Posts tagged “#lynne guey

Season of Change

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

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

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

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

In no meaningful order, my top 7 takeaways:

CHANGE IS INEVITABLE.

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

The work shouldn’t stop here.

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

PROCESS, PROCESS, PROCESS – It’s everything. 

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

A ONE SIZE ALL APPROACH DOES NOT WORK. 

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

IT HELPS TO HAVE AN ADVOCATE AT THE TOP.

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

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

YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE FAKING IT. 

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

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

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

CHECK YOUR ASSUMPTIONS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hello Again, New York

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!

20131130-004650.jpgShould 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.

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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.


The Backstory

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Bad hair reporting days. You rarely get to see this.

What makes a good story? Writers are often judged by what appears below their byline, but there is so much more to a good story than that. The public rarely gets to see the exciting grunt work behind the scenes. An initial story idea, like any entrepreneurial venture, goes through several pivots and iterations, before the golden story materializes.

Pitching to my editors is my favorite part of the job, but it’s also the hardest. Balancing what the public wants to know with your moral compass of what you think they should know is tricky.

You spend a lot of time swatting bugs behind the scenes.

You spend a lot of time swatting bugs behind the scenes.

There are a million backstories behind the final product. The vetting process – determining what is worth writing about, what people will like, what they should know – involves asking the right questions. What are readers curious about? What is their perception on a topic? What do they know that I don’t?

I’m creating a newsletter to involve my friends and family in story development. Each week, I’ll share stories I’ve posted, stories in the pipeline, and stories that need some fleshing out. I want to hear your thoughts on the stories in queue. Think of it as a sounding board, and your chance to add input to a story before it is published.

My strategy thus far has been to post a question on Facebook and Twitter. “Hey, what internship advice do you have for new interns?” “Do you know anything about Atlanta? Let me know!” It can get annoying. So, one other purpose of this newsletter is to reduce my clutter and create a targeted community of people who do actually want to participate in the development of stories without bombarding everyone else’s social feeds.

If you’re interested in participating, here’s the link to sign-up and feel free to forward to anyone else who is interested:

https://tinyletter.com/lynneguey

ps. the inspiration for a newsletter came from Ann Friedman, who wrote this helpful post on How Writers Can Use Email To Share Their Work. Her weekly newsletter is a mix of her original work, suggested reads, pie charts, and funny gifs.


Experimenting with Isolation

It started with a simple suggestion.

When I was teaching in Italy two summers ago, one of my host Dads suggested that I check into a nunnery.  Something told me this wasn’t a compliment.  I didn’t think spending all day with 8-year old Italian children had made me that wild, but who knows. Then he clarified,

“I recommend it for everyone. Silence can be good. We all need to be alone sometimes.”

Those words stuck. Not so much the nunnery part, but being alone. Up to that point, solitude had been a bit of a foreign concept. In college, I was pretty social and regarded as an extrovert. That summer too, I was constantly surrounded by people: at camp with students during the day, at home with my host family at night, and at various destinations with camp counselors on my travels in between. My sole alone time was before going to bed or in the shower . He’s right, I thought. I could use some alone time.

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This is what I imagine the solitary road to look like.

Since then, I’ve held an odd fascination with isolation. I’d dream of going on my own “Eat Pray Love” sabbatical. I found myself leaving a lot of social functions early to be alone. I arranged my current living space so I could spend a lot of time with myself.  I live with strangers who work long hours and are usually out of the apartment, so my space is my space and my time my time. It may sound strange, but I’m really comfortable with it. Spending nights holed in my room reading and writing, once uncommon for me, is now routine.

I still had never traveled alone. I tried several times that summer in Italy but somehow there was always something that got in the way (a last minute travel partner or cancelled trains)…I even ended up looking into nunneries but they were quite pricey and I couldn’t communicate with the nuns on the phone.

Then, two weekends ago, a $89 round-trip Amtrak deal to Montreal floated into my inbox. My first inclination was to share it with friends in New York to see if they wanted to join me on an adventure. But then I realized that this was my chance! This could be my “eat pray love”. My itinerary. My trip.

