Life Lessons From New York City

I live in New York City. The reasons I came here are hard for me to identify. For now let’s just say I’m a curious moth inevitably drawn to the flame. Except that analogy doesn’t really work, because unlike the flame that draws the moth, New York is a flame containing high concentrations of learned wisdom that can only be found in a city its size. There are many things that people who don’t live in a mega-city do not have to deal with. Some are only relevant to New York. Many of these things I hate, but all of these things continue to teach me something.

The Commute — Every day I am confronted with thousands of members of humanity. Some people, like me, are just trying to get to work. Other people are tourists seeing the city for the first time. They stop to take pictures, read directions, and stand in awe, as those of us who live here navigate around them to get to our jobs. If you don’t live in a tourist-heavy pedestrian city this may not seem like much to you, so let me ask you to imagine your Monday morning with an injection of a few thousand people, maybe an armpit in your face (in a crowded subway), and probably a few crying kids. The NYC commute has taught me patience I didn’t know I needed, but it has also given me an appreciation for looking out for myself. When I’m going to work I don’t have time for tourists to figure out that they need to move quickly when the subway doors open — everyone needs a little nudge once in a while, in NYC and in life.

Money — There is no saving money here without a deliberate attempt to do so, unless you are making much more money than I am. There are delivery ads everywhere that tell people to “eat like a New Yorker,” and it’s true, New Yorkers eat out A LOT because we also tend to work a lot. Down time is not a thing for many people (even us borderline introverts), so when you want to add to your savings account making sure to get groceries instead of delivery is actively a chore (not to mention carrying groceries up the 5 flights of stairs to your apartment). Living in a sketchy neighborhood rather than a mediocre one becomes a wise financial decision, and walking up those 5 flights of stairs every day stands in place of an $80/month gym membership. Living in New York requires constant financial trade-offs, but then again, so does life.

Friends and Relationships — This town can be a very lonely place, it can also be very superficial. As with saving money, if you want friendships and romantic relationships of substance in NYC, you have to be deliberate. As I said above, people are busy all the time. It is likely a part of why people live here, they like that there is always something to do. This also means planning and KEEPING commitments with friends is something you don’t just do casually, you learn to do it intentionally (if it is important to you). The interesting thing is that this is true for relationships no matter where you live, but NYC forces you to realize who your friends are, and who the potential love interests are who are willing to make you a priority. Making people a priority should always be a goal.

Health — In NYC it is very clear very fast if you are out of shape. Walking stairs and avenues in the summer acts as a free health assessment. Humans are crafted to handle long distances on foot, yet many of us rarely do so thanks to cars and various other modes of transportation. In New York this is not the case. You will walk, and when you do you’ll find out how fit you are. On top of that, figuring out (budget conscious) ways to eat well are essential because in the NYC summer heat all that sugar and bread you’ve been eating starts to feel like a weight holding you down in tandem with the humidity. Being healthy makes you fit, and being fit makes for a better life, no matter where you are.

Problem Solving— This is a big one because all of the points above feed into it. There are always, always roadblocks when you live in this city. Trying to find an apartment? Be prepared to put down two different deposits only to be told both times the apartment isn’t actually available. On a budget? Just wait until you leave your phone in a cab and you are forced to buy a new one. Trying to cleanse your karma? Just wait until some random man on the street puts his hand in your hair because he “wants to see what it feels like.” Living in New York has definitely given me a roll-with-the-punches approach to life — it’s pretty much a necessary trait for living here. One day I may move back to Texas, or somewhere else that does not require so much mental acrobatics, but inevitably whatever is thrown my way will pale in comparison to the hurdles NYC has placed in my path, and for that I am grateful.

Living in New York is hard, especially if you are young, paying your own rent, paying for your own groceries, and attempting to have a social life while working “New York hours” (which usually means over 40 hours per week with no overtime because you’re salaried). Frank Sinatra was right, if you can make it here you’ll make it anywhere. If you figure out how to be happy, healthy, sane, and financially secure while living in New York City, you will almost certainly succeed in those areas elsewhere.

Manhattanhenge 2011

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