New York City. The city of bright lights and big dreams. A place where you can unknowingly rub elbows with local bums and foreign diplomats on your daily commute; where you can find ramen and saag paneer and hot dogs all on the same block; where you can take the subway uptown, a taxi downtown, and a bus crosstown, all on the same day. It’s the city of the 24-hour-everything.
New York City is an odd place to find yourself trapped in a state of inertia. But when I first arrived, I found myself paralyzed, incapable of committing to anything. There were so many things to do, so many sights to see and foods to try and concerts to hear. What if I missed out on that One Cool Thing because I had already agreed to do some other Not-As-Nearly Cool Thing?
Combined with the fear of missing out was the fear of actually going out. My wardrobe—carried with me from the decidedly less fashion-conscious city of Pittsburgh—consisted of worn-out jeans, sweatpants, and hoodies. The only boots I owned were snow boots that I first bought in junior high school, and my bag of choice was an LL Bean backpack. When I looked around and saw all these glamorous people in their high-heeled boots and tailored jeans, I turtled my head a bit lower into the collar of my bright purple Columbia coat and shuffled past.
I tried to fit in. I went to the happy hours with colleagues and sipped Shirley Temples and explained over and over that no, I wasn’t a teetotaler, I just didn’t like drinking. I went to the museums and stared at weird splotches of paint on giant canvasses and wondered silently why this qualified as expensive art, while my landlord threatened to keep my deposit when he found splotches just like this on the wall in my room. I bought Nine West pumps I couldn’t walk in with money I didn’t have. And while I really liked cooking, I started eating out. A lot. Because hey, I was living in New York City, and that’s what New Yorkers do, right?
Yet, the more I tried to fit in, the more certain I felt that I wasn’t stylish enough or street-savvy enough or cultured enough to mesh with these people, with Real New Yorkers. I was a transplant. An out-of-towner. A faker.
And then I found a swimming pool. I had been looking for one—or, more precisely, one I could afford—because I had swum competitively in college and really missed the activity. I began swimming two, then three, then five times a week. I started skipping happy hours and playing pickup basketball with people I met at the gym. These were also New Yorkers, but they were a totally different breed. They wore sweatpants and had messy hair and would rather work out than go shopping. They weren’t the New Yorkers you saw in movies or on television shows—the ones who had swank apartments and cocktails permanently attached to their hands. But these people were unique and interesting and oftentimes astonishing. I met English Channel swimmers and Ironman Triathletes and former Olympic hopefuls, right alongside everyday run-of-the-mill “I’m doing this because I love it” athletes. No matter their level of skill, what was clear was that they were spending their time doing what they loved. And the more I hung out with them, I found that finally I, too, was doing what I loved.
Ultimately I resolved to give up fitting into whatever New York stereotype I had created in my head. I would never be the woman who wore three-inch pumps to and from work (I donated those Nine West shoes to Goodwill) or carried a Gucci handbag or wore five-hundred-dollar jeans. I wouldn’t be the cool chick who regaled coworkers with hilarious stories over drinks at weekly happy hours, because, well, I’d rather be swimming. Or running. Or shooting hoops with my new Australian friend. So that’s what I did. And it was time well spent. It still is.
About the Author: Allison Goldstein is an athlete, writer and world traveler. Her favorite sport is (currently) running. Her favorite author is (also currently) David Sedaris. And her favorite city would have to be New York, followed closely by Amsterdam, Barcelona, and of course her hometown, Pittsburgh.
Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.