{the lessons} A Letter to My Wannabe New Yorker Self

by Rachel on February 16, 2012

In 2008 and 2009, I was living in New York, working at ELLE, and hating my life. So I left and went home. But being here this week has made me think about all the things I wish I had done differently. While I don’t ever regret leaving, I can’t help but wonder what the experience would be like if I had been here knowing the things I know now. So in the spirit of Andrea Sasi and her annual birthday letter, I decided to write a letter to my New York City-dwelling self.

Dear February 2009 Rachel,

I know living in New York is a huge change for you and it’s making you question a lot of things right now. You’re wondering, Am I doing the right thing? Can I stay in this city forever? Is this job really going to pay off some day? While I can’t tell you the answers to all of those questions, I can tell you a few things that you should know now. If you take my advice, you might find life in NYC a little more bearable.

Your relationship with your body is at the root of all that is going badly for you right now. It’s hard to see this right now, but all the stress you’re feeling? Is because you’re so unhappy about your body. I know over the past 18 months, your weight has fluctuated more than Oprah’s and you feel really self-conscious about it. I know you’re desperate to be as thin as you were at the end of last summer when you interned here because you think it will solve all your problems…well, it won’t. (And — spoiler alert — it’s not going to happen.)

Stop trying to make life in New York look like life at home in Michigan. It can’t. It won’t. It shouldn’t. First of all, New Yorkers really don’t spend that much time in their apartments. Why do you want to hang out in yours so much? You sleep in the kitchen, for God’s sake! I know you’re worried about getting enough sleep and cooking/eating at home, but again, you need to work on your relationship with your body, get healthy, and stop obsessing over this. Not sure how life in New York should look? Look at how your coworkers live and give it a try. See how they make time in their days for the things that are fun and cool and sexy about New York, and then do the same. It might mean you get a little less sleep. Get over it.

Quit the gym, start doing Core Fusion and yoga, and walk the hell out of this city. That’s all you need to do to develop a better relationship with your body and uncover your body. Oh, and just FYI, “your body” doesn’t weigh 127 pounds. Your body weighs a muscular, healthy, voluptuous, meat-eating 137. But with all the yoga and Core Fusion, it will be a 137 you can totally live with. Trust me. Right now, you’re rearranging your life so you can do cardio for hours a day and cook “healthy” meals (I’m finger quoting because your foods aren’t healthy — knock it off with the diet soda and fake foods already, Rachel!) and it’s not helping at all. Trying so desperately to do these things is exactly what is making you stressed out and unhappy.

Go eat some noodles at Momofuku. Or whatever. Rachel, I know you’re not a foodie right now, but please go out and eat more of the amazing food that exists in this city. I know it’s expensive and you’re incredibly broke, but please find a way to make it happen, even if it’s only once a month. Momofuku is seriously one block from your apartment and I’m worried you’re going to leave this city never having dined there — and I think a few bites of that amazing pork belly and broth might be the start of something good for you.

There are a lot of cool women in NYC. Your women. You need to find them. I know it seems like everyone here is just a hipster whom you can’t relate to, and it’s true that they aren’t like the girls you just left behind in Sigma Kappa at Michigan State, but your new friends are somewhere in this city. Throw yourself into finding them. (Hint: you’ll find their blogs first.) They will get you. They help ease you through this transition. Say yes to their attempts to hang out with you. Again, it won’t look like life at home. Get over it.

Speaking of hipsters, you’re more of a hipster than you think you are. Don’t laugh, asshole! You can embrace it now or embrace it later, but it’s there. If you embrace it now, you might fit in at work a little bit more.

Find a way to start blogging again. I know you’re exhausted every day and I know you don’t even have a working computer at home (bummer about the soy milk spill!) but once you get your laptop fixed, you’ll fall in love with social media and you’ll probably be able to kill it at any magazine’s web department. I know you don’t even care about the opportunity anymore. I know you never wanted to work in fashion. But I think if you stick with it for a little while longer and become known as the girl in the office who knows how to use Twitter and get blog followers, you’ll get your chance to do what you want to do.

