New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down

This was a hard one to write. I’ve loved and wanted to live in New York for years. I still love it. I still want to live here. But what makes living here possible is what I don’t like about living here.

This may be a result of my two week vacation ending today. Holiday downers are real – after a particularly bad one when I got back to Sydney from New York, I spent the afternoon eating Reese’s peanut butter cups, and only stopped to nap when the jet lag kicked in, and sob about the fact I wasn’t in New York any more – so it’s possible my mind will change as things go back to normal.

Only, I don’t think it will. For as long as I work in New York I’ll deal with the same ‘live to work’ attitude, limited vacation time, and be surrounded by people who take their jobs incredibly seriously.

Let me be clear here, there is nothing wrong with being passionate. If you love what you do, and you want to express that every day, that’s great. I’m happy for anyone who’s found what they love and gets to do it all the time. If, however, you believe your involvement in any consumer-driven industry that does not really make the world a better place is on par with saving people’s lives, then I feel kind of bad for you. And other people who need to work with you.

After spending some time in London, and then in France, I loved comparing people’s attitudes to their jobs with those of New Yorkers. There doesn’t seem to be a belief that work defines them, or that what they do in the office each day is a true representation of who they are as a person. People try, people care about doing a good job, and they make an effort to work hard. But they are realistic about their jobs and what they can achieve, and don’t seem to reach the point of burnout that many do in New York.

It’s possible the same can be said of other places in America, but given I have only lived in New York and observed New Yorkers, I can only comment on the attitudes of people in this city.
The expectations placed on you are high. You have to be super enthusiastic to be taken seriously. And using the adjective “super” often helps. You have to know everything about your field, even if you don’t want or need to focus on certain things, to be taken seriously. You have to push and hustle for space everywhere in New York already – tickets to see a band, a meal at a new restaurant, or even a drink at a bar – and the office is no different.
At first, I loved how direct it was. I liked the lack of subtlety. But now I see it as an unsustainable way of being. Nothing can be left unsaid. Nothing can wait until tomorrow. The expectation is to work as hard as you can, without complaint, for as long as you can before you leave to repeat the same pattern somewhere else that will no doubt be exactly the same.

Even when I consider all the amazing things I’ve experienced, people I’ve met, and places I’ve seen while I’ve been here, I find myself dreaming about an easier life. I’m ashamed to admit the city I love may not be my home for as long as it could be, and that all of my declarations of love and wonder for it may appear shallow. It’s embarrassing to feel like turning my back on something I tried and worked so hard for.

My love for New York will never die. But I’m scared my spirit will. Maybe I don’t want to work so hard, sell myself every day, and force myself to care about things I can’t find meaning in. It’s easy when everyone around you has a similar attitude, but keeping up with the – at times manic – energy people display in New York may not be possible for me.

I’m tired of being told off for being quiet, instead of interrupting people in meetings just to make them hear my voice. Tired of arguing about things that don’t matter today, and definitely won’t matter in a year from now. So tired of faking passion to be on the same level as people who approach work the same way a doctor might when he’s researching a cure for cancer.
What’s next? I’ll keep the balancing act up for as long as I can, before taking that next leap.
But for now I’ll be in my bed, eating English Cadbury Chocolate (it’s better than that shit they make at the Hershey’s Factory), napping off my jet lag, and crying that I’m back in New York about to go back to work instead of on vacation in France.

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Justine McNamara

I'm an Australian living in New York. I work in marketing but I write about music, New York, and my own personal experiences.

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