Being Employed VS. Being Unemployed in NY

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. I’ve been catapulting myself into the beginning weeks and months of my time in the City and how it felt to live life then. I know, it’s not terribly long ago. But I feel like the memories are fading already, after a good one and a half years.

One thing I will always look back on and feel good about is not having a steady job when I first moved here. This might sound backwards to you. Most people do it the other way around: They get their visa which is connected to a job offer in the States and then move over here. At least this is what my German friend did. We moved here at about the same time, only one week of a difference, and we ended up still being here. Ironically, not at the same job, not in the same apartment, not even with the same friends, but we are still around.

What I remember is that he had always been intensely stressed out when first moving here. His former job site in NJ had surely kicked his a** and his boss made him work a good 12 hours through the entire day. So it seemed that during the week and even on some weekends, he had basically no time left to explore New York and see what this city is about. I, on the other hand, had been busy looking for an apartment for 2 days (what a joke compared to his 2 weeks of fruitless efforts), and had then taken it pretty easy, living off of the savings I had accumulated in Europe. The first month I was here, I felt like such a tourist, it was incredibly refreshing. After about six weeks though, money become sparse, how unpredicted indeed, and after a few unsuccessful applications I entered the American food industry and waitressed my way through the LES for two steady months. I am not encouraging anyone to become a waiter or bartender. I hated that job, there is simply no career made in a bar filled with scum bags and cheap bosses. But it did give me enough leisure time, as I only worked three days and nights and had the rest of the week to myself. Since this was during the summer, it was sweet to be able to go to one of New York’s fabulous beaches on a Tuesday or Wednesday (read more about beaches here). It was nice to be able to hang around in Bryant Park on a hot August afternoon. It was enjoyable to go out during the week without having to jump out of bed early the next morning.

And even though I had been looking for something steady, it is, in general, pretty hard to find a job here in the summer. You might wonder how this is relevant upon season, but NY has this thing of snatching underpaid interns who are eager to get into a business during the hot months. Not really a good time for desperate college graduates to get their foot in the door AND aim for a decent salary. And true enough, I made it into my first 9-5 in the beginning of October. After 6 months of dwelling, exploring, and seeing New York at every possible hour of the day it was time to enter the working world. And ever since then I have basically never taken enough time off to get the feeling back which I had during those first sweet months in the Big Apple. The pros of having a steady job here are that it is nice to have a routine, to be able to get to know other working people, to expand one’s friend’s circle, if possible. But on the flipside, it compromises a great deal of your time and might stall you in a way never foreseen.

I consider winter the best time to be employed, if there is ever a season to be named. It’s good to be inside, to evade the cold, and to be occupied instead of feeling depressed and lonely. Once spring comes around, though, this city shows a completely different face. It is like a circus around Times Square, quite colorful in the Village, drunken in the Lower East Side. The warm months are most likely the best to be unemployed. Of course no one can really live like this over here, unless they switch jobs twice a year.

I know that some Americans have come here to pursue a serious career. Bankers, investors, advertisers, … you name it! I sometimes pity them and their life style somehow and wonder if it is worth going through all the stress during a time most crucial in their life. They are nothing I would like to become but then again it is very interesting to witness them and see how they undergo the metamorphosis of a naive student to a serene business man (who will eventually end up on coke).

To me, New York is not really about a career. I know I will eventually have to say good-bye and go back to college to pursue a graduate degree. To me, New York has always been about the journey. About breaking out of a boring everyday situation, away from the rigidity and stubbornness of the European system and meeting a bunch of crazy people. It’s about living somewhere far away from home, coping with different cultures and personalities, and gaining some valuable experience on the trip overseas.

I am sure a year, even a few months of employment will look splendid on your resume and appear impressive to recruiters. But it is often forgotten that you can surely slave yourself to death here. It is after all the city of which if you make it here you can make it anywhere. For a very good reason: See New York as the training for everything else in your life, be it a job, be it even life, and then working or living in every other state, maybe even country, might seem like a piece of cake to you. The stress levels you reach here couldn’t be higher than anywhere else.

So if a job simply drains you, takes all your energy, and doesn’t even leave you with a tiny bit of satisfaction, then I am not sure it is worth pursuing for too much longer. It’s all about the memories created during your life time, and New York especially is one of those cities you want to focus all of your energy on. Where you want to take in every sight, witness every oddity, and not waste away at a frustrating job site.