Please tell you-know-who how you feel about him. Oh…oops. Maybe you didn’t know how you feel about him yet? I think you fought that one for a while. Well…surprise! You’re in love with your best friend! Look, you’re about to make Manhattan your very own “Dawson’s Creek,” and you’re making a huge mistake. Just tell him now. I’m not going to tell you what he’ll say but I can tell you that telling him will mark a huge change in your love life and you will never regret doing it.

Whether or not you take this advice (and I kinda don’t think you will, because I know you), just know that you will figure out what to do about New York and you will live your way into being the woman writing you this letter. I can’t tell you too much about the future (there are rules against that sort of thing) but I can tell you that in 2012, you’re leading a really awesome life. You have a good job. (Many good jobs actually!) You have great hair. And you have a ton of love and happiness in your life.

Hang in there, little one. The best is yet to come.


February 2012 Rachel


{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sarah Crowder February 16, 2012 at 9:37 am

Everything you said about NYC is so true. I just moved here a couple months ago and had to change my lifestyle in a number of ways to make it work – and I love, love, love it.

I moved here from the Eastern Shore of VA where I had a two bedroom cottage with a private beach on the bay for $650/months. I was working on an organic farm and got my fresh vegetables for free. When not at work I swam, chilled on the beach, and ate the vegetables plus any fish/crabs we got from the bay. Also, my large family is all in VA (I had over 20 cousins living within an hour of me). So, now you probably have a good feel for just how different NYC was going to be for me.

The move came with a cost of living adjustment for my husband, but not a raise/promotion. The COLA probably could have been more generous and we were losing my (albeit small farming) income, but we were ready for a new adventure. Oh, and I was 7 months pregnant when we moved. I am still determined to budget in such a way that allows us to live the life that’s basically mandatory in NYC, which includes being able to go out to eat. I know I would regret it if, in a few years, we move away from the city and I didn’t take advantage of being around all this incredible food! Like you wrote, no one stays in their apartment, so I’ve tried my best to balance making our studio feel as homey as possible since we’re starting a family, without taking too much time and money away from out-of-the-house ventures.

I thought it would be hard to make friends but once the gates opened, it flooded! I think being pregnant surprisingly worked to my advantage because it’s a really obvious conversation piece. I’m happy to make friends with other moms, but my challenge right now has been finding non-moms who share other common interests (I’m so excited about having a baby but I still have other things I’m passionate about!). I made a single friend recently (thank goodness for the internet) and hope that’s going to be a trend.

Wow, I’m going to stop typing now because I realize no one’s interested in my life story….the whole point of this comment is just to say that your points really resonated with me. NYC is such an exciting, opportunity-filled place, but it definitely can take a shift in mindset to realize that.


2 Nicole @ Giraffelegs February 16, 2012 at 11:10 am

I absolutely love this post. I wish that my future self could write me a letter and tell me that the internship thing will work out, you will graduate with a job, and be so so so happy.
I just don’t think I can physically and mentally be stressed anymore.


3 Heather February 16, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Dear Nicole –

hi. you don’t know me [oh – I’m Heather! now you do!] but I just wanted to send some encouragement your way.

Take a few minutes to think about 10 years ago.
It may be hard, I know.
You were like, what? – ten, eleven or something?
What things did you stress over when you were ten?
What your classmates were saying?
A fight with a sibling?
those things, now, seem not as big – right? You spent a lot of time thinking about them back then, and maybe worried and stressed over them. And now – it probably took you a long time to even think back that far and remember what you were thinking about back then!

Guess what – it will all work out.
This is a phrase I often remind myself on the days when life seems to be utter chaos and I can’t get a grasp on what to do next, now or later. It will all work out. This is what I tell myself when I realize there is TOO MUCH stress in my life. It will all work out. This is what I tell myself after having a crying temper tantrum in the shower because I can’t be in control of my dreams when things are always up in the air all the time! It will all work out.

