It was a cold December night in Wisconsin, I was waiting for my pizza to be ready, so I jumped on an impromptu zoom call with some Discover Praxis Alumni. I’d jump on these calls from time to time if I had some downtime to meet new alum because I had made a commitment to growing my network. This call happened to be one that would be a defining factor in the coming year of 2020, and ultimately one of the most defining years of my life (so far).
On this call, I met alumni who recognized that I sounded like a “sales guy” and proceeded to ask me if I wanted a job in New York City as a Headhunter. In an instant, I recalled my uncle telling me a few weeks prior, “When opportunity knocks, answer because it won’t wait around.” Thinking of this idiom, I instantly recognized this as opportunity knocking, and said with enthusiasm “I’ve never thought of it, but yeah, let’s talk”. So, we connected on LinkedIn and lined up a time to chat the next week.
This call was the first in a series of meetings and interviews that ended up leading me to take a job with a different firm in New York City. In March, I packed my shit and moved to NYC. This was the first time I had ever moved away from the area I grew up in, meaning I had no safety net, no backup plan, it was “fuck or walk”.
I was 20 when I moved to NYC, on March 2nd, 2020, and while I knew a lot for a 20-year-old, I really knew nothing about the world. The rest of 2020 has taught me so much. Here are my top takeaways and favorite moments.
#1. It’s Okay to Not Give a F**k
When you live in NYC you see a lot of weird shit but you don’t judge them, and they don't judge you. This environment allows you to really form your personality, and to pursue what is important to you without outside forces pressuring you into becoming their version of you. This was largely possible for me because I lived alone almost the entire year and spent very little time with friends.
For you, it might not be New York, but going to live in a city where you basically know no one, is not a bad idea. I’d recommend going with a plan on how you will make friends and integrate yourself into the community so you retain your values and morals. But the very nature of you putting yourself into an entirely new environment allows you to find your equilibrium and “do you”
#2. Reflection is Vital to Happiness and Success
This is especially true when you don’t have a Significant other, family, roommates, or even co-workers that you see on a daily/weekly basis. If you are “alone” in the world you need to reflect on your behavior, habits, mental health, happiness, career, success, etc. at least once a month. I generally try to wrap up my thoughts at the end of the month to see what I think I failed on, and note areas to do better on in the coming month.
#3. Challenges Build Character
If you paid attention to the beginning of the post you noticed that I moved to New York 2 weeks before the world ground to a halt due to “The Rona”. This literally threw everything out the window. I was ridden with anxiety for over a week trying to decide what I should do since we were all going remote, my boss was going back to Singapore, and my roommates were leaving for Boston, among other things.
I was able to calm down a bit and make the decision to stay in New York as we thought it would all be over in a couple of weeks. As we all know that wasn’t the case and challenge after challenge presented themselves to me. Each time I was able to emerge victoriously I became a stronger man with a deeper character. After all, we don’t like vintage clothes because of their freshness, we like them because of the scratches, patches, and defects that add to its character.
If I can offer any advice on this topic it would be, do not run away from challenges. Face them with courage because you either win and get stronger, or you fall and learn how to overcome that challenge next time. There is no downside as long as you make a deal with yourself to never quit.
#4. Nothing is Guaranteed
Along the same lines as the previous point, 2020 has been anything but certain. Many things were planned at the outset of me starting my current job including, flying to Singapore to meet the rest of the team, moving offices to Union Square, bringing on two new mentors into the business, and a few others. Unfortunately, not a single one of those things happened as planned. However, I still wouldn’t trade the events of this year for anything I could have imagined or anticipated.
Since nothing is guaranteed, I recommend learning to be resigned to Divine Providence. It’s really the only way to live with any semblance of peace.
#5. Facing Your Fears is Really Important
In May I made the decision to fly home to visit my family for a few weeks. This came after a lot of fear and deliberation. The reason I was considering it at all was that it seemed insane to stay in The City when we knew there was no going back to normal at least until July. This may seem silly to you, but thinking of going home for a few weeks was really scary to me. I had to confront an unknown fear that I eventually identified as the fear that going home would be “failure”.
I was so afraid that all this was a dream and going back to Wisconsin would result in me waking up from the dream and then I’d be stuck in Wisconsin forever. I was loving life in NY even despite all of the negative aspects of the situation. Through a friend I had made, I was able to discern that this was a silly fear, and I needed to go back to close the loop on being a man, and doing what I knew was right.
Facing this fear was probably the biggest accomplishment of my entire year. Now I have let go, of the fear that the life I’ve been living is a dream. I know there is some control that I have and I’m not going to fall for that stupid idea again.
