A Long-Awaited Break

Since before I can remember, I’ve wanted a break. When I was in college and took summer classes, and packed my time with jobs, 21-credit semesters, and internships, I’ve wanted a break. When I jumped straight from college into a job, I wanted a break. When I moved to New York, and from company to company, I wanted a break.

By break, I don’t just mean a few weeks off to get married (for those of you who’ve gotten married, you know this isn’t a break), but a real, true, sit on my ass and do nothing but get my mind straight, break.

So in October, I decided to do it. Take off the month of November to just be. I tied my loose ends, checked my bank account, and quit my job. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how I’d feel, or what those around me would think. Would I seem lazy? Careless? Privileged? Or God forbid… Millennial!?

I hate to say that I care what people think, but I do. Especially the people I love, appreciate, and admire. But if I’m really honest with myself, what I care about above all is transparency. I can understand the need for a social highlight reel, for sharing the good, and portraying oneself in the best light. But I don’t understand why that’s it. Why we never reveal any other aspect of ourselves. To me, sharing in each others humanity is far more powerful. Embracing each other during the ups, and cradling each other during the downs.

So I decided to share my news. Admitting that I felt disconnected from myself, my city, my relationships. Confessing that I wasn’t doing the best, or being the best I could. Revealing that even a few days in, I could still feel half of my body in knots, and the other half slowly unraveling. It was terrifying.

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Deep down, I knew, and know others feel the same way. So why don’t we talk about our vulnerabilities? Why don’t we talk about fading friendships, faltering love, and failure when these conversations can liberate us?

When I pressed “post” on Facebook, I braced myself. I knew some people might read my post and see the frailty and naiveté of my character. But I also knew that some people might empathize. I didn’t, however, expect the outpouring of support – from my friends, my parents friends, my family all over the world. The “best decision in world!”s, and the “THIS IS NUTS (in an awesome way!)”s, and the “you deserve it!”s.

It wasn’t just sympathy or empathy. It was people throwing convention to the wayside and standing by me when I was most vulnerable.

In retrospect, I don’t know why I was that surprised. Especially now, when solidarity is pulsing through all of us. When we’re all tapping into the same positive, loving, helpful, encouraging consciousness, whether we live next door to one another, or across the globe.

The world is a scary place, but our community is beautiful.

Thank you for your kindness, understanding, and support. May we all continue to inject one another’s lives with this same sense of friendship, camaraderie, and unity.

Love,

A

A New New Yorker | What Living in New York Has Taught Me | Tale 4

Today marks my sixth month in New York. Whatt?! Half a year?! How did this happen? Well, to be totally honest, not without tears, tantrums, lots of complaining and pent up anger (I’m afraid if I ever show aggression out on the streets someone will follow me home and kill me).

I’ve decided that, as a 6 month anniversary gift to the city that I…uh…(sometimes) tolerate, I will compile a list of things I’ve learned from living here.