It WILL all work out, in the end.
even if you can’t see it now.
You are strong and beautiful and talented and brilliant and bold and sassy and creative and dedicated to yourself. [and if you don’t believe you are those things, guess what – you are wrong. you are all those things. start believing it!]
And you will get through THIS.
Your future self may not be able to write you letter today, telling you that this will all work out, but I can. and i just did. In Rachel’s comments section. [oops. Hi, R!]

xoxo – Heather

[p.s. i just checked out your adorable blog & must say what I’m sure you hear 100 times a day – you look a bit like Abby Elliot! GORGEOUS! :) ]


4 Alana February 16, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I rarely comment (I’m sorry!) but I do read your blog everyday. This post really struck a chord with me. I moved to New York City about 5 months ago and it’s been a really difficult adjustment. After graduating from college in 2010 I lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere for 8 months and then moved to Tel Aviv immediately after. Life in Tel Aviv and on the farm was so relaxed–I was very conscious about my health because I was outside and moving around everyday. I also had access to tons of fresh veggies (Israel subsidizes fruit and veggie farms so the prices are incredible low) and I experimented with cooking up healthy balanced meals. I was truly happy–I had great friends, easy access to healthy resources, and a job that allowed me to move around everyday. However, ever since I moved to New York City I’ve been slipping out of a healthy lifestyle both mentally and physically. I live with a roommate who is very much not like me, I eat tons of unhealthy processed foods, and I have a desk job which doesn’t allow for much movement throughout the day. I have been working out, but rather than working out because it makes me feel good I’m working out to lose weight–this has never been a good mentality. Slowly but surely I’m turning around this lifestyle and finding ways to readjust. Your post just reaffirmed that I shouldn’t be trying to live the same life that I was before NYC, but rather a new (mentally and physically) healthy life that still permits fun and exploration in the city. You have no idea how much I appreciate this post at a time when I really need it–it gives me hope! Thank you, thank you!


5 Mel February 16, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Ahhh Just wanted to say, I lived in Tel Aviv for 6 months in 2009 (study abroad) and I miss it everyday! There is nothing like the lifestyle of beach, walking, shuk-ing, etc. Coming home was my hardest adjustment, you are not alone!


6 deva at deva by definition February 16, 2012 at 1:19 pm

This? Is awesome. I have so many hand-written letters to 16, 19, and 21-year old me that it’s kind of amusing. The ones I’ve written to 16-year old me typically start out with “You know how you think that this is a phase and when you are in your twenties you’ll look back and shake your head? Well, sorry to say, you will, it’s okay. You’ll probably even laugh at yourself. A bit. It’s okay – laugh at yourself. A lot.”

I wish I could go back and give my younger self a hug and some much-needed advice.


7 Heather February 16, 2012 at 1:30 pm

love. this. so. fucking. much.


8 Sara February 16, 2012 at 1:41 pm

I’m just hoping that when you say “There are a lot of cool women in NYC. Your women. You need to find them.” that I would be included in that group. Even though I have yet to meet you face to face, and this trip didn’t allow that to happen, I feel like we’d “get” each other! You’re totally right- they are some pretty amazing women in this city, though hard to find sometimes, but when you DO find them, it makes life easier & so much better.

And yes, Momofuku is effing amazing.


9 RAIN February 16, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Amazing if our future self could talk to our present or past self.
Oh, the things I would say!

But I think I am much like you, stubborn, and probably wouldn’t listen any way.

And OH BOY isn’t hindsight 20/20?????


10 Mel February 16, 2012 at 2:25 pm

This made me smile. Big time.

Is it weird that I wrote a letter to myself freshman year of college before sorority initiation that had more insight than when I graduated? Reading it senior year, I was in awe at how much my younger self “got it” before I got lost in going out and little stupid stuff. I wish I hadn’t forgotten about the important stuff, like staying true to my character. Great points in here!


11 Joyce February 16, 2012 at 2:41 pm

I LOVE THIS. I rarely comment but having lived in NYC from 08-11, I can relate to this entry so much. NYC may or may not be for everyone, some people stay longer than they thought, but it’s an experience my 2012 self wouldn’t trade for anything. Why? Because it brought to where I am today and I’m pretty happy with that.