#6. What Others Think < What You Think
I learned this one from the same situation related to the last point. Part of why I was so afraid to go back to Wisconsin was the speculation and comments that people would make. I imagined them saying, “See, I knew he’d be back soon”, “He’s too scared to actually make it in NY”, “I knew he’d fail”. You get the point. I was really insecure about what they would say about me. Then I realized that what they thought didn’t matter if I couldn’t feel confident in my own decisions.
So, I made the decision to go to Wisconsin because my siblings missed me, it would be a nice trip to shake things up, and I would come back when I wanted to. I decided to only are about what I thought and ignore what other people may or may not think because truth be told, even if they did say anything it didn’t matter.
#7. Distance is Hard but Healthy
Saying goodbye to my mom, dad, and siblings on March 1st was one of the most emotional days of this year. I absolutely love my siblings and as soon as they drove away I lost it. That feeling of distance started to wear off after a couple of weeks but still remained hard. This distance has been good for me though. I’ve learned to better understand my place in the lives of my family. Growing up in a large family leads you to get close to your siblings, and often can create a false understanding of your role in their lives. This distance taught me that place.
#8. The World Isn’t That Big, or Scary
Between moving 850 miles away, working with expatriates, dealing with international clients and candidates, I started to have a perspective on the world not previously possessed from living in the same place. Thanks to pattern matching my brain started to realize that I could move to any city in the world since I had moved to NYC. There would be noticeable differences but the concept would be the same regardless of the location. Next, I’ll have to get the hang of interplanetary living/moving.
#9. We Are All Human
Being raised by a dad who expected us to be perfect 100% of the time, I developed this false idea that I wasn’t allowed to fail. Suffice to say, starting a new high-stress job and having a couple of failed relationships, I’ve come to realize that it’s okay to be human, and to beat yourself up for small failures isn’t necessary. Just get back on your horse and try again.
#10. Hang on Loosely but Don’t Let Go
On the note of relationships, this is another big takeaway for me that I’m still trying to master. I’m sure being totally alone in my apartment had something to do with this, but in summary, I let my heart go out to a girl way too fast. A girl I had never met yet I had this crazy attachment to her. If you are in a situation like this, as much as it sucks I’m gonna tell you you need to throttle back. It’s one of the areas I’ve noted I need the most improvement on. If you have any advice or recommended reading on the balance of letting your heart fall out of your chest, and keeping it locked up would be welcomed. 💔
#11. There is no ‘One Way’ to Live Your Life
Seeing such a large variety of people in New York, meeting new people, and talking to hundreds of people through work, I’ve learned this well. It kind of goes ‘hand-in-hand’ with some of my previous points but in general, don’t think that you have to be ‘one way’. The way you raised doesn’t need to define you. Now don’t throw tradition and morals out the window, but don’t feel restrained by the way you were raised. Start to identify which aspects of your life you want to really keep, and add the other things you see that seem good and wholesome to you.
#12. Learn to Adapt
There is no one specific point in this year where I learned this, but it was something I had to learn to do, as I’m sure many of us did. If we are unable to adapt to tough situations we will not be able to proceed through life with agility. The truth is, even in a normal year, many things will come up that force you to grow gills or drown. Especially on a macro, this is true of society. It’s easy to look to the next 2–3 decades and realize many industries are about to be severely disrupted. If everyone in those industries were forward-thinking they would start shifting their skills in order to retain their relevance as skill workers.
#13. Keep an Open Mind with a Foot Grounded in Tradition
On the flip side of adapting to outside circumstances, you have the forward-looking aspect of adaptability which is something that has become very clear to me this year. Not only on a small scale, looking month to month, but on a long term scale, I’ve been able to develop more peace and confidence by looking to the future. Exploring new ideas, challenging my beliefs, all to help me gain a broader understanding of the world.
Caution must be employed when doing this which is why I’ve realized we must build on and adapt what we already have. To throw out the entire foundation is a blunder of shortsightedness and folly. If you keep searching for new things and use your reason to suss out what is appropriate, you will add good traits to your perspective.
#14. NYC Pizza is THE BEST
This is not an opinion. This is objective truth. There is something about NYC pizza (no not including the 99 cent pizza joints) that puts it in a league of its own. I never really understood how it was so highly praised, but now I understand. Among other things I really like about NYC Specifically, fresh bagels, Central Park, the view of Manhattan from Williamsburg, not owning a car, the weather, donut planet, street performers, and most of all, the energy of the city.
