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.
My previous post on failure was not the most sanguine, so I’ll flip the page over for something more motivational today.
Everything will not be okay.
But you’ll be alright.
If you have an important decision to make, remember that.
I recently decided that I want to write and edit for a digital publication, maybe even create my own. Behind the ambitious wordage, I already know there’s a good chance my actions will fail, I won’t make enough money, my writing will be deemed mediocre, and that even after persisting, I’ll face more rejection with the possibility of having to return home with fingers over my forehead in that dreadful L shape. Everything won’t end up okay. Should I go forward?
Yes or no is not really the answer I’m looking for. What we really want when we ask that question is reassurance. Reassurance that something will work out, that everything will be okay. However, reassurance is fleeting. Anything that really matters won’t come easy. God tests to see how much you want something. He sweeps a strong current over the linear road. Along the topsy turvy path, there are chances to turn back. Since everything is not okay, you’re tempted.
But here comes the motivational addendum, the one that can save the day. Amid the mayhem, you are alright. If your core self comes from a solid foundation, the wind can be blowing the hair off your head; though everything is not okay, you are just fine.
My motivation for this week is to find the bravery to shun faux reassurance. The changes we make to seek our dreams may not yield the most ideal outcomes. But it’s not reassurance that we should be seeking anyway; it’s courage.
Free yourself from the need for perfect acceptance, and it will be a lot easier to make a decision and launch work that matters.
Thanks to Seth Godin’s tell-it-like-it-is blog for inspiring this post. Thanks also to my good friend Hanh, whose boldness in pursuing her fashion blog dream, pushed me to critically think about my own life goals.
Yesterday, I was dismissed from a great job at a great company with great potential. Six months ago, I was dismissed from a great job at a great company with great potential. Two times in a row, I’ve been rejected, dismissed as “not a good fit” which in some ways is saying, “not good enough”. Startup pace is quick, if not brutal. So today, here I am, back at what seems to be Square One, trailing behind the offshoots of engines that will jet off to greatness without me. By most standards, I’ve failed. But by at least one standard, I am encouraged. Defeat presents an opportunity to grow. Richard Nixon, a man who weathered a lot of turmoil, said that learning to survive a defeat is when you develop character. Scoff all you want about Nixon being the last person to know a thing about character, but he’s got a point.
“Ultimately what matters most is resilience–the ability to quickly rebound from failures, indeed to see failure as a stepping stone to success.”
– Arianna Huffington
That’s not to undermine the shame and embarrassment I feel. Being let go sucks. Being let go twice doubly sucks. When you think about it too much, you go crazy, believing your life is just pedaling against the current: one step forward, two steps back. You descend into all sorts of belittling comments and emotions. Heart-wrenching pain that leads to tears, sobbing, louder sobbing, and mind-blowing cries because heck – – rejection hurts.
But amid all the pain, there is a voice – small, quiet yet certain – that knows this is all necessary. After all, what is good without bad? Happiness without sadness? And success without failure?
The windows in my living room overlook the corner of a busy intersection humming with people rushing to their destination. It’s a perfect encapsulation of New York City. I usually scarf my breakfast in plain view of Kate Moss, whose Rag and Bone ad is plastered on the building across the street. Her frozen smile stares at my 99-cent Cinnamon oatmeal sprinkled with too much brown sugar. Her perfectly symmetrical face simultaneously captivates and infuriates me. I imagine her passing gentle judgment, with my asymmetrically cut strawberries, crumpled shirts, and pants squeezing too tight. “Nothing tastes better than skinny. Get it together, Lynne. Don’t fuck up today.” Perfection can be motivational.
Today, I looked out, expecting her gaze. Instead, I saw an assortment of black flyers advertising a weekend party. One of them had already been scribbled on. How quickly perfection had been replaced! I was reminded of the Augusteum in Rome, once the center of the empire only now to be a collapsed monument waiting for a reconstruction that will never happen.
My ego is bruised but has learned its lesson. Ruin is the road to transformation. Life is chaotic, bringing changes that nobody can anticipate. So, don’t take it all too seriously. Fall, but get back up. A job is a job, and life moves on. Like a fish out of water flopping about, I’ll find another place to swim.
