I am back home in Ohio now, after living in New York City for a 4 month internship at a fashion PR company [Read More About It Here]. When I left home, I was ready. I felt confident, and was eager to start a journey being completely independent and “free,” while also taking the next step in my career. Little did I know this experience was about to be the best and most difficult thing I’ve endured yet. I figured I’d do a little recap and share with you the lessons I learned while living in New York.
Lesson 1 | Your True Friends Aren’t Always Going to Be The First People You Meet
One of my goals coming into this city was to make an effort to make friends. As an introvert, this isn’t the easiest of tasks for me. That’s why after a week of living in my all girls-dorm-style-apartment, I was elated to meet a group of women who accepted me into their circle. From that point on we ate every meal together, and hung out exploring the city together. I felt like I was set. But as the weeks went by, and some of the girls I was closest to left to go home due to their internships ending, I felt a shift in the dynamic of the group. Although I was sitting at a table with them, I felt very distant and excluded. And I began to ask myself, why am I here? They would have their conversations and I would sit there and listen, never really incorporated or thought of. Then they stopped telling me when they were going down to the dining hall to eat. So I would show up, and they’d be almost done. I’d find out on social media that they’d been exploring the city without inviting me. The final straw was when we all went out to a club a couple of nights before my 21st birthday, and they proceeded to go in when I was told by the bouncer that I had to leave. No one thought to change plans or at least make sure I got into a cab safely. The next day I expressed my feelings, and made the decision to eat by myself from then on. We were cordial with one another when we ran into each other, but I didn’t feel like pretending these people were my friends when they clearly couldn’t care less about me.
Thankfully I did meet some genuine people. There were a handful of girls who also interned where I did that I was cool with, and I met my other friends through different churches I visited.
Lesson 2 | Happiness is a Choice
While I am thankful for the opportunity I had to come to New York and see how I liked fashion PR, the internship itself was not fulfilling for me. I quickly found out PR is not what I want to do, so the following months looked like me waking up to go work somewhere I didn’t really want to be. I envied the stylists coming into the showroom to select pieces for their shoots. I envied the editors I was packing up clothes in a garment bag for all throughout the day. The critical and creative thinking I craved, and was so used to, was now replaced with mindless tasks I completed for 9 hours a day, 4 days a week, unpaid. It got to the point where I began to feel depressed for the first time in my life. But I made the conscious decision to make the best out of it. Everyday I’d wake up and pray that the day would go by quickly. Or, I’d listen to gospel music to pump me up as I got ready in the morning. Sometimes, I’d even challenge myself to smile a certain amount of times at work that day. I needed to remain positive. I couldn’t let myself slip away.
Lesson 3 | If You Haven’t Experienced Strife Yet, It’s Coming
Rent in New York is not cheap. It’s about double what I paid just last semester for a newly built, luxury apartment in a prime spot close to campus… and I thought that was pricey. If I wanted to settle for a place with really cheap rent near campus, it would be a quarter of what the rent is in New York City. With my Go Fund Me donations, help from family, and my own savings, I was able to pay for the first three months without worry, and I had a plan set for the fourth month. Everything went wrong when I went to get my final bill for the last month, and the numbers were double what I was expecting. It turns out, I made a mistake and didn’t pay for the third month ahead of time like I’d thought I did. So now I had less than 2 months to figure out how to get over $3,300. Keep in mind I was working at an unpaid internship, with no part-time job. For extra added pressure, rent was really expected weekly ($360/week), and if I didn’t pay that on time, there was a late fee. Sh!t just got real.