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  1. Not letting gross things bother you (for that long): In the past 6 months in New York, I have been exposed to more disgusting things than I have in my entire life. I’ve had old air conditioners leak their cooling juices on my head as I walk below them, I’ve learned how to avoid getting bed bugs in a place infested by them, I’ve taught myself how to avoid breathing by port-a-potties, and I’ve even learned how to get over a cockroach the size of my palm scurrying across my desk.
  2. How to get from point A to point B: In New York, you just have to know where you’re going. Because if you try to ask someone, they will most likely give you incorrect directions. Really, this happened to me on my second day of work. You can truly only count on yourself. And Google Maps…but only if you check it before going underground because then you’re screwed.
  3. That I don’t like crowded, loud places: When I was living in Chicago, I attributed a lot of my nights spent at home to my lack of friends living in the actual city. Now, after some time in NY I’ve realized that even when I have the option to go to these jam-packed, rowdy places, I happily opt out without any FOMO at all.
  4. How to pretend like some rude person didn’t just cut you off or aggressively push past you: Okay. I’m not even a slow walker. Like, I walk really really fast. So when someone pushes me out of their way (instead of just saying “excuse me” like a normal, non-savage, human being) I simply don’t understand it. But I also don’t understand why most homeless people here have iPhones or iPads, so what do I know?
  5. Just get your groceries delivered: For the love of God, don’t make the mistakes I have made. Walking a mile with three filled Trader Joe’s bag or paying $25 for your cab…not worth it. Fresh Direct is the way to go.
  6. Wear layers: Subway stations are 100 degrees and the office is 60. Need I say more?
  7. How to deal with claustrophobia: My two-bedroom apartment is the same size as my studio in Chicago was. To deal with this I – pretend I live in the fantasy worlds I watch on Netflix, go to A’s apartment, or force myself to fall asleep to avoid life.
  8. How to do pretty much anything in bed: My bed is so much more than a place to sleep. It’s also a place to eat, work, paint my nails, do crunches, and pretty much any other thing you can imagine me doing during the day. This is what happens when you don’t have a real living room.
  9. How to ignore gross men or crazy people on the street: Whether it’s a catcall or a guy walking around in a leotard screaming Selena Gomez song lyrics, for your own sanity, learn to tune it all out. I actually always day-dream of responding with some witty, bitchy comment. But refrain because, again, someone from the street can always follow you home and kill you.
  10. How to look past all this shit because you’re in New York: As much as I dislike the city, I realize that it truly is a city of dreams. The number of opportunities you have just outside your door is astonishing. So learning to look past all the negatives and focus on all the positives, is the number one thing New York has taught me. Granted, I still complain at least 5 times a day. But most days I can step back, look at my life, and realize that I’m so lucky to be where I am.

Moment of truth: I actually don’t deal with most of these situations well at all. And my #1 way of coping is actually just calling my mom and complaining. Then she tells me she’s sick of hearing it. So then I call my dad. So thanks dad, for putting up with me!

Love,

K

A feeling of “grown-ness”

A few weeks ago, as I was riding on a boozy boat, surrounded by some of my oldest and best friends, I felt old.

I don’t mean old in the typical sense of wrinkles and graying hair, or painfully hungover after two glasses of wine from the night before, or surrounded by all my friends’ children (in fact, not only do none of us have children, none of our other friends from this trip are married, either). I mean old because our “grown-ness” dawned on me.

Most of us have been friends since about 2006. It was early in our college careers, and we were inseparable. We ate meals together, drank beers together, danced together, cried together. It was an emotionally packed time in our lives, where 5AM bedtimes were the usual, and 1PM recaps from the night before were routine. All of us would say college was a magical time. We agree that we had the most quintessential college experience, and it defined the strong friendships we have today.

Honestly, little has changed. I’ll say again, we were on a booze cruise, with coolers filled with beer, handles of whiskey, a few bottles of Rosé (typical). We were laughing hysterically, calling each other out, making fun as each one of us toppled over while tubing from the back of the boat (also typical). It was like we were in 2006, again. Except we weren’t.

We had new friends in the group, too. New loves, who at this point had turned into old loves, turned from new friends to old friends. We celebrated two 28th birthdays. We spoke about moving, and settling down, and careers, and families. How many weddings we’d all attended this summer, and how many more there were to go.

It was the first time, with our historic group of friends, that we stayed in each night. Laid on the living-room floor. Watched football. Had whistling contests. Cuddled with Ziggy the dog. None of us had the desire to go bar hop, see the Floridian scenes, wear “going out clothes,” we were just content being together. Grilling on the balcony, getting adjusted by the Chiropractors in the group, and playing Heads Up. If our 20-year-old selves saw us now, they’d wonder when we got so boring. But our 28-year-old selves were just 100% content. Even if we did fall asleep by 11PM.

My 28th birthday came around this weekend. And it was an incredible weekend. Friday night celebrating our friends’ wedding in upstate New York, near a waterfall, among the hills, with instrumental Beyonce.