“The Augusteum warns me to not get attached to any obsolete ideas about who I am, what I represent, whom I belong to, or what function I may once have intended to serve. Yesterday I might have been a glorious monument to somebody, true enough–but tomorrow I could be a fireworks depository. Even in the Eternal City, says the silent Augusteum, one must always be prepared for riotous and endless waves of transformation.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
To the next wave.
“If you aren’t journaling what you’re seeing and doing so in a thoughtful way, you’re running yourself based on year or more old information, never cleaning off your blind spots. Just because you have funding doesn’t mean you put your head down.”
This was written as a word of advice to entrepreneurs on how to manage companies. However, I modified it for general life purposes because, entrepreneur or not, we are each our own company. We shouldn’t run our individual motors on year-old information. Similarly, cash flow in our bank account is no excuse to rest on our laurels.
On that note, I’ve been rather happy these past two weeks eating ice cream, watching movies, and on occasion, drafting lyrical tweets and emails. Somehow I think that’s enough to call myself a WRITER.
It got me thinking about why we write and situations that warrant burning the midnight oil, – – or in writer-speak, ‘writing by candlelight’. (which I have never actually done)
I’ll share here, candidly, what often really drives me to write:
1. FEAR: Buried in my conscience is a deep fear that the day I stop writing is the day I deteriorate back to simple googoogaga speak. Short S-V-O sentences. “Go here.” “Feed me.” “I want.” Flashback to the day of my 3rd grade writing assessment when I could barely construct an introductory paragraph with a ‘hook’, a 3-paragraph body with 5 supporting details and a zinger conclusion, resulting in a barely passing grade and making me despise writing, thus dashing all hopes of becoming a writer.
Engrained fearfully in my memory, this drives me. Like the gym rats who drag themselves to the gym for fear of gaining weight, my fear of being stripped of all ability to express is often just as extreme. So, I write.
More sensibly, I view writing as a way to clear off the mental counter, to make abstractions concrete in an otherwise tangled, dusty mind. When the clutter piles up, what results is clusterfuck in the brain.
So, I write.
2. GUILT – I call myself a writer on Google + and Quora. So, I better damn write.
3. THERAPY – My theory: writing mixes the disconnected new facts we pick up everyday with the existing knowledge we already have, creating new hunches. It provides the self-reflection to sift between hunches by understanding my innate bias, allowing me to pick out the best ones to follow.
4. VANITY – Finally, there is a self-serving aspect to it. Life can be awesome and I want others to know it. I like telling others about my life. Not sure when it kicked in but it was probably around the time in college I started taking pictures of myself with food. Though I am less inclined to do that now, I still believe that certain milestones are worth sharing and for that reason, I write these posts with an element of personal candor.
On that note (and since I can’t think of a better segue), I have an announcement to make:
This week, I start work at ZeroCater, a San Francisco-based startup dedicated to connecting companies with the best food in town. I’m their first account manager in New York City, so I’ll be helping them set up shop there.
After a few months of dabbling in the freelance life, I’m ready for this. While I felt liberated by my open schedule and enlivened by the opportunities, I was often plagued with uncertainty. Uncertainty with where random projects were leading me, how much would be in my bank account, how much longer I could afford to stay in the city on a shoestring budget. It was, I believe, the closest I’ve gotten to ‘real life’. I had to make choices and live the consequences, with nary an alternative to fall back on. It was trying and terrifying. But a lesson learned. Rarely does anything come in an easy 9-5 package unless we constrain ourselves to that bubble. I learned to more readily deal with the gray because Choice A and Choice B weren’t available. It was a necessary time for reflection.
I have no idea what this new position will bring. I can only guess that it will be wildly different, challenging, and tasty. Ultimately, I’m just excited to learn more about 3 of my favorite things: startup culture, food, and the workings of delivery/transportation/logistics in the never-ending gluttony of New York City. My two main goals are:
1. to begin each day with specific goals in mind, and
2. to be openly communicative with my co-workers.
Tomorrow, I fly out to San Francisco for 3 weeks of training, and will be back in New York mid-February to get the office started.
Before I turn the page and scribble on, I cast my shadow out into the air. Out with the old, in with the new. Cheers!