Lesson 4 | With Faith, Failure Isn’t an Option
A couple of days prior to finding out I owed 3 grand, I applied for a few modeling and styling gigs I came across on Model Mayhem, like I did several times a week. I didn’t think anything of it… for every 10 jobs I applied to, I only heard back from 2. So I was surprised when a week after finding out I was in deep doo-doo, I got a response from a job I applied to. The gig was for a very popular hair care brand. They wanted me to style their Spring/Summer 2017 campaign. After receiving the call, I quickly headed downtown to meet them in person to talk details. The people I met with seemed very professional. They said they were impressed with my portfolio, and were excited to have me on board. They explained the concept, told me there were 10 models I’d need to style for three days, a different outfit each day. A lot of work, but I thought… hey I can handle it! Here’s the catch: They were shooting that weekend, which was in two days!!! So I needed to get 30 looks together in 48 hours. I was nervous, but excited because guess what?? The pay was exactly how much I needed to pay off the rest of my rent. I almost fell to my knees and thanked God right there as they told me that.
As soon as I got home I started researching fashion PR agencies in NYC to call in the morning. There was no way I could afford to buy and return 30 outfits. I needed to network, and quickly. I got a lot of no’s, which was expected. I mean, they were probably like “Who is this Niyah Jackson girl from Cincinnati, Ohio? And why would I let her borrow our designer’s clothing?” But I did receive some yeses. I was proud of myself for making moves, and having the confidence to cold call these huge agencies that renowned celebrity fashion stylists borrow from. I knew I could make this work. I didn’t have much of a choice… I needed the money!
In order to secure the clothes, I needed to provide a pull request form from the company I was hired by basically stating they assume full responsibility for the clothing should anything happen to it. So I called the lady who hired me only to find out they needed to make some budget cuts, and no longer needed my services. WHAT?!?! She said they didn’t have the budget they thought they did, and couldn’t afford a stylist for the shoot. I was devastated. I had worked very hard to pull strings, and now had to go back and retract all of my effort. After explaining this she said she would compensate me $250 for my time.
I cried every last drop I could and felt so empty that day. But even at that lowest point I was still able to say ” I love you God, I trust in you, and I know you have a plan.”
S0, back to square one. To save money I went a couple of weeks without eating lunch. My apartment provided two meals a day, so I’d eat breakfast before work, and dinner after work. I’d take an apple or pear from breakfast and eat that during the day. I also saved money by walking instead of taking the subway. I remember I once walked home for 45 minutes in the freezing cold, a 2 mile walk, just to save $2.75, the cost of a subway ride.
Lesson 5 | Hustle, Hustle, Hustle
Even though I didn’t love my internship, I still made the most of living in a fashion capital. Every weekend I was either styling a shoot or modeling in one, getting my name out there and making connections. Some of the shoots led to paid opportunities like when I styled the fall and spring campaign for luxury footwear company Greats.com. I got to explore different parts of the city with each shoot. I was also able to make money babysitting at $15-$17/hour which helped towards the end. I was always on the hunt for a side job. I’ve had experience as a promotional model/brand ambassador in the past, so I looked for events I could sign up for. I didn’t think it was worth it to get a retail job or work at a restaurant with only two months left.
Thanks to a loan from my parents, help from my little brother, my boyfriend, money I’d saved, and made, and a lot of prayer, I was able to pay off my rent with 3 weeks left of living in NYC. So essentially I gathered together over 3K in a month. It felt so good to have that pressure off my back, and be able to not only pay it on time, but early!
Lesson 6 | Just When You Think You’ve Got It All Figured Out, You Realize You Know Nothing at All.
I can definitely say I grew A LOT during my time in New York City. It was such a humbling experience. I’ve always been the type of person who has “had it all together.” I’ve been planning and preparing my career since I was in middle school, so I’d be steps ahead. Journeys like this teach you that as much as you can plan, you’ll never have it all figured out. Life is unpredictable.
In my last few days there, I decided to take a run along Chelsea Piers down the street from my apartment. I ran for 2 miles alongside beautiful, still water. In front of me I could see the World Trade Center. Overcome with the beauty of the city, my mind kept replaying everything I’d been through during my stay, and how I made it. I stopped on a bench and bowed my head, closed my eyes and thanked God. I felt so blessed in that moment to have had the experience I did. It wasn’t easy, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. My last cry in the Big Apple wasn’t due to loneliness, or hurt, fear, or dissatisfaction. My last cry in the Big Apple were tears of gratitude.