“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
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.
Two weeks ago, I checked a major item off my life bucket list: running the New York City Marathon.
Words can’t quite capture the experience of running through the streets of New York City with 50,000+ other runners. What I can say is that running through the five boroughs — from the mass exodus in Staten Island across the Verrazano bridge into Brooklyn (admittedly, my favorite borough), followed by Queens and a stampede of supporters on 1st ave in Manhattan, into the toughest miles in the Bronx, and then concluding with the final stretch along Central Park West — evoked a powerful sense of unity.
Somewhere in the Bronx between miles 21 and 22 when my legs began to give way, I also began to meditate and pass the time by drawing a line of comparison between the race itself and the race of life. (This is what happens when your neurotic brain calms down!)
Though I am far from seasoned in either race, here are a few racing takeaways that emerged along the path:
- Pace yourself. You’ll burn out by going full blast too quick, too soon. As an all or nothing type of person, this level of control is something I’m still trying to learn in life.
- And yet, you’ll inevitably get tired regardless. It’s ok to stop and take a break when you need it. Recognize when to stop because it’s not about crashing and burning; it’s about finishing the long game.
- Be prepared to lose some shit along the way. I threw out an old hoodie and a jacket as it started to heat up, and allowed my headband to fall to the ground. Some things you’re better off without, for no better reason than to simply lighten the load.
- Go with the (ebb) and flow. There are various phases along the course: times when you’re riding high and filled with determination, and times when you’re on the major struggle bus near drunken stupor. During miles 3–9 in Brooklyn, I felt like I could run forever, as well as miles 17–19 along 1st avenue in Manhattan. The energy on the streets was infectious; when you see people from all walks of life cheering, you can’t help but feel like the whole city is on your side.
Reality hits during what I call the ‘desert miles’; these were miles 12–15, while crossing the Pulkalski bridge into Queens, and miles 19–22, while crossing the Willis bridge into the Bronx. The crowd peters out. You’re alone and doing everything in your power to not give up. The going gets really tough.
We all get by a bit easier with a little help. That said, we don’t always have the luxury of a personal cheering squad which means we ultimately need to rely on our own beating hearts to charge towards the end goal.
- Get over yourself. Just when you think you’re struggling hard, you’re reminded that everyone else is running the same race while facing a battle of their own. People are overcoming challenges beyond what you could ever imagine. Towards the later stretches of the marathon, I found myself running next to a a group called Achilles International. Not knowing who they were, I was a bit irked when one of the runners ran into me. I think I gave her a look, only to realize that she was blind and guided by a volunteer with Achilles International (awesome organization btw, they pair those with sight with the sight-impaired so that they can participate in marathons and running events). Life is filled with humbling moments like these.
- Everything is in your head. We are capable of more than we think. Running a marathon is highly mental. During those moments of immense pain and perspiration, the only thing that kept me going was sheer will, not athletic ability. The physical act of putting one foot in front of the other is easy compared to quelling the brain’s desire to quit. Conquer the mind’s restless chatter and truly, anything is within reach.
- Have fun. A marathon is not something people generally do for leisure. But willpower is in short supply. As with all things in life, if you opt to train for something, you need to do it not because you “have to” but because you “want to”. Develop a strategy to make it fun. It will make the journey a lot more enjoyable.
The marathon is one of those milestones that puts everything in perspective. I actually wrote this post two weeks ago without publishing, in between the marathon and our presidential election, but decided to post now because its lessons seem particularly trenchant to our current state of affairs.
Two main takeaways:
- What a gift it is to be alive and healthy. Training and completing the marathon makes me more cognizant of the gift of the human body and all the elements that allow me to move, particularly my 2 legs, 2 arms, 2 eyes, and healthy lungs.
- Unity is possible. If people of all backgrounds can show up on the streets of New York and cheer a simple act of human endurance and resilience — running — why are we so divisive in other areas of life?