“On a good day, I’m caught up by something larger than myself, held in the light by some celestial movement. For a brief charged time I may be irradiated, able to cast a shadow version of something I only imagine. The shadow will never be the bright true self that I know exists, but it will be as precise as I can make it, as real, as sharp, as beautiful. I will cast this shadow into the air, where it may never be seen, or where it may be seen at a great distance, and only by one person, someone I will never know. The point is to cast the shadow out into the air.”
– Roxana Robinson, on writing
If the world were to end tomorrow, would you be ready?
My take on 12/21/12 is that the Mayans got it wrong and the world will continue to turn on its axis. NASA agrees. However, I’m of New Age mindset. To me, 12/21/12 marks the end of an old world and the start of a new one, ushering in an age when Earthly inhabitants undergo positive transformation. In other words, New Years Day. Time to make and break our resolutions with unfailing eagerness.
It was the most tiring, terrifying, and terrific year in memory.
It started with bright eyes and high hopes. I moved to a small but cozy Park Slope apartment to begin my New York saga symbolically on New Years. Forget that I wasn’t sure if I would make enough to pay monthly rent. Waking to the sight of the Chrysler building from my bedroom window was enough reason to get out of bed. Anything was possible.
I was first exposed to the realities of the city as a personal/editorial assistant for a wine business owner. My boss was wonderful but after the n-millionth time picking up office supplies and fetching coffee, I started to wonder if this was all a college degree was worth. On the weekends, I drank my share of wine. (Work-related research, of course!)
My second job landed me at a prestigious startup fellowship program that placed college graduates to work at startups in lower-cost cities. I was their first recruiter but was exposed to much more than recruiting. Event planning, social media, office politics – – with a small staff, there was a lot to get done and at times, my lack of corporate/organizational experience showed. I learned a few key things about organization, foremost being that I’m not organized. It’s why writing things down and having clear daily to-do lists have become new resolutions. The job took me to Providence over the summer for a phenomenal training camp which remains one of the best memories of the year, purely for the chance to meet 40 of the most inspiring and creative college graduates. I grew by leaps and bounds but after 5 months, I knew that this company wasn’t the right cultural fit.
Life since has been a mix of freelance writing, tech dabbling, user acquisition, and social media strategy. Highly stimulating work with little peace to be found. I networked, mingled, exchanged business cards, went social to the max. The freelance/startup life taught me the importance of being disciplined with time. If you’re good at it, go superwoman! Bad at it, never sleep. We’ll see if I give in to 9-5 soon.
So, was 2012 a success? Last year I wrote, “If I can make just one tiny decision that moves me closer to being my best self-whatever that may entail, wherever that may be- that’s success in my flighty mind.” 2012 was to be the year forward.
And? Am I ahead, off track, 2 steps forward 3 steps back? Well, I can say that I’m officially a New Yorker and now part of the craziness I used to only admire from afar. I’ve spent far too much, slept far too little. I could have been wiser. And yet at 23, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I end 2012 exhausted, knowing that I tire because I’ve tried my hand at many things, failed, and therefore, moved forward.
2013 – Focus
Notifications blew up my phone in 2012. While this gave me bursts of serotonin, it also lead to unhealthy crashes and reduced productivity. It’s resulted in my decision to disconnect and retire. When I say retire, I mean retiring from perpetual social grooming and focusing instead on real work.
Last week I deactivated Facebook, and yesterday I followed through with Instagram. A friend messaged me saying that he was astonished and a little sad that I was leaving all these social networks. To him, I was the epitome of Generation 2.0: Miss Popular with tons of friends, always connected and blogging and snapping photos. Reading this only reinforced my need to retire. My public image was so well-crafted. So well-crafted that sooner or later, people would be let down. Achieving a self-involved image is no small feat, and I don’t have the energy or desire to maintain it anymore.
Aside from ‘connecting’, I’ve started to realize that all the other stuff that comes with being ‘social’ serves more as a disutility that detracts from my day. Because when you peel away all the layers of perfectly timed and witty statements, cute outfits, and adventurous getaways, what’s left is a pretty plain and boring person too tired to do much of anything other than appear. The thought of being that lame person used to sadden me. Now it just excites me because it means more time to sleep. 2013 will be the year of focus and commitment. Take me as I am, just a lazy being who wants to lie in bed, eat, and watch TV.
