Ya Gotta Do You

When you write a weekly column about relationships in your college paper – that no one takes seriously – but gets great traffic, you suck up the snide remarks from other staffers. When friends and people remind you time-and-time again that when you move to New York, you might not work for a magazine. You might not get a job in editing at all. You might end up being an intern forevermore and never make any money and eat Ramen until you can’t possibly stomach another noodle – you smile and take it all with a grain of salt (or put it on said Ramen).  When you receive hate mail on the very last day of your very last class of your college career, where someone says they hope you fall on your “pretty little face” in New York because “being pretty” doesn’t mean you can be an editor – you vow to frame that letter when get that corner office. When the chancellor of your university says that you just don’t really have what it takes to lead a staff and that you would fit in better at a glossy than writing about “serious topics,” you congratulate the new editor-in-chief, graduate early, move to New York, and land a job… writing about “serious topics.”

Because even if people find you ridiculous or don’t believe you can’t do what you keep sayin’ you’re going to do — ya gotta do you.

When you start a blog way back in 2010 because your day job –  an editorial assistant at a business magazine – just wasn’t quite what you wanted, you spend hours (and hours) after work building your social presence, writing content and scheduling posts. When you meet someone two weeks into designing a blog about being single, about learning to love yourself first before loving a man, you put off the relationship talk for as long as you possibly can and stick to your rules, no matter how self-imposed they are. When your blog generates traffic from all around the world and you’re basking in the afterglow of being featured on the homepage of WordPress, you remind yourself that fans are fickle and the Internet, like some men, loses interest quickly, so be thankful. When your boss at that business magazine isn’t a fan of you posting the blog on LinkedIn and pulls you aside about it, you kindly decline the request to remove it because it’s part of who you are.

Because even when you’re the only person making yourself write about something you believe in – without getting paid anything at all – ya gotta do you.

When you’re in a relationship but something just isn’t right, something doesn’t feel like it’s progressing or it’s satisfying or it’s what you really want, you have to think about what you need instead of fearing what you might not find. When someone says the right things but doesn’t follow-through with actions, when someone gives you just enough to hold on but not enough to move forward, you have to make the decision to not give up on love, but to believe that yes, of course, definitely, the best is still yet to come. When a possibility becomes entirely impossible, when what you thought could be something powerful is really just disappointing and disenchanting, you have to let go to let love in – no matter how long it takes for it to come around again.

Because even if you think you’re too picky or you expect too much out of someone, you know you’d rather be single than to settle and at the end of the day – or the end of a relationship - ya gotta do you.

When the opportunity arrives to turn something you’ve fostered and you’ve nurtured and you’ve shared for nearly four years into a physical, actual book that people can buy in real bookstores (or on real Kindles and Nooks), you might have to catch your breath before you respond to the email. When you spend time carefully reading over your own writing, weeding through chapter outlines and sample pitches, trying to figure out the best way to market yourself as a brand – when all you ever were before was a 20-something single girl writing about her life – you figure out just how much determination you have and how badly you long to see that byline at Barnes & Noble. When you really get along with a book agent that believes in your work and in your message almost as much as you do, when his ideas and his presentation are exactly what you envisioned for yourself, you might get butterflies just thinking about what this little blog could turn into one day. When you sign with your very first agent for your very first book and he sends it to a publishing house and you anxiously await the outcome, you might need more than just a cocktail to settle your nerves.

Because even though people told you writing about love was silly, that a blog about your personal life may be a little too much, that waiting for the right guy might take a little time and a lot faith, that dreams of becoming an author are far-fetched and unrealistic in the digital age… ya just gotta forget what everyone says. You have to trust in that love you found for yourself, that you built, that you believed in has gotten you exactly where you are today.

And that you did all of it – slowly, but surely – by listening to your gut. By following your heart. By remembering that no matter what, ya gotta do you.

 

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How to Breathe

During the summer in New York, right around 8 p.m., as we’re heading off to indulge in sangria and sunsets, there is an orange shadow that cascades across the streets, beaming off the buildings, and leaving everything it touches with a crisp, bronzed haze. It is one of my favorite moments in the city all-year-round, and regardless of where I am or who I’m with, just seeing the amber reflection is enough to distract my attention and make me take a big breath.

