This December marks five years since I graduated from college — journalism degree in hand and a new outlook on the future. Graduation ceremonies were held amidst a white and wintry snowstorm that actually left me stranded in Western Pennsylvania for the night. I was due to start my brand new career as Editorial Assistant at Lehigh Valley Style the day following graduation. Mother Nature had another idea in mind. As I look back on the last five years, I am reminded of the many life-changing events that occurred and decided to write a letter to my former self.
Dear 21-year-old, fresh-out-of-college, brand-new-young-professional Jana,
I’m writing to you from New York City, the Flatiron district to be exact. Remember all of the days and nights and philosophy classes during which you sat daydreaming about living in the big city? Well, those dreams come true. It isn’t exactly easy and it certainly doesn’t happen immediately. It takes you about three and a half years, but what’s important is you arrive.
Before arriving in New York City (by the way, you move into an adorable apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with a super rad roommate who works in fashion), you excel as the Editorial Assistant at Lehigh Valley Style where you really make an impact and a name for yourself among the community. This job sets you up for everything to come. You will look back on it and miss it dearly, but you are too big for your britches and seek new challenges.
While finding your place in the Lehigh Valley, you meet and fall in love with a guy who you date off and on for nearly three years. The two of you share an amazing roller coaster of a relationship that eventually turns long-distance. It’s difficult, but it finally presents you with a reason to travel to the West Coast — San Francisco/Berkeley if you want to be precise. In fact, you consider moving there. The relationship doesn’t work out and you break up on the night of your 26th birthday. Don’t worry, you find strength to move forward. You learn a lot about yourself and about sharing yourself with someone else during this relationship.
Speaking of your 26th birthday, you also lose your job. (A birthday to remember!) After nearly three years at the magazine, you accept a new position as Content Editor at a daily deal website. The paycheck is nice, but the job is stressful. You work long hours. You work at the office and then return to your South Side Bethlehem apartment (yes, you finally move out of your parent’s house) to work from the couch, sometimes until midnight or later. You answer hundreds of emails daily. You don’t utilize your creativity, but you are tasked with managing an incredibly talented team of writers. Through this job, you take the leap to New York City. You have one month to find an apartment, pack all of your belonging and sell your Ford Focus that you purchase in spring 2008 because you want something reliable with a sunroof.
This new job at the daily deal website is unreliable. The company experiences changes and losses and there is much uncertainty weeks before they let you go. They ask you to stay and move back to Pennsylvania to keep your job, but you know better. You follow your gut and your heart. It proves you right. You live off of unemployment and spend a little too much money on fun rather than saving. You travel to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon for the first time. The summer of 2012 is one of the best summers yet, but you stress about money and paying rent. I promise it works out.
It works out because you eventually land a copywriting gig for COVERGIRL at an interactive ad agency. Some days it’s hard to believe. The team thinks you’re a valuable asset and your work is praised. You have doubts, but trust me, it’s the right path.
Along the way, you start practicing yoga, enjoy crazy nights on the dance floor, deal with the burglary of your apartment (they still haven’t found the person yet), decide to try out the NYC dating scene, become inspired to write a book, moonlight as a model, build a freelance business, plan and put on a benefit fashion show, indulge in many NYC experiences, style fashion shoots, raise a miniature dachshund puppy that you name Winston, maintain a blog, enhance your career, make stupid mistakes, stay out too late, sleep in too long, take a French cooking class, land the cover of a magazine and meet many, many interesting, inspiring and influential people — some who become your closest friends.
Through all of the bumps and challenges, you remain positive and level-headed. You learn a great deal about yourself and watch yourself mature (and I don’t mean fine lines and gray hairs, but I’m warning you now, those sprout up, too).
You are happy.
Your future self