I had a conversation with a friend this week that sort of troubled me. It was mostly about the idea of ‘settling’. Whether it’s your job or the city you live in, your spouse, your house, your… anything – what if the life you’re living just isn’t what you imagined it would be? What does it mean and what should you do?
I used to subscribe to one school of thought. That school went something like, “I want everything and I want it now – the perfect guy, job, place to live, and city to live in! I don’t want to ‘waste’ a moment of my life doing something I don’t want to do.” I was young, I was idealistic… I was impatient. It was this impatience for life and all of it’s experiences that drove me to pack my worldly belongings into my car when I was 23 and drive to New York City. I wanted to make movies. And I wanted to know what it was like to live far, far away from cornfields – in a place made of brick, concrete, yellow cabs and lights. It didn’t matter that I had no job waiting for me. No real plan. Barely any money. Only a few friends in the city who would let me couch surf. I wanted to go that minute. So I went. Because I was afraid that if I didn’t leave that week before Thanksgiving in 2006, I might never find the strength to go at all. I was leaving people and things that I loved but I was determined to find more, do more, be more.
In the beginning, I slept on those friends couches and my trusty air mattress. I ate eggs and peanut butter and dollar slices of pizza. I practically gave up drinking because I couldn’t afford it – unless of course it was work related and producers were paying the bill. I worked 14 hour+ days – the longest ever I think was 22. There were a couple times I almost fell asleep at the wheel of a vehicle. I can’t believe I never did. There were a couple times I did fall asleep in the subway, and woke up after it had passed my stop. I remember the summer The Dark Knight was out and I was in-between apartments for 2 days. All of my stuff was in storage – I couldn’t afford a hotel and didn’t want to ask my friends for help so I bought two tickets to back to back showings and slept in the theater one night. It had the longest run time and in each showing I woke up to Heath Ledger’s painted face, crackling, hanging upside down towards the end. That was some of the bad stuff. And there is more bad stuff. But there was lots of good stuff too.
Like the days I would take my iPod to the Met and walked around by myself for hours looking at art, thinking about how lucky I was to live so close to so many treasures. All the new foods I got to try, that I had never even heard of. The places and things I saw – and not just in the city because I travelled a lot for work – and the many, varied people I met, yes including celebrities, who are also just as varied as regular folk. Work was hard but it was also ridiculously fun. And the camaraderie I felt with those on set is hard to describe. One of my favorite things to do was to walk, just walk, down the streets of Manhattan – sunglasses on, purse on my shoulder and revel in where I was. Sometimes it would hit me, how hard I had worked to get to where I was, to be doing what I was doing. Sometimes I would pass someone and think for a moment it was an old friend, and then realize that wasn’t possible. Sometimes the pride and the loneliness I felt would hit me all at once and, behind my big Jackie-O glasses, I would start to cry.
The only perfect dreams are the ones in your head. They cease to be perfect the moment you start to live them. I was in New York for 4 years. There were things I loved and things I hated. And all the while, I doubted what I was doing, if it was enough and could I do better? Ultimately, working in the film industry started to corrode my love of the movies themselves. Which I never intended to happen. I had always thought that if you loved something and could make money doing it, then you were incredibly lucky. But it ended up not looking like what I thought it would. Eventually, the novelty started to wear off; the schedule the industry demands requires total devotion. I didn’t want my life to be all about work… I had other dreams too… and what about those dreams? How long would I have to wait to get them?
Life happened and due to some unexpected circumstances, I found myself moving back to the Midwest. I’ve been back for 4 years now and I’m still trying to figure out the best version of my life I can live. When I first returned, my impatient streak still lingered. My inability to make everything just as I wanted it to be frustrated me – and it was totally wasted energy. That has been my challenge – to learn to play the long game. To build things slowly, ever improving, trying to remember that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’ I want a beautiful life for myself – to have true joie de vive. Some of the things I hoped for when I came back have worked out. Some of them haven’t. The job I have now is one I would never have considered at 23 but I work with people that I enjoy and the hours allow me to pursue other interests and spend quality time with friends and family. My apartment is small yet I love it for it’s simplicity and that it is within walking distance of a coffee shop and grocery store – in some ways it is my own slice of New York. I’m single and for the first time in my life, rather than view that as a problem to be solved, I’ve learned to embrace the freedom that allows me. But the main thing I have learned is that no job, or relationship or city or house will solve your problems and bring you happiness. You can change locations or careers or just about any detail of your life – remodel your kitchen, buy a new car – but unless you have an internal peace with who you are and what you are about in this life, you will keep searching and searching for something you will never find. How to go about finding that peace is different for everyone. But I can tell you, that when you find it, external events and circumstances will not shake it. I’m not saying you’ll never be sad. You will. But you’ll recognize disappointment as just that – a disappointment… that doesn’t change all of the other beautiful things.
I get the questions a lot – How could you give up New York? Don’t you miss it? You’re job was SO exciting, don’t you ever get bored now? I can hear the question they aren’t brave enough to ask: Don’t you think you ‘settled’ for something less extraordinary than what you had? Truthfully, I really don’t think about it that much. When I was in my mid-twenties, I was where I wanted to be and doing what I wanted to do at that time. It was a chapter – one that taught me lots of things and gave me lots of awesome adventures. I’ve had other adventures, and learned lots of other things since that chapter ended. Your dreams and ideas of success are allowed to evolve as you do. And I plan to continue doing those things – evolving, learning, dreaming, having adventures. As long as I live, I hope.
If that’s boring – I’m fine with it.