Which leads to one final thought about the topic on everyone’s mind –
Though we may not all be on the same page politically, may we aim for simple civility in the days to come. As we enter a potentially transformative time in our nation, let us remember the freedom we are afforded and use it wisely. Fight in the way that matters most, which is inside. And just like the long and winding path on the marathon, press on towards the victorious finish.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
On Thanksgiving Eve, while most New Yorkers eagerly shuttled out of the city, I befittingly found myself glued to my couch in Alphabet City, alone, milking a bottle of wine. Solitary gulps couldn’t replace my family’s embrace but somewhere between the self-pity and nostalgia, I found a silver lining. This week marks my 2nd year of living in New York. Bottoms up!
Should the occasion warrant celebration or consolation? In the past month a number of authors have written emotionally wrenching tales about their breakups with the city. “Why I’m Glad I Quit New York At Age 24” likened the city to the overrated “prom king”. Most recently, “The Long Goodbye“- a NYT commentary on well-known writer’s broken love affairs with NYC – prompted me to ask whether it was time I cut the cord soon too.
2 years is not a long time, but it’s enough to begin embodying characteristics unique to a place. Certainly, my expectations of the city have evolved since day 1. I still remember arriving on a bus with an oversize suitcase that could barely fit in the aisle. Scurrying to the dinner I was late for (the beginning of a recurring New York theme) only to have my dinner date keep me waiting for an additional 30 minutes. Within 24 hours, I had learned an important New York lesson: never wait longer for someone than they will wait for you.
The rest of it reads like a once-poignant-now-trite Thought Catalog riff. But in New York’s defense – or perhaps I’m stuffed with Thanksgiving propaganda at this time of year – I’ve learned lessons which can only be attributed to New York’s hard-knock teaching style. Here are a few:
1. The city moves fast, but you still need to wait at the station.
*applies to more than just commute times.
People can respond to your emails in a heartbeat, but getting anyone to do anything is like moving a mountain. When you’re young, resistance finds you at every corner. You have to pay your dues.
In a literal sense, you need to add at least 20 minutes to a projected commute time because the R or F train will likely be delayed.
The moral is that plans, ambitions, and dreams often get derailed by unforeseen obstacles but usually (God willing) you get to where you need to be. It just takes patience and waiting for the train to come.
2. The city gets smaller, while the world gets bigger.
New York City is the center of the universe and there’s always people to meet. But as my network has expanded, I’ve experienced a shrinking of the “center”. This simultaneous shrinking and expansion of worlds is interesting. The more people I meet, the fewer degrees of separation I am from other people in the city (and the more I treasure my close circle of friends). Neighborhood establishments become part of the routine and former strangers become friends. New York City essentially becomes one big town and way more manageable.
Then I flip to an article on Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe and never does anything seem farther away.
3. The hero is redefined.
Few places embody beauty, wealth, and status more than New York does. I arrived here as starstruck as the worst of Bieber groupies. But after meeting a handful of personal role models- some as impressive as I imagined and others rude as rats – I’ve had to destroy my gods. Working in media taught me that so much of what we see is a marketing blitz and once all the fluff is stripped away, well – celebrities are mere mortals too.
Perhaps because of the preponderance of celebrities in this town, titles and money are a dime in a dozen. What’s harder to find is genuine compassion, a desire to listen, and an ability to think deeply about meaningful issues. While I’m not immune to the allure of wealth and its impact (we all need to make a living), New York’s in-your-face inequality reveals the inflationary value of certain attributes and a gap in appreciation for the everyday heroes who display value beyond the short-lived hoopla of models, millionaires, and moguls.
For the past two years, I’ve raced to keep up with NYC’s speed, size, and glitz. It’s kicked my ass. But I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished overall: building a network within the tech and startup community, writing for one of the most-read US digital publications, working for the government of this grand city of cities, and most importantly, learning more everyday about this intricately woven world. While I have acquired certain archetypically New York characteristics, the hardest part about living here hasn’t been about becoming more assertive, professional, or socially savvy. It’s been refining the qualities that often aren’t associated with New York: patience, humility, and compassion. In its own prickly way, New York City has forced me to reconcile its somewhat contradictory nature (movement-stillness, expansion-shrinking, glitz-poverty) in a way that tamer cities simply can’t.
