personal

Why NY

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 Tell me one last thing. Tell me why New York. You could be anywhere with what you’re trying to do – find your place – but why NYC? L.A., Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, these would all work just as well. So tell me what it is about New York that you love. Why it speaks to YOU. Don’t give me a watered down Woody Allen script either. 

Dear MW,

I decided to write you about New York, strategically, in its absence. I’m not there now; in fact, I’m situated smack in what you may call its antithesis along a windy path bordering the Smokeys, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Here it seems like God is about to turn the seasonal switch, with time teetering gently between the late night shouts of children enjoying Summer’s last call and the swaying trees beckoning Fall’s cool breeze.  It’s beautiful.

So, why New York?

Being somewhere else has forced me to recognize its intangible value. Let’s be real – nothing absolutely pertinent to my existence is strictly in New York. I can find anything I need in any other big metropolitan city (with the exception of a really good slice of pizza and the view from the Brooklyn Bridge) but even then, there are suitable (albeit sub-par) replacements.

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So, the real question then becomes, why do I belong in New York? Because at the end of the day, all we really want in anything – a significant other, a friend, a career, a city – is a sense of belonging.

It boils down to a few things:

1. Ownership

In NYC, I have two walking limbs – rusty and badly in need of a       massage at the end of the day – but dependable. They’re just like the New York subway – slow, dirty, and always running late – but they get you where you need to be.

NYC is a city for walking simply because you canIf you really   wanted, you could walk from the northern tip of Manhattan (Harlem) to the southern end (Wall Street) – all 16 miles – and be back in time for dinner. What a sight you’d see along the way! In New York, I have to place my feet on the pavement, feel the hard concrete beneath and the subway rumbling below.  Jumping in a car is not an option, unless you’re rich and can afford a car or a hefty cab fare. In other cities, there’s the luxury of escape, A/C, silence. IN New York you walk because you have to, and it’s sometimes (actually, usually) really annoying because all you want is to sit and go for a drive and listen to your music in peace without all these barking wannabe comedians, pesky tourists, beggars, germs, not to mention the unmistakable smell of crap at the Chinatown subway stop…but you walk anyway.

In the griminess, you are forced to face an unfair world. There’s no easy drive to the gated community. Rich and poor, you see it all and with each pounding step, you hurt for the city. And so, you own it.

2.  Character

Better than the public transit system are the people you see on it. One night, near midnight, I was nodding off on the train when an odd-looking trio entered. They looked nothing short of the Circus Freaks from Big Fish: a morbidly obese woman, a dwarf, and a gangly man (who looked all the more gangly next to the dwarf) with a scruffy beard. Within minutes of stepping on the train, the man began to howl like a wolf (in fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised had he turned into one) while the woman sang like an opera singer and the dwarf awkwardly stood there. There were 2 other people on the train who didn’t even look up. I pinched myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream; the only other possibility was that I was going crazy. Eventually they got off, but it was one of the most bizarre things I ever witnessed.

I’m not saying that you should move to NYC to catch this midnight act. I’m sure there are similarly odd characters residing in other cities. But New York has a higher proportion of them. You’re bound to see an energizing and most interesting collision of cultures in the most densely packed American city.

Other memorable New York characters include the fashion-forward pink-haired women, the break dancers providing unsolicited stress relief on the N while crossing the Manhattan bridge, and the jovial Caribbean men spouting newspaper pickup lines. Seeing such off-the-wall characters means I cannot possibly be ashamed of my own weirdness because someone is sure to have already outdone me. Normalcy is relative; the city has seen it all. New York’s identity is neither classy Cambridge nor star-studded Hollywood; it’s all of the above, a hodgepodge of everything. I belong, simply by being me, a patch stitched next to the suited-up corporate executive overlaying the pink-haired fashionista sewn next to the Wolf Man. New York is a colorful quilt.

3. Possibility

It’s what we crave. Brett Nelson sums it up best in 50 lessons he’s learned from living in New York.

