for my yearly vacation - instead, I flew home to Dallas for what I thought would be a maximum one month hiatus from New York. Little did I know I would be staying for 6 months and that the Instagram story photo of the New York skyline would be my last photo of the city while having a New York City address.
Most of the three months after this week became a blur as the markets melted down, work exploded to working 18-20 hours a day trying to manage the shifting landscape due to COVID-19, and my semblance of a personal life dwindled to nothing due to quarantining and living back with my parents. I may have had more space in Dallas, but I had more privacy in New York, where no one cared if you were crying on the street due to stress, where no one asked why were you buying four pints of ice cream or made jokes about it, and most importantly, where no one questioned doing the right thing for one another. All of a sudden, I was in a dystopia where people were protesting wearing masks, which were meant to keep one another safe, and yet stocking up on guns (remember, Texas). There were shortages not only of ammunition for the Texas suburban people ready to fight the government but also of common human decency and concern for one another. My heart ached for New York in many ways - ached for the people who were numbers in a bar chart on Cuomo's daily COVID-19 briefing, ached for the man who ran my bodega and let me buy Flaming Hot Cheeto's with a credit card even though there was a $5 minimum, ached for the delivery man who saw me struggling when moving in and ran my suitcase up five flights of stairs. Most of all, my heart ached for the New Yorkers who truly cared about each other. People who have never lived in New York may think New Yorkers are mean, but that could not be further from the truth. They simply let you live your life, and if you need help or are in trouble, strangers are there for you with no expectation of karmic gratitude from the universe. One time, I had just exited my boxing studio and was about to descend the stairs of the subway when I noticed a heated exchange between a couple. Being 5'4", I knew I did not have the physical strength to help the woman, but I stood by, ready to help if needed. I noticed three other people did the same, including a much larger man, who, as soon as the man in the couple reeled back his arm, stepped into stop him. We would like to think people in any city would do the same, but realistically, they wouldn't. In the south, people exchange niceties at the cash register and if you don't, you're considered rude. However, no one would say anything if they saw a couple exchanging heated remarks in the supermarket, because that's not their business. Meanwhile in New York no one cares if you dress a different way or act outside of the norm, but if you are in trouble, someone will take a stand.
I picked back up my "Goodbye to All That" book and continued reading, this time longing for strangers I could connect to, stories that reminded me of what I considered my true home. Even though I only lived there for four years, I would have lived there my entire life if I could have done so - I dreamt of New York since I was 10, and although New Yorkers might call me a wannabe, I felt more at home in New York than anywhere else.
This day was the best day of my personal life and one of the worst for my company. I found out I was accepted to my dream graduate school in France the same day my company filed the worst earning's report in their history due to the impacts of COVID-19. One dream was coming true, and many others' dreams were falling apart. I knew on this day that I would not to be able to say the true goodbye to New York that I had planned on, the goodbye I had mentally planned on the off chance I underestimated myself and was admitted into graduate school. I had two months of plans, of restaurants, museums, and exhibits that I never had time to experience. Two months of plans with the friends I had made in New York that made saying goodbye much harder than planned. And I felt guilty for feeling this sadness, as the world was dealing with a pandemic, people were dying, losing loved ones, and losing their livelihoods. All I was mourning was the lost experiences and the inability to have a true goodbye to the city I worked so hard to get to since I was 10.
At times, I still wonder if I am making the right move - leaving New York, spending loads of money on graduate school, and hoping that this new goal is not going to satiate me for only a year or two. But I know that this new experience will enable me to grow, help me forward the goal of accomplishing equity for women in the business world, and that New York will remain my first dream that is never quite finished. I was able to have a miniature goodbye tour of the US to have new adventures and see old friends with two weeks spent in New York. It was not the same no longer having a New York address, but the wonder of New York is never lost on me. New York will always welcome me back, but maybe with a few more entry taxes in the form of a sixth floor walkup, another pigeon shitting on me, or more AirPods lost to the subway tracks for ever leaving the beautiful city in the first place.
Things you can't leave New York without learning:
Don't wear the uncomfortable heels. You will walk everywhere and highly regret it when climbing your five flight walkup after a night out. Otherwise, you might end up with your feet bleeding and icing them the next day, not that I learned that from personal experience...
Eat at the bar - you never know who you are going to meet. You may meet someone who gives the best life advice.
You can carry those groceries 10 blocks. Just force someone else to buy the turkey for Friendsgiving and don't put the groceries down on the sidewalk to rest.
Seize every opportunity you can, but you will burn out if you don't learn to rest. And once you're burned out, it takes a hell of a lot longer to recover. Turn off your phone every once in a while and zen out in the middle of the park with no agenda (maybe with a bottle of wine).
You can deal with every kind of person - crazy roommate, demanding boss, trust fund baby. Leverage your ability to read people and handle them to get what you need.
Don't eat sushi on Mondays. If you know, you know.
Take off your shoes immediately upon entering the apartment. It's not always water on the sidewalks.
You will cry on the subway, on the sidewalk, in the park, or in another public place. You don't always have to keep it together, and there will be strangers quietly empathizing with you.
It is normal to be excited about a new chapter, while mourning the closing of a previous chapter. I cried the day I quit my first job, even though I knew my second job would provide me the experience I needed to further my career goals. I cried moving out of my New York apartment, all while feeling more giddy than ever to start my move to France. It is okay to close, or pause, one chapter and be upset that the "what ifs" were never settled but also be excited for the "what could be" that is yet to come.
Find what and who makes you feel strong - for me, the "what" was boxing (what is better than landing a 15 punch combo with guys staring in the gym?); the "who" was my circle of people I could count on to bring a bottle of wine after a bad day, motivate me to pursue my goals, and encourage me to keep getting stronger when I felt like giving up. This list of friends, colleagues, and trainers is much too long to post, but they are who shaped my experiences and helped me grow into the self-sustaining semi-New Yorker I am now. Finding this type of strength made it possible to carry 70 pounds up 5 flights of stairs, survive grieving a miserable breakup and subsequently the loss of one of my favorite people in the world, and ultimately, find my voice. With my circle, I felt I could take on the world, or at least New York.