Selfishness ignited. Alone I went. 2 nights and a full day in Montreal, 18 hours on the train (9 hours each way), a little over 40 hours in Montreal, for a grand total of 60 hours in isolation. I was so EXCITED.

Of course, it wasn’t complete isolation. There were people around. I talked. People talked to me (sometimes in French). It wasn’t a silent retreat. The majority of my exchanges revolved awkwardly around my standalone nature.  This is a typical conversation when people saw me eating by myself:

“Are you waiting for someone?”

“Um, no. just me.”

“Are you visiting Montreal?”

“Yeah, for the weekend. Wanted to get away from New York.” (my way of signaling I wanted to end the conversation)

“Ohh, I see.”

At which point people would cautiously back away, assuming my boyfriend had just dumped me or I was a stressed out New Yorker on the brink of a meltdown, and that basically my life was in shambles. None of which was true, of course. Not entirely at least.

Most of the time, I kept to myself. The best part was the efficiency. By 4 pm Saturday, I had climbed Mont Royal, suffered near cardiac arrest waiting an hour in line for the city’s best poutin, embarrassed myself by bargaining at a Quebec designer’s fashion sale (note to self: it is not proper protocol to bargain outside of Asia), and consumed a half bottle of wine at a university cafe (judged by onlooking McGill University students studying for finals).

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In drunken glory, I reached the peak of my trip when I trudged through two feet of snow to the top of Mont Royal, 200 meters above ground to the sight of a city blanketed in white. The awe and wonder lasted about 42 seconds. I didn’t have anyone to ooh and ah with. So, as I slid back down the slippery slope of the mountain, I wondered – ‘What next?” If I’d been traveling with others, we would be running behind schedule (which would have surely been frustrating) but that wasn’t the problem. This time, I didn’t know what to do. I had no one to share the beautiful sight with. What’s more is that it was nearing happy hour and I was far from happy. Somehow in a matter of minutes, I had fallen from my highest high at the top of Mont Royal to major depressive disorder.

I mustered the energy to enter a bar, order a beer, and make friends. Something told me the latter probably wouldn’t happen when I pulled out my phone and discovered free wi-fi.  “No, Lynne, no.” I connected anyway. 15 minutes later, I was entering my 8th completed cycle of the vicious Facebook-Instagram-Twitter -Gmail wheel, which is where the anti-social part of this saga begins. Few things I can say with certainty, but I say with the surest certainty that scrolling through your social media feeds while surrounded by real living human flesh is the quickest way to feel like the loneliest person in the world. I left the bar a complete mute.

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My peaceful, solitary view from the train

I returned to my hostel cold and tired. Earlier in the day, a McGill University student had recommended a vintage nightclub. “Don’t worry,” she said reassuringly, “You won’t feel awkward going by yourself. I’m sure you’ll make plenty of friends.” That I needed reassurance I could make friends was enough to convince me I didn’t want to go. By 11 pm, I was packed and ready to catch my train for the next day.

The train ride back was markedly different from the train there. Two days earlier, the excitement of my solo adventure flooded my thoughts as I undocked at Montreal’s Central Station. Anything was possible.  I dared myself to make a new friend, meet a guy at a bar, or go crazy wild. None of that happened. Maybe that says I’m anti-social, a hermit incapable of connection. (Okay, calm down Lynne. You’re just introverted and shy.) But after 60 hours of little meaningful social contact, my feeling of loneliness had escalated to the point where I truly believed I had no friends in the world.

So, what can be gleaned from this adventure in isolation? That I’m an extremely melodramatic individual, prone to depression and marred by rejection? That solo trips yield delusions? Yes and yes. But more important than that, once I gained my senses back, I learned that we are not meant for isolation – –  at least not for more than 24 hours. It’s not healthy. Also, social media does not make you more social. Shocking, I know. However, it does supplement many social activities nicely which is why I would never completely eliminate it if you want to stay connected to a larger group. It’s a tool to document memories and keep track of interactions. (Case in point: while writing this post, I turned to my Instagram photos and Foursquare check-ins as a way of remembering the chronology of events and places I went to on my trip. In just two weeks, I had forgotten a lot.)

