I have always been the type of girl to be lured in by city lights.
Perhaps it’s that the rom-com movies were successful in associating the city, in my mind, with glitz and glamour and wealth. To be completely honest, even to this day… that image in my mind, that idea, is what my ego yearns for.
Growing up, I always pictured myself with this amazing job in the city that made a lot of money. I pictured myself strutting down the city streets in my professional attire which consisted of sophisticated designer clothing and high heels. And when my interest in fashion grew somewhere in my late teens, my infatuation with this idea grew.
So when the time came to choose a college in high school, I longed to move to New York. I wanted to be that city-chic girl I had in my head. I knew I could be that girl. I was that girl, I’d convinced myself. Just stuck in the suburbs of Los Angeles.
Of course, the whole me-and-New-York thing never panned out that way, but it didn’t stop me from yearning for it.
When I traveled in Europe during the course of my master’s studies three years ago, I was obsessed with London, Paris, Barcelona. In Milan, I saw a woman riding her pastel pink bicycle donning a printed blouse, a pastel, flowy skirt, cateye sunnies and hot pink stilettos. She looked like a snap straight off of Tommy Ton’s camera roll during fashion week. I wanted to be her.
Whenever I was in class, or studying my marketing class notes back at my apartment, I would always have that Style.com tab opened in my browser, making sure I kept up with all the fashion week buzz, from New York to London. And when I should have been working on my 8-page paper, closing in on 3 hours ’til deadline, I’d instead, be writing a blog post reviewing my favorite look from Nina Ricci, or how to achieve a more affordable look inspired by Theyskens.
As mentioned, I was raised in a suburb outside of LA. So never really got the feel for the city until I started dating my boyfriend when I was 18, who spent much of his time there. Because of him and his love for the city, my associations only grew in positivity. It quickly came to represent everything I wanted to be and have. I mean, it’s clear to me why people get drawn to it: the aspirational elements of Los Angeles and Hollywood are undeniable. And I somehow painted this picture of me and my boy living in that world together.
Eight years later, I got my first real taste. I got a job in the entertainment industry and moved to my little shoebox studio in Koreatown, the only thing that I could afford. Stepping foot outside my apartment building, you knew you were definitely in the city: the dirty, smelly, chaotic city. Always loud, never quiet. I would go to sleep every night to the sweet lullaby of helicopters overhead. The traffic was terrible, and I sat in it for at least two hours a day to get to and from work. I became an angrier driver, I became that jerk that won’t let you in the lane no matter what. And I had accumulated the most fender benders I’d ever gotten in my life in that one year.
Needless to say, it wasn’t all so glamorous.
Half my paycheck went to paying rent every month, and I ate McDonalds and ramen because it’s all I could afford. Don’t get me wrong, my parents could have definitely spotted me (and would have, had they known I was barely eating and that what I ate was trash) but I didn’t want to borrow any more money. I was already neck deep in school debt that they were helping me pay off. I owed them too much already. I was sick of borrowing from them, or from anyone.
I had racked up a good amount of credit card debt as well, a result of the occasional drinks out or sushi with friends, but mainly attributed to my ever-flourishing interest in fashion. Shopping made me happier than it should have. And while I wouldn’t spend more than $1.79 at McDonald’s (“One grilled honey mustard snack wrap, please. Yes, that’s all.”), and wondered how I was going to meet my student loan payment that month, I was willing to put at least a G on my credit card for a sale Marc Jacobs bag at Nordstrom Rack. Yes, I was one of those young American females addicted to retail.
But the money wasn’t the only not-so-glamorous parts. Working in the entertainment industry meant it was my job to keep up with all the Hollywood happenings. It was my job to know celebrities, inside and out; from their personal lives, to their work lives, to how many followers they had on Twitter. It is only a matter of time before the egos that fuel the industry pull you in and make you want to be someone too. Someone who people want to be like, someone to admire. Someone who a brand would pay half a mil just to show up to an event (In gifted designer duds and with a personal driver). I was ashamed that I was perpetuating this industry that conned loyal celebrity worshipers into wanting to be a someone. I was even more ashamed that I was starting to want to be a someone myself.
And suddenly, I found myself comparing myself to others more than ever before. When I was at any work event or even just out and about, I would instantly be self-conscious of my looks, or how much money it looked like I had. I’m not wearing enough makeup, or my clothes look too cheap, or my car is a beater (aforementioned fender benders made my already-relic-of-a 2003 silver Honda Accord look like it survived war). If I didn’t get regular manicures and pedicures, which I had never cared to do before then, I would feel bad about myself in public.