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And then Saturday, my birthday day. We celebrated on a rooftop in Brooklyn, surrounded by whichever friends and family could make it amidst the final weeks of wedding season, the bachelor and bachelorette parties, the marathon training, the work fire-drills, or the relationship-commitments. Even though some key folks were missing, it was my favorite birthday I’ve had in years. A small group of family and close friends that I’d met from 1995 through 2015, talking about things adults talk about – love, careers, taking shots. Happy and at ease with who they are. Excited about what’s to come. Under the setting sun, in my favorite neighborhood in New York.

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There were cocktails, cupcakes, tacos. The breeze was refreshing, and my outfit was on point. And 28, despite feeling old (or more precisely, aware of my “grown-ness”), was beautiful and complete.

Growing up feels good.

Thanks to all of those who celebrated with me.

Love,

A

More Growing Pains | A Tribute To My Old Friends

Up until now life has gradually transitioned from one stage to another, without much of a bump in the road. The change from child to teen was pretty painless and the switch from high school to college even more so. At any given point I’ve always been, not just ready, but eagerly anticipating the next stage of life. And until recently – that had always worked out just fine for me. I didn’t just think I was ready, or feel ready, I always was ready.

I was so fond of these transitional, big life moments that I actually sought them out, for no reason other than craving the blood rush it gave me. When I first graduated college, I was ecstatic to be an adult. And once I was, I was even more ecstatic to be an adult in New York City. Nothing new, I thought. But I was wrong.

Twenty-three is still so young, people say to me (especially here where 50 is the new 25). And maybe they’re right. I mean if all goes well I’m only about a quarter-way through with my life. But age is just a number. It’s not the numerical value of the years I’ve lived that’s scaring me, it’s about how much has changed during them. And the fact that for the first time in my life, this change that I can see and feel, is unwelcome.

In the past year or two, I’ve lost more friends than I’ve gained. This isn’t for any dramatic, intentional reason. It’s the mere fact that life keeps moving, faster and faster, and if you don’t stick together, you don’t grow together. And if you don’t grow together, you grow apart. I always thought to “grow apart” simply meant falling out of touch with someone. But recently I realized that growing apart is actually when you fall out of touch for so long that when you try to come back together, you don’t find the same person you once knew.

My parents preached it, but I never believed it: growing up is scary. And what’s even scarier is that sometimes, when you just want to retreat and go back to the people who were once your home, the people that knew you and all your teenage weirdness so well, they’re no longer there. Maybe I’m the only person consumed by a sense of dread and regret over this, but I honestly want nothing more than to pick up the phone and talk to the middle school or high school friends like nothing’s changed. Like we still spend hours talking to each other, watching Laguna Beach, binge eating junk food and then doing crunches to negate the previously inhaled junk food. But everything’s changed.

I don’t mean “change” in a bad way. Don’t think that for a second. Every day I find out that someone else is moving abroad, choosing their life partner (!!), making their first million or doing their part to solve some large scale global problem I don’t know enough about. My childhood friends are nothing short of amazing. I just wish I had been there to watch them go from kids trying to understand themselves and life, to the incredible adults they are today.

* Shout out to everyone who was a part of my journey to adulthood, big or small, from Solon or from Naperville. Every victory of yours fills my heart with so much happiness and I wish you all nothing but the absolute best in life. Hope to catch up with you someday soon. 

Love,

K

Adult Homesickness

Yesterday, Abi asked me who came to drop me off when I started college in 2005. I retrieved the memory from my brain effortlessly. I remember the day so clearly. I was wearing a really ugly red shirt (hindsight is twenty twenty), and my mom, dad, and K all came to drop me off. Dad did all the heavy lifting, and Mom set up my room (a single, because if you know me at all, you know I love my own space), and when they left, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.

I was a really social kid, and felt like I already had 50 friends at Miami because Facebook had just rolled out across the majority of colleges, but I was precociously aware that my parents and sister leaving my dorm room that day marked the end of something major. And I knew it would never be the same.