Whatever shape the economy’s in, millions of people continue to pay an absurd premium to toil and escape in New York City. That’s because deep down—more than any specific satisfaction or vice—we all crave possibility. In that sense, NYC might be the world’s greatest brand: It makes you feel (goofy as it sounds) like anything can happen.

New York, Boston, L.A., Miami, Chicago – they are all stellar cities. Wherever you decide, you can’t go wrong, for your needs will be met. But my question to you – is life about meeting needs? Choose the city that makes you come alive. For me, it’s New York. I said it 2 years ago in this post, and I’ll say it again:

There has to be a reason I feel so happy every single time I come here.  I feel alive. It’s not the same high I get when traveling; this feeling is more realistic, more sustainable.  I still waver between feelings of sadness and exhilaration, exhaustion and caffeination, drunkenness and sobriety like a swinging pendulum. But I think the unpredictability is more manageable because my surroundings are….well, unpredictable. Walking through the streets, I skim through tongues, cuisines, and faces around the world; my stress dissipates in the bubble of anxious energy surrounding the city. 

Now sitting in Chattanooga, things are calm and good. I can live here just fine. But this age does not call me to be just fine. When I’m back in New York I’ll fall in love all over again. That’s my NY.

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When the going gets tough

go on a run. Or if you’re like me, start running, stop after a block, and evaluate why you’re huffing and puffing like you’ve been running a marathon.

This is more than a story about being out of shape. It’s about dealing with obstacles that prevent you from reaching the finish line. Because when it rains, it pours, and in the aftermath of my most recent personal storm, I emerge completely bruised, battered, broken, and… blessed.

Over the past 90 days, a series of events had led me to believe the world was surely conspiring against me. In chronological order:

1. I was robbed in Providence,

2. I started experiencing hazy vision, due to scarring on my cornea,

3. My computer died,

4. I was averaging less than 5 hours of sleep/night,

5. I parted ways with my job.

Each of these sucked.  The last was by far the hardest. There were several reasons for my dismissal from Venture for America, but the largest was that the company wasn’t a natural fit for me. We tried to make things work but ultimately discovered that it was unnatural to continue forcing myself in a position that just wasn’t cut to my shape.

Coming to this realization was difficult because I wanted so badly to contribute to the VFA mission. That was the plan. But when there lacks a natural, comfortable flow, something is probably off. I’ve learned that sometimes you must be willing to let go of what is planned, for the life that is truly right.

I can now focus on my health and peacefully take the time I need for surgery and recovery.  I can now return to writing and exercising, which had all but disappeared when work took over.  More importantly, I can now unapologetically be myself.

Last week, I whined to my friend about everything I’ve lost: my vision, my job, my health, even my cruddy old license which was stolen in Providence.

 “I’ve been ripped of everything. What’s left?”, I cried.

Family and friends. We remain.”, she said.

And that’s all I need. I was stripped of so many things associated with my ego to be reminded that none of that matters.  What matters more than anything else is the love you have and the love you give, and I am blessed beyond belief to have an incredibly supportive network where all of that flows naturally.

For those dealing with similarly “catastrophic” events, remember that you aren’t possibly important enough for the world to plot against you. Think about what you do have and what is meant to emerge will do so naturally.  If things aren’t working on a regular basis, perhaps you’re trying too hard to make two pieces of a different puzzle fit. Find another puzzle to solve.

Venture for America was a wonderful learning opportunity, and I am honored to have worked toward such a meaningful mission. Who knows what’s next. All I know is that however many more disasters it takes, I will eventually make it to the finish line.

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same…

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it”


A New Job

Life is a book and tomorrow marks a new chapter. I’m starting a new job with Venture for America as their Recruiting and Social Media Associate, and I couldn’t be more excited.

rockin’ our awesome American Apparel Venture for America fitted tees!

