Frank Sinatra said, "If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere." Not until this year did I really understand not only what he meant, but that he was right.
I had a plan. Of course, it's changed over the years. But for the most part, I had a general idea of what I'd be doing and who'd I be at each age. Some of my friends who are in their 30s have warned me of this sort of projection, but it was always easier for me to move forward if I knew what was next. Even if it was nowhere in sight.
"I'll have a job by my birthday," I reassured myself this summer while walking away from the Hudson River fireworks. Obviously, there's no way of actually knowing that, but it's not that bad out there... right?
My birthday was fast approaching in mid-October, and I couldn't believe I was still reciting the wine list to pay my college loans. Aside from a couple of encouraging letters from editors, I still hadn't found a job and was now on the verge of turning 24. Sure, I'm certainly not an old lady, but I always imagined I'd have a job with a desk and health benefits by now. Even Anne Hathaway's character in The Devil Wears Prada seemed to have a spacious little place while she was broke and working for Meryl Streep. But as those of you in my boat know, being a 20-something trying to find work in New York City is far less glamorous (and you probably don't have the beautiful Adrian Grenier as a boyfriend, either).
When you serve at the same restaurant for a while, you begin to see a lot of the same customers -- regulars who know your first name as well as your life story. As I walked over to serve Brian, a man who's been ordering the same thing since the day I started, he asked me how the hunt was going. I made the facial expression I always do as to say "same," and he motioned for me to sit down at his table. After I quickly looked around to make sure my manager was nowhere in sight, I pulled up a chair.
"When I came here, I was going to be an architect," he said smiling. "I was a bartender for a couple of years in Tribeca, where I met all kinds of people, and one of my best friends was someone at an advertising firm." He explained that he got a gig as an intern there, unexpectedly fell in love with it and now is a higher-up at one of the most successful advertising agencies in the world. While he went on about what it was like during that time, I realized he was trying to convince me that, bad economy or not, what I was experiencing was pretty standard.
"In New York of all places, you may end up somewhere you didn't expect. You'll realize that as time goes on," he said.
The next night at my party, I took a closer look at what the people in my life are all doing -- a variety of characters, some of whom are successful in public relations, others ambitious dreamers.
For example, my best friend Ryan, a brilliant guy who was valedictorian of his graduating class with a BS in Geology and a BA in Earth Science. He graduated a year early and is now waiting tables at the Olive Garden in Times Square while successfully pursuing stand-up comedy. Or my friend Lauren -- she got her law degree at NYU, but realized she'd rather make furniture and is starting all over again.
If I admired and adored all of these people, why did I feel as if I was off track? It seemed New York didn't care much for their plans, and they've already learned what I'm learning now -- plans are useless. I had spent so much time stressing about what I'm not doing that I didn't realize how lucky I was to be in this place, with these people, alive and turning another year older.
I left the party at 3:00 am with a cold, half-eaten pizza waiting for my friend and I at his apartment. As we walked inside and his doorman asked about our night, I explained what was waiting for us upstairs. He laughed saying, "Lucky girl." I smiled and walked to the elevator. There I was -- another year older, way behind schedule and still looking for work. "Yeah," I said under my breath. "I guess I am."
While I'm beginning to get comfortable in my 24-year-old shoes, I've decided to give up the life checklist. It seems all I've encountered here are people who know how to keep going. For everyone who has lost their jobs because of the economy or all the former interns I've worked with who are now in the unemployment trenches, this one's for you.
As for me, I continue to reload the job listing page, waiting for when I won't have to serve you broiled salmon with spinach anymore. But until then, just a reminder to be kind to your waiters and waitresses. Believe me, they're carrying far more on their shoulders than your dinner.