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the fallacy of balance

“You can have everything you want in life, just not all at once.”

I turned 29 last week and amid all the fond birthday wishes, I found my feelings catapulting from one extreme to the other. One minute I wanted to milk the shit out of the last year of my 20s and carpe the effing diem. Yet, minutes later, I found exhaustion rearing its delirious head, forcing me to reconcile with the limits of my energy.  Ah, to be young, bold, and unabashedly in bed before midnight.

This swinging pendulum of energy isn’t particularly unique; most anyone of youthful spirit (or anyone sensitive to the current political climate, for that matter) can relate to this roller coaster ride of emotions. If my circle is any indication of general sentiment, many of us are just plain exhausted.

So, how does one find balance between passion AND zen? When, in this modern world, is there time for creation, relation, AND self-preservation? Is it possible to carve out space for the I, the Us, AND the WE?

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Sage albeit somewhat depressing advice for anyone wanting to create or put something original into the world: good work requires some sacrifice (a la relationships, romantic or platonic).

I’ve been meditating on the equilibrium posited above. I don’t totally agree with the premise that you can only have two of the three among friends, love, & work. All three can co-exist, just not at the same levels of intensity. Depending on the season of life, one might take precedence over the other, but it’s certainly possible to make time for all three. It just takes intentionality. True balance is a rarity though.

The bigger question I grapple with is not how to balance all these elements, but where the missing variable of SELF factors in (if at all). They’re the moments when we can read a book, pray, journal, exercise, or pause long enough to listen to the own banter in our head before jumping into some act of doing. This self-work has no immediate outcome, deliverable or KPI. It is slow, heavy, and unheroic. A bit of a modern conundrum. But the capacity to look inward, quiet the outer din, and feel deeply, I believe, will become increasingly important in a world perpetually bombarded by distractions.

Learning how to channel my energy – internally and externally – so I am more aligned with my values is my goal for the year. While our best selves should work well with others, the road to achieving any dream is a more solitary one requiring dogged, somewhat isolating self-management / awareness. No one can tell me where to focus my attention or energy but myself. I want to be more consistently available to the things that matter, instead of toggling between fits of passion & lukewarm apathy. Doing this requires intentionality – to think slowly, work deeply, and rest abundantly – sans social distractions.

Oh, lighten up Lynne!  Be more free while you’re still young, they say. I’ve had plenty of free moments and don’t want to discount them. My nomadic tendency has become a hallmark trait of my 20s. And I’m grateful that I’ve been able to embrace this aspect of my spirit without being tied down. But being too free can also be a limitation. I know now that my introverted self can give so much more when my energy isn’t scattered in multiple social settings. Discipline via constraint and clear boundaries creates true freedom.

So, yes Mr. Koch, I do want a social life with friends. I’m only human. But it’s the somewhat lonely self-work that will allow me to be a better human. I can’t think of a better way of saying goodbye to my thirsty 20s than with that form of medicine.

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‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is a Movement

Is it just me or is everyone talking about Crazy Rich Asians?

My social media feed is flooded with adulation for its crazy talented beautiful cast. And damn right it should.

Crazy Rich Asians is the first Hollywood studio-produced movie with an all-Asian cast in 25 years, nabbing the top spot at the box office two weekends in a row and raking in $34 million in its first 5 days. Not only did it exceed expectations and blow past its projected earnings (by more than double), it’s the top opening comedy of the year and the highest grossing romantic comedy debut since 2015.

