Today marks the first anniversary of when I packed my belongings into a U-Haul and left the farmlands of New England and landed in this concrete jungle. Reflecting on what this experience has meant to me thus far, I was able to glean some nuggets of wisdom that I have picked up along the way. There are the many lessons on how to exist in New York, such as how to tell if a cab is taken, or where to get the best tacos (fyi, that would be Cascabel Taqueria on 108th and Broadway). Then there are the lessons on how to truly experience New York, meaning redefining your understanding of what constitutes as “smelly” and learning how to be okay with strangers touching you on the subway. However, I really want to focus on how I have changed. How have these skyscrapers and never-sleeping streets left their mark on me?
- Be grateful for what you have, and share in those blessings.
Economic justice has been on my radar for a very long time. From personal experiences to classes on frameworks of poverty, I thought I had a pretty good grasp. I have even been hired to do trainings on the subject. But nothing ever prepared me to experience the wealth disparity I found here. There is something so haunting about seeing the same woman day after day asking for money to survive while standing in the shadow of the Trump Tower. I live in a nice neighborhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I have a good paying job and I can afford to experience many of the wonderful thing about this city. But I have to remember that the New York that I live in is not everyone’s New York. In my daily life I need to work on cultivating kindness towards others and assist in lessening their pain.
- Insignificance is a frame of mind
In New York, you are one of eight million faces that share in this collective experience. Your daily actions aren’t noticed here. You could walk out of the house in a poncho and some pajama pants and most people won’t bat an eye. But this can’t justify complacency. I still need to get up each morning and ask myself “what are the ways I am going to impact the world today?” Even if I don’t know the legacy I am leaving on this place, it is still happening. I am not insignificant. We all have a tremendous agency to impact our community and ourselves. It is easy to forget that here and grow cold to each other, thinking that our lives don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The opposite is actually true. This beautiful landscape of New York is a tapestry woven of individual stories collected over time. Each of these narratives has crafted this community. Without my contribution, this city would have still existed, but wouldn’t have been the same.
- Embrace the uncomfortable.
I am awkward as hell. Anyone who has ever seen me at a cocktail party can verify this. Small talk is difficult for me. When I meet people and they ask what the best part of New York has been since moving here, my mind will blank and I’ll stammer and say something like “uhhh…I don’t know, all of it,” which in reality makes it sound like I haven’t left my apartment since June 2014. At social events, I will follow the person I know best, not always knowing how to engage others in conversations.
Despite being filled with people, this city is isolating and lonely. People are not always trusting, are very focused on the things that impact them, and have already set social circles. It’s hard as an adult to make friends here. Do you know whose problem that is to fix? Mine. There are times that I have to move beyond my comfort zone and just get over the fact that I need to embrace that initial awkwardness. Once I can move past that awkward point, the rest is down hill and I can focus on true relationship building. Reaching out to new people or trying new things is hard. Being isolated and alone is hard. Learn to pick your hard.
- People who are bored are boring.
I remember so many times when living in Massachusetts I talked about how bored I was. I ran the same routes, ate at the same restaurants, and went about my daily existence as though my life was never meant to be epic. Were there things I could have done? Sure. But it was easier to be lazy and complain about life rather than go experience it. Here, the towering buildings, bright lights and constant bustle remind me that I have no excuse for not participating in the world around me. There are so many possibilities to engage which lead to new experiences. It is my fault if I am bored or in a rut. It doesn’t matter where in the world I live, there are always opportunities to connect and rejoice in my surroundings. If I don’t take advantage of those gifts, I need to recognize that this is a choice I made. There is a time and a place for familiarity, but I will never grow sticking within those confines. I am the cause for my own mundane. Conversely, I am the cause of my own epic journey.
- Learn to Breathe.
I have this thing I call “mid-town” rage. It is basically the rising level of anxiety I feel when I go below 59th street. When people think about the franticness of New York, they are often envisioning mid-town where you are basically on sensory overload all the time. While this level of pace is not even remotely true for the rest of the city, there is something to be said for the high-intensity reputation we have. There are two tempos in New York: fast and faster. I am a fast talker, a fast worker, a fast eater and a fast thinker. This place is ideal for me. However, as I recently discovered, constantly living in this pace can have negative impacts on your health and wellbeing, your work product, and even your relationships with other people. I am certainly not going to slow down. That would drive me nuts. However, the recognition that there are moments where I need to take a deep breath, reflect upon my experience, and savor the richness of my life. This is going to be what keep me sustained in this highly driven, highly motivated city
So here’s to you, New York and all of your collective stories that have had an impact on me. Thank you for the past 365 days and I am looking forward to see who I am in 365 more.