My eagerness to be alone has taught me several things. One is that we are social beings, even the most introverted of us. We need external stimulation to prevent us from going insane. Another is that independence, while efficient and empowering, does not make the best memories. Yet I had to experience a taste of it, in the form of loneliness, to know how to appreciate others.  For so long, I’ve selfishly believed my time alone was immensely more valuable than time spent with other people. I wanted efficiency in personal interaction and while listening to people talk, I wondered why they couldn’t get to the point. “What are you trying to tell me? Do we really have to stand here and make small talk?” I now see that people who are willing to allow me to enter their lives, be it through small talk or deeper exchange, are doing me a favor.

Of course it’s a matter of balance; it is never ideal to hear someone ramble on and on about nothing. And we all need our space and time. But when you can find that perfect volume where you can tune into other people’s stations without overpowering the own thoughts in your head – that’s a sweet spot.

To say that we each have our own story is only partially true.  We do have our own story, but we are not always the main characters. Pilots need passengers to take off. Otherwise it’s just a flight and not an adventure.

Note to friends: this saga reveals a slightly maniacal side of me. I am aware that I have many dear friends (including some of you readers) and appreciate your love and concern if you were worried . I am fine (usually) 🙂


editing, defined.

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I attended an editing workshop at The Poynter Institute this week. In some ways, I don’t really know why. I’ve never held an editing role in my life. I’m not particularly enthused by the thought of reading over other people’s work. And for all I know, editing is the red markup you get back when your writing is bad. Who would ever aspire to be that person, that word janitor?

Beyond reason, I went to the workshop anyway, and I’m glad I did. It certainly didn’t hurt that Poynter is conveniently located in St. Petersburg, Florida, home to soft white sand that sifts seamlessly through your toes and a sun that coalesces beautifully with your skin.  I figured that my indulgent beach lounging would be justified if I acquired some form of knowledge in addition to a bronze glow (which ended up being more lobster-red than anything).

The other attendees at the seminar were  -surprise!- actual editors, and way more accomplished than me. I was humbled to sit alongside some really impressive individuals. Shout-out to Lisa, a news editor who works for a news wire I can’t pronounce (the Swedish version of the AP) and who travelled all the way from Stockholm! The 15 of us learned tips on line editing, brainstorming story ideas, coaching reporters, and social media. But for me, the most important takeaway was quite basic: an understanding of what an editor actually does.

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Editors of all experience levels, w/ Poynter Faculty

Traditionally, the image of an editor conjures up images of a white male, legs perched on a desk, brooding over a newspaper mark-up or proceeding over a meeting. It’s a grand representation of man’s authority over what is “fit to print”. That image is partially true. But there is also a softer, less tactile element that involves the relationship between editor and writer. I learned that editing, at its core, is less about being a hardline news guru as it is helping to nurture and coach writers to construct stories in a way that enhances their value beyond the individual lens.

So, the most basic question an editor must ask is: “What to look for in a piece of writing?” Looking over someone else’s work is a huge responsibility. The first temptation is to rewrite from our own lens. All spelling, grammar, and syntax aside, I learned that there are really only 2 important things to look for: theme and clarity.

Theme  – A story is only good when you know what it’s about. At the end of a story, you should be able to easily identify the core message.  If you can’t, that’s a problem. Determine the focus of the story and be sure that every section directly adds to that theme. This eliminates redundancy and trims fat, builds muscle.

Clarity – This goes hand-in-hand with theme. If you know the theme, find a way of mapping it out – clearly. Kelley Benham, a writer and editor for the Tampa Bay Times (whose recently Pulitzer Prize-nominated piece you should read) recommended “running a chronology comb” through the writing. Making a timeline with a logical procession of events usually helps to construct stories with absolute simplicity and clarity.

I found these guidelines reassuring and helpful. Previously when given a piece to edit, I would strap on my writing helmet and enter battle. Never was the pen a mightier sword as it slashed through words and corrected spelling like a gallant warrior. (Allow me, itt was the closest I’d get to feeling like my life was an action movie. These days, it’s not so glorious when everything is done on a blinking screen; I type louder to make the process seem more dramatic.)

