“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you,” said Joseph Campbell. “You have to move to New York,” said all my journalism professors ever.
For a brief, delusional window of time, my goal was the same as most of my classmates: finish school, throw caution and common sense to the wind and ship out, jobless and penniless, to worship at the altar of Manhattan. My adviser was sure I could do it — “everybody gets a job within three months,” he said. While it is appealing, this idea that if you just try hard enough, it will happen for you, I have found that, unlike my fifth-grade science teacher, life doesn’t always wait for triers. Practicality won out in the end, as it so often does for me, and I decided to stay in Chicago instead.
I was upset, but only because New York began to feel more like a “now or never” as I watched friends and acquaintances successfully follow the script, happily installing themselves at big name publications while I continued to work mainly from my bed. But most things are not now or never, not really, and anyone who says otherwise is writing a romantic comedy. I’m happy in Chicago, as deep down I knew I would be, with an established network of friends, a great neighborhood where there are not one, not two, but three taquerias all named La Pasadita on one block, and where the kids from next door play volleyball in the street and tell me I look like their science teacher. My apartment is spacious, pretty and half the cost of something half its size in Manhattan. The city is the perfect blend of strange and familiar, full of both memories and things I have yet to discover.
I started trying to write this piece several months ago, around the time I decided definitively to stay. At that time, it actually was a story about settling, though I wouldn’t have admitted it. I had myself convinced I was championing my decision to listen to Lindsey Buckingham and go my own way. But recently I was presented with an opportunity that, had I gotten it, would have required me to drop everything I have here, all the things I listed that are so great about this place, and move to New York. I worried myself literally sick, coughing and sniveling and obsessing for a week, but if it came down to it, I wouldn’t have hesitated to leave.
In the weeks that have passed since I was passed over for the job, I have found myself time and time again feeling grateful. Grateful for the tacos at La Pasadita, the world’s best roommate and a city that is just as full of possibility as New York and twice as meaningful to me. Career-wise, I would describe my current state as that moment when your mom finally lets go of the bicycle seat and you have a brief moment of wobbly exhilaration. I’m doing it, I’m really doing it, and for now, everything is great. If I’m going to crash, I’d much rather do it here, where the city is gentler and my friends are close by to patch up my scrapes.
It’s a very human thing, I think, to be continually unimpressed by our own successes, to enjoy them for five minutes before we return to thinking about all the things we have yet to achieve, and I’m as guilty as anyone. But the greedy maw of my ambition can wait to be fed while I try my best to do some actual living beyond the frantic grasping at success that is all too common among those of my chosen profession. Chicago is not a finish line. New York is not a finish line. There is only one finish line in life, and when I think about it, I don’t really want to get there.