I slept on a couch for a whole year
And this is what I learned...
2014 was a great year for me in many ways. First, I had completed all of the coursework and research components for my dual-degree graduate program in global luxury and innovation management. Second, 2014 marked the first time I had actually traveled abroad and it was a big deal for me because growing up I never even took a real vacation. The second part of my program was spent studying and living in the south of France on the Cote d'Azur and I was able to travel to London, Monaco, Spain (Barcelona & Madrid), Italy (Rome, Milan, and Florence), and Portugal (Lisbon) during my leisure. But that's not what this is about.
After coming back to the states, I had expectations. My hopes were high for an amazing job in the luxury/fashion industry and finally the opportunity to make real money. I had prayed for something life-changing. Finally, I was in a position to move forward in life in a way that made me feel proud. But, this, too, is not what the story is about.
This is what the story is about: A friend of mine said, "if you ever feel like you want to move to NYC, let me know and I can give you a place to stay until you're on your feet." After being fired from my job (this story to come later), I felt it was time to finally leap. I moved to NYC at the end of September 2014 with whatever money was in my account, no job prospects, and more ambition than knowledge. When I arrived, I found out that "my place" was actually a couch and not a bed or a full room. Honestly, I didn't care because I was finally living in NYC and I didn't plan to be home much, anyway. Prior to moving to NYC, I always let my head get ahead of my heart. I let myself beat me down every single day....
"I don't have a job and may be difficult to find one" - Doubt
"It's super expensive" - Fear
"Fashion is really cutthroat and I don't really know anything about it. People just say I dress well but doesn't really count as a skillset. It doesn't qualify me to have a career in fashion let alone luxury fashion." - Insecurity
So, finally I'm in the City That Never Sleeps. I spent that first year, living in Harlem (141st & 8th), and sleeping on a couch. The first few weeks I was in the honeymoon phase. It's like that period when you first start dating someone and they seem to put everyone else you've ever dated to shame. I literally walked just about everywhere (40 plus blocks sometimes) just because I wanted to be among the people. But, yes, after I came home from exploring and meeting people from social media for the first time I went home and slept on a couch. After hearing people tell me how proud they were of me and how I inspired them, I went home within two hours of that and slept on a couch. I was embarrassed and I felt like a failure. I was 26 years old, with 3 degrees (2 of which were advanced), and now a few stamps in my passport yet I was sleeping on a couch. I helped launch a project, The New Stereotype, that at one time received over 40,000 shares on Facebook, appeared on The Real, and caught the attention of Essence, Black Enterprise, Centric, and BET, yet I was still sleeping on a couch. At one point, I was working for a European fashion brand on the 48th floor in the Financial District with views of the Statue of Liberty but each night when I got on the 2/3 or A train I went home to sleep on a couch. Something wasn't right. For me, things were not adding up. It seemed like everyone my age was progressing and living a great life. Everyone but me. While it was tough to accept that "my room" was a couch and some suitcases, while sleeping under that blanket and one single pillow I learned a lot of lessons.
Don't be embarrassed by your scars. In Japan when a bowl breaks, they fill the cracks with gold. They believe that if something is broken it has history and it is more beautiful being that it was able to survive. I used to be embarrassed to tell people that I didn't have a job and that I was sleeping on a couch. In fact, I would purposely stay home because I didn't want to face that dreaded question of "so, what do you do?" People love to ask what do you do and sometimes it is to judge you. Our scars are tattoos and we should wear them proudly. The fabric of what has shaped us has made us great and we shouldn't be ashamed. I used to believe the saying "you are not what you've been through." Actually, I am. I am what I've been through and I'm hype because I made it through. I didn't go around or under my challenges. I went through them and I'm proud of that!
