What It's REALLY Like To Be A Creative Twentysomething In NYC

Photographed by Heather Hamilton.
Millennials are arguably the most talked about generation ever. People are quick to group all twentysomethings into one category, frequently discussing everything from our failure to secure employment to our distaste for traditional corporate gigs to our tendency to hop from job to job. But, how does being a creative young person living in New York City impact the experience of trying to launch a career?
Heather Hamilton, founder of the film production company Pennigan Productions, became particularly curious about the difficulties that emerging New York artists face. What did she discover about the lives of those working their asses off to make it? Simply: It's hard.
Hamilton created The 20 Something Project, a web, film, and stage venture, to provide young people with a community of other creatives to collaborate and commiserate with — and to portray the often criticized group in a more positive light.
"What I see is a generation growing up believing they can do anything," Hamilton says. "Some get pulled back to 'reality,' but others try to find a balance between the two, especially those living in NYC. Here, an artist must have a foundation in reality in order to pay the rent. You are your own PR firm, management company, and financial adviser; you wait tables or write copy to feed yourself; and then you have to make time to do what you love, which you may or may not get paid for. The fact that the artists I'm featuring do all of this and stick with it proves that their drive is that much stronger."
But, who are these ambitious twentysomething talents? They're a writer, a puppeteer, a sculptor, and a stand-up comedian. They're a dancer, a charcoal artist, a songwriter, and a jewelry designer. Ahead, 10 of NYC's most creative young hustlers share their experiences of working toward making it to the top.
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Photographed by Heather Hamilton.
Elani Engelken, 28, dancer

"Our great city will supply you with whatever you are looking for. The thing most young artists don't realize is that because this city is so multifaceted you can actually create the experience you want to have. It is all available to you. My own career didn't even start until I realized I was so busy trying to fit in to how things were, that I wasn't creating what I wanted. You actually know what you want and what you want it to look like. When you identify that, make moves and make them fast."
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Photographed by Heather Hamilton.
Shane Snider, 25, puppeteer/stand-up comic

"Quality beats quantity. I feel like many twentysomethings, and artists in general, get an idea and then they want it to exist right away, so they try to get it out fast. They pop it on YouTube and then are surprised when no one watches it. They thought they were going to become be the next viral sensation overnight. Good work takes time. All I like doing is making people laugh. The weird thing is I take comedy very seriously. It's a strange balance, but when it works, it stays with me forever."
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Photographed by Cori Ryan.
Olive B. Persimmon, 28, writer/public speaker

“I'm 28 and I have a bunk bed. I'm not embarrassed about it either, it is what it is. But, I gotta tell you, there's nothing funnier than a grown-ass man climbing your bunk ladder. There's no cool way to do that. Tuck and roll, baby. Tuck and roll. There's a certain rite of passage in moving to NYC. It involves owning no furniture, crying in the subway a lot, having a nonexistent social circle, and feeling really bad about yourself for six months. If you can make it through that, you'll be just fine."
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Photographed by Heather Hamilton.
Sarah H. Reynolds, 26, sculptor and charcoal artist

"I constantly remind myself to be patient with my success, genuine with my art, and appreciative of every step of the journey. When I finally reach my biggest goals, I want it to be because I truly deserved it."
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Photographed by Heather Hamilton.
Nick Bakita, 27, sculptor/installation artist

"When I was younger, I thought I would end up in California. I never really thought twice about living in NYC. I guess I didn't feel the desire to live here. I grew up in the outdoors, and thought for my future, I would continue to need and want that openness. Now that I'm here, I'm not sure how I would feel about moving. I've never felt so comfortable in a new place so quickly. Needless to say, I was pretty surprised. Funny thing is that, while I've visited quite a few places in the states and overseas, I still haven't made it to California."
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Photographed by Cori Ryan.
Lindsay Dunphy, 26, singer-songwriter

"When I first decided to pursue my passion for music in NYC, I didn't feel like a small fish in a big pond — I felt like a minuscule, insignificant piece of algae floating helplessly in the Pacific Ocean. I could see my end goal of becoming a professional singer and songwriter, but had no idea how to get there. The key was creating small, achievable goals. The satisfaction of crossing off to-do lists pertaining to my dreams launched me forward one tiny step at a time. Before I knew it, I had successfully funded a Kickstarter, recorded an EP, created a full band, booked shows in NYC, and had more venues reaching out to me."
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Photographed by Heather Hamilton.
Roz "The Diva" Mays, 29, professional pole dancer

"My advice to other twentysomethings is to grab your nuts, make a firm decision, and then keep a firm hold of said nuts. When I first came out of the 'pole closet,' I decided not to let anything come in between my pole and me. Then my former employer politely asked me to 'reconsider my cyber reputation,' to which I politely replied, 'no.' Unemployment ensued, financial anxiety took over my life, and a struggle began that tested my sense of self. Fast forward a few years, and I still feel that was one of the best decisions I could have made for myself. It damn sure wasn't easy to maintain, but I'm so happy I did. Still holding onto those nuts!"
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Photographed by Cori Ryan.
Jamie LeeLo, 25, comedian

"What I've learned as a struggling twentysomething, and what my advice would be, is to not confuse road blocks with the end of the road. So much of producing art is perseverance, and the times I've given up and stumbled into treating my work like a hobby, it became one. It's not cool to 'not care.' I've learned if you give a damn about yourself and your art, you'll find those closed doors start to creak open — so push already!"
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Photographed by Heather Hamilton.
Krystyna Hutchinson, 26, stand-up comedian

"We are at the perfect age, living in the perfect city for taking risks and stepping out of our comfort zones. By cohosting the Guys We Fucked podcast, I'm stepping out of my comfort zone for the first time, and the payoff is incredible. The most important thing doing comedy and the podcast has taught me is that if something both excites and scares you, you HAVE to do it. Take a risk and be bold. Otherwise...what's the point?"
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Photographed by Cori Ryan.
Rachel Orosco, 26, jewelry designer

"I think the key to conquering any endeavor in New York is patience — patience with your process, patience with your environment, patience with your audience, and most importantly, patience with yourself."