I couldn’t be happier that the film is making history. It sends a strong message that having diverse and authentic stories PAYS. But what I really love about Crazy Rich Asians is the story it tells behind the veneer of glitz and glamour. Of course there’s a lot of the fun over-the-top banter that comes with rom-com territory. But the theme that is uniquely powerful for Asian Americans is the one that speaks to our experience of straddling two cultures, and it’s portrayed with stinging effect in the film.

via Thrillist

Astrid is my favorite character. She’s stunning, smart, and elegant — someone I’d probably be envious of in real life — but her struggle is surprisingly relatable. Though she comes from a family of prestige and has her own set of impressive accomplishments, she takes a second seat to her husband and tries hard to not make him feel inadequate. In the process, though, she hides from her own light. You don’t have to study at Oxford or come from a privileged Asian family to relate to this fear of shining too bright. While Rachel, the film’s main character, also battles her own set of insecurities (especially after meeting Nick’s super rich family) her character comes with a bit more of an independent streak.

Witnessing these power dynamics flip and evolve between couples and generations is fascinating. I’m in awe of Astrid’s character because, unlike the matriarch Eleanor who is entrenched in Asian tradition or Rachel who espouses more American confidence, Astrid is somewhere in between, a character that grows and takes ownership of her power while straddling the demands of her Asian family. She’s also kind, one of the only women to befriend Rachel genuinely. Though she’s far from an underdog, I found myself rooting for her throughout the movie.

Crazy Rich Asians has all the stamps of approval: the backing of a major Hollywood studio (Warner Brothers), an attractive and talented cast, and a well-written contemporary narrative based on Asian and Asian American characters. So it’s not hard to throw support behind it. Supporting the movie is kind of like supporting your beautiful popular friend for Class Council president. Funny, mainstream, and totally palatable. What a nice (and somewhat foreign) feeling to walk out of the theaters and think, “Heck yeah! I’m proud to be Asian American”!”

And yet, there’s still a long way to go. On opening night, I was reminded of what a rare privilege this kind of representation means. My friend who is of Egyptian descent came to watch Crazy Rich Asians with me. She is a filmmaker and currently studying animation while writing her own screenplay on the side. Her dream is to create the first animation series featuring an Arab American family. She told me that there has never been an all Arab American cast film produced by a major Hollywood studio. I had no idea. And it goes to show that sometimes we can be stuck in our bubbles. So I hope that just as Crazy Rich Asians has shattered several myths about who we are across the colorful diaspora of Asia, it can also help pave the way for our brothers and sisters in other minority communities. Beyond box office numbers, success should be measured by the breadth of diversity, beyond our own, that we can help bring to the table.

“We know that the representation, or lack thereof, of not just Asians but also other minorities in the media and in popular culture directly affects how those minorities are treated in everyday life. And that’s why it means so much to me that this is a Hollywood studio making and promoting this film… and I hope it opens the doors for more diverse and inclusive storytelling across the board, not just for Asians.” — Gemma Chan

Apart from the success of Crazy Rich Asians, many of the actors themselves have rocked the boat in their own lives. Gemma Chan who plays Astrid (my now not-so-secret girl crush) studied law at Oxford and auditioned for drama school in secret. Her parents were skeptical. “My Dad said to me it doesn’t matter how good you are, how talented you are, but how many faces do you see on the screen that look like ours,” she said in the LA Times.

via USA Today

Other cast members navigated similarly zigzag paths. Kenneth Yang went to college as an economics major because it was the closest major that could please his Asian parents, to only then become a standup comedian after college. Ronny Chieng also studied law in Australia before entering the standup comedy circuit. And Ken Jeong who plays Awkwafina’s Singaporean dad started on the pre-med track when he was at Duke.

I got Koreaned into being pre-med and I got Americaned into being an actorKen Jeong

It’s stories like these that my co-host Lucia and I seek to tell in our first season of Rock the Boat. The pursuit of one’s dreams requires huge leaps of faith; seeing these actors on the big screen is a reminder that their story is ours. That’s the privilege of representation. And that’s why we’re so excited to be part of this movement.

As director Jon Chu said, this isn’t just a movie or a moment; it’s a movement. In order to sustain it, we must have wave, after wave, after wave.

This post was originally published on Medium


What is Yoga?