#15. Saying no is a Must
Having a job that essentially demands 10–12 hour days kind of forces you to say no. However, being forced to saying no to the requests of my friends and family when I’m back in Wisconsin, has allowed me to use the skill in other areas of my life. Especially when I do have free time, it’s helpful to be able to tell someone no when you really don’t want to participate in a certain activity.
Saying no, is perhaps one of the most helpful things I’ve learned this year. It’s incredible the peace you can have when you learn that you don’t have to do everything everyone asks you.
#16. Binging Netflix Won’t Bring Happiness
With most of NYC being shut down this spring, weekends were really uneventful most of the time. Working long days each weekday naturally leads to this idea that I’m just gonna do “nothing” on Saturday and Sunday. My nothing usually was binging through the rest of Breaking Bad or Mad Men. Until one day I realized that even though I was doing what I wanted, it wasn’t what I was really craving deep down. So, I started reading, exercising, podcasting, researching, and doing all manner of intellectually engaging activities.
While most would say but your job is super intellectually engaging “Doesn’t that feel like work”? The answer is no because it’s a different part of your brain. It’s the feeding of your intellectual curiosities that fills you up so you can more easily pour out.
I added this one because when I realized that I didn’t actually enjoy Netflix much beyond the dopamine that I would get from it, it really made my weekends so much more enjoyable and productive.
#17. You Can Do This
I say this to you reading this and to myself. You can do this! No one reading this has had a breeze of a year with 2020 yet, here we are. We made it. If we can make it through this year, we can handle anything am I right?
This is a lesson that I’ve learned many times, but each time in a deeper way. It goes back to the character and conflict point. The more tough situations we overcome the more confident we become, and the more skills we have in our tool pouch to overcome new hurdles.
There were a number of special moments for me this year.
The first major memorable one that comes to mind is when I was in NY in January for an interview. I was at a coffee shop working, and I called my family to chat with them briefly. My dad came on the line and we discussed the possibility of me moving to NY. I had other opportunities on the table, and I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea of moving but he reminded me of the opportunity in front of me. He pointed out to me that even he would have probably seized the opportunity to do so. This is one of the few really good conversations that he and I have had since I was still living at home. It’s something that did have a major influence on my willingness to make the move.
Another big one is of course the day I bid farewell to my family before flying to NYC with my 3 suitcases the next day. Those two days had more collective emotion in them than all of 2019 and 2018 combined I’m pretty sure. I remember being so grateful to the family’s who had influenced me to that point, and to the people who made it possible for me to move to New York. I distinctly remember asking myself over and over again on the flight what I was doing. It was so surreal. When I finally got out of my Uber and hauled my 3 suitcases up 3 long flights of stairs to my Airbnb, I burst out in tears. One of the thoughts I remember coming to my mind was, I can’t call mom right now because I’ll start balling, and then she will be sad. After a couple of days I called her when I knew I could handle myself. Those moments will remain so vivid for me forever.
The time I came back to Wisconsin for a Cousin’s wedding was also special. I was only here for a weekend, but I had now conquered the fear of going back and forth between Wisconsin and NY, and I was able to enjoy the moments I had with my cousins and family. It was a great weekend.
There are a few memories that all somewhat blur together because of the frequency of them, but those are the dinners with my only friend in NY, John. He and I have gone out many times for dinner in the grandest of fashions. Frequently, a stop at a brewhouse for a beer and an appetizer, then to the restaurant for a three-course meal and split a bottle of wine. Sharing our thoughts on politics, and discussing how great NYC is. He’s truly been a great mentor to me. A mentor on life and on how to be a real New Yorker.
A really good one was the time Kevin and I were on our way back into the city from our 3-day pilgrimage in PA. We had so many good discussions and I remember us coming closer to the city from NJ, the city lights sparkeling despite the grim state of the world around it. Even though that was my first time driving in The City, as soon as we hit Manhattan soil I instantly felt at home. I knew what to do without GPS. Really that was the moment that I realized how much NYC had become my home.
After my roommates came back to NY we had a few good times. My favorite memory with them was my last night in NY before coming home for the holidays. I stayed up much later than I normally do talking with them, drinking cocktails, and BSing about anything and everything. That was the first moment I really connected with them I think.
There are so many other wonderful memories but these are some of the major ones that come to mind.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this. I know many of you reading this have been very influential in me becoming the man I am. I am supremely thankful to all the people who have taught me things over the years. With your help, the challenges of 2020, and the grit of NYC, I will forever view this year as the year I became a man.