But in reality, making the paper bleed is not an editor’s job. It’s the reverse, actually; becoming a word janitor is what happens when you don’t let the writer do what he or she is supposed to do: write.

John Carroll, the former editor of the Los Angeles Times, advised editors to cultivate a lazy streak:

“What’s better than rewriting is to take an extra few minutes diagnosing the story’s one or two biggest problems (but not all of them) and return it to the reporter for adjustments. This is good for all concerned. You won’t get bogged down doing someone else’s jo b while oher stories pile up. And the reporter will be able to take pride in the story. The story’s minor problems tend to get straightened out in the rewrite process.

Good editors often have a lazy streak. Instead of impulsively jumping into the fray, put your feet up and figure out how to get somebody else to do the work. Things usually turn out better that way.”

Rather than rewrite, an editor’s job is to discuss the story and make it culturally relevant, together, with the writer. It is to make the story so deep, rich, and revealing of something deeply embedded within our human nature. It is to find a story that rises above the individual lens, that spreads its wings beyond the mere facts. That’s editing.

I knew I was attracted to it for a reason.

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*Many thanks to the staff at Poynter for a well-organized and insightful workshop. I highly recommend their training programs to those in the journalism profession looking to sharpen their skills. Special thanks to Tom Huang of the Dallas Morning News who led the seminar and encouraged us to find our “personal dimension” to this line of work. The story will continue to evolve, but I think, just maybe, I’ve found the beginning scraps.  

Confidence in the Face of Failure

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. 🙂


Why I’m Back on Facebook

“You have to get offline. I’ll say it again. You HAVE GOT TO GET OFFLINE. YOU HAVE TO GET F***ING OFF F***ING LINE.”  – advice from legendary E. Jean Carroll, of Ask E. Jean, America’s longest currently running advice column

Better advice could not be more emphatically expressed. I took it to heart for 4 months. 4 months of purposeful separation, living life offline, unplugged…or at least as unplugged as life can be when you have a smart phone and still tweet and email and you know, do almost everything except Facebook + Instagram. Still, give a girl some credit: pulling the plug on Facebook was a big deal, kind of like moving to a desert island. I even wrote a goodbye letter.  (melodramatic twentysomething)

I remained pretty social on the island. Before I knew it, 3 months had gone by. One night I thought about the social network and tried to log back in. There were several tell-tale signs I had been gone for a while; for one, I couldn’t remember my log-in. My web history was clogged with news articles instead of the usual Facebook photo albums and in fact I momentarily forgot who some people in those albums even were. Months before, merely typing www—>> triggered automatic completion of “site-thou-shall-not-be-named”.com, and now… LinkedIn has replaced it as the most frequently visited site. If ever there were a sign of professional maturity (or boringness)…

Upon sailing Home a few days ago, Facebook almost seemed foreign, like returning to college after being abroad for a couple months. Soon, though, the falsely jolly, slickly disingenuous first-world details that had ceased to exist during my time away came trickling back into consciousness. Bloop! There went the little red notification. And here we go again…

Ignorance is bliss, I had told myself. But what I’ve realized is that the problem was never really about Facebook or the technology or all the obnoxious statuses out there; the problem was me. I needed to clear out my own cache of judgement.

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I deactivated my Facebook and Instagram accounts on 12/12/12. Since it was supposedly the end of the world, I decided to enter the ‘new’ world with a clean slate. I wanted to return to the root of being social without the distraction of a buzzing phone, without feeling compelled to take pictures of my brunch, and without the aid of a red Facebook notification to alter my serotonin level. I entered detox mode.

My primary justification was personal. I thought that my personhood – the very root of my identity – had been reduced to a set of data points on Facebook. I was living my life out online. How could I allow a single website to simplify my life to a bunch of photos, text, and information? It was naval-gazing for sure, but I couldn’t shake it.  So, I left to return to my offline roots but not before posting a status on Facebook asking people to send me their email; I would write occasionally with life updates, philosophical meanderings, and other angsty Thought Catalog-like topics. Several people did reach out and I was happy to keep my social network limited to these newfound thought followers, family, and close friends. It was my way of keeping in touch.