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Last week, I completed an 8-month yoga teacher training program through The Bhakti Center and Stanton Street Yoga in New York City.  At the start of it, I wrote:

“What am I seeking through yoga? I want to strengthen my physical body through the asanas and better understand anatomy. I also want to improve my focus and ability to stay in the present moment without flitting from one distraction to another. I look forward to the journey.”

The journey has been fluid, to say the least. There have been ups and downs: moments when I felt rooted in my practice, standing strong and firm in each pose; moments of inflexibility, impatience, and embarrassingly uncoordinated movements; and moments in-between, as I waited impatiently for some magical epiphany to transform me into a master yogi.

Suffice to say, my intentions have evolved as I’ve progressed through training. Of course, I am still seeking a stronger physical body and better focus. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that true yoga penetrates far beyond the material nature of things.

Below is an excerpt from a final paper I wrote on the deeper meaning behind yoga:


 

The meaning of yoga can be discovered through several means.

The first is simple. You reach for a Merriam Webster’s dictionary.

Or in this day and age, you Google it. “Definition of yoga” surfaces the following:

Yoga (capitalized) is a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation.

Lowercase “yoga” is a system of physical postures, breathing techniques, and sometimes meditation derived from (capitalized) Yoga but often practiced independently, especially in Western cultures to promote physical and emotional well-being.

While technically accurate, these definitions feel personally unsatisfactory.

How does anyone become “liberated” from the body, mind, and will without renouncing their day-to-day lives? Must we all become monks and sit on top of the mountains in the Himalayas? What does well-being even mean?

Modern society has all sorts of ideas on the meaning of yoga. Western perceptions of yoga conjure images of fit bodies, form-fitting leggings, and fancy zen gyms. We are sold the idea that these external forms are the paragon of health and wellness.

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Yoga is more than just back bends and contortions. 

Pop culture offers its interpretations through songs and beautifully crafted Instagram posts. My favorite ‘woke’ song, which I include on my yoga class playlists:

“You can try to be watchful. You can try to be concentrated. You can try to be alert. But all that will ever teach you is what not to do, how not to use the mind. Because it will get you into deeper and deeper and deeper binds. You have to just let it happen. And, so, in the same way, you have to let yourself wake up, become liberated. You must be simply awake & relaxed.” — DJ Taz Rashid

The buzzword among these wise DJ sages is *liberation*, that of being simultaneously awake and relaxed without trying too hard to be awake and relaxed. (Translation: Chill.) But deep words aside, how does one actually put any of this into practice?!

For this, personal self-study and the ancient wisdom originating from Vedic texts such as the Bhagavad Gita or the Mahabharata offer clues. (It’s also worth mentioning that yogic principles, while originating in India, can be experienced by devotees from all religious belief systems.)

I attempt to summarize some of the key principles here, though these will hardly scratch the surface.

  1. Breath is our universal guiding life force. As we inhale and exhale, we bring our attention inward, remembering our intentions and keeping our mind focused on the breath whenever it darts away. Whatever our physical posture, it always comes secondary to our breath.
  2. We are not our bodies. Our bodies are merely temporary vehicles through which we perceive the world; they encapsulate our eternal souls. The purpose of yoga is to transcend this physical body, our external circumstances, and all that exists in the material world, to reach our highest potential.
  3. Practically speaking, however, a state of yoga begins with physical health. No one can find a relationship with the divine when they are sick, diseased, or in wrenching pain. But it is all linked. In yogic teachings, there is no division between “mind” and “body”.
  4. Yoga is as much a science of the mind as it is a study of the physical postures. It is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions. If we aren’t internally rooted in that which is eternal — the divine source — we will naturally feel uprooted, lost, confused and dis-eased, whatever the circumstances. Our greatest obstacle to experiencing our true nature lies in overcoming the the mind.
  5. The ultimate goal is unity between mind, body, and soul – that immutable unchanging force within us. This is the most abstract and nebulous of concepts and I struggle for a concrete way to describe it — but the more I try, the more I surrender to the understanding that perhaps there are implications far more complex and extraordinary than any of our present day vocabulary can communicate.