I’m excited because the direct mission of Venture for America is simple:  recruit the best and brightest college grads to work for two years at emerging start-ups in lower-cost cities.  Commendable, right? But what ultimately draws me to the organization is its multiple layers of potential impact.

1. Companies in less-recognized communities who otherwise lack the resources for securing top talent, now receive exactly that. (The first class of VFA fellows is pretty impressive.)

2. Communities that fellows are based in benefit from an economic boost with the influx of talent.

3. Fellows become mobilized as entrepreneurs, learning how to create business opportunities for themselves and others. Ultimately they have the potential to launch their own companies and create jobs.

4. As a nation, we reap the benefits of a revitalized economy, more jobs, and a redefined version of success.

At its core, Venture for America is out to create jobs, and rightly so. I’ve said before- youth unemployment is the issue of our generation.  It’s a cause I get incredibly riled about. 54% of Americans between the ages of 18-24 are unemployed. A sense of dissatisfaction plagues our youth, mainly because we suffer from lack of ownership in what we do. Unless our country’s employment prospects are drastically improved, America will no longer be the passport to the good life.  People will flock to places that actually have jobs, like Asia.

We need to secure America’s enterprising talent NOW. My job with Venture for America will involve identifying those individuals and engaging with them via digital media.  More broadly, I am out to convince our nation’s best that small but high-potential companies can be viable post-graduate options, if not the best.

It’s crazy to think that just a few months ago I moved to New York City with high hopes, a few contacts, and a tepid bank account. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. But thank goodness for instinct. It led me to this opportunity, this chance to work for a company whose mission resounds so strongly with my beliefs. VFA founder Andrew Yang touches on the mission in his well-written post about restoring the culture of achievement.  I am honored to join him and the rest of the VFA team, all of whom boast an impressive record of achievement and belief in the mission.

We will create 100,000 jobs (or more) by 2025. A lofty target, but I am up for the challenge.

——–

A special thank you and shout-out to my friend Sarah Kaiser-Cross who was the first person to tell me about VFA, all the way from Turkey!


2 + 2 =

Everyone is jumping on the storytelling bandwagon. I say that not in condescension, but in gladness. Before KONY 2012 went viral and was touted as a new media sensation, storytelling was already recognized as a crucial vehicle for awareness. Done well, it made all the difference between Hollywood classics versus duds, election winners versus losers, lasting brands versus unknown obscures.

It’s important, however, to distinguish between personal stories, everyday stories, and universal stories. The audience for each is different, and any storyteller will know that element is key.

With personal stories, certain events and thoughts are singularly significant to yourself and not very relevant to others. Bigger life milestones typically lend more mainstream value.  While our stories do indeed lie in the details, our biographies only come to life for others once they are structured around these bigger events.

Everyday stories- “today I did this”- are usually only interesting to people pertinent to the occasions being described. For instance, your trip to the grocery store and run-in with an old friend may only find ears among your spouse or close friends, if even. Unless, of course, there is some broader lesson; the trick in not boring people with the tedium of the everyday is drawing out a greater significance and making it clear to others.

Universal stories are what we’re all drawn to.  These are what come to mind when we think of storytelling. For years, stories have been told in easily digestible themes: Good overcoming Evil, Heroes versus Villains, Love conquering all.  Trite as they are, there is a universal level of truth that makes these messages extremely powerful.  They tug at our heartstrings, allow us to cross the barriers of time, and experience the similarities between ourselves (real and imagined).  It’s why we love stories. They affirm who we are.

For organizations and individuals seeking to scale – meaning they want to appeal to a large audience- it’s important to strike a fundamental chord. This doesn’t merely mean communicating. This means inciting something within the audience, a core belief or value, that gives meaning to our life.

Wall-E and Toy Story director Andrew Stanton gave a phenomenal TED talk on Clues to a Good Story. He says that all good stories should give a promise that what will come is worth the audience’s time, all the while, leading them to believe they are crafting the conclusion themselves.  “Don’t give them 4; give them 2+ 2.”