This all sounds incredibly dramatic, but take a second to think back to this moment of your life. Was there a single kid that was anything less than ecstatic to be starting college? If so, I didn’t know any…

I’ve always been aware – too aware – of closing moments. Those last time times. Like moving to my college dorm, like getting my first apartment knowing I’d never live at “home” again, like having almost my ENTIRE family together during the wedding, the majority of my friends, pretty much everyone in the world that I loved. Walking down the aisle with my dad, knowing that once that moment ended, my entire perspective on family would shift.

Not all of these moments are sad. Ends come with beginnings, after all. But they are certainly bittersweet. And sometimes, I still feel what 17-year-old Ambika felt when her family drove off campus that day. Impending homesickness. Or moment sickness? That imminent missing. That inevitable pang of nostalgia. Knowing that even if things are wonderful (perhaps MORE wonderful than they’ve ever been), they’ll still never be the same. And even as we grow our own families, and build our own homes, and create our own lives, we’ll still sometimes yearn for the moments that have passed, even if they’re now completely inapplicable.

I woke up today from a hilarious text from my uncle that included this picture:

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And it just made me miss home. Sitting at the kitchen table with my mom and aunt, having tea. Taking ridiculous photos with all of the Gautam Girls. Starting the fire-pit in the backyard with the dads. Talking sports with my grandfather. Hearing stories from my grandmother. It made me miss all of my old friends, from back in high school, and even before (sorry to those of you who have been getting ridiculous comments from me on Facebook posts from 2005).

I’m a month out from my 28th birthday, and here I am, wishing I was sitting on the floor in our Solon living room while my mom braids my hair, watching some crappy Hindi movie, that K is WAY too invested in, and Dad’s laughing at. Even though my home is now in New York, with my own husband, and my own puppy, and I love that more than anything, I don’t think I’ll ever stop being homesick.

xx

A

New York City: Four Years Down

It’s really weird to admit this. Especially considering the majority of our readers are likely New Yorkers who LOVE being New Yorkers, but New York never used to be my thing. I wasn’t the type of person that dreamed about moving here one day. That fantasized about flying through the New York streets in a yellow Taxi, the skyline of the city creating a consistent sheen of bright light and color. It just never really appealed to me that much. It felt oversaturated, hyperbolic, self-aggrandizing. I just knew it would chew me up and spit me out, and frankly I enjoyed living in a city that skewed herbivore.

I was a softy through and through (and through and through), and when I moved to Chicago, I thought that was as city as I’d go. I loved Chicago. In spite of the harrowing winters, my long commutes, and my bike getting stolen (actually, that one still stings). For one, K and I lived together (every close sister-combo’s dream), in an impeccably decorated, two-bedroom, apartment. I had a balcony off my bedroom, guys. I had two sinks in my bathroom. A bathtub and a standing shower. A desk, a queen-sized bed, two night stands, a TV stand, and a couch all in my room. IN MY ROOM.

I loved my job at FCB. I loved my smart, down-to-earth, genuine, kind, friends. I felt like a part of something. Friday night happy hours, overly indulgent dinners at Portillos (that glutinous chocolate cake though…), karaoke. Life felt pretty great.

But the English language gave us qualifiers like “pretty” great for a reason. For moments and feelings of inadequacy. When something is just incomplete. And there was something very significant missing from my life in Chicago.

Abi.

So after many conversations, job interviews, lonely days, and red-eye flights, I decided to take the plunge, and move to New York (because I couldn’t move my then-finance-boyfriend to Chicago when he was in the finance capital of the world, and I watched enough Mad Men to convince myself that New York was the place to be in Advertising, too).

I packed up my beautiful apartment, made a deal with K that we’d live in the same city again one day (BLESS), and trudged over to the Big Apple.

This was exactly four years ago today. And I can’t believe how much New York has changed my life, but maintained my essence.

