What I’ve been doing
Two friends texted me today saying they missed the blog. One included a crying emoji.
Sometimes I go weeks posting every day. Sometimes I go a while without, especially if I’m away from home.
It was a lot.
I learned about the city and how to navigate it—both physically and emotionally. But I also learned a ton about myself—what I’m afraid of and what my values actually are.
And I’d like to reflect on both.
What I learned about New York City
Every day in Brooklyn felt like I was scribbling things down on an imaginary pros/cons list. I felt one of two emotions at any given time:
- “I can’t wait to get back home to Maryland.”
- “I never want to leave this place.”
There was no in-between. Let’s start with the negatives.
1) No established community
I had no clue how comfortable I was here in Annapolis until I went to a space where I didn’t know anybody. My mom and sister live 15 minutes away. Several best friends are within a 10-minute drive. I have an incredible roommate.
Throw this same man into a neighborhood of 150,000 people where he doesn’t know a soul…It’s daunting.
It took me three uncomfortable days to admit that I was lonely. My ego repressed the thought because I pride myself on being a social butterfly, someone who makes friends easily, and a guy who can strike up a conversation with just about anyone.
But I couldn’t hide from it. After a few phone calls with friends, I could physically feel how safe I felt talking with familiar voices. I tried to remind myself that any city that wasn’t Annapolis would make me feel that way.
I went out on my own a bunch. I got solo dinners a few times. I worked out and went rock climbing almost every day. I went to meetups.
But I didn’t feel at home. So I made it a mission to ask everyone I met in New York the same question: “How did you build community here?”
More on that later.
2) The cost
My buddy spent $450 in four days in Brooklyn. And he doesn’t even drink alcohol.
What the fuck.
I can’t speak for his spending habits, but I can confirm that if I went out all the time in New York, it’d only be a matter of time until I needed my mom to pick me up and drag me back to Maryland.
A beer that costs $3 elsewhere is $7 in New York. To guess the monthly rent of an apartment, simply take what you think it is and multiply it by two or three. I started laughing when a bartender told me my cocktail would be $21. She was not laughing.
3) The trash
It didn’t just stink. It also totally desensitized me to the sight of litter.
I was walking behind a kid and his mom. He opened his Dr. Pepper bottle and let the cap fall on the sidewalk. They both saw it and just kept walking.
Enraged, I extended my arm and prepared to bend down and pick it up. But then I looked to my right and saw ten times as much garbage scattered on the concrete. Regretfully, I just went about my day.
There was a sense of hopelessness. What would’ve picking up that bottle cap done to help?
(Sorry to my climate tech friends who read this blog.)
4) The homeless
It’s hard not to sound elitist here but this was quite the culture shock.
Someone asked for money on about half of my walks and subway rides. It wasn’t super bothersome. But what stung was having to deny empathy to so many people in such a short amount of time.
It hurt each time I declined a homeless man. But I looked around and everyone else seemed totally used to it.
“You have to deny your emotions in New York City,” my Brooklyn friend told me. “If you don’t, you’ll be drained every single day here.”
He was half kidding. But I thought about what it would be like if I gave change to every single person who asked for it. It’s a challenge that I have no answers for.
(I know, I know. How dare these homeless people make my life more difficult?)
1) The adventure
Every walk out of my apartment. Every subway ride. Every event. Every bar or restaurant. Every new connection.
My favorite thing about the city is the collective experience of living there. That may sound grandiose but let me explain.
Whenever I met someone new, I always had a conversation piece in my back pocket. All I had to do was ask three questions:
- “How long have you lived in New York?”
- “Why’d you move here?”
- “How’d you build community?”
And voilà. Those three simple prompts would show me a person’s story, values, and personality. Once I told them I was planning on moving there, they couldn’t add me on Facebook fast enough.
Casey Neistat said, “People don’t live in New York City. They survive.”
If I were to ask those same three questions in any other American city, it would just sound like boring small talk.
2) The food
Some of the best meals I’ve ever had were in these 14 days. Israeli. Greek. Indian. Jamaican. Cantonese. All within a few blocks of one another.
And the fucking pizza. The hype is real.
3) No car
Not having to drive or park anywhere was the bliss I didn’t know I needed.
Sometimes you don’t know what’s nice to let go of until it’s gone. That’s why I deleted my Instagram a few years ago.
4) The discomfort
I’m sure that sounds weird. I was just complaining about that in the cons section above. Let me explain.
I put off using the subway in Brooklyn for days until I had no choice but to jump on it. It was nerve-wracking. Between my travel anxiety and fear of getting stabbed, I was quite shaken up.
But then I just got to my destination and everything was fine. After doing that a few times, not only did I become comfortable on the train but I really began to know my way around. The synapses were connecting. I was, as they say, learning.
It felt like I had conquered something. As though I had a duel with fear and I came out on top.
That’s exactly how I felt when I climbed my first rock wall last month. And when I built my coaching business last year. And when I placed in chess tournaments.
We’re scared of something. Then we do it. We don’t die. Then we decide if we want to continue doing it. If we do, we get better and eventually comfortable with it. If we don’t, we stay scared of whatever it is.
I choose the former. If I spent a year in New York and had a community and a plethora of new skills by the end of it, I’d feel like I conquered something vast.
What I learned about myself
I really thought I wanted to move to New York City. And this trip only confirmed that.
I have friendships I can strengthen in Brooklyn. My friend in Philadelphia is an hour and a half train ride away. Maryland is not far. I have so much growing and stretching to do.
On that note, it would actually be pretty hypocritical of me to not move there. I help people do things they’re scared of for a living. If I didn’t practice the same, I’d be like a doctor who refuses to see a doctor.
The first week was lonely, yes. But then I got to spend time with my peoples. A best friend came to visit. I chilled with my Brooklyn buddies. I got invited to a rooftop party. I met people. I went on a date and had a lovely time.
Packing up to leave on Saturday was a sad couple of hours. That’s how I knew. I didn’t want to leave. But I had my time there and it served its purpose perfectly.
I’m energized to set myself up for a colorful life there. I want to put myself out there. I have four months.
Coming back to my suburban apartment…it felt like I was coming home to a little country town. It was so quiet. I had to go somewhere and was pissed to realize I had to get in my car and drive there.
The next steps are:
- find a place in Brooklyn
- sell all my stuff besides the bed, clothes, and tech
- make as much money as possible
- spend as much time with friends and family as I can
- enjoy the end of this chapter
And of course, I’ll keep you updated along the way.