In 2013, I plan to focus on building non-social digital skills (CRM, Creative Suite, Mailchimp), cooking more, and solidifying pre-existing relationships. It’s quite boring, but really just a continuance of my 2012 resolution, because only by getting serious will I ever be able to move forward.
I’ve always lived with a sense of urgency, a conviction that time is running out. But with the world ending tomorrow, it’s time to be really honest and live out our truest lives, not just what sounds good or what makes an interesting story. Because what makes us happiest may not be all that interesting. And that’s okay.
A few hours separate one coast – and one world – from another. This morning, I braved gutsy hurricane-like winds in San Francisco, now I’m warmly tucked in to my Brooklyn nook. Air travel, akin to time travel, will never cease to amaze.
So there I sat at 4:30 am PST, my thoughts dripping steadily like the rain drops coalescing on the airplane window. My SFO – – > JFK flight was delayed. We had been stuck on the runway for nearly 2 hours before the pilot was forced to head back to the gate to refuel and wait the storm out. Storm gusts blew at more than 15 knots per hour. (know what that means? neither do I)
For 72 hours before, I took in San Francisco like a vagrant. I stayed at a humble artist’s hotel with morbidly beautiful paintings adorning the wall (my first two room options consisted of one: a crying geisha, two: a stripper staring me down). I finally settled on a more calming bedroom backdrop reminiscent of a Japanese ‘Starry Night’.
Night time brought walking escapades through the city, often with nary an idea of where I was going. Thankfully there were friends who led the way through various neighborhoods. Interesting to observe their tendencies. Just like some New Yorkers shudder at the mention of certain neighborhoods (ahem Williamsburg), San Franciscans have similar reactions to particular areas (Marina?) Ultimately, each neighborhood has a distinct character and way of life that makes San Francisco what it is. In addition to downtown, there are neighboring suburbs: Palo Alto, San Jose, Cupertino, Oakland, Marin County etc. which collectively comprise the Bay Area, a whole other world to itself.
I jotted mental notes comparing San Francisco to New York. Each is arguably the ‘golden’ city on its own coast so, of course, I was evaluating the potential of each as a future home.
The main differences I noticed:
– Residential: San Francisco, while urban, is markedly more residential. You’ll see long stretches of houses and apartments even in the thick of downtown. In Manhattan, aside from maybe the Upper East and West, that’s unseen. And even in neighborhoods like those, Manhattan retains an utterly cosmopolitan environment.
– Style: San Franciscans are more casual. Admittedly, I spent all of my time at startups (one in downtown, and another in Palo Alto) but even around the more corporate Financial District I sensed a greater level of openness and earthiness. New York, while scrappy in ways, is all business with its swank and suits.
– Health: San Franciscans veer natural. They are close to the outdoors with hiking paths, access to mountains and actual room to breathe. Living in New York, meanwhile, might take a year off your life. Physically and mentally, you drive yourself sick between riding the subways, battling anxiety and other neurotic souls, while being lured into oil-dripping street Halal food. But…it’s New York.
I spent most of my time in the more touristy parts of San Francisco: Union Square, Ferry Building, Financial District. Next time, I’m intensely interested in understanding the people, values, and pace of the city. This visit was far too short to get at the city’s real essence. But from the few people I did encounter (including the good samaritan who paid my MUNI fare because I didn’t know you needed exact change) – I’d say it was quite nice.
– seeing my childhood best pal and longest friend to date, Diana
– eavesdropping on “big ideas” at Ground Up Cafe, a shared space for employees in the AOL building (which houses several startups and Stanford’s startup incubator)
– touring the ZeroCater office and shadowing their account managers for a very accurately depicted “day in the life”
– eating cioppino and sea dabs for the first time at a homey family-owned Italian restaurant in North Beach
– exploring the bar scene. Local Edition (located in the Hearst building; the displays of old San Francisco Chronicle editions with typewriters make this a news nerd’s heaven) and Bourbon & Branch (prohibition-style bar with great whiskey & gin cocktails; there’s an old-school library too)
– being a tourist and eating overpriced hamburgers and martinis while overlooking Union Square. Totally worth it.
“Look at all those fish swimming in a fish bowl down there.”
Thanks for a great time, San Francisco. I hope I get to spend more time with you one day.