Whether on an individual, day-to-day, or universal level, we spend a significant chunk of time constructing stories to make sense of our world.  The difference simply lies in which of these three levels we immerse ourselves in.

I’m intrigued at the universal level. My current curiosity is how to celebrate start-ups and self-starters as a norm. I want to create a sticky but healthy narrative around seriously good ideas that push society to new heights. Through stories, we can establish a new paradigm about the upcoming generation, a generation which is bound to usher in a new era, one where meaningful projects are not anomalies and everyone is able to unlock their full potential. And while we’re at it, save the world from doomsday. Yes, Hollywood is calling- bring on the cliche “save the world” theme – but isn’t that what we live for?

A writing ingredient which, like a dash of salt, I can’t write without is: “Start as close to the end as possible.” (Thanks Kurt Vonnegut.) Disney tales end in happiness. Good triumphs over evil and the characters live happily ever after.  I hope my 2 + 2 yields wonder.  This story, our story, whatever it becomes, shall end in genuine wonder: wonder at the possibilities, wonder at what we could create if we just lived our lives with intention, wonder at what happens when talent is put to use. That’s the story I aim to create. The best stories infuse wonder.


Friend Crushes

“Nothing of me is original. I am a combined effort of everybody I’ve ever known.”
-Chuck Palahniuk

Though this tramps rudely on my artfully formed identity, it does remove some of the pressure.  I am a skilled shopaholic only because my middle school friends would berate people who left the mall empty-handed. (Thus, my impressive amount of debt now can only be attributed to them.)  I am quick with “that’s what she said” jokes (if those can be even considered jokes anymore) only because my college roommates and I flung them around all senior year.  I am a terrible bowler because…well, who cares about bowling anyway. No one I know likes it, so I don’t need to.

We can use this reasoning to deflect individual responsibility for character deficits, or things we’re ignorant about.  On the same token, we can’t take credit for our seemingly original insights. If I am a mere mishmash of the people in my life, my character is really just a representation of my taste.  To that end, I try to surround myself with people I strive to be like.

Author Courtney Martin used the term ‘friend crushes’ in her latest piece about being your own mentor in a freelance economy.  Since freelancers don’t have an easy structure to guide their work flow or career path, they must learn how to hold themself accountable to personalized goals and deadlines.  This involves seeking ‘friend crushes’:

Sometimes you have to go after a collaborator or a work gig. I’m not big on “networking”—at least the version of it talked about in women’s magazines and at some alienating conferences. But I do believe in “friend crushes.” If someone does particularly awesome work, or has a way of looking at the world I find really unique, I will go out of my way to get to know them. It’s never with a set goal in mind, but more with the faith that putting a bunch of amazing people in my orbit will guarantee cool opportunities arising down the line. 

It’s an interesting balance of individual initiative and creative collaboration, something which will become an increasingly important skill to cultivate as our world becomes less streamlined.

One of my biggest friend crushes is Joanna Galaris, a cultural chameleon who’s lived in 8 countries.  By some stroke of luck I selected her as my mentee in a college organization.  The tables have since turned and she’s now more like my mentor. Though she is just a junior in college, I think she has a much more solid grasp on the purpose of college than most people.  Here’s something she wrote recently on her blog:

In college, we are constantly bombarded with people telling us that we must follow certain academic tracks and what the complementary internships and volunteer experiences to those tracks are and that our GPA is somehow related to our self-worth. I think this is nonsense. I would like you to un-learn that information. Yes, what you study in college, particularly if you are a STEM student, will probably determine the job you get paid for at first. But there are unlimited possibilities to expand your knowledge and your skill set so that you can be competent in many fields. I am a passionate Anthropology student but I have no intention of being an Anthropologist for the rest of my life. I do hope that I will get the opportunity to do public health research in Eastern and Western Africa and find incredibly creative ways to work within local health cultures to implement public health campaigns in under-developed areas. I do want to be a medical anthropologist. But I also want to be a carpenter, a musician and a writer. I want to speak French, Swahili and Arabic fluently and improve my command of the English language. I want to better my public speaking skills and learn more about where my food comes from. And I am 100% confident that I will be successful in all of these things. 

