Being in New York for the first time has stirred some emotions in me that I didn’t quite expect.
Growing up and into college, I was always told I’d do great things. By my family, my friends, my teachers, my colleagues and my co-workers. Somehow, that promise of greatness always came tied with some large, coastal city. I heard a lot of “don’t forget us when you are working in San Francisco” or “New York is not going to know what hit them.” The intriguing thing is, I never really said I wanted to land in a big city. People just assumed that with my talent, personality and drive, a major metropolitan area was where I was headed. And while I tossed around the notion of moving somewhere with a lot of skyscrapers post-college, my heart was never really in it. In fact, I was raised a country girl and I’ve pretty much always knew that was who I am and where I wanted to be. Regardless of this fact, in today’s world (and especially in my chosen profession), a picture of success is living and working in a large city.
So I guess to a lot of people, knowing that I live and work in a town of 80,000 people in the middle of some landlocked state makes me unsuccessful.
Maybe it is paranoid, but I can only assume that a lot of the people in my past life (particularly from college) seem to think I’ve failed. Unfulfilled potential, laziness, unwillingness to branch out. The thing is, none of that is the case. The truth? The truth is, I could have had the tiny overpriced apartment, doing work for major corporations and living the city life. The truth is, I also never wanted that.
There is a difference between getting stuck and chosing to stay. And a lot of times I think that people don’t realize that. I have a lot of very successful, very talented friends that grew up the same way I did, went to the same schools I did and now live and work in NYC or Chicago or L.A. or San Francisco. They are happy. And I am so happy for them. But the thought of that life for me makes me squirm.
Does that make me any less successful? Absolutely not. I define success as the ability and opportunity to make your own decisions about your life. And I’ve made a conscious decision to stay in Indiana (an area of the country I love, surrounded by the people I love) and work at a university (doing work I believe in for a non-profit organization I adore). Sure, I don’t make a lot of money. Or go out for drinks after work. Or run into celebrities on the street. But I chose to avoid that life—and to me, that is successful.
Not everyone defines success this way. And because of that, I’ll probably always be looked down upon. I can hear it now, “such a shame, she could have been in New York!”
But that isn’t the shame at all. What would have been a shame is me conforming to that idea of success and following a path that would have left me miserable, depressed and alienated. Regardless of the amount of perceived success that comes with it, that life just isn’t worth it to me. NYC might be the brass ring for some people, but for me, my ultimate is a happy marriage, growing my vegetables, playing with my dog, being a good daughter/aunt/sister, and working a job that I don’t totally despise, disagree with its mission or have to devote my entire life to. I am successful.
The facts are, I could have had that city life and I chose not to. I’m a happier, better, and stronger person because of it. And while NYC is great and fun to visit, I am so happy to go home to my small town.