Why Failing at Living in My Dream City Turned Out to be the Best Thing for Me

Because you're more than a city

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I currently live in a small fishing village in a cozy two-bedroom cottage that’s mere steps from the Atlantic Ocean. Across the street, there’s a corner store that serves questionable fruit and dusty bags of potato chips and hickory sticks; it reminds me of a bodega I used to frequent when I lived in Brooklyn. Couple that with my tiny living space that’s barely habitable and the fishy smell emanating from the water, and I swear I still live in New York.

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Sometimes I can’t believe I used to live in New York. I was 19 years old when I first moved there, and I was two months shy of my 27th birthday when I left eight years ago. But my dream of moving to the Big Apple first cropped up long before that, when I was 14.

I had it all planned out: I was going to study theater at NYU, graduate, catch my big break, and then live the rest of my life in Manhattan, preferably in a loft studio in a place called the Upper West Side, because this was the ’90s and everything on my TV and movie screens said this was where you lived and what you did in New York City.

If my reality was a bit (read: a lot) different, then at least it was more relatable. I did attend NYU and graduate with a degree in dramatic literature and film studies. However, instead of moving to the Upper West Side, I moved to Brooklyn. This was the early aughts, a time when no one really wanted to live in Brooklyn, but rather had to live in Brooklyn. And the “big break” I desperately wanted to catch was more slippery than I had ever imagined. So in order to pay the bills and the rent, I waitressed.

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As my track record proves, I was a horrible waitress. Within a year of graduating from NYU, I served in a number of different spots across the city, ranging from a well-known comedy club in the West Village to an East Village hookah lounge. I hated waitressing, which probably explains why I was so bad at it. I just didn’t care enough.

What I did care about was creating, and art, and acting, and theater and film. Even after NYU, I took as many classes as I could, and auditioned for as many as non-union jobs as possible. But soon, as the months, and then years rolled by, with little traction in my field, I soon lost focus on why I was in New York in the first place. I was simply working (meaning waitressing horribly) to survive now; I was working solely so that I could continue to live in New York.

I remember the day I knew I had to leave New York City. It was August. A sweaty, sticky, suffocating day that only a summer spent in Manhattan can feel like. I was sitting on the bedroom floor in the mice-infested West Village apartment I shared with two other girls. I was unemployed, broke and, if I was going to be honest with myself — and I was because my current life circumstances demanded nothing less — I was more unhappy and lost than I ever had been in my life. I knew what I needed to do next to keep myself afloat from the current sinking ship — the “S.S. This is Your Life, Brianne” — but I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to leave New York.

But I had to. I had been fired from three jobs in three months, including a gig serving at a “gourmet” hot dog stand. I had gone from NYU graduate to working at a hot dog stand dressed in condiment shades of red and yellow. Who gets fired from a hot dog stand? Someone who shouldn’t be working at a hot dog stand in the first place.

The thing is, I knew better. I knew I should be creating more, and writing more, like the plays I had written and co-produced earlier that year in local theater festivals, the plays that gave me more satisfaction and fulfillment than I had felt in years. But New York wouldn’t let me. It was just too hard for me to get my head above water. I was constantly fighting its current.

New York was like a bad boyfriend in a dead-end relationship. The one who you know you should leave, but the chemistry and the familiarity always somehow draw you back in. Not only was I too comfortable with New York, I didn’t want to let it go. Because, I thought, to let go of New York would mean to let go of my dreams. It would mean I was a failure, right?

However, when I looked around at my life, at my mustard-and-ketchup uniform with a flying hot dog emblazoned on the front, I had to be honest: was this really how I had pictured my life at 14? Above everything else, 14-year-old me would have wanted me to be happy. And I wasn’t happy.

Leaving New York was like ripping off a band-aid. The minute I decided to do it, I immediately went on Craigslist to sell off my belongings and called my parents to ask them to pick me up by the end of the month. I was gone within four weeks. I didn’t even turn back to look at the Empire State Building again.

As it turns out, living away from New York is not only really comfortable and way more financially feasible, but it’s also really fulfilling. In fact, I can honestly say that I am more happy now than I ever really was in New York.

Moving away from New York allowed me to breathe again. It allotted me more freedom than I had experienced in years, including allowing myself to experience the possibility of living somewhere new. Out from its shadow of tall skyscrapers and tightfisted dreams, I could see new things. I could see a new me.

Living away from New York put me back in touch with what I most treasure in life: writing, creating, wellness, and nature. Most of all, it put me back in touch with myself.

Leaving New York reminded me that it’s not where you live that matters so much as how you choose to live your life. I no longer choose trudging up a five-story walkup, crowded subways, discomfort, extreme compromise, forcing things to happen or waiting for things to happen.

Now I choose ease, comfort, space, affordability, accountability, and, mostly, creating the life I want. Of course I could have experienced that in New York, but it just happened that moving away from the city I loved drove me to making the life I love more.

Right now, right here. Wherever I happen to be.

Brianne Hogan
Brianne Hogan

Brianne Hogan is a freelance writer in Toronto who loves coffee, cats and astrology. Her byline's been featured on HelloGiggles, Elle Canada, Flare, Thrillist, among others. Keep up with her on Twitter, Facebook or her blog.