There’s a city that every one of us has dreamt about — a city with bright lights, intense culture, and nonstop opportunity. A city that creates you, motivates you, and elevates you way higher the po’ folks in your hometown. A city that incessantly fills your soul with purpose, meaning, and killer pizza.
This city is not real. This city is in your head.
As a recent college graduate — and yes, I use a loose definition of “recent” — I’ve seen way too many of my friends fool themselves into believing this place is New York City. Before this month, I believed this place was New York City. I believed it was the only place where I could truly be myself. I believed it was the answer to my quarter-life crisis. Even worse, I believed my life was on pause until I moved there. This, this how you waste your life. This is not real. Yet so many of us take on this cognitive dissonance and make the big move — all for the wrong reasons. No direction, no plan — just raw hope that opportunity will naturally present itself. This is not real. New York is not your dream. New York is not your answer. Jordan Belfort will not be waiting at your baggage claim with a ‘NOW HIRING’ sign.
When I visited New York a few weeks ago, the first thing I noticed was garbage. Everywhere. Everything was dirty. And, trust me, as clearly evidenced by my college eating habits, I am no germaphobe. But given my philosophical fixation with New York, I could not stop wondering how this idealized, romanticized place could be as filthy as it is. As I remained hopeful about my time there — maybe I’ll do another open mic! — it hit me. I’m the reason New York is as filthy as it is. I don’t do open mics in Tallahassee, so why would I suddenly get the urge to do one in the comedy capital of the world? It’s because I, along with millions of other post-grads, was not actually hopeful for New York — I was hopeful for a parallel-universe version of myself, a version who has the guts to pursue whatever she wants. By sincerely believing this version of myself could only come to life by crossing state lines, I was using the ultimate excuse — disguising my deepest doubts by blaming it on the environment around me. Frankly, I don’t not do stand-up because I’m not in New York; I don’t do it because I’m scared shitless of trying.
This is why the city is so filthy. We migrate in droves to this fabled city, expecting to take whatever magical powers it has, absorbing its strength, and giving nothing back. We selfishly focus on what the city can offer us, instead of focusing on what we can give to the city. Everyone takes. No one contributes. Hence, societal filth.
We dream of New York City, but we are not actually dreaming of New York City. We’re dreaming of a new chapter, a new pace, a new life where we found our niche. We’re dreaming of never being bored. We’re dreaming of cool friends. We’re even dreaming of people asking us where we live, just so we can reassure ourselves by saying it out loud. This is not real. We’re not actually dreaming of New York City.
People move to New York, expecting the city to give them a purpose. However, this is not real. No one, and no place, can discover your life’s purpose for you. If you can’t get right with yourself, then nothing external will change that. If you’re unhappy at home, you’re going to be unhappy in New York. If you’re clueless at home, you’re going to be clueless in New York. If you’re broke at home, well, you’re going to be DOA in New York. Why is this? Because New York is a city — a physical, geographical place. A change in geography cannot change who you truly are. New York is not your golden ticket. New York is not the answer to your quarter-life crisis. You can take steps to make yourself a stronger, braver, more self-actualized person right where you currently are. New York is not your dream. New York is not your answer. You, and you alone, are your answer.