I was thankful for a moment of clarity before meeting Mr. Unexpected for a celebratory sushi and sake date on Friday night, after a very long, very exasperating week. I had a hard time sleeping every night last week, my nerves never calming down from the many changes of the past few months circling in my head and enticing my heart to race. And though I always get a little anticipant to see Mr. Unexpected, once we start talking, he has a certain way of calming me down, too. Sitting across from him, with the citrus sun still radiating above us, I took another big breath of pure stress release.

In fact, I’ve been reminding myself to breathe a lot lately.

To say this year has been ripe with change, expenses and new experiences would be a vast understatement. If anyone would have told me all of the things that would happen in 2014, I would have never believed them.

Just to recap:

  • My dad had unexpected heart surgery at the start of the year.
  • I had my last day at iVillage – after three years – on a Thursday in April.
  • The next day, I left for a 10-day trip to Paris and Rome with my mom.
  • Two days after I got back, I started my exciting, challenging and entertaining job at WEtv.com.
  • Then I got in – via raffle – to the NYC marathon.
  • Two weeks later I met who I thought would be my roommate for an October 1 move date.
  • Then I realized my lease ended on September 1. (You know, when I’ll be in London visiting J for a week.)
  • Which means I would have to move by August 15.
  • Two weeks later, I met Mr. Unexpected.
  • 20+ dates later, we are an actual thing.
  • The roommate, who I thought would be moving with me, couldn’t anymore.
  • I decided that I couldn’t possibly train for the marathon, go on a big trip, do well in my new job and find an apartment and train for the marathon. So I backed out.
  • So with a month to go to find an apartment, I somehow found two roommates.
  • And a subletter for my current apartment – for just a month.
  • I signed a lease yesterday. To move to the East Village!

Whew.

The funny thing is that I have wanted so many of these things for such a long time: a new job with more responsibility, management and strategy, a man that surprises me with how easy it is to date him, a lease that keeps me downtown and more in the city, and the financial ability to travel more than I have before. I have been ready for these transformations and these interruptions into my daily routine and life – I suppose I just never thought that it would all happen at one time.

Or within the first six months of 2014.

I wasn’t ready for all of this last year and I guess I didn’t consider if I was ready now, but it’s all happening, so I might as well enjoy it, right? I asked Mr. Unexpected that night.

Are we ever ready for these things? He responded, smiling at me from across the rickety table, drinking his sake much faster than me.

And while I agree – most of the best things and hardest things and most influential things that occur in our lives, we rarely see coming – I also think you have to go through a lot of hardship and endure a lot of complacency before you’re brave enough to make a move. (Literally!)

I might have thought I could go from one side of the city to another (and up my rent quite a bit) last year, but I would have buckled under the stress (and the weight of those security deposit and broker’s fee checks). I might have thought that I would be able to savor and enjoy international travel, but that excursion couldn’t have come at a better time: in between two jobs, without having to think about checking email or wondering what was going on in the office. I might have thought that I had patched up my relationship with my father after his cancer scare last year, but there’s something about the possibility of your dad’s heart almost actually breaking to snap you into gratitude mode. And of course, I might have thought I was ready to invest in a something with a someone, but it takes more than a few failed dates to realize your worth – and what you want in a partner.

So am I ready for these things? A new job, a new apartment, a new man, my third new country to visit in about a month? I considered, falling asleep next to him, staring out my Upper West Side window, the one I’ve looked out of countless times, wishing my life would just change already. I felt Lucy by my feet, curling herself into a ball – and like I always do, I placed my hand on my heart to settle it, but it was calm already. For the first time in weeks. I took in that big breath again and I settled my mind, concluding that I don’t know if I’m ready for anything.

But what I do know that the only thing I have to know is how to breathe. And to trust. I have to remember that if struggles have taught me anything, it’s that I always have myself to depend on in the end, no matter what. And that fact is enough to make me – with all of the stress and the anxiety and the uncertainness of everything roaming my thoughts – relaxed enough to let go.

And with the biggest breath of all, let it happen.

 

 

All At Once or Not At All

I watched the girls chatter and talk, laugh and make sweeping hand gestures in a crowded, sweaty room in midtown east just a block or two from Grand Central. Most of them I didn’t know, a few I recognized but couldn’t place a name and some, I had watched grow from eager intern to unemployed maniac to confident, happy editor.

