Life in NYC is rarely straightforward and almost never as simple as you might want it to be. But despite all the overworking, messy heartache, late nights, weird unexpected encounters, and sheer exuberance, the city really does test your character and make you stronger. As they say, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. I am a firm believer in that adage and though life is never easy no matter where you live, New York has a certain way of beating you down and smirking at you as you claw your way back up that you just don’t get anywhere else. If you think New Yorkers seem hardened or pushy, it’s because we have no choice, it’s the only way to survive. And I’d have it no other way.
I’ve certainly learned a lot during my transformation into a full blown New Yorker, but some of the big picture takeaways are what make us such a force to be reckoned with. Here are some of the lessons every New Yorker has had to grapple with…
1. Don’t take anything too personally
I’ll admit, I’m still learning this one all the time. In the grand scheme of things most things have nothing to do with you. From the guy who shoved past you on the street to the executive that never emailed you back, for all you know that guy is running late for the biggest meeting of his life and the executive got fired the week after you met her. Who knows. The point is to just roll with it, give others the benefit of the doubt whenever possible, and keep doing your best.
2. Don’t let anyone push you around
I have a pretty strong personality, I’ll admit, and I’ve always been pretty outspoken. So I really cannot stand when anyone tries to give me a hard time or refuses to take me seriously. As a New Yorker you learn this one fairly quickly because the simple fact of life in NYC is that people absolutely will try to push you around, at every chance, and you have no option but to let them or to push back.
3. Always strive to do better
Yes, you should always celebrate your achievements, but life is a continuous process of growth and your next question after each success should be “what’s next?” The worst thing to do is to let your success stagnate because it won’t be long before something better comes along. I am forever looking to build upon everything I do because it is a well known fact that nothing is perfect, so why not keep trying to make everything that much better? New Yorkers clearly understand this and during my life in NYC I have seen establishments close and open and reopen and expand and renovate and through it all, the goal is simply to constantly seek something better, especially if it’s doing just fine. “Fine” should never be your end goal.
4. Never be afraid to speak your mind
There is no time to let your opinions and thoughts go to waste and really no room for indecisiveness, especially in the current global political climate. If you feel that something wrong is happening you should be confident enough in yourself to say something–like the signs in the subway, “If you see something, say something.” The alternative is also true though and I always try to be vocal when I like something because it reinforces the positive effect.
5. Be unapologetically yourself
Whether you want to dress in drag and run through the West Village in a kilt, you want to wear a hot pink coat in the dead of winter, you want to learn to dance a polka and do the polka the whole way home down Broadway, or dye your hair purple, go for it. Whatever you feel like doing can be done because New York is one of the least judgmental places on Earth. This may be because we’re all so jaded from seeing something ten times weirder the hour before, but the point is, you can truly be yourself no matter who that is… unless you’re Trump, no one likes him here.
6. With determination, you can make anything happen
“Concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can’t do…” It is an interesting dichotomy that anything can happen but most of the time it will not–the 1% of the time that matters is when you work really freaking hard to make anything happen. New York is an amazing place to make your dreams come true, but it will test you and challenge you at every step along the way. In a city where everyone is working towards his or her big dream, you have to have the gall to prove why yours matters any more than the next guy’s and what you’re willing to do to achieve it.
7. You can find great things and amazing people in the most unexpected places
When I first moved here, I rarely ventured outside of my NYU bubble in Greenwich Village. The Financial District (FiDi), a mere 15 minute subway ride away, was a country away in my mind. But as I’ve explored each neighborhood further and further from my comfort zone, as with most times in life that I have done so, I have had almost nothing but stellar results. I now live in FiDi and am incredibly happy down at the tip of Manhattan. Even within my own neighborhood I am constantly stumbling upon wonderful new finds or hearing of exciting new places opening. There are even nice things to be found in, dare I say it…Brooklyn! And it’s not just the places that are unexpected, but people too may surprise you and you could find your new best friend in a bar in Murray Hill or run into a girl you haven’t seen since elementary school at a yoga class in Chelsea. You just have to keep an open mind.
8. Try new things as often as possible
In a city of endless possibilities, the only excuse for boredom is yourself. I spent one summer surfing every weekend out at Rockaway Beach and had a blast. This year I tried rock climbing and salsa dancing classes, and though I wasn’t great at either, it was so much fun to learn. I have eaten food from just about every culture in the world and though some of them weren’t my favorite, at least now I know. I have gone to dive bars, fancy nightclubs, jazz lounges, and everything in between at some point or another. I’m always searching for new restaurants to experience and new places to explore. And there is still so much left that I have yet to do and see! It’s one of the things I find so exciting about life in NYC, you never know what you might do tomorrow because there is almost no limit to the choices.
9. The world is a very small place
Be careful who you underestimate because in a city with such easy social mobility, the lady you ignored yesterday could be your boss tomorrow. This can work to your benefit because if you continuously come across as a genuine and hard working person, you treat everyone you meet with respect, and you are friendly and humble, those efforts will often come back to you. But on the flip side, of course, if you are rude and unappreciative, it will be remembered, and people are much quicker to recall the bad than to remember the good.
10. Be prepared for anything
You just never know when your pants could rip or the weather will turn and start pouring and it’s impossible to be ready for every scenario, but I have found that one of the best preparations for these mishaps is a bit of humor. I feel like every time I carry an umbrella, it doesn’t rain, and only when I forgot it at home does it down pour. Every time I’m not in a hurry, the subways seem to be timed perfectly, but when I’m running late I miss the train by mere seconds. But I always have to admit there is a sort of humor to this absurdity that no amount of planning has yet to overcome.
11. Don’t trust anyone
If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a cynic. In a city where everyone is just trying to get ahead, it is rarely wise to place blind trust in anyone or anything. The MTA will let you down every single day and the guy you went on three dates with will let you down, it’s inevitable. You should, however, trust the things and people who have earned it and remember that actions speak louder than words. During my life in NYC, and even before that, I’ve had plenty of issues with people who seem to be your friend only until they get what they need out of you. But through it all I’ve also met some intensely wonderful and loyal people as well. But until they prove themselves to be so, it’s best to assume the worst.
12. Realize when it’s time to let something go
There will often come a point when what you’re doing isn’t enough or what you’re holding onto is causing more harm than good. It could be as simple as that favorite cardigan with a hole in the sleeve you got falling while ice skating or as complicated as a relationship that has turned toxic or a job that is asking way more than you are getting. There is no tried and true rule and sometimes it can be incredibly hard to do so, but you just have to take a cue from Elsa and let it go.
13. Appreciate every single second of life in NYC
Maybe you’ve had the worst day and your train was delayed by an hour, a taxi drove through a huge puddle and splashed you, you spilled hot coffee all over your white shirt, the crazy guy on the corner screamed in your face, and everything just feels overwhelming. At the end of that day though, a bad day in NYC is generally better than a good day anywhere else. Life in NYC is not supposed to be easy and that’s the beauty of this place. The city reminds us that even the worst parts of life are worth living.
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