Fast forward through one year of this life, to month one in Bali after I decided to leave it all behind.
I left to travel and found a sort of freedom that I didn’t even realize I needed. I was like a bird who didn’t even realize there was a world outside the cage until the door was opened, until the curtains fell down, until the light came shining in.
None of that shit mattered. I was on the beach in Canggu in my label-less suit, hair down, my pimples and dark spots and sparse brows out for the world to see, not a drop of makeup. The sun didn’t warm me less, the waves of the ocean didn’t soothe me less. What I wore or how I looked or much money I had were meaningless. And you know what? People were still nice to me. People still showed me respect. People still showed me love. And I felt good about me.
Then a month later, as I sat in the home of that sweet Nepali family, the one tiny room that the five of them called home, upon the one bed they all shared…all that mattered was my heart. My warmth, my energy, my love. And that feeling was mutual.
To the standards of my home country, I have met and have stayed with some of the poorest of people. We have lived in the hood, the area considered to be the slums. And even in the company of its inhabitants, when I definitely have been in a better position to buy them food or a beer or whatever, they wouldn’t let me lift a finger.
Fast forward to last week in Mumbai, India.
When my mom found out I was going to India, she introduced me to a client of hers who is living there. It wasn’t long before her client was urging me to come stay with her, even offering to fly me up from Bangalore and back. I decided to take the trip, though I wouldn’t allow her to pay. But I would come to find that that would be all she would allow me to pay for the entire trip.
She picked me up from the airport with her personal driver. I never ate out because she had a personal chef. I never had to move a muscle because her maid was making my bed every day and bringing me tea every few hours. A stark difference from the way I had been traveling for the past four months: broke, sleeping on the floor, walking everywhere, and eating 50 cent meals.
We passed by the most luxurious parts of the city. We went to a family gathering at her Aunt’s $5 million dollar apartment. We went to the fanciest, most westernized/modernized restaurants when we did eat out. She put me in her saree, insisted I get a $100 makeup job for the one and a half hours I would spend at her cousin’s friend’s wedding who I had never met at a fancy banquet hall.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I am incredibly grateful for her hospitality, and she truly came from the most loving place and wanted to make sure I had a great time, synonymous to her standards as being treated like a queen.
But I can honestly say I have never felt more uncomfortable.
I felt constantly judged. The clothes I had–which admittedly wasn’t much, as I’d packed lightly for my travels and never needed much–weren’t good enough. At one point, I was even asked if I had anything nicer to wear for our plans out.
After months of feeling mostly empowered and confident and loved, I felt insecure and inadequate. And it was a strangely familiar feeling.
One of the main things I have learned, from all the extremes I have climbed to, fallen too, been pushed to… Moderation. One of the other main things… Self-awareness.
I still absolutely loved Mumbai, don’t get me wrong. The aspirational city dweller in me was ecstatic. I loved the historical architecture (and I especially loved the Shantaram references and sightings). It is an absolutely beautiful city.
I’m not saying I don’t ever want to have a lot of money one day. Not anymore, anyway.
After a month in Bali, I saw that people didn’t have to live the life I thought I needed to pursue to be happy. I learned that people didn’t have to be completely driven by money. In fact, living the opposite way seemed to make them more happy. While all the people my age at home were working on how to better themselves and climb the corporate ladder to come closer to the dream home and the dream car, I was meeting people my age who cared more about saving the earth, one Permaculture Blitz at a time. That shit was so impressive to me.
It made me feel guilty for the life I lived at home, for what my ego yearned for. It made me not want to return home for the fear that I would immediately fall back to the mercy of these “evil” desires the old me had wanted so badly. I also started to think that maybe my interest in fashion was all materialistic and didn’t serve much of a purpose. I definitely felt like I needed to reevaluate everything.
But as I have gone on, I have realized that most of that isn’t even true. It’s ok to want to go home, pursue my passions and make money in the process. It’s all about the mindset I have, at the end of the day. It’s all about a sense of awareness. It’s all about realizing where it is that the happiness is growing from. Living life in moderation, and prioritizing.
A few weeks ago, I randomly met this American guy from New York via Instagram hashtag search in Nepal. He happened to be this guy who was working at this fancy fashion job in NYC. But he left it all, and has been traveling throughout Southeast Asia for the last two years, broke and doing yoga. I knew I had to meet him.
