Once upon a time a wide-eyed 19-year-old gazed out the window of her 13th floor dorm and tried to determine the exact angle from which she could get the best photo of the Empire State Building. She listened to the music of the horns and sirens below, gripped her brand new NYU ID until it cut into her palm, and thought to herself:
"This is it. I'm going to live here forever. I'll get straight A's, start my own not-for-profit organization, fall in love, save the world, and travel often. All while living in the gorgeous penthouse overlooking Central Park that I will own once I graduate."
She was naive and hopeful. She had always been and would always be a dreamer. She was also stubborn and determined.
But oh how wrong she was...
3 years, 11 states, and 13 countries later she returned to the city. Now an NYU graduate, just here to see some old faces before disappearing on her next adventure. So what happened? Where did that dreamer go?
Don't worry, I'm still here. My dreams are still bigger than I can hold, only my dreams have changed. They are fuzzy and seem to have a lot to do with writing and travel and I think something about empowering people to live their lives authentically... it's unclear. What I do know is that I have New York to thank (along with a handful of other people and places) for who I am today.
New York is truly a spectacular place full of all the magic I saw when I was 19, but it is a lot more than that. And as I uncovered the other layers to the city (and uncovered more layers of myself) I realized that it could never be my home.
There weren't enough trees and everything was grey. The streets were crowded, noisy, and smelly. People thought I was too polite and saw my kindness as weakness. By the end of my first year I was worn down and had taken on the problems of the city as my own.
So I left. And where did I go to recover? Africa.
I ran out of NYC so fast I forgot what I was running from. Then I stopped running and I found myself in Ghana studying global development and realizing most the plans I had to save the world would actually do more harm than good.
From there I moved to Italy where I re-learned what it means to have fun and act my age. I found a best friend. I realized that travel was not something I could save for two weeks of vacation. I decided to graduate early... Italy was a big time for me.
But then I went back to New York City.
Even as I fast-tracked my education, I still had a year of school left. I spent that year in the city and suddenly I had better friends. I saw my brother on a weekly basis. I started to love New York again.
When I graduated I left all my books with my brother and told all my friends I would be back soon.
I had a job offer that would have been idiotic to refuse, so I planned to travel through England, Scotland, and Paris for two months, then return to the city and start "adulting".
As I am currently writing from California and planning a trip to Central America, you can guess where this is going. I left the city and the minute I breathed the recycled air of the airplane I remembered who I am.
The joy of going somewhere new danced on my skin. The excitement of adventure filled my lungs. The curiosity of what lay behind every corner drove me forward. I was home, I was happy, and I never wanted to go back to New York City.
So I refused the job offer.
I still feel a twinge of guilt whenever I think about it, but I knew I wasn't being true to myself. So I told my soon-to-be-boss, "never mind," and showed up on my parent's doorstep with no job and no plans.
"So what do you want to do?" People would ask.
"Travel," I would say. "And write. And figure out how the hell to make a career out of it."
I started applying for freelance writing jobs and planning another trip to NYC. It was going to be a short visit (just under two weeks) but it would give me a chance to say the goodbyes I never said and close the doors I never closed.
There was a part of me that was terrified. What if I missed it? What if I wanted to come back? What if I regretted letting that job offer pass me by? What if I was making a big mistake?
The minute I stepped out of Penn Station I heard honking. Someone pushed past me even while I was limping (long story, but yes, literally limping) down the sidewalk, dragging a 50+ pound bag behind me, and not wearing nearly enough layers. In that moment I knew I had made the right decision.
Seeing my brother was great. Reconnecting with my friends was joyous. But knowing I would not live there forever, knowing I was a traveler making another stop on her endless journey, that was when I knew I was happy. That's when I knew I chose the life I was meant to lead.