These lessons are still sinking in, but their wisdom carry so much relevance.

It is tempting to view yoga through a dualistic lens: a tug-of-war between the humbling and glorifying experiences, steady and ecstatic, flat and expansive, rooted and lifted — not unlike the dance of life. These opposing forces are inherent in many of the physical asanas. For example, in Tree pose (Vrikshasana), we are at once rooting down into the Earth, while lifting up through the crown of our head.

These opposing forces comprise the makeup of yoga. But when duality falls away and unity begins to take shape, that’s when as Krishnamacharya puts it, “truth is known..the mind is clear…the breath is controlled”, a state of steadiness and enlightenment in this earthly life is possible. That is yoga.

In life, each of us experiences trauma, heartbreak, and disaster. Yoga teaches us that we need not wither with each incident. Like a firm redwood tree, if we are rooted in the ground we can stay rooted in ourselves, meet disaster, and continue growing. Furthermore, if those roots connect with the roots of others, we can become an intertwined network, nourishing and supporting each other as we all grow together.

“Alone we can do nothing, but together our minds fuse into something whose power is far beyond the power of its separate parts. The kingdom cannot be found alone, and you who are the kingdom cannot find yourself alone.”

So, what is yoga? It’s a bit of religion, a bit of spiritual community, a bit of health. Sure, it’s peace, love, and happiness too. But in its purest form, it’s a personal journey, one of self-discovery that opens the door to self-understanding and an ability to see each being with equal vision. I am nowhere near yogi status. But I breathe easier knowing that between Mother Earth supporting us from beneath and the Father Almighty gazing from the heavens (or however you want to attribute the genders), there is a whole universe within each of us waiting to be unlocked.

That journey is just beginning.


Non-advice for Uncertain Times

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

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Somewhere between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Transitions are hard. Now that I’m back in NYC and figuring out next steps, I find myself caught in a phase of “in-between”, a place somewhere between being and doing.

The days when I am most productive are the days when I am accountable to others, checking boxes off a list of things that require me to show up: getting coffee with someone, sending an email, exercising, applying to a job, writing this newsletter. I do it mostly to reassure myself that I can still function as a person in larger society.

Of course, there are days that go terribly awry: I start a simple task and end with 20 open tabs + a pounding headache; I say yes to another glass of wine and learn for the millionth time that an extra hour of sleep would have probably been more beneficial; I fall into a rabbit hole of social feeds and emerge hours later frustrated with my lack of self-regulation.

But truthfully, the majority of my days comprise of quiet, subtle, slightly indulgent ‘inner work’ that wouldn’t mean much to anyone else: reading old journal entries about dreams once dreamed, scribbling new plans, wandering aimlessly through the city, reflecting on the things I’ve learned.

Unstructured time means that you learn to set boundaries between these periods of reflection, productivity, and self-indulgence. I realize how lucky I am to have this time. I’m learning discernment, for knowing when and how to act. Self-forgiveness, for moments of weakness.  Permission, to just be. It’s a pretty unscientific process of self-analysis + trial & error + course-correction, but it’s probably what I need most now.

It’s not all fun experimentation. If you’re prone to anxiety like me, having more free time can turn into analysis paralysis. Time, like money, is a finite resource, and can quickly drip dry. You try to remember what mountain you set out to climb to begin with and why it’s taking so long to figure it out.

So, what is time-well-spent look like in an intentional life? There’s no shortage of articles on how to be more productive, often modeled after the lifestyle of a hero CEO. Wake up early. Time block your calendar. Remove social media from your phone. Say yes to every opportunity. Actually, say no and set boundaries. Seek feedback from family & friends because you need to check your blind spots. Join support groups.

