Friday Fiver Series: 5 LESSONS NEW YORK CITY TAUGHT ME ABOUT THE MISTAKES WE MAKE
New York has always been on my bucket list of places to visit. For most of my life, I’d read about it, watched movies and shows set in it and really just wondered about what it’d be like to feel the pulse of a city that is more alive than my Lagos (with whom I have an acute love-hate relationship).
Last year, I finally got a chance to spend two days in NYC and believe me, I was going to milk it shitless. Get as much as I could into the little time I had in the city before heading back to Maryland and so I ran wild with google searches and IG polls trying to gather suggestions on how to curate the best experience.
Eventually, I had a phenomenal girls’ trip with my cousin with whom I traveled. While I am certain that I’d me making more trips down there and probably spending longer time, I think the first time was enough thrill and magic. We did the whole nine miles; a night road trip, JFK, Central Park, hole-in-the-wall ah-mayyy-zing restaurants, Queens, the subway (a whole different world of events go on here), quaint coffee shops, street shows, karaoke, souvenir shopping and of course Times Square.
A few days ago, I was looking through pictures from that trip and was really just analyzing the parts of my NYC experience that I found most striking. What started out as a dreamy recollection of events quickly morphed into a mining expedition where life lessons were the gems I sought. For some reason, I began to think about how NYC reflects some of the most common mistakes we make as people in our pursuit of life as we know it.
STRIKE 1: It’s Never Too Late. Period!
Halfway into the road trip, my 12-year-old brother – who we’d be dropping off at JFK in a few hours – and I had figured out a mutually beneficial sleeping arrangement that we figured was better use of our time than staring at interstate billboards. He laid his head on my shoulder, a bit like nuzzling except that it was his forehead doing the job and not his nose. I, in turn, leaned my head on his and hoped I wouldn’t wake up too sore. It was good night till New York City.
I woke up to an awe-struck “whoa” from my brother. I opened my eyes to find us right in Manhattan with a buzz of energy that Lagos could only dream of at 2am. Everywhere was alive with sights and sounds. Car horns were blaring, the traffic jam was terrible, the lights quite bright and neon and the hum of conversations from every corner was unharmonious. All electric and exciting.
It was 2am and enough time to do whatever anyone had to do. It wasn’t too late. It was just New York City at 2am. Isn’t this really life in general, although we like to think otherwise? Is it really ever too late to pursue our visions? To live boldly? To speak up? To get out? Are we not all in New York City with life happening in and around us? With opportunities nestled in the needs, thoughts and conversations of the people happening around us? Are we not just sitting in a corner doing nothing because we chose to or haven’t dared to trust that the time isn’t enough reason to stop us? What do you keep telling yourself it’s too late for? Is it really?!
STRIKE 2: Entitlement Easily Makes You Stay Incompetent
I like to think of the subway as the melting point of the city. All kinds of people from all kinds of places taking the same train ride for all kinds of reasons. The too loud conversations, weird looking people that you keep an eye on for good reason, the book readers, the people in horrifying makeup, the intriguing tattoos, the flash talent shows.
I particularly loved one dance crew and all their painful looking stunts. Loved it enough to drop a bill in the hat they passed around. Shortly after, some guy starts to rap so incoherently that I think we all missed the point that it was an act. Consequently, he threw the most ridiculous tantrum I’d ever seen. He went from yelling to cussing to banging on surfaces, shoving his way through people to attempting to pry open the train doors while in motion. All this time, the entire point was that we were all losers who didn’t recognize his awesomeness and bla bla bla.
Is it just me or isn’t this a very familiar scenario? Do you recognize the exaggerated sense of entitlement that typically incompetent people tend to ride on? What stands out for me is how this sense of entitlement seldom lets you examine yourself objectively and honestly. You’d be caught up in how you feel and what you think you deserve at the expense of constructive feedback and real growth.
Just when I thought I’d had it with entitlement, some dude at Central park demands that I give him some money for getting in my picture. What?! Are you some type of Beyonce that I’m unaware of? Bottomline is entitlement and competence don’t make a good team.
STRIKE 3: The Prize Isn’t Always the Prize
Still shaky and woozy from a turn at the Victorian Gardens swing, I somehow imagine that I’d beat my cousin at the rising waters game. She beat me and won herself a green teddy bear that I coveted so shamelessly. Without any fuss, she let me have it and that’s how my green cuddle buddy, Ezinwanne, came into my life.
Many times, in life, we’re so fixated on trophies that we forget that winning is about the standards we choose to pursue, our expectations, a sense of accomplishment that is not necessarily hinged to trophies and sometimes, about shared value. Sometimes, we hold onto things that we don’t necessarily value because we believe that they define our capabilities, giving them credit for who we are and our accomplishments instead of our inner virtues. Sometimes, we lose out on opportunities to show people who matter that we care all because of the unbridled need to win yet another trophy. I learned this that day as I cuddled Ezinwanne for the rest of the evening.
STRIKE 4: We Are All Here. Let’s Make Room! – Times Square
I never saw an “NYC places to visit” list that didn’t contain Times Square. I was never going to leave the City without getting my fair share of the blinding lights, cacophony of tourists’ languages, teeming shops and insanely crowd-fueled euphoria that characterizes Times Square. I think that after I got off the cab, my jaw dropped for at least 3 seconds. It was so much everything happening at once and so many humans experiencing this thing that felt like everything all at once.
Once we pushed into the crowd, it was bananas all the way. My cousin and I lost track of each other a few times and sometimes it just felt like I’d be my single self for a bit and then suddenly be trying to survive a throng of people who for some reason, were usually not headed in my own direction. The one thing we had in common is that we were all there, mostly taking in the lights and energy of Times Square wide-eyed and never silently. We weren’t mad at other people for being there and taking up the space that would have meant more comfort for us. A person would exclaim at something cool and a total stranger would echo an “I know right” in agreement with whatever the other person was feeling.
Shouldn’t this be life? Isn’t there enough room for all of us to experience wonder and express it? Aren’t we capable of making room for others to be and thrive? Aren’t we capable of otherness and sharing time and space with people who mirror our wants and aspirations? Isn’t there room?
STRIKE 5: A Day is Really Enough – How we got so much done in that day
Within 24 hours, I’d tasted enough of NYC that the flavors still linger in my mouth months later. We probably didn’t think that we’d see so much and get so much done in 24 hours. This is a lesson that I’ve had to learn and relearn again. On some days, we’re super stars and the galaxy aligns and we are so powerful that we exceed all expectations and create so much from time. On other days, we wonder how everyone else is getting 30 hours and we’re stuck with 24 daily for the rest of our lives.
It’s not magic. It’s methodical. It’s how we seize time and make sure it goes nowhere without us making something worthwhile out of it. Productivity is art and science, not luck and chance. It’s being intentional and disciplined enough to focus on a target, letting process take it’s appropriate and timely course.
Beyonce, Obama, horses, every best employee of the year and us all get 24 hours and I hate to be the one to tell you that your denial doesn’t erase what you already know; it’s enough!
This could’ve been a juicy story-laden review titled” A day in the Life of a First-time New Yorker or Not” but I thought, let’s do some learning here.
Share your thoughts, experiences and little funny stories. This is how we exercise our humanity!
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