12 Rachel February 16, 2012 at 3:31 pm

I totally wish we could go back in time and my February 2009 Rachel could be friends with your February 2009 Rachel!! I was literally suffering through the same exact home-body, stressed out New Yorker existence (with a much less glamorous) pharmaceutical PR slave job wondering what the hell I was doing. That was when I turned to blogging, which definitely helped me dig myself out of depression.

New York and I inevitably repaired our relationship and I ended up staying four years (left last month). The city has so much wonderful charm, and for the rest of my life I will be happy I followed my dreams and went there in my 20s, but I don’t think I will regret leaving either.

Life there can just be so damn hard.

(I will miss living 3 blocks from Momofuku ssam bar, omg i’m dying just thinking about it mmmmmmmmm)

It is freak


13 Carly February 16, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Loved this!


14 Rebecca February 16, 2012 at 9:06 pm

I really like what you are expressing here about flexibility and what is really important. I recently moved to a new city for a job, and–like you in NYC–I’m tending to be a little too rigid. I do feel that my semi-obsession with “eating right” and exercising prevents me from really taking in the city. What a great perspective we gain by looking back. When I think back to college, for example, am I saying, “Man, if only I had stopped drinking all those empty calories, I would have been five pounds lighter.” Of course not. I’m thinking “I’m so glad I did all that and had such a good time.” It’s a really good thing to keep in mind. Living the life that surrounds you is so much better than trying to live by pretend rules in your head. Thanks.


15 Rachel @ Healthy Chicks February 16, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Wow, I LOVE this. Too bad we couldn’t all have taken our advice five years ago… But hey, we live and we learn and that’s what makes us better. I was definitely very similar to you, especially with the relationship with my body, living at the gym, and “fake” food. Terrible, terrible.


16 Rachel's Mom February 16, 2012 at 10:32 pm

You really did sleep in your kitchen. You’ve got the pictures to prove it!


17 Jenn February 16, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Interesting…I can’t go back only three years, it’s too close to the present, but I’d love to get the nerve up to write myself 8 or 10 years ago…maybe 8, I’m getting old, and I don’t even understand myself 10 years ago!

I think it’d be totally therapeutic, and totally scary. Do you feel that way about going further back? You seem pretty well adjusted…I think writing helps with that…I need to get back to that journal. You’ve given me a lot to think about–along with an entertaining post!


18 Rachel March 5, 2012 at 9:16 am

It actually wasn’t scary at all; the reason is because when I’m writing to my former self and speaking directly to her, it’s so much easier to be gentle and forgiving than harsh and “you should have known better.” By writing to myself, it’s kind of like writing to a younger friend, and you aren’t hard on friends, right? Writing that letter was actually a reminder to not be so hard on myself in the present because it reminded me that there are always good things (and tons of lessons) to come.

I actually would like to write a lot more letters to myself on my blog going forward, so I’m glad you liked it!


19 Lindsay February 17, 2012 at 12:37 am

I moved to NYC seven months ago. I find it comforting to know that you didn’t like the city all that much for awhile. Pretty much everyone I know goes on and on about how much they love New York and how they want to live here forever. I don’t hate it, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have some sort of a countdown in my head for when I could leave. My life itself is fine. I’ve started making friends and have a great job, but I miss walking out my door and seeing grass and being able to buy groceries without getting scowled at or without hauling them 10 blocks.

Anyway, you make a lot of good points. I feel sort of ornery when thinking about changing my lifestyle to fit the city, personally, but your post reminded me that I totally need to learn how to be happy no matter where I live and that I should take advantage of the experiences and opportunities here while I can!


