life in nyc as a nobody

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I’m currently in a Lyft on the way to work. It’s a Saturday and I wish I were at a boozy brunch right now or better yet, in bed. Uber got too complicated with their pickups and drop-offs so now I’m a devoted Lyftee. I sometimes take a car to work on the weekends to take the edge off of the fact that I really don’t want to be there. I look out of the window and see my local supermarket, a Popeyes and people running towards the subway station, probably trying to catch the train that I should be taking. I recently moved to Harlem from Brooklyn. I always knew I wanted to live in Harlem and something felt right about this move. I wholeheartedly believe that I manifested this shit. 

I scroll through Instagram as I’m riding and see an event that I once again wasn’t invited to. To be honest, I once sipped the want-to-be-influencer juice, but now I’d just love the opportunity to be in the same room and network with fellow creatives whom I admire. Plus, the term “influencer” makes me itch. I may fit the criteria of the guest list, but who am I to be invited to these New York events? I’d like to think that I’m eligible, but essentially, I’m a nobody. In New York you’re a nobody unless you know people, have a cool job or have wealth. Basically, I have none of the above. I know a handful of people but not well enough that I’d be a regular thought. I know that I’m somebody to someone, but sometimes I feel invisible. It’s like the world is moving around you and you’re just stuck. It’s like your head is sticking out of a pothole and cars are zooming by without anyone willing to stop and help. You’re shouting, but not being heard. You’re applying to jobs, but not landing one. Everyone is doing the same thing, but some people are doing it better. 

I work retail. Well, I’m a men’s stylist at a major retailer, but essentially I’m a glorified sales associate. I’ve struggled with admitting that for a long time. I’ve also struggled with how I feel about working retail. To be completely upfront, my track-record from college says that I shouldn’t be working a retail job. Did I peak in college? For some reason I thought that because I was relatively well-known in college and graduated with honors and accolades, it’d translate to being the next “it girl” in New York with an incredible job and a budding business. Bitch, you thought. Instead, I only know a handful of people and quit my first “real” job after ten months of being there.

I’m my own worst critic and I feel like I’m on the failing spectrum of this thing we call life. I‘m so fucking dramatic. With this retail job, I’m paying my bills, sure, but am I learning anything? Am I being challenged? I’m being challenged to stay, that’s for sure. I often think that God is testing me and this whole situation is a lesson in humility.

I’m still in my Lyft. We’re on FDR Drive, the same route that I took when I first came for my internship in the summer of ‘16. How nostalgic. While in the backseat, I’m truly able to witness New York in all of its glory. I’m not bumping into people, or squirming at the sight of subway rats, or sitting so close to someone on the train that I can smell their lack of deodorant. There’s this vibration you feel when you’re riding through the city. It’s like you can almost hear the melody of “Empire State of Mind” by Alicia Keys in the background.

We just stopped to pick someone up. I hate taking a shared ride. But then again, I only act rich therefore I can’t afford nice things like a private ride. I wonder if the rich are even happy with their lives? I’m sure everyone has their own problems—or that’s what I hear, I don’t actually know anyone who’s rich. Cardi’s “Money” is playing in the background. Pretty ironic considering I’m headed into a job that pays me a little above minimum wage. 

New York is all about access. What do others have that you can benefit from? I know folks that still associate with those who speak so horribly about them. And for what? To be invited to the next event or to be given free products? It’s kind of disheartening knowing that most “influential” people nowadays don’t have actual talent but instead have connections or nice hair. 

Kind of like the Kardashians, I suppose. 

Am I too sensitive or too lazy? Probably both. But, how can I excel in a place that is only exclusive to those who are well-off or work at a digital publication which automatically deems them the next big “influencer”. Gag. Does anyone actually enjoy what they do? Or, do they just care that the company they work for looks good tagged in their Instagram bio? Once, I attended a fashion event (which was incredibly unorganized, might I add) and I spotted the founder of a medium-sized, female-focused social media account walking my way. She’s black and around the same age as me, so at least we had that in common. I thought I’d tell her how much I enjoyed the event. What a kiss-ass. As I stopped her, she looked me up and down, bared the fakest smile I’d ever seen in my life and sped off as quickly as she came. In that moment I realized that I was invisible. Who I once was didn’t mean anything now and I would quite literally have to scrape my way to a seat at the table. 

Sometimes the thought of actually not being good enough creeps through. When will people notice me? Maybe I’m not actually smart. Or maybe I’m not actually talented. Or maybe I’m not that cute or don’t dress that well. Because if I were all of those things, I would have access to many things and I’d be exactly where I want, right? 

I rebuke you, Devil!

The only thing that keeps me going is the feeling deep, deep, deep inside of me that knows I’ll be major one day. What is success anyway? I’ve already succeeded with many things in my life thus far. I can almost feel it creeping it’s way to the surface again, trying hard to fight off those negative thoughts. Luckily I’m not that naive and know that life is going to have its hills and valleys. I also know that no one gives a shit about who you were in a past life, but instead how they can benefit from having a relationship with you in the present. It all seems like a business deal. And knowing those things keeps me afloat. It’s why my head is sticking out from that pothole but I’m not being run over. It’s why I’m here in this city for another year because I know something will come, eventually. 

Author’s note: I surely don’t deem success as being invited to an event. That is extremely surface-level and silly. To me, success is people wanting to know what you have to say. It’s people knowing your work so well that they think of you when an opportunity arises. It’s having an established business. It’s being who you want to be without giving a fuck. It’s a sense of security and a sense of freedom. 

My Lyft pulls up to work. Finally. It took us forty-freaking-minutes to get here. I should’ve taken the train. I head straight up to my office and close the door. Today, I don’t feel like dealing with people, but ironically my job is dealing with people. I put on my badge, throw some lipstick on, check my outfit and head out into the store. I flash a fake smile to a customer. “Faking it ‘til you make it” seems to be the only way I’ll get by today. Maybe that girl at the event was faking it too. Maybe, like me, she’s struggling to find her place. And in this moment, I feel relieved. Everyone is going through something, everyone is invisible to someone, and everyone has their moments of feeling like they’re not good enough. We’re almost forced to suck it up and push forward. Because if we don’t, we’ll drown. We’re all here in this crazy city to live out our dreams, cause we’re sure as hell not living here for the rent.

LifestyleRania Bolton