Saying “Goodbye to All That” is justified. For my friends wondering when I will leave, my answer is not yet. Two years ago, I came to audition. Two years later, I’m still perfecting my routine. I’m still naive enough to believe that, more than anywhere else, New York City is the place for reinvention. Tomorrow, I will say “Hello again, New York” – like I do everyday – and audition for the next month, year, future. The show is yet to begin.
In the short time I’ve been in New York, I’ve lived multiple lives.
At times, it’s been anxious naval-gazing: “I have work and then a dinner thing, and then I’m busy trying to do this whole becoming who I am thing!“, circa Hannah Horvath.
Less often, it’s cosmopolitan ”I will never be the woman with the perfect hair, who can wear white and not spill on it’ Carrie: eating at places I can’t afford and feeding into the city’s conspicuous consumption.
But far more often, it’s neither, and instead, a rather boring in-between. I’ll also confess that I can’t really liken myself to female TV show characters whose shows I don’t even watch.
When I started this blog, I titled it ‘socialynne’ because at the time:
a) lynneguey.com was already taken (for my “professional” persona),
b) ever clever, I wanted to use a pun with my name,
c) I was going to be that savvy girl in the city.
My noble goal at the time was to represent, in some form, my exterior shell. I wanted to contribute non-wisdom on what it was like to navigate the city as a 20something caught between extreme ambition & a desire to fuck it all/not give a damn. Kind of like the characters I mentioned, just a lot less cute.
20 months, 4 apartments, and 101 (intermittently) soul-bearing blog posts later, I’m reevaluating if ‘being social’ is a relevant topic for me to write about. I’m not exactly out on the town everyday.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m still an awkward 20something for sure, but I’ve pivoted. I used to think about how Jess from “New Girl” or Hannah or Carrie would write my posts. But truthfully, I’m so different from each of those prototypes that I’m quitting that. As I enter a new stage of New York life, this dear blog -my sidekick from the start – will also shift focus.
My former Hannah would grimace to hear that present-day me loves bureaucracy, rules, and hierarchy. I work for a quasi-government agency with 500+ employees, so my life is spectacularly boring as a suited up bureaucrat in a cubicle. Yet I love it. Did I mention that our organization reports to the Mayor of the greatest city in the world?
During my first month at NYCEDC, I’ve been stunned by its sheer impact on the city. The Applied Sciences Initiative is building a strong infrastructure for tech talent here in Silicon Alley. We own the maritime ports. We build numerous new neighborhood developments from unused, vacant property to create a higher-quality life for residents. Guilty as charged.
I’m learning that all the city agencies, programs, and internal departments are a hot mess of acronyms. You wonder if all these departments are necessary, but then you see how much work is required to keep the city’s economic engine chugging . You begin to learn how it works behind the scenes, which leads only to more admiration for this little village where 8 million people call home.
This is not to downplay the issues.
Could city government be leaner? Yes. Could it use drastic innovation? Of course. Could it benefit from a little more open dialogue? Always.
The system is replete with challenges and inefficiencies, which is exactly why strong leadership and new ideas are essential. Personally, I’d love to see an open platform where residents, businesses, and local government can collaborate and solve problems together. I’d love to contribute.
Though my time in New York has been topsy turvy, I’d like to think I’m entering the next stage of what Amy Jo Martin calls “orthogonal bliss”. Orthogonal bliss is defined as the intersection of skills, passion, and purpose. It’s the sweet spot, where all the skills and experiences you’ve acquired align to create something magnificent.
“Color outside the lines by combining, mixing and intersecting things that typically don’t jive. Expect adversity to follow as society fears and fights the interruptive, abnormal mixture. If the mixture is bliss, mass adoption will eventually occur and soon you’ll have diffusion of innovation.”
