It’s Okay to Walk a Beaten Path Sometimes
Your career path may not be unique, but it can still be yours.
When you step out of the classroom, you want to have a story that is strictly your own. However, walking the beaten trail can be okay. When you’re fresh out of college and finding your place in the world, the desire to do something unique is strong. It’s particularly strong if you’re a creative person like me, always eager to make your individual voice heard.
The first time I thought about this, I was sitting on a NJ Transit train heading for New York City. I’ve done this plenty of times before from plenty of different stations on just about every different train line they have.
There was something different about that trip though. I was riding it with the very first monthly pass I ever bought . It was a simple, seemingly inconsequential difference from my usual one day, round trip tickets. But it’s the implication of that which matters.
I was starting a new job in New York City.
I won’t bore you with the details, but riding the train with such a different intention today has made me introspective. I grew up by the coast in New Jersey; a quiet area with beautiful beaches, but not a lot of opportunity for a writer like myself. I’m the daughter of a fisherman and a bank teller. I have a hard-working mother and I came from a small town where, as Adele puts it, “nothing ever happens.”
I moved far from home only to end up not so far from home.
I got a solid taste of saying hello to the other side by living and working in Baltimore for almost two years. I started to understand city life once I lived on Wolfe Street in the heart of Baltimore and appreciated both the good and bad elements of it. My big "shake up" in my career was moving to Maryland.
At the time, it was a great opportunity that helped me step into the creative direction I wanted to take my career in. Though there were a lot of things I loved about Baltimore, I couldn't see myself making it my forever home.
Baltimore is a very different beast from New York City. According to Business Insider, about 608,000 people, which is nearly the entire population of Baltimore, commute from the tri-state area into the city. That's pre-pandemic, of course, but it's a pretty interesting number. In a lot of ways, my decision to chase a career in NYC was a pretty common one. It wasn't going against the grain.
In case you’re curious, the population of Baltimore, Maryland in 2019 was about 622,000. But again, at the time, it felt pretty exciting that I was one of the first people in my family to actually leave New Jersey.
Baltimore seemed exciting, but it wasn't my forever home.
Growing up in southern New Jersey where there are pine trees, marshes, and not a Starbucks for miles, New York City hangs in the northern air like a mythical city of opportunity and promise.
While it has that glorified side, it also has its darker side, since just about everyone who works in a tourist area of the coastal area of New Jersey will have a story or two about “rude New Yorkers” or “rude people from North Jersey.”
If you’re not from New Jersey or not familiar with the area, I apologize for telling you so much about this odd little state, but I hope I’m at least making it entertaining for you. I can tell you that despite being a small state, North Jersey and South Jersey may as well be as separate as North and South Carolina.
There’s a massive division between the quiet towns along the shore or in the Pine Barrens versus the high-taxed suburbias and semi-citified regions of North Jersey.
At any rate, there are many different areas of this small state, but the dichotomy of Manahawkin and Montclair is something that’s hard to put into words. You have peace and sea breezes but very little opportunity in Manahawkin. Alternatively, you have smog, every store you need, fantastic restaurants, and general chaos with opportunity in Montclair. If you’re a Jerseyian commuting into the city, Montclair is of note since it’s one of the (somewhat) more affordable places that will still get you into the city reasonably fast.
I'm not the first person in my family to find opportunity in NYC.
At any rate, this journey is making me introspective because the upbringing I had among the marsh grass is nothing like what my mother experienced growing up in Inwood Park.
Yep, that’s right, my mother was a New Yorker who shed her mantle at the age of nineteen when she moved away from the city and never looked back. I understand my mother’s reasoning completely, for I do fantasize about retiring someday in Ocean Grove or Asbury Park, New Jersey.
For me, I’m not walking down my parents’ path. Here’s a little more history; I’m walking down my grandparents’ path. My grandparents both worked in the city for nearly their entire lives. They walked the city streets, battled for parking, rode the subway every day, and lived the city life.
However, there’s nothing unique about working in New York City.
While I’m excited about working in New York City, it’s just a hair strange for me, since I’m walking the beaten path that my grandparents walked along with millions of others. There are many great things about working in the city, as we call it, for it has the magnitude to need no further identifying words.
I don’t magically become a New Yorker overnight, especially when I’m still living in New Jersey. In a way, by doing this, I’m not foraging my own path or walking the road least traveled, as Robert Frost said. I’m getting in line on packed trains with thousands of other people.
However, I think that’s okay.
There’s a lesson here.
It’s easy to be rebellious and say that you want to do things completely differently from your parents or your grandparents.
I clearly remember being an undergraduate and hearing my fellow students saying how they didn’t want to live their lives anything like the way their parents did.
Everyone is different and everyone has their own unique story, much as we all have our own, unique voices.
There are plenty of people who feel this way for a good reason. I’m not looking to discount people who do have very strong reasons for not wanting to echo the footsteps of their parents or grandparents.
However, I don’t think we should blindly reject a path simply because it’s been done by people who are close to us.
If all the stars align and the opportunity is right, it’s okay to walk the beaten path.
For me, if the beaten path means having a job I want in the field I want to work in, then that’s a beaten path I’ll gladly take.
We often don’t want to do the same thing as the generations before us, but we should stay open to the idea.
It’s alright to walk the road that is not just your own.