Life offline was revolutionary & simple. It gave me greater appreciation for things beyond the digital realm such as parks, museums, and coffee shops with no wi-fi. I spent a month at home in Tennessee, a month in San Francisco, another month eating a bunch of really really good food for my job back in New York. Normally, I’d be sharing & posting like it was my job but I restrained. I just ate, just observed, just explored. The ‘justs’ were more than enough. No one was validating the awesomeness of my adventure, so I could focus on the actual act of exploring. It was great. There were moments when I wondered if I was missing out (and for sure, I later found out there was A LOT) but I was aware of the really important things.  In fact I remember secretly gloating that I knew about the new Pope before some of my Facebook-hounding friends did.  (Twitter – 1, Facebook – 0)

Ultimately, however, I discovered a glaringly simple truth through deeper offline conversations : we’re lonely. Some more than others, but at the end of the day, it’s a large reason why social networks like Facebook and Twitter have taken off. Introvert or extrovert, we’re all searching for some form of connection.

Yet connection is thrown around like free lunch these days. Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook mission, “to make the world more open and connected” is noble. But just like lunch, real connection never comes free. You don’t amass friends and spit stuff into the never-ending stream of content and expect connection to magically appear. (You also don’t sell that information to marketers, but that’s another topic for another day.) Facebook is not the magic ingredient. If we truly want connection, we must first change ourselves.

When I logged back onto Facebook a few days ago, updating my profile with an affirming Facebook status “They always come back”, I found myself digging back into connections – weak, strong, and the many in-betweens. While catching up with the lives of those I had almost forgotten about, I was reminded of life’s continuous march. Over the course of our lives, things happen, people change. In this digital age, social platforms are there to document it all. While I traveled coast to coast, going from San Francisco to New York, life for others did not stop and wait for me to press ‘play’ to be reenacted. People continued to post, comment, like, and tag whether I was there to participate or not. I had missed a Canadian friend’s trip to New York with her band. I had missed lovely photos from an acquaintance’s wedding. I had no idea the company I worked for had uploaded and tagged an embarrassingly hilarious video of me. (Self-scrutiny commence.)

Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that my view of personhood must evolve like the times. I am nostalgic for a Web that no longer exists. I’d like to think of myself, as author Zadie Smith puts it, “a private person, a person who is a mystery, to the world and to herself.”  But I am naive. I’ve taken 4 months time (and an entire Facebook timeline of inner sciamachy) to set aside this identity crisis. I come back because I want to write. Truthfully. Part of that means knowing people. Social media is a way to be part of a conversation you’re creating together with fellow beings. For all its clutter, social media can be rich and multi-faceted. On other days, it can be also be self-glorifying, artificial, and so damn annoying that I wonder if I should just disconnect again.

But that’s life. Life is not always beautiful. Take it or leave it; I choose to take it. Not being on social media means I will simply know less about what is going on with other people.  That is not a bad thing. But even so, I firmly believe humans are not made to be fully removed from each other, whether that is physically or virtually. Do you want to participate and steer the conversation toward good? Yesterday’s Boston Marathon terror serves as an example. People gathered updates and news real-time to help those in need.  Coverage through social media was a mix of qualitative and informative, creating a complete (while heartbreaking) picture of the unfolding scene. The Internet, if we choose, really can be a useful tool for good.

For all its good, though, we must be reminded that the data points we generate can underrepresent reality. Living offline is messier and more complex. Walking away from social media, at times, is not necessarily practical, as we live in an age where many of our communities and lives are built on these platforms. So what I’m granting myself is an approach, a mindset: one of connection rather than comparison. It’s easy to look at the filtered photos and artuflly written statuses as gunk that clogs our news feed. But lighten up. On the days you peer into the screen of your laptop and simply can’t find any semblance of relation to your perfectly posed fellow human beings, just remember that what you see is a mere half-reality and carefully selected portion of life. Life isn’t simply the story you tell about yourself on the Internet. It’s merely one of many.

This is my relapse. I’m back to listen, contribute, and document the evolution of our virtual selves. This time, I realize I am not above it all. While I can’t promise zero judgment, I welcome your sharing. In a sense, I agree with Zuckerberg: our selves evolve and like it or not, it’s a story worthy capturing.