Of course, this raises the age-old question of whether it is better to be a jack of all trades or an expert in one subject. There is value to both focus and well-roundedness.  Regardless, she touches on a fundamental component of college that is too often failing to be ignited – curiosity. 

Many have criticized American universities for becoming overly social, a wasteland of drinking escapades and drunken epiphanies. That is true, but social is not always bad. For some, the classroom is too formalized and contained for curiosity to flow.  Learning thrives instead among candid discussion with peers.  This does occur in the classroom, but personally I am more comfortable discussing serious topics among a trusted group of friends who won’t judge my oversight or lack of knowledge in a topic.  This is why I think the concept of ‘friend crushes’ cannot be underestimated. Joanna, again:

Most of us in college right now are frustrated with the quality of education that we are receiving because we are failing to personalize our college experience. If you hate being in college and you can’t wait to graduate then it’s probably your own fault. If you are studying something that does not interest you and aren’t stimulated by the classes you are taking, then change your major. If you’re failing in your area of study and your classes make you feel dumb or incompetent then you’re probably in the wrong field. You are neither dumb nor incompetent. Dedicate the majority of your time here to something that you think you’ll be excellent at. It will make you happy and make it easier to tackle the harder stuff.

For those who don’t know what they’re good at or what makes them happy, fear not. That’s what life is for. College is just one of those unique social environments for you to experiment and ignite that curiosity alongside others who are also trying to figure it out. It will come easier when you’re exposed to those ‘friend crushes’ who you admire, perhaps cooler than you, but eager to share a bit of their insight with you, and vice-versa.

My social life is one of my top priorities because I surround myself with people that are talented and have skills that I don’t have. When I spend time with my friends, I am learning from them. I am taking in who they are and absorbing all of the things that I love about them and taking notes. Having lunch with a friend can be just as inspiring as sitting through a great class taught by a brilliant professor. 

My life mantra is ‘everyone has a story’. Everyone can teach you something. So don’t be afraid to seek out those friend crushes and spend time discussing and honing the skills that will make you successful together.

How can you not have a crush on her when she takes you around the Greek islands? 

Aegina, Greece, August 2011


College, Part II

I was at a networking event the other day, mostly for the tasty hors d’oeurves and the opportunity to imbibe free drinks, but figured I’d entertain some awkward conversation so my freeloading wouldn’t be so conspicuous. When someone approached me, I’d hurriedly finish my chewing (lest the silence be deafening) and begin talking mouth full with a load of quiche crumbs tumbling out. I’d chirpily extend my hand, “Hi my name is Lynne! Nice to meet you. What’s yours?!”

Nothing like an overly enthusiastic greeting that labels the “new girl on the block!” title square in the face.

So be it. I’m a Florida girl at heart and if my sunny disposition makes people squint, get some Ray Bans.  Being from Florida in a cold city actually works to my advantage because it immediately creates an easy topic for conversation: weather. Inevitably, weather talk leads to the ultimate ‘elephant in the room’ question “What do you do?” which subsequently triggers an incessant chatter up in my prefrontal cortex on how to explain who I am, what I studied, and what on earth I think I’m doing here in the city.  I panic, realizing I have no lucid way to introduce myself. So I usually start with, “Well, I drink a lot of wine…” (true story)

I’m not in any position to bestow wisdom on how to create your perfect elevator pitch and I’m not writing this post to pretend like I’m close to figuring it out.  I probably won’t ever know how to describe myself in a witty one or two-liner and the day I can, my life will be officially pathetic.  We are more complex (and interesting) than titles allow us to be.

