What Moving To NYC At 16 Taught Me
I've noticed that people are really curious about topics relating to anything that isn't straightforward. When I mean straightforward, I mean a straightforward life path. Middle school, high school, college, masters, 9-5 job...there's obvious confusion around people who don't follow that path, because it's hard to understand how those kind of people even become successful. Each type of person is incredible, don't get me wrong, just skipping college and taking a life path that isn't going to always give you something to fall back on is different.
You read stories all the time about super well-known, wealthy entrepreanur's who literally started from the ground up. They dropped out of college, maybe even high school, went broke maxing out their credit cards, and constantly faced criticism from the people around them. Yet they never stopped pushing for what they believed in. And there's a reason those kind of people deserve to be the people who others look up to.
I've written about whether or not you should go to college, but I've never thought about writing why I moved to New York City when I did. My lovely new intern, Elizabeth (she is amazing!! follow her) emailed me today and said she thought it could make for a good post.
Honestly, I think those few years got blocked out of my memory for many reasons. I remember waking up one day, and saying to myself I was going to move to NYC the next day. It happened to be a few days before Fashion Week was starting, so I knew I already had a bus ticket down. I was starting to get to a place where I was making a little money, and trying to understand the business side of blogging. I had made myself a LinkedIn profile 6 months before, and had a few social media clients who were paying me to handle their social ever week. I was doing school online, and blogging in my free time, so in no capacity did I know anything about living on my own. I called up a girl who I met a few months before (I can't remember how I met her) and asked if I could crash with her for a few weeks. I figured I'd tell my mom I was staying with my friend during Fashion Week and then casually stay longer than a few weeks. She said she was actually trying to move out and find a sublet for her apartment. It was in Bedstuy, Brooklyn, and in true Carrie Bradshaw fashion, I always said I'd never live in Brooklyn.
Anyway, she gave me her moms phone number, and I called her up and asked her what I could give her to sublet the apartment. The girl was moving out the next day, so I didn't have many hours to decide what to do before telling my parents I wanted to move.
I think it's really important to note that I didn't even have $500 in my bank account at the time. The rent for the apartment was $857.
I walked downstairs (at my parents house in Connecticut) and told my parents I needed to talk to them. I told them I was moving to New York City the next day. They laughed at me. Until they saw how I was literally dead serious. My mom didn't even ask how I was going to pay for it, and I honestly think it's because she was too scared of what I would say. Not that I was going to do anything sketchy, but more of the fear that I'd get abducted or end up on the street.
So many people ask me why my parents didn't stop me from moving. Should they have? Yes and no. I was way too young and vulnerable. I hadn't even finished school, so I knew I'd be moving there while finishing up the rest of high school. My parents said "OK". They knew they wouldn't be able to stop me. Like they couldn't stop me from trying to be a model (I wrote about that experience here) or dropping out of high school, because I wouldn't ever accept no for an answer. I don't think anyone expected me to actually move.
I didn't really have a lot of friends, so I wasn't leaving much behind, besides my best friend Gabe. I wasn't worried about telling him: I thought he'd be really happy for me. I was wrong. I pretty much dropped the biggest bomb on him and didn't even think about how it would affect his life: I was so determined to get out of Connecticut that nothing was on my mind besides that. I still remember his voice dropping and him about to cry on the other line. We were kinda the only people that believed in each other. I was willing to risk losing him because of how passionate I was about making my dream my life. I knew (eventually) he'd come back around. Sorry Gabe, thanks for standing by me for forever though!!!!!! Hope you're not still mad at me!!!!!
The next day, in the dead of a February snowstorm, my dad dropped me off with 9 suitcases at the bus. I love my parents, but neither of them even offered to help me move in. They literally couldn't have cared less. My dad was seriously confused, and my mom didn't think I'd last more than a few weeks living in the city. That exact experience, standing on that platform in Hartford with those suitcases and my dad, made me the person I am today, and I respect them a lot for making me do it on my own. There was no money backing me, no stability, nothing.
Here's where things get interesting. I moved in to a 5-bedroom apartment in Bedstuy, Brooklyn. A few years ago, Brooklyn was not cool like it is now. Bedstuy was a complete disaster. I had to take the C train to the F to the A to about 25 other trains (with 9 suitcases) before I arrived at 360 Franklin Avenue. I was greeted at my apartment by a cute, 25-something boy with super fluffy looking hair. I don't remember his name...it definitely started with an M though. He showed me to my bedroom, and continued to have sex with his girlfriend in the next room. I was pretty much blind to everything relating to "adult" stuff so it wasn't exactly what I was expecting my first hour in the city of dreams to be like.