It is tempting to follow the experts & have others tell you what to do. But here’s the rub: only you can answer the question. Sure, we could all probably benefit from some time management tools, but this isn’t a productivity issue. This is a life. Simply put, you can’t delegate the direction of any one life to a generalized advice column.

Oprah always starts her Super Soul Sunday podcast by saying one of the most valuable gifts we can give ourselves is time, time to be present. I’d like to take this a step further: we should take time to be present, so we can determine our intentions and chart our future self. In fact, I’d argue that it is the most important work we can do because no one else can do it.  Figure out what matters to you and from there, your choices, actions, and identities will flow. You can’t outsource this stuff, baby.

“It is the intentions, the capacities for choice rather than the total configuration of traits which defines the person. Here the stage is set for identity crises, for wondering who one really is, behind the multifold variety of actions and roles. And the search for that core person is not a matter of curiosity; it is a search for the principles by which choices are to be made.”
– What Makes a Person

I’ve come to believe that life occurs at a certain cadence – at times, we are thrust into circumstances that don’t give us much of a choice – but when we do have the privilege of choice, it is our responsibility to set a framework so we aren’t continuously sidetracked and pushed further and further away from our destination.

For those who think this is a question reserved for the privileged, it totally is. Embrace it! And if you don’t have the fortune now, just wait – your glorious moment to navigate this beautiful in-between territory will come.


My Favorite Little Piece of Italy in NYC

Third SpaceI can be unreasonably sentimental about certain things. The Lower East Side and El Barrio, for instance (i.e. the real New York). The NYC subway (even when its latest track record doesn’t warrant it). Hole-in-the walls.

Gaia is another prized possession in this category, a small Italian cafe in the Lower East Side named after the force behind it, the matriarch, the WOMAN. In Greek mythology, Gaia is the mother goddess who presides over the earth. Similarly, Gaia Bagnasco presides over this near-hidden cafe nestled on the corner of Norfolk and East Houston Street.

As equal parts owner, head chef, and Italian maestress, she demonstrates meticulous control over every detail of the cafe. Prices are affordable, in part because she only has two kitchen staff members, but mostly because it’s written into the cafe’s mores: food should not be expensive. A sumptuous panini ranges from $5-$10; a small illy coffee is just $1.00. All this, despite being in a neighborhood where pencil towers are rising faster than new graffiti to cover it.

I discovered Gaia 5 years ago when I lived in Alphabet City. The place is easy to miss in its basement-level location. But one winter day on my morning commute, I happened to turn my head and see the OPEN sign flip. I descended down the stairs, eager to gain entrance into what seemed like a secret underground club. Immediately, the warm, welcoming waft of illy Italian coffee greeted my senses. Alas, there was a credit card minimum and I had no cash! As I began to leave, Gaia insisted I take my coffee & croissant completely gratis; I refused, but she persisted. Without knowing who I was or if I would ever patronize her business again, she trusted that I would be back.

And indeed – the croissant was the best I ever had. Over the weeks, months, and years, Gaia has become my go-to for simple, no-frills cooking. What it lacks in propriety and small talk, it surpasses in value and authenticity. Fresh is the theme: from the perfectly flaky Nutella croissants, to the bread baked each morning (oh that bread!), to the panini that she executes using the finest Italian-imported cured meat and cheeses.

Gaia’s perspective is fresh in abundance too. One day, I worked from home and ordered lunch to-go. She remarked,

“You Americans. No wonder you are all fat and unhappy. Always on the go, never stopping to just eat and enjoy.”

The menu states that “service is not a priority”, and that is sometimes the case  –  but thisundersells its authenticity. You may be promptly rushed out at 7 pm on weekday evenings and chided for ingredient substitutions. But so long as you come with a basic respect for the space & food that Mother Earth provides, you’ll receive more unsolicited acts of kindness than you probably deserve. Kind of like eating in your mother’s kitchen.