Every company has stakeholders; ours is the public. So in honor of my newfound orthogonal bliss, instead of writing about ‘social’ in the literal sense, I’m honing this blog’s focus on ‘social good’ here in NYC. It’s no Sex in the City or pixie girl fantasy; it’s simply, me: sociaLynne, some imperfect social in-between.
Throughout our 20s, we represent a range of characters and continue to morph in these chameleon years. If you’ve found your trifecta of skills, passion, and purpose, stick with it. If not, keep looking. We all need to believe in something.
For me, this belief is in the city. All I need is to look out, take a walk, and it’s around me. To make this a better place to live: that’s no better reason to wake up in the morning.
Got really vulnerable, y’all.
Last week, I had the fortune of meeting Christina Vuleta, founder of 40:20 vision, a website that offers advice from 40something women who have been there, to 20something women (like me) who are trying to figure it out. Christina was a panelist at a 40:20 Highwater Women panel where she, along with some other incredibly accomplished women, offered invaluable tidbits on how to navigate this thing called life. I feel extremely lucky to have made a connection with someone so willing to pass on her experiences and help the next generation weather through the rocky 20s.
I wrote a guest post for her site about a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: failure.
Read it, but if you’re busy here’s the Cliff’s Notes version straight from the last two sentences:
Embrace failure as relentlessly as you pursue success. One is not better than the other, as they both simply bring us closer to the goal.
Elusively motivational? That’s how I like it.
Also, I haven’t said this before but to all who actually read these meanderings, thank you. I don’t get to see your faces often but simply knowing that there are faces is encouraging. It’s what keeps me typing. 🙂
I live right above a Brooklyn Industries store. The company motto, “live work create”, is emblazoned on the brick wall next to my building’s gate, so it stares at me each time I go in & out. I usually don’t return the glance but on occasion, I stare back. Or glare. Depending on my mood.
On the one hand, I think it’s a great reminder to live an inspired life. On the other hand, my schedule is often so stacked with more pressing commitments and responsibilities, such feel-good mantra rather irritates me. Who in their right mind has time to splatter around paint and compose pretty typography? Artists with too much time on their hands! Like Steve Jobs, Leonardo DaVinci, Thomas Edison, and other rather trivial figures. (Learning typography was exactly what Steve Jobs did and today, ladies and gentlemen, we have the Mac.)
Sure, I proceed, creation is great for the legends but we can’t all be legendary. We are too limited by time and other impending life demands to deal with such high-minded ideals. Perhaps. But deep down, I know cynicism stems from disappointment. Disappointment that, in a glaring way, I have not lived up to man’s highest potential for creation and that my existence thus far has been marked more by consumption than production.
Brooklyn Industries’ specific mission, as stated on its website:
is to live with passion,
is work well-done,
is a constant desire to create.
Being of clear left brain origin (yet always seeking right-brain ingenuity), I often wonder what opportunities, if any, there are for non-artists like me to live with passion and create amazing work. My drawing skills have not evolved much since third grade.
Yesterday, a few women gathered at my place to brainstorm business ideas. It was about as far from an artist’s collective as you can imagine with a clearly laid-out agenda, bullet points, and talk of business models. But the wannabe artist in me saw artist potential (think barefooted free spirits with rolled-up ripped jeans and palettes in hand, of course.) Previously unknown ideas were brought to consciousness, compiled, developed. And with that, something new was created. Created. Yes, analytical, Excel-loving folks can be artists too!
I’m not saying our ideas were brilliant masterpieces. But I’m reminded that creation is not simply pretty art you hang on the walls. If anything, creativity is more about the reinterpretation of thought than any act of making something “different”. It’s about making something unoriginal happen that wouldn’t have if one hadn’t taken initiative. The originality lies in the intention. A new friendship, revised process, or translation of overwrought thoughts – these are creations unveiled.
Knowing that yesterday’s group would not have gathered had certain motions not been set in place is enlivening. To see that creation unveiled is to feel something like life, birth, the wail of a baby – yeah, you can call it inspiration gone mad.
