I have lived in New York for four years now. Four years of pushing myself when I didn’t feel like I could push myself any further. Four years of making myself get out of bed in the winter and brave the cold. Four years of feeling alone in a crowd of people. Four years of trying to get ahead, make the grade, take the next step.
It’s also been four years of self-discovery. It’s been four years of exploration. It’s been four years of finding the best cup of coffee. It’s been four years of learning how to give directions to tourists. It’s been four years of history being made before my eyes. It’s been four years of subway rides, Broadway shows, snow in Central Park, walks on the promenade, making friends, losing friends, learning how to be happy being alone, learning how to care less, and learning how to care more again.
Sometimes, when I’m walking down the street, the blessing of where I get to do life really strikes me. I’m struggling right now — but I get to struggle here. Only 8.5 million people get to say that. Only 8.5 million people out of 7 billion can say that they get to face the unique challenges and experience the profound joys of living in this amazing city.
I remind myself on a daily basis that it is a privilege to struggle. I struggle with New York, with my job, with my grades, with my desires. I wrestle my heart daily, the cravings it has against the realities it must yield to. I wish that I had an intact family that was financially secure and could go on an extended vacation to a tropical island or the Mediterranean. I wish that I could get that perfect Brooklyn apartment in the safe, inexpensive, accessible neighborhood. I wish I didn’t have to miss the people that don’t fit in my life anymore; the people that one day were just gone. I wish I felt there was a place I belonged. I wish I had someone to take care of me when I’m just too tired to take care of myself. I wish I could afford to buy new lipstick.
What is my life actually like? I have an internship and a part time job. I’m taking an online summer statistics course that is absolutely kicking my ass. I commute multiple hours a day. I try to ignore the creeping worries in the back of my mind… how will I pay rent this week? Do I have money to buy food? What if I fail this class?
Obviously, this is called being an adult. Adults tell you for years that this is what you have to look forward to and you believe them but don’t understand it until you’re actually living it. It pisses me off that I didn’t appreciate my childhood and lack of responsibilities more. It makes me angry that I didn’t savor that innocence before it got away from me. But this is just a perspective issue. We all want to grow up, and then when we do we want to go back. But if we’re honest with ourselves, our nostalgia is misguided. We felt insecure and unhappy as children too. We longed for more even then.
The thing is, (and I’m about to drop some heavy and unprecedented knowledge on you): LIFE IS HARD. It’s always been hard and it will always be hard and Instagram can only do so much to conceal the daily heartache and misery you feel in the brief succession of brilliant, brief moments of contentment; but it cannot suppress this desire for more that will creep back up when those moments fade.
I think we all operate under the mistaken impression that a plateau of happiness lies imminently in our future. One day, we’ll put all the nonsense behind us and start our real adult lives. In these real adult lives, we will have control, money, and most importantly, answers. We will not struggle with our desires, our identity, or our relationships. The skeptic would brand this as naiveté. The optimist would call it hope. I like to think I am an optimist, swimming steadily for the glimmering surface above, desperate for that gulp of air that lies beyond the surface.
The truth is, we must keep swimming. We must press forward. This gulp of air refreshes and revives us, but it is only a respite. There are more icy choppy waters we must plunge through. The moments of contentment we feel are the moments that ground us and help us move forward. When the girl you babysit gives you a hug for the first time; when you are cooking dinner and it smells sooo good; when a stranger tells you that you’re beautiful; when you finish a book and feel satisfied; when you get a text message from someone you miss. These are the things that keep us moving forward, the things that persuade us that life, no matter how hard it is, is worth sticking around for.
It is a privilege to struggle, because if we did not struggle we would not become stronger; if we did not struggle, we would not appreciate the joy of love, beauty, and knowledge. It is a privilege to struggle because we would not exist as the person that we are if it weren’t for our struggle. It is a privilege to struggle because if we allow it to, it can make us more compassionate and more grateful for the things that we do have.
Save me a seat on the struggle-bus.