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Gaia’s best hits include her fresh salads, spinach & ricotta tegamini, gnocchi, ravioli, black pepper linguini, and paninis; my absolute favorite is the fresh-baked focaccia bread that comes with every dish, often on crumpled foil, along with plastic serving spoons. Wine is served BYOB-style in cheap plastic red water tumblers. A bit reminiscent of a hostel cafe, but I’d be hard-pressed to find a better backdrop in NYC.

I love Gaia for its fresh ingredients and heart-nourishing food. It is the remnant of a NYC that is quickly becoming a relic of the past: affordable, raw, you-get-what-you-ask-for candor.  Dine here as you would like any respectful guest invited to a home-cooked meal; drop the ego, be hungry for community. You won’t get special treatment. But you will absolutely get what you pay for: a meal with real food.


Season of Change

My last day at the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) was two weeks ago. Working for local government was never something I dreamed about, but the experience was a surprising blend of all that I love: cities, innovation, media, politics.  Truly, it was an unparalleled opportunity to learn the ins & outs of a system where all of these elements converged.

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One of our communal kitchens at NYCEDC displayed Mayor Ed Koch’s mantra, a perfect encapsulation of what drew me to work everyday. With a budget larger than any other in the US, NYC is literally and metaphorically, one of the most dynamic and complex metropolises in the world.

When at NYCEDC, you can’t help but speak the language of economic development – creating jobs and developing neighborhoods – which includes a lot of technical jargon and municipal processes that I never wish for anyone’s vernacular (“Did you get LMDC approval to extend the RFEI deadline pre-ULURP, post-CEQR along with the DOT MOU?”)

More broadly, I took away some important life lessons during my 4+ years at this quasi-city agency. Most are in the context of running a city, i.e. seeking Council and community stakeholder approval for public land use projects, which admittedly is very different from running a profitable company in a market-driven society. But I’ve found that work in the public domain mirrors our personal lives in more ways than we think, especially as we grow towards a more open society.

In no meaningful order, my top 7 takeaways:

CHANGE IS INEVITABLE.

We must learn to embrace it. EDC is one of the biggest agents of change in NYC. The city has many levers at its disposal to implement change at scale through zoning policies, tax incentives, and workforce development programs. These mechanisms can also change the fabric of communities in immediate and tangible ways. You see the change with each new condo building and bourgeois office & coffee shop, along with rising prices. Resisting this change is futile, for it’s not all bad. Courting major companies and building large infrastructural projects increases connectivity and brings jobs & activity to formerly disinvested areas.

The work shouldn’t stop here.

Real economic development doesn’t just build and raise property values; it invests in the people of the neighborhood. Real economic development works with communities hand-in-hand to create double bottom-line metrics that not only measure the number of jobs that are created, but the number of local jobs, small businesses retained, permanently affordable housing units, open space, and sustainable community programs. Insomuch that the new development builds capacity for members of a community to sustainably adapt to the changing environment, its a win-win. 

PROCESS, PROCESS, PROCESS – It’s everything. 

The difference between a tourist and resident is that a tourist sees only the Times Squares and Magnolia Bakeries – the final outcome, packaged in all its pretty glory. The tourist does not have to see who is driven out and who moves in, the businesses that shutter because of rising rents, nor do they reap the consequences of city decisions that might have been made from the top-down. Fully engaging community stakeholders at all levels of any major new development (not just when they are needed for a vote) is key to ensuring that the plan captures all of the neighborhood’s basic needs.

A ONE SIZE ALL APPROACH DOES NOT WORK. 

Neighborhoods, just like people, are different. Don’t expect the same strategies to work for neighborhoods mere blocks apart. Manhattan north of 96th Street is totally different from the Lower East Side, or East 95th Street for that matter. A neighborhood strategy is most comprehensive when you seek the input of those who know the neighborhood best – its long-time residents – and not just urban planners or developers drafting plans from their ivory tower.

IT HELPS TO HAVE AN ADVOCATE AT THE TOP.