It has injected me with confidence, strength, resilience. My skin is much much thicker, but my soul is just as gentle as it always has been. It’s taught me to love myself, and put myself first, and treat myself to everything life has to offer. To take my time growing up. That maturity doesn’t come with stature, or money, or property, or children, it manifests in a mindset. That birds of a feather don’t need to always flock together! And as cheesy as it is, diversity is life! It’s taught me that being weird is f*cking awesome. That I want to have a story unlike any other’s. That I don’t care if people think I’m kooky, as long as I’m being true to myself. Because being true to oneself is the single most important pillar of living the best life. I’ve learned when to say yes, and when to say no. I’ve learned that it’s perfectly fine (/completely amazing) to spend a Friday night on the couch in my dog’s company, watching Charmed and eating boxed mac n cheese. I’ve learned that when something becomes an obligation instead of a pleasure, it’s okay to let it go (within reason, we’re all responsible adults here).

Don’t get me wrong – New York has torn me down. Way down. But, man, has it built me up. If my pre-NYC-self saw my life now, she’d be thrilled. And maybe even in awe. Knock on wood.

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Not to mention, now I’m totally the type of person that looks out of the windows of my yellow taxi at the New York City skyline with gratitude and dreamy wonder.

Love you NYC,

A

A Search for Beautiful Minds

In 2011, I met someone who was going to change my life. This was the year I moved to New York (almost four years ago exactly!), so I was meeting a lot of people who would impact my life in ways big and small. But this certain person was truly going to transform it, in more ways than one.

His name was Griffin Farley. He was in his early thirties, and was an Engagement Planning Director at BBH New York. I was coming in as a Social Media Strategist/Community Manager (yes, I community managed) that had little to no idea what she was doing. To my ex-collegues – pretend I didn’t just confess that. New York was a intimidating as hell. I was surrounded by some of the most successful people in advertising, I felt like a child (because I always mitigate my experience), and I didn’t have any friends (not because the people weren’t lovely, because the Google account was the busiest and there was little time for niceties). Sounds like a sob story, but this is really how it felt! Of course, it eventually changed, and now some of my closest friends came out of my time at BBH, but the beginning was stressful and solitary.

Griffin was easily one of the nicest people I’d ever met. He maintained a sense of cool composure, even on the most demanding days. Off the bat, he validated my presence at such an amazing agency. He quickly realized my strengths, boasted them to all who would listen, and helped me fill out my weaknesses. He brought me into meetings I had no business being in, and would celebrate my quiet contributions.

Griffin’s kindness was just the cherry on top. His entire being brimmed with brilliance. At the young professional age of thirty, he redefined the communications planning discipline and brought light to propagation planning – “planning not for the people you read, but the people they reach.” Genius, right? Can you believe we didn’t always think that way? He brought this way of thinking to the core of my skill set, and I still use his philosophies every single day. No exaggeration.

In February 2013, Griffin passed away. He had been diagnosed with Mesothelioma in the months prior, and it was grave. At this point, I was an integrated member of the amazing BBH family (much in part to Griffin), and I have to say, we held so much hope. Every time he felt better, or came into the office, we thought he was going to make it. He’d sit as his desk, looking so weak, but so determined. Wanting nothing more than to come to work and do his work. It kept him going, he said. That’s what I call passion! I went to his house and visited one day, the sun was spilling in, it was bright and lively and beautiful. His little girls were sprinting around him, and he looked happy. Fulfilled.  I’m so glad I got to see him in his space – I felt like I truly understood where his love for life came from.

Since Griffin’s death, BBH has been hosting a workshop called “Griffin Farley Search for Beautiful Minds.” It’s the most incredible event I’ve ever been a part of. It’s alive with positivity and passion. It takes his unmatched love for mentoring young talent and injects it into every single participant. It brings together young talent who wants to break into advertising with those who are able to teach, help, and move them forward. Including the head of strategy at Google, 360i, Co:Collective, and more. It’s really remarkable.

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Every year, I sit with myself afterwards, considering how blessed I am to have known Griffin. And how much of him I now see in myself as I grow into the leader he always told me I could be.

All of this is to say, THANK YOU to the incredible team at BBH, and for everyone who’s keeping Griffin alive through their work. It means so much to so many.

Love,

A