Many young women dream of making it in New York City, and it’s no surprise why. New York is a place where artists, entrepreneurs, intellectuals and bankers alike make their mark on the world. In other words: It’s a place a girl can come and make all of her dreams come true.
The other side of that coin is that all of these ambitious dreamers are in constant competition. The threat of failing or not being enough can be intimidating and overwhelming.
Having lived in the city for twenty years, I’ve succeeded, failed and succeeded again a daunting number of times. My journey has thickened my skin and sharpened my senses — an education I could only have received in New York.
Though institutional hurdles still exist for women in the workplace, I truly believe that dreaming is the first step to achieving your own version of success. Here are four tips for ambitious women who want to jumpstart their careers in New York City and other competitive business hubs.
It takes time, but the first step toward success is having a dream worth striving for and going all-in, even when there’s risk involved.
I like to think of success as an accumulation of failure — the more you fail, the more likely you are to finally succeed once you try, try, try again.
Women of all ages and levels of success suffer from confidence issues. In fact, Meryl Streep, who holds the record for the most Academy Award nominations of any actor, wrestles with herself even at the pinnacle of her career, “I say to myself, ‘I don’t know how to act — and why does anybody want to look at me on screen anymore?’ . . . Lots of actors feel that way. What gives you strength is also your weakness — your raging insecurity.”
Next, stop underselling yourself. Women often tend to only apply to jobs they meet 100 percent qualifications for, while men will apply to jobs they don’t meet qualifications for. The Atlantic calls this the confidence gap, and whatever its cause, it can create distance between women and their goals.
You must push past the days you feel down through action: applying to internships, jobs or showing up for that audition you don’t think you are the perfect fit for. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You might not get the job? That’s not so bad — you weren’t going to get the job by not applying. At least when you apply, you can meet new people who could possibly open other doors while gaining experience in your industry of choice.
The roadmap to a successful career is going to have plenty of bumps. In New York City, it’s not uncommon to live with multiple roommates in a room that was designed to be a closet (this is why I recommend having a die-hard dream you believe in and feel committed to). This city is not for the faint of heart, so you have to let the little things roll off your back.
When it feels as if everything is going wrong and you are running on nothing but dreams and New York City electricity, you’ll have to laugh at the hurdles you face along the way. When you don’t let distractions stop you, it means you are focusing on your goals and refusing to be side tracked.
Unfortunately, a lot of women give up on their dreams: about 50 percent worldwide, according to one survey. Among other factors in this decision are anxiety, grueling stress and repeated rejection. I’ve had plenty of moments that I’ve wanted to give up — it’s part of the process. If you want to create something worthwhile, you have to fight for it.
When you come across a wall — and you will — punch a hole through it, climb over it, go around it and, if all else fails, dig a tunnel. I love the story of actress Nia Vardalos, who asked her agent, “‘Why am I not getting auditions?” The agent said, ‘Because you’re not pretty enough to be a leading lady and you’re not fat enough to be a character actress . . . ” Vardalos responded by borrowing a friend’s computer and penning the semi-autobiographical “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”
The film proceeded to earn over $368 million dollars at the U.S. box office.
Being committed to your goal is one thing, but having tunnel vision is another. Opportunities can present themselves at any moment, and if you have blinders on, you just may miss something great, especially in a dense city like New York where there are potential connections on every corner.
My original intention was to be a novelist. That hasn’t happened yet, but early in my career, a chance meeting opened up a whole new direction for me, leading me to contribute to Social Life Magazine during its inception and work my way up in the world. This opportunity of a lifetime has shaped me more than I can say, and I would have missed it if I hadn’t been open to multiple paths! Be prepared for your plans to change too, and let the word “yes” open new doors.
That said, it’s easy to get carried away by the glamour and the lifestyle. It’s okay to have a healthy social life, and many say it’s key to achieving work-life balance. But, if you get caught up in the frivolity of appearances, you may lose perspective. The resulting derailment can be huge.
All career-minded people, whether male or female, should find something to keep them grounded. Mine has always been my mother, who I’ve spoken to every day for at least thirty minutes since I went to college (nowadays, it’s even more often). Another joyful and grounding part of my life is having my sisters and brothers come to visit me in the city.
So, be open, but not if your wellness is at stake. Tether yourself to reality, whether this means allocating time for charity work, placing limits on your indulgences, or regularly honoring the people you love.
Lastly, remember that forging a path is less about attaining a far-off dream than it is living your dream every day. You can do this by letting go of the idea of instant gratification, avoiding toxic relationships and activities and doing things that you will be thankful for one, two or even five decades down the line. There are so many temptations and distractions in New York City, and just as many people who want to make a quick buck or feel good without thinking about the consequences.
If you make deliberate, thoughtful decisions in your life and career, that’s playing the long game. Sometimes, this means leaving your comfort zone and taking a risk (or two or twelve). Always, it means choosing actions that you can look back on and be proud of.
In the end, New York City may not be the dream world it’s portrayed to be in movies, but it’s not a bloodthirsty giant, either. Young women should have the courage to conquer it now more than ever.