"How Did You Make It On Your Own?"
It’s been almost a year since I did something unthinkable.
Last January 1st, I hopped on a one way flight to Europe. 2 weeks later, I was NYC-bound because it was the cheapest flight back to America. Most people move to New York City with a plan. I was not one of those people.
To say my first few weeks in New York were tough would be an understatement. This city knocked me to the ground. It swallowed me whole - all well reminding me that I had no job, no friends, and a less than ideal living situation.
I wasn’t in the country of Western Pennsylvania anymore. I had to adjust. And I had to adjust fast. No matter how hard it was, I had to keep my head up. No matter how badly I wanted to lay on the cot in my subletted bedroom and mope all day, I had to get up.
It’s that “showing up” nature that got me through those weeks. More specifically, it was how – one week into my stay in the Big Apple – we were hit with the biggest snow storm I’d ever seen. I walked across the street to Central Park and – because nobody ever taught me not to talk to strangers – I made my first friend.
I knew better than to give up. That was the start of my uphill climb in New York. Things were still undoubtedly hard. I still survived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and plain pasta for months on end but I was learning. I taught myself to be open minded and say yes to every opportunity that came my way – even if it was a job that I felt unqualified for.
It’s amazing what happens when you accept the opportunities that have been offered to you graciously and with determination. It’s amazing what happens when you vow to not just accept the unknown, but to embrace it with open arms – to know that things won’t always be easy but to believe that they will someday be worth it.
Last Saturday, a friend texted me the following:
How did you make it on your own?
I looked down at the dinner I had just prepared for myself – whole wheat toast, spaghetti sauce, two slices of cheese, and raw mushrooms – a sad excuse for a personal pizza.
She followed with:
Like how did you learn to do it by yourself? How’d you get past the anxiety and the homesickness?
As I cleaned my plate, I thought about her questions. I essentially typed a novel of a response, talking first through some important things like understanding the importance of a good living situation, taking a job that you like, making friends, creating a budget, and valuing self-care.
And then I told her what she really needed to hear. I told her that every time I leave Pennsylvania to come back to New York, I cry – partly because I’m a hyper-emotional person, but also because there will always be a part of me that stays in the place I grew up. I told her that I still get frustrated and anxious and that homesickness is very real – no matter where you go. I told her that we’re lying if we try to push those feelings away.
We talked for a little bit about our lives in our respective cities and it wasn’t until the next day that I realized I never addressed perhaps the most important thing.
My friend originally texted me with:
How did you make it on your own?
I had focused on typing an elaborate, helpful answer, but the truth is – I didn’t.
If it appears that I have made it on my own it is because I have an entire crew of life coaches and supporters who have been in my corner from day one.
Without texts to my dad of “what’s the quickest way to make these potatoes; I’m hungry” and calls to my mother of “I think the oven is smoking, so I should just turn it off, right?” I would probably be malnourished and just really awful at all things kitchen.
Without my brother and his friends who took me under their wings when I first came here, I would have spent much more time alone and much more time getting lost on the subway.
Without bosses who pushed me professionally and personally to become the best I could be, I don’t know if I would have believed in myself to aspire for the things I have since moving here.
Without roommates who would toss my favorite snack in my bedroom when I was especially stressed about Smile Project, job hunting, or life in general, I would have never understood how four strangers could become your lifelines and remind you to laugh above all else.
Without that one friend I could call crying at any hour and receive comfort from, hundreds of miles away, I truthfully don’t know what I would have done.
If over the past year I have given you the impression that I have made it “on my own” allow me to correct you.
I have “made it” to where I am today because I have constantly been backed by invisible heroes.
To everyone who has supported my every move for what has been an unreal year in New York City, thank you.