That said, all this weather talk reminds me of another time not so long ago when I partook in a lot of chatty mingling, albeit in a less classy environment. Memories of a frenzied freshman year of college when I rushed to sign up for every organization offering community, value, and free food flood my guilty psyche. “You’ll find your best friends here!” “Make an impact!”  Back then social situations were more beer pong and club meetings offering free pizza, less wine and cheese with keynote speakers from [insert reputable global organization].

I’m about 9 months out of the old stomping yard (college) and while it’s fair to say I’m no longer a college student, I still feel endowed with a somewhat privileged collegiate mindset. Perhaps even more than I did during my four lecture-sitting years.

I don’t roll out of bed and spring to class anymore, and I don’t bump into people I try to avoid every five minutes.  Instead, I dress up, hopstop to work among suited up strangers, and carry a brown tote that looks slightly like an old man’s briefcase (it was the only one at the thrift store that could fit my dang laptop!).  During my subway ride, I whip out my cranny nook and read up on design. Trust agents. The digital sphere. Or “how to get rid of that gut!”, which just conveniently happened to be on the latest cover of Shape.

After graduation, the learning doesn’t stop.  My current line of work forces me to think digital, social media, and e-commerce while tasting new products and writing about them (which involves wine…what a bummer).  It keeps me busy, but the knowledge appetite is still not satisfied. Curiosity widens like the mouth of a hungry child with a bottomless stomach. Now that I don’t have professors to direct my questions to (ironically whom, I barely spoke to when I was actually in college), I am more curious than ever.

As a newcomer to the city, I am still trying to determine the activities and people that are worth my limited time and energy.  Of course, in order to play the game, you have to put up with some ‘small talk’. Slowly but surely, in this so very refined adult life, you whittle down the prospects to your truest, deepest interests, one glass – escargot – smooth talking schmooze-at a time.

Tomorrow I begin a wine tasting class called ‘Raise Your Wine IQ’.  (Shameless plug- my boss is teaching and you can register here!) I’m also enrolled in a month-long online course called “How to launch your startup idea for less than $5000” which sounds gimmicky, but I’m getting information far more valuable than what I sat through in college without spending a penny.  The class is being offered through the education startup Skillshare, a cool company that is trying to revolutionize education. I’m very interested to see how I can apply what I learn to a possible venture.  Throw in my dance class and bible study, compounded with the professional life, and I have my own class schedule!  I’ve never been more excited to learn in my life!

The Florida sunshine is probably blinding you but before you put on your blockers, keep this in mind:

“Your 20’s are your ‘selfish’ years. It’s a decade to immerse yourself in every single thing possible. Be selfish with your time, and all the aspects of you. Tinker with shit, travel, explore, love a lot, love a little, and never touch the ground.”

Kyoko Escamilla (a.k.a Brain-Food)

Even without a bell tower or quad, the collegiate mindset stays for however long you allow it. I am experimenting and exploring more now than the past four years.  Do I regret not doing more of this when I was actually in college? Yes and no, but it’s never too late.


Credo

Idealism at its best, but it’s always important to set missions and goals.

1. I believe the next generation is charged with a challenge: to coalesce gracefully with a rapidly evolving world,

2. I believe the current status quo in institutional education does not equip us with relevant tools to meet this challenge, nor does it produce the best version of our selves,

3. I believe in devoting our technological resources toward empowering individuals to explore a wide array of interests, then providing opportunities to hone the skills deemed meaningful to each of us, 

4. I believe in the need for a creation-based platform that displays our works as a learning package for others to follow,

5. I believe individuals should create their own curriculum: learning by consistently producing content that contributes to public discourse and education, and doing by connecting with the right people on collaborative projects, 

6. I believe in using said platform to simultaneously craft our individual and shared biographies,

7. I believe that when we creatively express, discover, and collaborate among various disciplines, we can reach an unprecedented level of synergy in the world,

8.I believe that by creating this platform our generation will be more than able to meet the challenges presented,

9. And I believe the world will be a better place when we each find our bliss, beautifully giving to the world what it deserves of us.