It was a beautiful thing to see – this program that was just a little idea of mine a few years ago – in its third year, matching the job seekers with the job keepers, and hopefully, creating friendships, too. I’ve been in all of their shoes before: moving to New York without an apartment or any income, working the 9-6 as an editorial assistant, barely making enough money to pay rent, eat and actually leave my apartment for a happy hour from time-to-time. I’ve felt all of those scary, invigorating and desperate feelings – wondering when my chance would come, when I could write home to North Carolina that I wasn’t a failure, that I wasn’t out-of-mind, that I was surviving. That I was really living that life I had imagined for so many years, that it wasn’t just a pipe dream or a silly fantasy, but my reality.

Nearly four years, three job titles and one very big blog later (wow!), I wish I could say that everything is easier. That I have it all figured out and my ducks are in their perfect little rows, and I’m relishing in the success I’ve made for myself. And in some ways and on some days, everything is smooth sailing. But if going through all of the stages of being an early to a mid-20’s something has taught me anything, the biggest lesson is…

…life happens all at once or not at all.

When you first make that huge leap to an unknown place with an unknown destination and unplanned outcome – you’re terrified. But you’re so full of drive and bubbling with so much energy, that you forget that you’re broke. You stalk job sites and you have as many networking hours and coffee dates as you possibly can – and then some Friday, on some random afternoon, when you’re wasting time on the internet, you get that phone call for your first job. You forget to negotiate the salary (you learn how to later on), but you don’t mind. And then the next weeks are filled with paperwork and learning curves and figuring out what to wear and getting to know the personalities of your team – people you’ll see more than you see anyone else in your life.

And then when you switch jobs two years later, you do it again. Three years after that, you’ll go through all the same steps with a new gig. It will happen so quickly, so intensely, after so many months of playing the waiting game, after so many dreaded edit tests and long, nerve-wracking interviews – it’ll just happen. And, dare I say it, rather easily. Because that’s how life happens. All at once.

Or not at all.

When you’re looking for that first apartment, when you don’t know the city and you don’t really understand the difference between neighborhoods and you don’t know how to tell if it’s safe or if it had bed bugs or if you can actually afford it (since you don’t have a job yet) – you wander aimlessly, hoping you’ll just know when you find it. You’ll settle on a place that’ll do, that’s not ideal, that’s most importantly, very cheap. You’ll make friends with the building, you’ll grow use to the rancid smells coming from downstairs and down the street. You’ll figure out how to drown out noise and the unreliable rhythm of the closest train to your place. And then just as you’ve started to feel settled, it’ll be time to move again.

So you will. And your budget will be different because your job will be new. You’ll find an upgraded place suddenly and move swiftly. You might even adopt a dog because you get so comfortable. And then three years later – with a new raise, you’ll crave a new place. There will be complications and gap months and broker’s fees and you’ll watch your money crumble away… but that’s how life happens. All at once.

Or just, not at all.

When you first start dating, it will feel like a rather clever experience. Entertaining mostly, and then so frustrating, you swear each time you’ll never do it again. But something makes you keep trying, keep putting your cards out on the table, waiting for the right hand, carefully eying the players for their poker face. You sign up and you delete, you give up and you repeat. You fall backwards and then forwards, believing, and then trying your best to hide the disbelief when someone turns out just so very… very…. wrong. You venture out alone on trips and adventures, you invest in yourself and in your future, figuring if someone is meant to be in your life, they will enter it.

It’ll take months that turn into years until you finally, somehow, do in fact, meet someone. Unexpectedly. And those bad dates will seem far away, those experiences that were so disheartening, feel enlightening. Those things that were once so hard – texting and setting up dates and talking plans – are just easy. Simple. Uncomplicated. Because that’s how life happens. All at once, instantly.

Or, not at all.

To those of you who just graduated – or have been removed from school for a while but are embarking on a big change, don’t let go of your faith. Savor those periods of flourishing and mystery, where nothing seems certain, where everything is in the air. Because while it doesn’t feel like it at the time, those are the days when the magic is unfolding. That’s when it’s all happening.

And even if you can’t enjoy it now – don’t worry. You’ll go through the same cycle every few years, with every new place, new job, new guy – and it’ll feel just the same. Except that you’ll just be watching i from a new point of view, the kind of view where you can look into a room and see different stages of your life illustrated in strangers. And you’ll hope that for their sake, they let life take it’s tides.

