Striving to Thrive
I no longer consider myself a new New Yorker. I’ve lived here for nearly three years, and I certainly don’t feel like a bright-eyed new transplant anymore. I have my feet firmly planted on the ground and do not fear that I’ll have less than 50 dollars to my name at the end of the month. I’ve acquired my own New York traditions, and if a tourist or newcomer stops me on the street for directions, I can confidently point them in the right direction. The lost midwestern girl has grown into a tough New York woman—or so I thought.
A few weeks ago, I spent an entire day questioning my lot in life: What am I doing here? What truly makes me happy or what will make me happy in the future? Why, at almost 25 years old, do I not have something—a hobby or activity—that consistently leaves me satisfied?
I wondered if I was having a quarter-life crisis. After a deep breath, I convinced myself that I wasn’t. But that unsettling feeling that, perhaps, I don’t have a form of escapism from my everyday and routine life filled me with that familiar newcomer anxiety I had during my first six months here. Maybe I’m still just a midwestern girl lost in New York, but I knew where I could calm my uneasiness. The answer was tucked away in a short essay I wrote a month after I moved to the city.
As I walked along the pathway, I imagined what the city was like when the elevated train tracks beneath my feet were in use. Above the meatpacking district’s streets, I envisioned young laborers in overalls and newsboy caps sweating as they loaded the trains with the produce and meat that would feed the city’s booming immigrant families. The tracks—abandoned before I was born—were now nearly hidden under long, sweeping blades of grass and overgrown plants.
The vegetation, engulfed in its modern urban utopia, is a work of art. I understood the quiet escape it offered stressed city-dwellers—after all it was the reason I was there. However, glancing toward the clear blue sky, I noticed the concrete creatures towering above it swallowed its beauty. I knew the plants would be well nourished by the caretakers that put them there, but I cringed as disrespectful visitors crossed the barrier, crushing the greenery to gather for a photo. Did the carefully crafted landscape have a fighting chance of survival in my fair city?
I stopped, closed my eyes, and the hundreds of people that surrounded me faded away. I imagined myself alone in the park. It was desolate, and the wildlife prospered in its natural habitat, uncontrollably stretching beyond the train tracks, free from the humans that did not fully appreciate it. I wondered what my natural habitat was or if I’d ever find it. Relocating to New York is possibly the most challenging yet enriching experience a twenty-something can conquer. I had, for so long, believed that I belonged here and that I would even die here. However, like those plants on the High Line, I wondered if twenty-something transplants really stand a fighting chance.
Since I moved to the city, I’ve met many strong, passionate, and driven individuals—actors, musicians, and dancers— from all over the country, who were magnetically pulled to the city to achieve a dream. I met most of them while I was working as a barista. Some were just co-workers with whom I’d occasionally discuss future aspirations, others I felt a deeper connection to as I learned more about what stimulated their intellect. The stress of losing a monthly Metrocard hours after purchasing it on the last dime could be momentarily melted away at the dance studio or with the strum of a guitar—just as writing did for me. We all knew that we hadn’t moved here to work in a tourist-saturated coffee shop, but the shared experience was the root of our support system, providing us with a sense of purpose and the nourishment we needed to sustain city life.
As time passed, we grew closer and remained planted in the coffee shop as we attempted to branch out through our respected passions. When I didn’t land a coveted internship, they were the first I’d turn to, expressing my disappointment. “You’re very talented,” they’d say. “Keep going.” I reciprocated, expressing interest and genuine excitement when they’d announce they had an audition for a new project. “Break a leg,” I’d say.
Over the course of a year, we grew closer and stronger as we faced the adversities of city life. Weeks after I discovered my apartment had been burglarized, a friend was physically harassed in a bodega near her apartment—and it wasn’t the first time she’d been harassed. I consoled her to the best of my ability and offered the same advice she once gave me: Keep going. Perhaps, the hustle proved to be too much because weeks later she announced she was moving back to her hometown. No less than six months later, another friend—who had recently invested months and a lot of money into an acting class that she suspected was a scam—said that she was also leaving New York.
As they announced their departures, I could feel the roots of our support system—something that had become a vital part of my existence—wither up. If those two women couldn’t endure in the concrete jungle long-term, how could I continue to thrive? The loneliness I felt after their departure lingered and penetrated my fantasy, as I contemplated my own survival chances. Suddenly, I was no longer alone in that desolate park.
The sun filled the sky with different hues of orange and pink as it set over the Hudson River. I realized I had been anchored to a wooden bench at the High Line for over two hours feverishly writing and listening to music. I put my pen down, turned off my music, and heard a group of women next to me laughing as they sang Happy Birthday to a friend. “God, the sun is gorgeous,” I heard one of them say. I peered toward the river and felt at ease.
Several years ago, I planted my roots in New York all on my own. While the newness of New York has worn off and the grind of city life has sometimes left me feeling malnourished, I knew at that moment what had kept me thriving—the city. It will always give me a sense of purpose; I just have to give it a chance. The rest will fall into place.