The stars aligned, and sure enough, he happened to be in Bangalore, India the same time as me. Thus, I got to meet him in person and beyond the social media world.
In he strolled to the café where we planned to meet via Facebook messenger, tatted up in his cut up Alexander McQueen tank, backwards Yankees cap, bandana tied around his neck, cut-off shorts, layered bracelets, and with the biggest, warmest smile on his scruffy face.
I interviewed him until the battery died on the Nikon, GoPro, and audio recorder. We chatted for hours like we’d known eachother for years. And I’m telling you, he is truly one of the most magnetic, unique, energetic, inspiring people I’ve ever, ever met.
I wondered how he started in the industry. Long story short: After dipping his toes in a vast array of career paths, he landed in fashion, as it had been a love of his for most of his life and many of his friends were active in the industry. He built his career with some really impressive brands, and eventually moved to fashion advertising. This guy was who I wanted to be, he had my dream job. So why did he leave?
I just about shit myself when I saw this IG post. SO. LEGIT.
The immense stress it put on his body literally landed him in a coma at thirty-something. The stress-induced coma almost killed him, and he spent weeks in the hospital. Part of his brain has never recovered. Now that shit is real. The kind of shit will change a person. How could it not?
For no particular reason, he decided to turn to yoga for healing. It happened to just call to him, sort of the same way I felt that it did for me.
He sought traveling to continue on in this new sense of perspective. And I’m telling you, if you met him it would change you. Not just because he is super charismatic and hilarious and just an incredibly engaging storyteller all around, but because he has experienced some real shit. And he has come away with the most beautiful, inspiring outlook on life.
And the winner for best IG post/message/photo/caption in existence goes to…
We talked about everything. From stress related to work/lifestyle in the States, to traveling and its challenges. We talked about his background, and my background. I told him about my interest in fashion. I talked to him about how I don’t know how I will take this new outlook I have on life now – appreciation for the simple things, living as a broke traveler – and maintain the same mentality in the city. How does a person do that? “That’s the challenge, love,” he told me, “That’s the question that will just have to be answered when the time comes.”
He told me he has thought the same thing. He isn’t sure how traveler/yogi/”hippy dippy” (as he hilariously puts it) Keegan would be able to live in NYC again.
But NYC is his heart, he says. And while the life he lived before is long and gone – clocking in 80-hour work days, working from the office, continuing at home in bed, running around to different fashion shows, barely finding time to eat or sleep… He admits, he loved the hustle. “That shit is just in me,” he said.
He still has this great love for fashion. He has always loved to express himself and his individuality via fashion. Mixing crazy prints and patterns and vibrant colors. It turned heads. And it still does, just as a different version of him (and not in $800 designer shirts). Not for anything more than the fact that he loves it.
Would he eventually return to the States? To the fashion industry?
He said that he doesn’t know yet, and while he knows that he will need to figure it out some time, for now, he is just staying present and thinking about the next few months he will spend in Mysore.
There are too many incredible things the said to me and that I learned from him in that few hours we chatted. But one of the main things that really inspired me, from “KOB 1.0” to the now traveling “KOB 2.0,” as he refers to himself as.
He is really good at self-analysis. If at any point in time he feels the ego is trying to break in, he has the ability to acknowledge it, and then decide what to do with it. He can call himself out in an instant. I think we could all benefit from having that quality. I really admire it.
He is pure of heart. He tells me that the interactions he has had with other humans in his travels – their kindness and selflessness – has been overwhelming to him. But you know what? I’m not surprised. Because he himself is so damn giving and loving and exudes this incredible, positive energy. It is no wonder to me that it returns to him. And mind you, traveling is not always easy. Especially when you’re broke. It takes a very strong soul to keep a smile on throughout its ups and downs.
He has made me realize that when I go home, I don’t need to be ashamed to pursue fashion if I want to. Because you know what? I’ve always loved that shit, too. I’ve been loving dress up since the moment I could walk, from the moment I figured out where my mom’s closet was to ravage through.
I won’t feel bad about wanting to make money or have nice things. But what I will do: Be aware of intentions, of self. And remember: everything in moderation.
I will remember that giving to others and spreading love is always going to make me more happy than money ever could. I will remember that working hard is commendable, but I will remember to ask myself why I am. And I never, ever want to have the mindset that the more money I have, the better I am, or make others feel that way. I know better than that. Work hard, but be nice.
Be lovely, as Keegan says. It’s as simple as that.