That they’ll have the courage to let it happen. All at once. And then not at all. All at once… it’ll just all unfold.

 

 

 

 

You Never Know Where You’re Going to Land

In honor of Throwback Thursday, here’s something I originally wrote in an email to my mother on March 30th, 2010 – two weeks after I moved to New York City.

When I was a little girl, I used to get the biggest kick out of standing on the palm of my dad’s hand and jumping onto a Cookie Monster beanbag. I can’t remember it completely, just bits and pieces from old VHS tapes, but I used to get up as soon as I hit the beanbag, and run back to jump off again. Sometimes I stood with two feet, or just one little foot -but I always went back for more.

As I grew, I wanted to learn to ride a bicycle, so my dad went with me to the top of our gravel driveway, and off I would go. I can’t tell you how many times I fell or the number of band-aids I needed after going arm or knee first into gravel -but I never gave up. Even if it hurt, I jumped up again, and I went back for more.

Then I turned 15, and I could finally get the opportunity to drive. My dad bought a tiny, crappy red car to teach me the ropes on. Those who know me best will admit that even to this day, I’m not the best driver in the world, but when I was learning -I never let fear stand in my way. Even after I flipped my car a month after I got my license and bought my first car with my own savings -I still jumped behind the wheel.

If I look back on my life, from the time I was little to being a teenager and enduring the many disappointments college brings -one thing that has remained constant is my ability to endure. To jump. To move past fear or disappointments or outcome.

I have often taken the first step into an unknown direction and stepped into darkness, even if the light seemed more promising or secure. I’ve opted for the path I wanted instead of the road that was the easiest or the one without any shadows or scary corners.

And even if there was no net to catch me or if I didn’t know what the final solution will be -I still jump. Head first, without hesitation, all-signs-pointing-to-go, and dive.

Moving to New York was no different. If anything, it was the pinnacle of all of that hard work, and all of the risks I took before. It was the jump of all jumps -no bungee cord, no life support, no one that I have known forever to break my fall if I needed it.

Just me and the wings I decided to sprout.

I look around this tiny apartment I see and hear creaking floors, see a very old heater and stove I have yet to figure out how to work (I think you have to use matches, and that just scares me), antique furniture that came with the brownstone, and smell the scent of a truly old building that’s been kept up with. And within the little quarters and even in all of its history – I still see me.

The me that packed her bags, saved her pennies and dimes, said good-bye to the ones she loves the very most, and jumped on a plane. I see every long hour I logged at Books-a-Million, Glidewell’s, Aeropostale, The Appalachian, and every other job that helped me save enough money to move. I see the clothes I strategically picked out to be the most important to have until I’m finally able to send everything else. I see frozen moments in pictures I have all over my room –times of laughter, of growth, of lessons, of graduations, weddings, babies, and everything in between. I see the red dishes from college that have kept with me throughout the years, my first AOII cup, a Starbucks mug from someone I truly loved, a teapot that came with the apartment, and a red microwave that was only $20 on Craigslist.

It’s not that I’ve never seen these things before, but for the first time, I notice them. I value them more than I ever have before. Not only are they part of my history, but they are part of the new history of this apartment. One of many stories that this room has been able to hear and now to tell. Of the many revolving faces and experiences that come and go to New York and back to their hometown or to a new resting place in the city.

And I notice these things because for the first time, it really is just me jumping on my own. No beanbag below me. No dad or mom to rush with a band-aid if I happen to fall down (and I have in my cute Sarah Jessica Parker boots, by the way). No airbag if I back into a fence (which I’ve done) or into a car (which I’ve also done). This apartment is completely funded by me, with my heart and soul, with my savings. Every box or bag of food in my kitchen, I bought. Everything around me is mine, because of my diligence to get here.

I always knew I would grow up, and I thought I did my fair share of growing during college, but the last two weeks (and one day) have taught me miles of lessons that I could have never learned while in school. Worrying about groceries, transportation, rent, if it’s raining or how cold it’s going to be, how to fit everything you need for a full-day into one bag, and how to function in flats when you were born to walk in heels.

And it’s scary. It’s a leap of faith, a jump into the right direction –but it’s my turn. It’s my leap. My jump. And somehow, a sense of empowerment, of fulfillment, of complete independence and confidence in myself and my capabilities comes with this move.

