I slept in a laundry room for $350 a month. I had no fashion sense whatsoever.
I was 22 years old and making $12,000 a year in San Francisco, CA. I really did sleep in a laundry room for $350 a month. I covered the washer and dryer with Peruvian ponchos. I taught for Americorps. I loved my students and my life. And then late one night, I saw my favorite student eating out of the trash. I later learned her family was under water with debt and totally broke. They lived in the projects and the food stamp money ran out weeks ago. It did not seem fair that a 13 year old was sent out to find food from the dumpsters in the Mission. Everyone always asks me why I went to law school. That moment is why I went to law school. Well, that moment and another one which I will tell you about now. I call it the magic moment.
The minute I got off the train in Grand Central Terminal on 42nd street, I knew I would move to New York City. It was the magic moment. I visited on a break we had during our year of service at Americorps. I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and tennis shoes. My jeans were too big. My shirt was too big. I told you, no sense of fashion. I was 22 and did not care. I was in New York City. I wanted to walk every city block. I wanted to talk to every person that passed. I wanted to live here. Then I did, for six years.
But like anything, it is only when you go back years later that it really hits you. All of the lessons and reasons you love and leave and come back and love again become clear. I think every person in the world should live in New York City for a period of time. And work in a restaraunt and learn chess. But for now, let’s focus on why New York City is the world’s best teacher.
You never feel alone. Starting your own company, or starting over in general can be isolating and consuming. I once did not leave my apartment for a week straight because I needed to make enough money to cover my rent and did not know how. That’s not a good way to make money, but what did I know? I just started a business. I knew nothing. I felt alone. In NYC, there are people everywhere. Millions of them walking and talking and laughing and doing things you have no clue about. If you ever feel lonely, just take a walk in Manhattan. Pick a block, any block, and for whatever reason, you feel better. The people that you will never know make you feel like you belong. And we all want to belong to something, especially when we are creating and reinventing.
Speaking of walking, you walk a lot in NYC. Science proves that the brain lights up after 20 minutes of walking. The neurotransmitters fire more rapidly which equals creativity. Even if you live in a central location, you are probably walking 20 minutes to get to the subway station and then to go to the platform. The same is true when you get off. Walking is the secret ingredient. NYC is the recipe that requires this ingredient in all of its dishes. More walking, better mood, more creative output, happier life.
You learn to adapt. I once got drooled on by a woman on a subway. On my blue dress shirt, and there was a lot of it. I could have yelled at her, but instead, I switched seats. She was asleep and would have done it again. She looked tired and I did not want to wake her up. Moving seemed easier. When you walk into a train, you find a spot. No matter how crowded it is, people move and mold and hold on a little tighter to get where they want to go. In the summer, you buy small air conditioning units to cool your apartment. If you wear high heels to work, you pack them in your purse and put them on last minute so you can walk to work a little faster in your flats. You adapt. In New York City, you must adapt. Same is true for all of us. Oh, and the drool dried by the time I went to work. It usually does. No one noticed. They usually don’t. I hope she felt rested after her nap.
You learn to appreciate conveniences. In NYC, you do not have to do your own laundry, or go to the supermarket, or own a car. You can drop your clothes off and have food delivered and call Uber with a click of a button. The subway runs all night and goes everywhere. You start to focus your time on the most important things in your life, and outsource convenience for everything else.
Forward motion, always. Once an old lady tripped outside of the 6 train on 14th street. Then she got run over by a group of people on foot. They did not do it maliciously, but if they stopped, they would have got run over too. I am not saying you should run over old ladies, but I do think there is something valuable about continuing momentum and moving forward. Every day. The old lady was fine, by the way. People helped her up, and then do you know what she did? She kept moving forward and got on the train.
No one looks the same. I went to college at a University where everyone looked like me. The same was true for my high school. The opposite is true in NYC. No one looks the same. It makes you question everything you ever thought and learned. It makes you curious. It makes you wonder, where are these people coming from and going? What do they care about? How can I help them? These are the same questions that make a business successful or a life fufilling.
Barriers break down fast. No matter how many times you are bumped or nudged on a train, you just know it is going to happen. Yesterday, I was holding hands with a 55 year old man from Nigeria. I don’t know his name and he does not know mine. But there was a small space on a metal bar on the A train, so for a number of stops, our hands touched. Neither of us cared. We probably could have talked more and become friends. But it was early and I was hungry so we kept the conversation short. But there was no barrier. They were gone. Life is better without barriers.
It’s hard to find balance. Restaurants, parks, museums, bars, clubs, friends, dates, who has time to relax in NYC? Every time I go, I tell myself this is going to be a more balanced trip. Then I see as many people as I can and sleep way less than I need to. NYC is the single hardest place to find balance. The level of stimulation is out of control. You have to work even harder to find balance, but if you can find it there, you will find it anywhere. I get a little better every time, but it is hard. Most things that are worthwhile take some dedication and practice. Balance is no exception.
Everyone ‘knows someone.’ If you are starting a business or looking for a job, tell the people you meet about it. Everyone knows someone in NYC, and they are happy to connect you. You could probably build an entire business telling people what you do in the train, and then ask them to connect you to someone they know. Maybe I will do that experiment. How to build a 6 figure business by riding the subway all day. Or you can do it. But someone should.
People are nice, resilient, and creative. Anyone who tells you, I hate New Yorkers, or New Yorkers are so mean have likely never been to New York, but certainly never lived in NY. If you look at 9/11, you realize that New Yorkers love their city and the people that live there. People from all over the world find a home in NYC. There is a fierce loyalty that is unlike anything I have ever felt. People are proud of their city. They are helpful and kind. The may be abrasive, but so is the real world. I’ll take abrasive and helpful any day.
People always ask me, “When is the best time for me to move to New York City?” I used to reply by saying, “When you have a lot of money, or when there is no where else in the world you would rather live.” But I want to add a third and it has nothing to do with money.
Because sometimes you want to feel what NYC is really all about. When you walk through Times Square at 5 am to find it jam packed with people who have traveled thousands of miles to see the place you get to call home. You want to jog in Central Park or watch the fountain change colors at Columbus Circle. You want to go ice skating with your brother in Rockefeller Center or eat at the Shake Shack with your sister. You want to toss a dollar into the break dancers hat on the subway car on your train ride out to Coney Island where you will ride a roller coaster and feel the wind in your hair. You want to eat a slice of pizza with your best friend and talk about his new dating life after a brutal divorce. You want to fall in love with someone new and walk around the city on a warm summer night holding hands. You want to watch chess battles in Washington Square Park and eat Falafel at Mamoun’s. You want to indulge with cheesecake on your dad’s birthday. You want to watch a sunset at Rockaway Beach or drink bubble tea in Flushing or sip on cafe con leche in Washington Heights.
But more than anything, among eight million people, you want to know it. To feel it. To believe it. With all your heart, you hope that maybe for you, in this moment, anything is possible. Anything can happen.
You want to wake up in a city that never sleeps and say, I can make it here. I am ready for the magic. And when that moment happens, when you know you are ready for the magic, that’s when you should move to New York City.
If you are interested to bring Brian to speak in your next conference, event or organization, please contact Andres Escobar, Head of Business Development, at email@example.com