If you’re just starting at the bottom of the totem pole, a brilliant idea won’t go anywhere unless someone at the top can vouch for it. It’s stupidly hierarchal, but you can either spend time complaining about it or strategize about how to best work within the system & get buy-in at the top (hint: the latter saves a lot of time and disillusionment).

Robert Moses learned this in his early days working for the City, and after a couple botched ideas blinded by his own idealism, shifted the strategy for his ambitious development ideas around getting to know the people in power whose approval could actually make them happen.

YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE FAKING IT. 

I was very underqualified for my job as Manhattan Borough Director at EDC and frequently experienced impostor syndrome. I was never sure if what I said would unleash a cascade of angry words, eye rolls, or nodding approval. It was a state of constant uncertainty, but I soon realized that most experienced professionals were never 100% sure either. That’s the beauty of a job where there is no recipe for success. We’re all just trying to make the best decisions as we go. And that’s the way it is with life as well, right?

IT HELPS TO PRETEND LIKE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING, THOUGH. 

One of the best skills to have (aside from coding) is persuasion. If you can sell, you have the keys to unlocking people’s stubborn, change-resistant minds. Sometimes it’s less a matter of what you’re saying than how you say it. At several community meetings, I literally just memorized the same key talking points, and kept repeating variations of the same message. Over time, I began saying those lines with more confidence and felt like I gained greater trust (confidence coupled with consistency is what did it).

CHECK YOUR ASSUMPTIONS.

It’s one of my biggest frustrations but we’re all guilty of it. We enter any given situation with preconceived notions about people, communities, what they are capable of and what they are not. How do we know what people want? Maybe they are happy with the same bodega and old historic district, maybe they aren’t, or maybe they want to keep a valued institution and demolish something else…you just never know until you ask, so ask (unless you are withholding for some larger negotiation tactic).

—-

Government is not without its flaws. Certain regulatory measures are inefficient and things get stuck in the bureaucracy, but working at NYCEDC has reinforced my belief in the need for a strong public sector. We cannot rely on the private behemoths of the day to have the public’s best interests at heart. The irony of an Apple town square open to all except for those who can afford their $1000 iPhone pains me. Local government, on the other hand, is beholden to the public across a wide range of subsidized amenities – parks, roads, schools, utilities, public housing, hospitals, etc. – to build a better life for ALL.

I am leaving NYCEDC for personal reasons. I want to take time to explore & see what else is out there. Maybe I’ll go and learn some best practices from the private sector. But my enthusiasm for the public sector remains and I do hope to go back at some point. If there’s anything that I learned during my time at NYCEDC, it’s that innovation is disrupting industries left & right, and no one is immune to the impending change. Government needs to moderate and soften the change, so it is not an apocalyptic hell of tech-haves and have-nots.

I’m not sure what this next chapter means for me, but am open to the possibilities and ready to take the plunge. As Part I of my ‘sabbatical’, I’m traveling to the Middle East 11/23 – 12/6! If you’re in any of the following cities, let me know:

  • Dubai, UAE
  • Amman, Jordan
  • Wadi Rumi, Jordan
  • Jerusalem, Israel
  • Tel Aviv, Israel

Thanks to all who have supported me on this journey thus far, and cheers to the open road.


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Greetings from my new stoop. Fall hasn’t officially begun, but it feels a lot like the end of summer. Cooler weather, a return to regular work hours, evening showers, and finally! – an excuse to hole myself indoors.

It’s been a busy summer between surfing in the Rockaways, upstate hikes, and eating drunk noodles at 2 am. My liver might have aged a few years, but I am reminded of the blessing it is to be young and alive and eat/drink/dance ’til the sun goes down.

I am also really freaking exhausted.