I remember hanging my clothing up in the bedroom, sitting on the mattress on the floor (I lived in that apartment for five months and never once had a bed frame because I didn't want to waste my money) and just closing my eyes and praying that it would work out.
I spent all of the money I had on bananas, oats, and Teddy peanut butter, and the occasional latte I'd buy at the coffee shop across the street just to have a cool Instagram picture. I was battling my eating disorder at the time, so I was adamant about getting to the gym everyday. I'd sign up with fake aliases at every New York Sports Club and Equinox in the city, and go to a new one everyday. I met some cool people at Equinox, though. One of my really good friends who I met in a running class is actually a famous writer. I told her I was 25. A few months ago I came clean and told her I lied, and now I'm only 19.
I was so fucking determined to be successful. I woke up every morning craving the "high" I'd get when I was at Fashion Week. I barely had any friends, so when things got bad, I was kinda alone. I didn't ever tell my parents where I lived or what the apartment was like because I couldn't deal with them knowing I wasn't "successful" overnight.
The first time I made money was by pitching an Instagram takeover to a haircare brand. I was shocked when she replied and approved the cost. It was $1,500, which was the most money I had ever made. I was making $50 a week doing social media for a few people, but it wasn't enough to pay for anything I wanted to do.
That $1,500 lasted me a while. I gave the landlord $500 via Paypal and told her I was really sorry and I'd pay her on time next month.
I never did.
I'm not going to say what I did was right. I was too young and scared. I did what I had to do at the time, and it forced me to make money. I knew if I didn't make any money, I'd eventually get kicked out and be on the street.
Every day, I spent hours pitching brands Instagram takeovers, blog posts, and random social shares. I'd investigate every online magazine and email the editor. I got Parade Magazine to start paying me for writing for them. At the time, there weren't too many teen bloggers out there. I was making myself known in the space just by emailing every single person I came across in person AND online. I had no shame in asking for money, or pitching myself to someone. When someone said no, I'd email them the following week with a new idea until they said yes.
After I spent 5 months in that apartment, I decided I had enough money saved up to move to an apartment with an actual bed. I subletted the Brooklyn apartment to a guy and managed to sustain a tiny bedroom (only one roommate this time) in Wall Street area for about five months, before I got fed up living in an apartment with no windows. There was a doorman, a roof, and a gym, so it was nice and safe.
When I initially found that apartment, I didn't disclose my age to the roommate. I found the apartment on a Facebook page, met her and viewed the apartment, and signed the lease.
A few hours after signing the lease and finally feeling comfortable with my living situation, I got a traumatizing text from the roommate accusing me of lying about my age and telling me she'd be kicking me out within 12 hours. I immediately replied and questioned her, telling her I wasn't 16 and that she must have found information on the wrong person. I even told her that my publicist and I had decided we'd lie about my age in the "public" for more publicity. I obviously didn't have a publicist. She sent me a screen shot of an article I wrote for Huffington Post with my age in the title.
Fuck my life. Why me.
I went back to the apartment and calmly asked if she'd give me a chance to at least explain myself. She did. I told her how I was actually 16, how I didn't act like a normal "kid" and that I would sign any necessary contract to let me stay in the apartment. She cooled down and let me stay.
As I write this article, I'm sitting in my 1-bedroom apartment in Boston. I paid someone to design the place. I pay my rent at the first of every month, and I have enough money to pay next months, too. I have a picture of my apartment from The Boston Globe in a frame on my bedroom wall. I have every single card or letter I've ever been written since I was that little girl writing in my bedroom in Connecticut on my wall.
I'm honestly in shock, now that I've written this post out, to see how far I've come. To see that I told myself to never give up, and I never did. And now that I know how far I've come, it makes me even more eager to see where I'll be in 5 years from now.
I'm not writing this to inspire you to move out at 16, or eat oats and bananas for every meal. I just want other teens who read my blog to know that you can do whatever you want to. You don't need $100k in your bank account, or even $1k, to make your dreams a reality. They might not come true overnight, but they'll come true.