Regardless of what capacity it is in –maybe just trying a new haircut or going out on a date with someone you didn’t see yourself with, or ending a relationship that’s not working, or moving away from home finally –you should jump.

Go for it. Be prepared for the worse, but laugh at fear in its face and know the universe has something else planned for you. If you follow your heart, stick to your guns, and know you can do anything you put your mind to –the jump will free you. Enlighten you. Give you strength and a new sense of self. Even if it’s in the form of seeing your silverware in a new light.

Jump high. Jump for the stars or for the building tops.

You never know where you’ll land.

The Prize is in the Process

A year ago, I started to feel complacent.

More so than loneliness, more so than frustration and even more than confusion, feeling stagnant was a more complicated and infuriating feeling than anything else. If I’m not moving, than I’m not growing, if I’m not growing and experiencing new things and learning, than why was I paying such a premium to live here?

No one moves to New York to stay still and to remain silent. They move – or at the very least, I moved – to be challenged. I didn’t want – or expect – the city to take it easy on me. I wanted the hardships and the pains.

Without them, how could I ever enjoy my success when I made it?

Those thoughts are the very ones that plagued me last year. Nothing was exactly wrong, of course. I was gainfully employed by a reputable, well-known company. I had a roof over my head and more than enough to save for future roofs. I wasn’t lacking love – other than romantic – and even though my father’s health wasn’t exactly great, it was stable and more importantly, officially cancer-free.

But I wasn’t happy – not with anything and especially not with myself. I wanted more and I craved change. But day after day, and month after month, the little routine that I built for my little life chugged along, status quo and … boring as hell.

And then on January 1, 2014, per the instructions of my star-gazing, astrologically-gifted mother, I wrote down all of the things I wanted.

Per her recommendations, I got very specific: the title I wanted, the type of work environment I hoped for, the salary I dreamed of having. I wrote down the qualities I desired in a man: a kind, giving heart, a hard-working spirit, a family man with character and charm, and a person who kept me on my toes everywhere – in conversation, in adventures, in the bedroom. I scribbled about the apartment I often imagined in my head, many floors up or an old walk-up, laundry in the building and a dishwasher, a studio for one or the luxury of affording a decent two bedroom for two. The ability to walk to work every day, instead of fighting commuters on the train. I even wrote about my friends and family, their health and their happiness, and I vowed to become a better daughter and a better confidant, a gentler puppy mom, and a believer in the good, instead of a dweller of the bad.

It was quite the long list, but it was meant to really shake up things this year.

And ya know what? It worked.

Since March 1- I ran the New York City Half-Marathon, I was accepted into the NYC Marathon in November, I put in my notice at iVillage, traveled to Europe for 10 days with my brave mom and started a new exciting job at AMC Networks. And while the verdict is still out on the next Mr. that will feature these pages, I don’t quite mind the wait. Instead, dating feels just a little easier than it has for a very long time.

But that’s how it goes, doesn’t it?

When everything feels stale and you find yourself just holding out for the next big thing, it feels like your state of stationary will be endless. When you’re in the hard part of the process – with the tears and the angry writing and the fears and the motionlessness – you can’t see the other end.

You can’t see what a difference a year makes.

And you can’t begin to realize how important that process was to get you to where you’re going. How strong it made you, and how secure. How much you learned at one job – thanks to some very wonderful mentors – that fully prepared you for that promotion and raise you wanted. How your dad’s deteriorating health made you see the vulnerability of your parents for the first time, giving them mortality and bringing you all closer. How friends that held you accountable for your moods and your language turned you into a more generous, more understanding woman who thinks before she speaks (and types). How being single and enduring countless terrible dates, makes you so grateful for one that goes well, regardless if there is a second or a third or more. How through it all, you somehow kept your state of grace and somehow, your heart not only remained open and hopeful, but it grew even bigger than before.

Though I’m relishing a newfound confidence and all of the many changes that I’ve been blessed to find – and create! – I’ve learned an important lesson in the waiting period: The prize isn’t found here when things are easier and the sweetness of summer is within sight.

Instead, the prize is in the patience in the process it took to get here. The prize is what that process, what those trials, what those lessons, what those very long, stale days, made me into.

The prize is in me – and in knowing that no matter what comes and doesn’t, what remains the same and what changes, what happens and what is going to happen – I know I can not only get through it…

…but I can be patient in the process. Maybe I can even savor it.