It had to be done. I can no longer endure, in good conscience, the number of dear readers who come upon this post, and write to Pretty Lady for Personal Advice. These innocents ask such questions as: "We have four dogs, and pay $800 a month for a three-bedroom house on half an acre. Where in New York City can we obtain a comparable situation?"
The answer, "You can't," does not BEGIN to cover it.
You see, darlings, there are some circumstances in which Positive Thinking, and Grit and Determination, and all those other excellent traits of character simply Do Not Cut It, and living in The City is one of them. Positive Thinking may get you into college; it will not pay off your student loans. Grit and Determination may enable you to sustain yourself, but Thriving is another story altogether.
So, here are a few Facts that anyone considering a move to NYC ought to be in possession of.
1) Wages and salaries in New York do not EVER come close to compensating for the cost of living there. Unless of course you are a hedge fund manager.
Once, back in the late sixties or so, companies would offer salaries commensurate with housing costs in a particular area. Yes, your Manhattan apartment would be smaller than your average Cincinnati split-level. But the Corporate Office would understand this, and of course they'd boost your wages, as well as covering your moving costs, to entice you into the Big Leagues.
This does not happen any more.
Pretty Lady does not have the time, any longer, to look up average regional salaries and hourly wage rates. She merely has Experience. And she can tell you that the average hourly wage for say, an administrative assistant, in New York City today, is about equivalent to the average hourly wage for a similar position in San Francisco--in 1992.
No joke. Twelve to fifteen dollars an hour is what you got in San Francisco twenty years ago, and it's what you get in New York City right now. This will of course increase if you have experience and specialized skills--provided your field has not been entirely outsourced to unpaid amateurs, otherwise known as 'interns.'
Which brings us to:
2) If you want an interesting job, be prepared to work for free. Forever.
You say you have Artistic Aspirations? You'd like to enter the film industry, the music industry, the publishing industry, the field of journalism, the art world, the academic world, the literary world? You are an Idealist? You'd like to heal people, improve their lives, clean up corruption and pollution and environmental degradation?
Congratulations. You can get started right away! Make sure your landlord, utility companies, grocery delivery service and credit card companies know to send your bills directly to the office that manages your trust fund. It's annoying when the heat runs out in midwinter, otherwise.
3) If you want a boring job, see #1.
Did I mention that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan is upwards of $3500 a month? In Brooklyn, $2200? That the cost of insurance, groceries, utilities, transportation, and just about anything else you require reflects this? And that your salary will not?
4) But Pretty Lady. I'm brilliant! I'm an Entrepreneur! These petty concerns do not apply to me! I set my own prices, work my own hours, start my own enterprise, make my own rules! That's why I CAME to New York, to take on the world!
4) a) Yep. You and everybody else.
b) But it was really nice to meet you!
c) Who are you, again?
One thing that is rarely mentioned, by those who tout the virtues of living cheek-by-jowl with millions of talented, ambitious, hard-working people, is the Centrifugal Leaching Effect. This is the invisible force which drains all your endeavors of critical mass, by continually picking off and dissolving any productive relationships you attempt to create.
Let's say you meet a Brilliant Person at a party, or a yoga class, or a networking event, or a conference, or a training session, or a coffee house, or on the subway. You have a scintillating conversation, you discover a harmony of interests and perspectives, you have complementary strengths and parallel ambitions. You take this person's card. You give them a call. You put them on your list. You never hear from them again.
Rinse and repeat.
It has been said that it is impossible to date in New York City, because every prospect you meet is alive to the possibility that he or she could run into Kate Moss or George Clooney at the next party but one. This psychology of the eternal upgrade applies equally to your professional endeavors. It matters not that you are gifted, reliable, engaging, witty and profound. Your prospective client, business partner, friend or neighbor could always do better.
5) New Yorkers will appreciate your characteristics of honesty, competence, reliability, diligence, generosity, and superhuman talent. They just won't reciprocate.
Pretty Lady, as she has written elsewhere, was raised to adhere to a strict set of Standards. One of these was Follow-through. Every time Pretty Lady met a prospective client, business partner, friend or neighbor in New York, she took care to deliver on any promises she happened to make, on time and under budget. By this naive method, she hoped to build a network of loyal friends and colleagues.
In practice, she soon found herself besieged by a bevy of flaky prima donnas, for the simple reason that New York is full of creative types with a superhuman sense of entitlement. When a person treats them well, they do not think, "hey, I'll recommend this diamond of a human being to my employer/dealer/best friend/investment manager!" They think,"At last! I am receiving my due!"
Or, as Pretty Lady suspects in her darker moments, "Suckaaaaaaaaa!"
6) New Yorkers have no taste.
This one is particularly counterintuitive; of course New Yorkers have taste! That's why it's the culture capital of the world! That's why you can walk down the street dressed like this and get away with it!
Again, Pretty Lady does not have the wherewithal to dredge up the statistics. She will merely state her empirical observation that excellent bands, in New York City, attract a miniscule following of their own friends and neighbors, which does not expand or diminish with time, until the members have children and/or move to Germany. Terrible bands attract exactly the same sort of following. Excellent artists and terrible artists, ditto. It is as if New Yorkers are so overwhelmed by sensory input that they make aesthetic judgments based solely along tribal lines.
In fact, the only way to Make it Big, in New York, as measured by income, visibility and platinum album status, is to forget the art and get an MBA from Harvard. Your former Harvard classmates will oblige you by buying and promoting your work. Et voilá.