Be humble or be humbled. Leaving the south of France meant I was ready to take on the world and I felt I had all the tools to make it happen. My expectations were so high that I wasn't willing to settle for anything and I was very focused on what I wanted to do. I even use to say "dust settles but people don't." I was hit with rejection emails so much at one point that I was afraid to . I couldn't face another rejection letter. A major problem I didn't realize was that I was super cocky. It wasn't until I opened myself up to other opportunities that one actually came along. If the pay wasn't what I wanted, I didn't pay attention. If it wasn't a luxury brand, I would not give it the time of day. I was entitled and I didn't even realize it. Going to graduate school, working part time, doing an internship, co-planning a luxury and fashion conference, and starting an organization meant for me that I should've been able to get a job immediately. I wanted the job to come in the format that I wanted and with the company I wanted. That "format" still hasn't come to fruition and neither has that company but I have made a lot of progress. If I was only open to that one way or if I didn't humble myself, and take an opportunity, I may still be trying to figure out that there's more than one way to a final destination. You can know your worth, add tax, and still realize that sometimes you have to make a few "long-term investments" in order to increase your assets. Besides, humility is very sexy.
You have to eat something until the food is ready. There is a Nigerian proverb which states, "Dried meat tastes good. But while the meat is drying you have to eat something." We are all addicted to immediate gratification and want to step immediately into that dream job, move into that Pinterest-inspired home, and drive that foreign. I was able to find a job after a few months (4 months) and it was not a dream job but turned out to set me up for so much more. The pay was not good, but the experience propelled me further than I could've imagined. So, you may not be in the job that you want or the next offer may not be your dream but it can put you closer. If your current job is a snack and your dream job is a meal, remember that while a snack does not fill you up it does signify that at least you're eating.
Your chapter 1 could be someone else's chapter 20. I'm super guilty of comparing myself to others. In every single way. For much of my childhood, I did not feel attractive because I looked a certain way. In my adult life, I thought I was always falling behind in comparison to my peers. I was looking at the pretty packaged product pushed out to social media and believed that I had failed at life because I couldn't display that same package. I was comparing my life to a Photoshop, VSCO enhanced version of someone else. Well, the truth is some people didn't even know I was struggling and they were comparing their lives to me! Can you imagine? They didn't know I was sleeping on a couch and struggling to pay ALL of my bills. They didn't know my cell phone was getting cut off and I had to borrow money to bring my account back to black. Yet they were writing on my IG "Life Goals." It's a cycle. Your chapter 1 may be someone's chapter 20 and the concept of time is quite different for us all. We have to stop comparing and competing and start creating a lane that works for us. Be proud of where you are because as someone once told me "everything can change tomorrow."
There's a beauty in the struggle. "Shun not struggle for it's God's gift." I learned this back in 2008 and I didn't know what it meant at the time. I thought, "Why would anyone want to struggle?" I even remember being frustrated because I felt like I was a nomad moving from struggle to struggle. When does it end? Why hasn't it ended? What should I do to end it? "Struggle" is a mindset and it's about perspective. You can be unclear about what you want to do with your life or you be in a state of exploration. You can be sleeping on a couch or you can be in the process of saving money for your next place. Find the purpose of your struggle and work it like a muscle. Pull it, stretch it, and tire it out and watch it grow. When we go through difficult times we either break or break records. The choice is ours. Perspective counts. Do not sleep on the ability to think positive.
Real friends take the bus with you when the limo breaks down. A major part (other than prayer) that kept me motivated and going through that time was I had a pretty solid support group. When I say solid, I don't mean big. I mean this group was consistent. They believed and still do believe in my ambitions. For a big chunk of that year, I was actually dating someone (yes, not a lot of people knew this either). Although I did spend a few nights over at their place, I never felt ashamed for the lack of things I didn't have. In fact, on two distinct occasions, I remember them coming over and sleeping on that very slim couch with me. That meant the world to me and I'll never forget it. I'll never forget how it made me feel and to this day I still remember that feeling. This person will forever be a part of my life because I know that if I'm staying at the Ritz Carlton, Motel 8, or my car, I would feel just as regal being around them. These are the kinds of friends and people that I had around me. If people can't deal with you at your worst, they don't deserve you at your best.
As I was laying on that couch many nights, I took time to think. My mind was racing because I could not sleep. I would often think about how it took me having absolutely nothing to know that I had inside everything that I needed to survive. I had a strong faith, I had hope, I had drive, I was around amazing people who kept me encouraged and loved on me, and I always had a belief that things would get better. Between conversations with myself and God, I hit a refresh button each night while sleeping on that couch and woke up feeling like better days are coming even if I didn't know what they were. I am living proof that where you are is not where you'll stay. Just keep moving forward!