“Lights is blinding, girls need blinders/So they can step out of bounds quick, the sidelines is/Lined with casualties, who sip to life casually/Then gradually become worse, don’t bite the apple Eve.”
Jay-Z touched on mine and every young, ambitious female’s experience when moving to New York in “Empire State Of Mind.” It happens to the best of us, getting caught up in the magic of the city and everything it has to offer. And when you work in the entertainment industry, the temptation can be overwhelming.
Growing up in Sydney (inner west and west, to be exact) I always loved labels. Us kids from single parents love us some brand names, don’t we? We’d do whatever it took to have the nicest gear but in those days and most expensive was Polo Ralph Lauren (if we paid for it every time is another story). It would then trickle down to Nautica, Gant, Champion, FILA and of course, the almighty Nike. If you haven’t figured it out yet, yes, I was a complete tomboy (you try growing up on TLC and Aaliyah). As long as we had a constant stream of goods from these brands, we were doing okay.
I’ll never forget when I started dressing “girly” (around 19 or so) and I became aware of designer labels more than ever. Artists like Biggie would rap about Versace and Escada and I was hooked. For my 21st birthday, I had a group of friends pitch in for my first pair of Escada shoes. This exquisite pair that cost over $1000 and were glossy wood, spiked heels with denim straps (call it the “Jenny From The Block” era) were everything I’d ever dreamed about. I ended up wearing them so often they became too “tore up” to even donate to the local Salvation Army store. My love affair with really expensive things had been ignited.
When I moved to New York I was 26 years old and ready to take advantage of the best shopping in the world. With my poor kid mentality, I didn’t want to look at buying from chains like Century 21, Loehmann’s and T.J. Maxx for sensible discounts. I was too good for that. I wanted to buy my goods from their flagship stores. I wanted the name of the brand on its shopping bag, dammit! It didn’t help that I first lived on Madison Avenue (right up the top in Harlem, but that didn’t matter to me) and romanticized that street name like I was Carrie Bradshaw. I was drawn to a world I wasn’t anywhere near ready for and for years, I tried keeping up with it. Because I’d always paid my rent and held my own (not to mention a mortgage back in Sydney from an apartment my grandmother made me promise to buy before I left) I thought I wasn’t being frivolous by spending all my extra money on material things. But I was; I was out of my mind. I was paying for Louboutins and dinners at expensive restaurants because I “had to look the part.” When my job stopped sending me on work trips because in their opinion they weren’t justifiable, I thought nothing of spending my own money on expensive fares and accommodation to cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami and Atlanta for award shows and trade shows because I “had to be there.” For the past six years, I’ve lived outside my means. And while it thankfully never got so bad that I went into any kind of serious debt, I’m left today with not much to show financially (which at the end of the day, is most important) for all my years of hard work in the city that never sleeps.
I should have known better. I was smarter than that. I’d seen too much. When I was younger there were times that were so tough, Mum told me recently, she used to have to take her “foot off the accelerator when we were in the car to save petrol.” I remember she would lock herself in her bedroom and cry, stressed over our financial situation, thinking my sister and I were unaware of her pain and not realizing I could hear her.
Having been home with my family these past few months waiting on my new visa to tackle New York again, I’ve been blessed to come back down to earth. I’ve spent every night here reflecting on my attempts to live a fantasy lifestyle I bought into like so many of my peers do. I’ve realized there’s no shame in starting from the bottom and straying not too far from it till you’re truly ready. Because that time of success and glory will come, but it can’t come at the expense of your peace of mind and financial stability. I’m heading back to the city I love a very different person, with my eyes wide open and a new attitude toward everything and everyone. I’m back to the hungry young woman I was but now I finally know where to channel the rewards of that hunger: to sensibly provide for my family and set myself up for a better future. I owe them and myself that much.
The journey continues.
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