“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
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.
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.
Celebratory boozing aside, what’s great about birthdays?
Cake, free hugs, and…angst. Birthdays mark the passage of time, which leads to circuitous thinking about the past and future. Typically, I’ve hated this existential element. Something about imagining your life in a crystal ball like a time warp, then looking back at years past to see what has and hasn’t happened- it’s a little disconcerting.
24 represents two dozen years, two full zodiac cycles. Another year and it’s 25 and from there you start counting down the years to 3-0.
I’m tempted to make a lot of grand proclamations about what’s next but I’ve learned that few things ever go according to plan. I couldn’t predict my life as it is now and I won’t be able to for the years ahead, nor even tomorrow.
Embracing this variability is growing up. Over the years, I’ve experienced surprise victories and unexpected joys. I’ve also lost friends, loves, and jobs. Heartbreak awaits. I don’t expect it to get easier but that’s okay. All I can say is that I am blessed beyond words for good friends, family, and security. I look forward to whatever awaits.
The best-earned gift is a slice of wisdom, shot of discernment, and never-ending rapture for the world. If 24 can afford me a little piece of that, I’ll be blessed.
25- we’ll talk about you when you’re here.
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.
Hats off to 2012! Wherever you are, I hope you’re able to reflect on the highs and lows of the year with honesty and humility. Among the many year-in-reviews and recap videos, I found this one particularly gut-wrenching- 2012: What Brought Us Together
With 2013 fast approaching, it’s list time. I love these handy things. They’re the most basic tool to getting organized when one actually keeps track of them and checks consistently. While charting course for the New Year, I’ve started to think about the ways I can make 2013 better – more authentic, challenging, and meaningful – through…you guessed it!…lists.
Charlie O’Donnell, partner and founder of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, writes a weekly newsletter about tech events in NYC. (Sidenote: If you are new to the space and want a quick way to get acquainted with NYC tech, ‘This Week In NYC Innovation‘ is a great place to start.)
Last week, he included a compilation of list topics to think about for the new year, which I found very useful:
- Three people I’m actually friends with that I would like to be better friends with.
- Ten people I should know, but don’t.
- Five people I’d like to help be successful.
- Three things I’d like to learn.
- A physical goal (a time, a measurement, or just being able to be more bendy, less creaky, etc.)
- An emotional goal.
- Something you’d like to close the book on and move on from.
- Three ways you’re going to try to get more sleep.
- Read a book a month…list the first three you’re going to read. (Might I suggest re-reading the Great Gatsby before summer.)
- Five people you feel like you’re supposed to be friends with, but really don’t like, that you’re going to unfriend/disconnect/ignore.
- Three things that you’ve been procrastinating on that you’re going to get done.
I like this list for its holistic approach. It takes into account practical, emotional, physical, and educational goals. There’s also heavy emphasis on improving relationships, while understanding that not all interactions are created equal (ie. friendships vs. idols vs. mentorships, even un-friendships are included).
I’m sharing a few of my goals from this list because I firmly believe if it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist. Here’s to accountability!
3 Things I’d Like to Learn This Year:
- How to cook (I’m keeping a list of my favorite dishes and recipes to learn – open to additions!)
- Adobe Creative Suite (InDesign, PhotoShop, Illustrator – open to help!)
- Bible Literacy (open to fellow faith buddies)
A Physical Goal
- Be able to do this without sounding or looking like a gorilla. (Getting rid of the pooch would be nice too.)
3 Ways to Get More Sleep
- Having a set bed time. I’m setting it for 11:30 – 7:30 (for now) which gives me a healthy 8 hours.
- Completely turning off an hour before bed. That means, winding down and turning off the computer/TV by 10:30 pm.
- (Hm, I can only come up with two.)
2013 Book-a-Month List (in no particular order; open to other good reads)
- The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo
- On the Road, by Jack Keruoac
- The Education of Henry Adams, by Henry Adams
- Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo
- Ulysses, by James Joyce
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
- The Influencing Machine, by Brooke Gladstone
- Change by Design, by Tim Brown
- Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg
- St Paul Trois Ch Teaux, by C. Joybell C.
- The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
3 Things I’ve been procrastinating on that WILL get done
- Submitting to Thought Catalog
- Calling a loved one..because in this day and age, it doesn’t happen enough.
The full list of notes are currently scribbled in my TextEdit, and I’m well aware many will remain unfulfilled. Life tends to begin (how dare it), pushing these goals to the dusty, untouched crevices of the mind. Hard to say which will stick and which will be thrown to the wind. Life is unpredictable. Either way, it’s here for the love of lists.
“You may not know where you’re going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.”
– C. Joybell C.
Happy New Year! I wish you all a fruitful 2013 with many healthy happenings.
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.