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Kristal Brent Zook Headshot

Defining Your Own Chaos

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Last February, my husband and I decided -- on a whim really -- to relocate from Manhattan to the suburbs of Long Island.

"Why not leave the city?" we asked ourselves. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Get some fresh air. A yard. A real house. It would shorten my commute to Hofstra University out on the Island, and of course, we would be saving all that money.

A charming, two-story 1923 Colonial about 30 miles east of Manhattan caught our eye. It was more than 5,000 square feet, with two sunrooms and front and back yards. The rent was $1,200 less than our midtown high-rise, and ditching New York City taxes meant another $1,000 a month in savings.

"Let's do it!" we agreed excitedly, handing over a check for the first month's rent.

We replaced our Metro subway cards with a 2011 Volkswagen Tiguan in Cherry Red and fantasized about how we'd slide back the sunroof on weekends and explore the shoreline, trolling for golf courses (we'd learn) and beaches. It would be a sweet country life existence, we decided. Paintings were hung, boxes were recycled. And just like that, we were settled in.

But if I'd been honest with myself, I would have realized that I wasn't doing it because I wanted to exactly, but because I thought I should. Because it was the responsible, rational thing to do. Because it was what couples of a certain age, with certain aspirations to family life, did. And because deep down, I thought such "good" behavior would help me earn my dreams the "right" way.

"So, do you like it here so far?" ventured my husband, about three weeks after our move.

"Sure. Do you?"

We looked into each others' eyes.

"I mean... I miss the city a little," I confessed.

His face fell open.

"I'm not a suburbs kind of guy," he blurted, relieved. "I thought I could be, but I'm not!"

It was true. He'd grown up in big European cities and traveled internationally for work. He had more stamps on his passport than a diplomat.

"And you're not a suburbs kind of girl either," he added. Also true. Before our move, I'd lived in New York City happily for nearly ten years.

As my friend Gloria Feldt, author of No Excuses, writes, listing her "9 ways women can embrace power," one of the most powerful tools we have is to "define our own terms."

The truth was that in the city I felt most able, most myself, most powerful. It was where I'd discovered myself capable of dreaming my biggest dreams, and flying at my highest possible height. We were New Yorkers through and through. Both of us.

And so, we packed it all up and came back to Manhattan -- just nine months after we'd left -- as crazy as that must have looked to the outside world.

"Carpe the Chaos," writes Gloria. Chaos opens us up to new ways of thinking. And that change shifts energy; leading us to new opportunities.

Overjoyed to be back, my husband and I reinstalled ourselves in our old Midtown West neighborhood. But something had shifted, at least for me. I returned with a new state of mind, and a new understanding about this concrete jungle, and about myself. Never again would I compromise so profoundly the explosive needs of my heart, for the seemingly sensible worries of my mind. Never again would I allow that which is outside of myself to define what makes, or breaks, a dream.

Kristal Brent Zook has lived in New York City for eleven years, minus nine months. She is director of the M.A. Journalism Program at Hofstra University.