Last month, I moved into a 1 bedroom in the East Village which is the first time I’ve lived alone since…well, ever. It has been an empowering, frightening, dare I say life-transforming experience. I’ve had roommates since college. In NYC, it’s been 6 apartments across 6 different neighborhoods over the last 6 years. I’ve shared space with 13 wonderfully unique characters, many of whom I still count as dear friends. There are unforgettable stories: the roommate who accused me of using her precious Kiehl’s shampoo without her permission, passive-aggressive exchanges with sleep-talking roommates, a post-modern Chelsea loft straight out of an IKEA catalog (cool in theory, but a bit too close for comfort between sliding glass doors). One of these days, I will write a book about that special time in my life.

Living alone is a paradigm shift. My decision was both pragmatic and misanthropic. I’m starting a yoga teacher training program later this month and want the space to stretch out in the middle of my living room for extended periods of time without feeling like a parasitic sloth taking up others’ shared space. Plus, after 6 years, I can afford it! (You know you’ve made it in New York when you can live in a box of your own…)

But the bigger reason is to remove the distractions that come from constantly being surrounded by people. Call it stubborn individualism, getting old, or just a need to repair years of catering to others’ whims and desires.  Whatever it is, it’s something that I can only sort out in a space of my own.  I can’t pour from an empty cup and lately, it’s been running a bit dry.

pour forth

I often fantasize about going to India and meditating on the top of a mountain in serenity.  I tell myself I’d be a little Buddha – brilliant, kind and utterly loving – because there would be no struggle or glimmer of discontent. I’d be contained from the highs and lows of this world, unphased by its demands and steady in my gait.

The present-day version is me sitting in my lovely, cheap NYC apartment with no Friday night plans, no people, just books (and maybe a good Netflix show or podcast). Self-confidence, health, happiness, the equanimity of the Buddha: all could be mine. And yet 30 days into this new life, that scene is so far from my reality. I even tried a social media sabbatical in August to cultivate a more intentional approach to presence and the way I spend my time. Rationale >>

  • Eliminating Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter would surely bring less distraction and more focus to the things that really matter.
    • Reality: I just went out and drank more.
  • Instead of perusing filtered images and carefully pruned status updates/tweets, I’d read and write more quality literature.
    • Reality: I have yet to finish any book, and this blog post is the sole thing I’ve written.
  • I have more time to buy groceries and cook, so I would never be tempted to hang with other dilettantes in the heart of the East Village, a mecca of bars & restaurants.
    • Reality: Of course not. 

All this reminds me of a passage from writer Sheila Heti:

Why do we go out? Because if what we want more than anything is to attain self-confidence, health, energy, and peace of mind, we should stay in.

I’m always super-aware of how whenever I go out into the world, or whenever I get involved in a relationship, my idea of who I think I am utterly collides with the reality of who I actually am. And I continue to go out even though who I am always comes up short. I always prove myself to be less generous, less charming, less considerate, not as bold or energetic or intelligent or courageous as I imagined in my solitude. And I’m always being insulted, or snubbed, or disappointed.

And yet, in some way, maybe this is better. Each of us could suffer the pangs of withdrawal from other people and gain the serenity of the non-smoker. We could be demi-gods in our little castles, all alone, but perhaps, deep down, none of us really wants that. Maybe the only cure for self-confidence and courage is humility. Maybe we go out in order to fall short, because we want to learn how to be good at being people, and moreover, because we want to be people.

For those of us who search so fervently for our calling, perhaps this is it: to be in this world, to be immersed in others’ lives – engaged, overzealous, and exposed to all its flaws – that is, to be people. Tempting it may be to hide under the covers, I’m realizing that the isolation I crave is merely an illusory antidote, for the instant I step back into the world and encounter a single person, the chaos of life will flood back, along with all its self-doubt, anxiety and fear. A beautiful mess that I better learn to love.

I’m excited for this new season, not so I can hole myself in my apartment for a never-ending book party, but so I can address all these inhibitions head on, alone or in community. I can lie in my living room in shivasana as long as I want. Or I can go out, dance, say embarrassing shit, and move on. The choice is mine to make – until it isn’t – so carpe diem.