Updated: Jan 1
There is something magical about New York city in December: shiny holiday decorations everywhere you go, the iconic ice skating ring in Central Park, Spider Men replaced by Santa Clauses in Times square.. but you have to admit, there is something magical about this city any time of the year. It's not a typical island holiday destination to clean up one's head and find zen energy for the upcoming year, but spending one month in this hectic beautiful chaos brought me to a few heartening reminders.
1. Embrace the chaos
It is a concrete jungle (where dreams are made of), rush hour lasts 24 hours, people seem to be on a constant race against the time and each other. It's a jungle and you have to be a LION! said an Uber driver to me (and roared like a lion). On a subway you can hear amazing musicians but you can also see a bunch of rats running to catch the next train. One minute you're having the most interesting conversation in a coffee shop and next one you are shouted on by a crazy man on the street. It's the city with the best food and the loudest sirens and within all of that you need to find your way of moving through it. That's what happens eventually, you start accepting the good, the loud and the crazy. In a city like that (just like in life) you realise that you are not in control of most things that happen to you and around you, your plans can be altered every minute and you have to accept it, you have to let go of some things in order to embrace the unplanned ones.
2. Talk to strangers
My travel started with an 8-hour conversation with a man sitting next to me on the airplane and ended up with having Thanksgiving dinner in a huge family that I have never met in a place I have never been.
I must admit, sometimes I'm really lazy and would rather read a book (or hide in it) than talk to a stranger, I feel it's less of a gamble - you can choose the book but you can't always choose a stranger. However, I noticed that people in New York are very open to meet new people, maybe because everyone is trying to make connections that can help them later on, maybe because big cities can feel very lonely and maybe because everyone is just trying to belong. From artists to businessmen, people do put an effort to get to know each other even if it's on the most basic level. There is this prejudice (I'm guilty of it too) that unless it's a deep and meaningful conversation, there's no point of starting and having a small talk, however, sometimes small talk can lead to a deep conversation (you gotta start somewhere). And the beautiful thing about talking to strangers is we might find out they are not that strange (or just as strange as we are) and we might actually learn something from them.
3. Keep showing up
Things take time, there are so many things to do and places to be in New York, however, most of the people who live here know that you have to commit and keep showing up to see results. From stand-up comedians who do hundreds of shows in one week just to get better to dancers who keep showing up to auditions for Broadway shows. Whether it’s the tap class where you forget to breathe while trying to keep up with the pace of the class or the same cafe that you choose to come to every other day, either way it takes time to see results - whether it’s getting better at tap or barista knowing your favourite drink and pronouncing your name (almost) right.
One night we ended up at an open mic night which are one of my favourite things to see, it’s like a vintage thrift shop: a lot of weird stuff but sometimes you can find something absolutely amazing. As we were sitting in this tiny basement theatre filled with artists-in-progress the show has started with the MC shouting to the crowd: What are we here for?! The crowd would answer: To fail better!!! Mc: I can’t hear you! One more time! The crowd: Failing better! Failing better! Failing better! I can’t tell you enough how liberating that moment felt, I think I will start using failing better as my motto from now on. The point is, New York doesn’t offer things on a golden platter, you have to keep putting the hard work and persistence to get something out of it.
4. Give yourself a permission to be weird
New York is so freakin’ weird and I love it. You know the feeling when you meet an uptight person and you suddenly feel uptight too, as if you took over their energy? And around that weird/crazy friend you feel like you can do or say anything? New York is that kind of a friend, it’s so chaotic and weird, it keeps surprising just at the moment when you think you got a grasp of it.
The best lesson of embracing one’s weirdness comes from stand-up comedy. New York is full of stand-up shows and in the last month I got to see at least five of them (you know you’re a regular when you see the same comedians and already know half of their jokes by heart). The thing about comedy is in order to be funny you can’t be too cool, you can’t pretend you’re better than others or that you have your life figured out. To be funny you have to be relatable and to be relatable you need to be a weird mess just like the rest of us and on top of that you have to talk about it in front of a bunch of strangers. Honestly, I think doing stand-up comedy takes more courage than most of the extreme sports, just because doing stand-up you have to be ok with dying from shame and continue living. So needless to say some of the weirdest people I met (in the best sense of the word) were comics, who stood on stage talking about embarrassing things, making everyone laugh and giving that permission to feel a little bit better about being complex and strange creatures.
5. Don't give up
This goes together with keep showing up, but it's the attitude that matters too. This last reminder comes from yet another dance class (seriously, dance classes are a great school of life). I was watching one of the Hip hop groups, students were running through a choreography when one girls just stopped dancing and stepped away. After the song was over she explained that she just forgot everything and couldn't keep dancing. The teacher responded in a firm way: You do not stop dancing. Once you're on the dance floor, you have to keep going even if don't have any idea what you're doing. Wing it. Freestyle it. But don't stop. Sometimes when we don't feel that great doing something there's this sneaky yet very tempting thought of how much easier it would be if I just quit. It would be (at least for that moment), but the true value is created when we don't quit at the first obstacle, when we push ourselves just a little bit more.
People say that New York is addictive, it drains your energy (and finances), but once you leave this place, you're immediately drawn to go back to it (others compare it to a toxic relationship). You get this rush of excitement when you see people squeezing the most out of any given day, putting their best effort to show up, to not give up just for another day. It's exhausting yet it's calming. It's weird yet it's liberating. It's New York and it's life.