Go out and create something this week. It doesn’t have to be a painting, though if you can make pretty stuff take a picture and send it to me. Our world can seem, at times, to severely lack creation in a culture of mass consumption. But its not hard to plant the seeds for something new. Take time for a conversation if you like people. Build an internal process if you dig logistics. You’ll find that it’s incredibly easy to create and make something new based on your inherent strengths. Before you know it, you’ll be a living embodiment of what you make.
Experiencing inspiration is like breathing a full gulp of air after years of just trying to catch your breath. After that, it’s hard to want anything else.
Eleanor Roosevelt once advised:
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
My natural instinct, like any scaredy-cat, is to back off and make excuses.
But something tells me that Eleanor is not telling us to jump off a cliff. Those daredevil feats are nothing compared to the fears we’re most afraid to tackle, those that are deeply embedded within the daily decisions we make.
For instance, I was walking down 14th Street and noticed a small sign with pretty typeface, labeled “paragraph”. The design caused me to peer further and read the fine print: “writer’s workspace”
The timing was uncanny. I had just been wondering if there were places to connect in the city with other writers. Perhaps I should take a peek in. I shuffled closer and saw that the door was locked with a buzzer. Alas, a barrier of entry. Should I try buzzing anyway? Nah, I thought. I’m not even a real writer. I begin to walk away, making a note to google ‘paragraph’ later, knowing full well that I would forget and it would never happen.
2.5 shuffles after, I stopped as Eleanor’s wisdom stirred inside me. “What are you scared of, Lynne?” I jumped to defend. It’s not that I’m scared, I just don’t think the place will be open so it doesn’t make sense for me to buzz only to be turned away and that would be a waste of time and supremely embarrassing because…I’m scared.
Fear is not just “running from grizzly bear” fear. Fear, more often than not, occurs in the mundane. There I was in the middle of a bustling street, having nary a conversation with anyone, yet battling the biggest of wars inside myself. One second walking back to the door, another second turning around to escape confrontation with something I was genuinely curious about! Zoom out and it seemed silly, almost comical. Anyone watching me would think I was mad. Finally, fed up with myself and this silly fear of a buzzer, I pushed the button.
A lady’s voice picked up.
“Um, hi, this is….Lynne.”
“Um, Lynne – um, I just stumbled upon your place and wanted to see like, if I could take a look?”
I had ruined it. Clearly, she knew I was an outsider and had no idea what I was talking about.
And then, I was buzzed in.
I climbed up the stairs, a most interesting set, passing by a a dance studio and a bartending school on my way up. Paragraph’s door sat at the top, and it swung open to the sight of an Asian woman beckoning me in. She greeted me warmly, saying her name was Amy. (For a second, I thought she was Amy Tan, then realized it was highly unlikely Amy Tan would be at a writer’s club welcoming me.)
Amy gave me a tour of the facility, the first writing space I’ve seen. There is a ‘silent room’ where absolutely no talking is allowed. It gives writers the focus they need to bang out words. Outside of the silent room, there is a small kitchen where writers converse and eat. The facility includes free wifi, copy machines, all your basic office stuff.
I didn’t stay for long; Amy tried to sell me a membership which I couldn’t afford. Still, I’m glad I went. What I gained from conquering my stupid fear of a buzzer was:
– a cool view of a writer’s working space,
– a realization that fear pervades even the most common of situations,
– a story for this blog post!
Fear infiltrates the tiniest aspects of our lives. If I received a penny for each time I passed over something because “I didn’t have time” or “I knew it was going to end badly”…well, we won’t get into it. Often fear is bundled so tightly in a web of excuses that we don’t even know it’s fear, mistaking it instead for pragmatism or level-headed reason. As the weekend approaches, lean into the fears, whether it be talking to that “unattainable” guy, or trying something you know you’ll be bad at. When we can overcome ourselves, we’ll surely be able to take on any grizzly fear.