20 Josie @ happycorredora.com February 17, 2012 at 7:14 am

I really love this post. I think a lot of people can relate. I was in New York for awhile (and I;m going back later this year!). I agree that people do things differently. I was used to a bigger place (Australia). I spent way too much time in my apartment. I also (like your Momofuku) didn’t really appreciate all the fabulous things that New York has to offer. “Your friends are out there”- I love this bit. I am moving to New York in March and I am so keen to find some like minded happy friendly people. It is hard in a city so big but I am really looking forward to making New York friends. Also, getting a job. The economy is different now than a awhile back.
This post is great because we just need to give younger selves a hug and our current selves. I hope my future self is telling me everything will work out fine!! :)


21 Emilia February 17, 2012 at 8:40 am

I wish I had read this post around this time last year when I was having a hard time adjusting to life not only in England, but also at university. The message about flexibility, accepting difficulties and taking advantage of what we have is so important and you express it in such an inspiring and reassuring manner. Such an amazing post. :)


22 Lindsay February 17, 2012 at 9:08 am

Rachel, I absolutely love this post! I went through a similar period of time in February of 2010 and now I’m inspired to write a letter to myself :) Little did I know that things always work out the way they are supposed to but those rough periods are just so hard.


23 Emily February 17, 2012 at 11:27 am

Rachel, are you familiar with Dear Sugar, the advice column on the literary website The Rumpus? She’s unbelievable and awhile ago she wrote this column in which she gave advice to her 20s-era self. Your post reminded me of it.


“Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.”


24 Rachel March 5, 2012 at 9:12 am

Thank you so much for sharing her column with me! I went back and read almost all of her past posts after you shared this link. It is unbelievable! And that is a great post.


25 Gracie February 18, 2012 at 8:59 pm

First of all – thank you for this. Although I’m very much enjoying life in New York, this post has reminded me that there are definitely some NYC-related issues I need to work out in my own life…that I didn’t really realize needed work on until now. I may just have to write a letter to myself to uncover what else might be keeping me from making NYC the best possible home I can make it.

I think you especially hit the nail on the head in saying that life in New York is *not* going to be like the home you and I are used to. I think the way I got through that for the first (almost) year here is that I viewed it as some sort of vacation – that my “real” home in PA would still always be there to go back to. But, what I’ve had to come to terms with lately is – not only is NYC completely unlike the home I’m used to – but that “home I’m used to” isn’t even appealing anymore. It hasn’t changed, but I have. Drastically. For a few weeks I found myself feeling like I was in limbo; realizing that NYC is my home now, but not sure if I was 100% okay with that. It’s a weird transition that I’m still going through, but one that I’m pretty excited about.

I also love what you said about trying more new foods. I’ve been making somewhat of an effort to graze through the amazing restaurants here, but my running list of must-visits is growing way more quickly than getting checked off. I always use the money excuse but, let’s be real, I would probably SAVE money if I ate at restaurants more and the overpriced shit at Food Emporium less (I cringe at even admitting that I shop there. Ugh). Actually…I just now remembered you doing a post on eating at restaurants alone, right? Will be searching for that after this comment. Yup.

I could go on and on. Can you?? …seriously. Would love more posts about your former life here! Think about it? ;)


26 Rachel March 5, 2012 at 9:13 am

Ha, I’ll think about it!


27 jasmine February 19, 2012 at 12:28 pm

This is probably slightly off the point of your blog, but it reminds me of the longing that I’ve begun to develop as I get older and look back… Part of getting older for me has been accepting that time makes you see all the opportunities you were not old enough to enjoy. You can easily drive yourself crazy wishing you had appreciated things while you had them. The young never appreciate what they have. Including your young self. Just accept it. ;) Sometimes, I look back two or six or ten (!!) years to a younger version of myself, and I miss being her so bad, it hurts. At the time, I was so absorbed in whatever “issue” I was dealing with that I had no idea how good life was. Now I can see, but that’s hindsight, of course. Someday, these days will be “the good old days.” It’s so easy to forget that. Now, I try to ask myself, “What will I wish I’d done looking back? and do those things.

P.S. If you’re a hipster, the most hipster city in this country is Portland, OR. Hands down. It also happens to be home to a really cool interracial couple. ;)


28 Kavi @ Lab to Fab! February 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm

I love this! Having just moved out of NYC, I could totally relate. It took some getting used to, but it was the best four years of my life!


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