A meditation on storytelling.
I am leaving New York City. Perhaps, more accurately, I am changing my primary residence from New York City to Austin, Texas; and I am writing the end of my story that brought me to New York City. I arrived in New York City in 2014 in pursuit of a story for myself. The story I wanted to tell myself and the world was that I am a rockstar entrepreneur. I wanted to be Mark Zuckerberg, or at least the Mark Zuckerberg character in the Social Network. I wanted to literally flip the finger to establishment white-collar work with a business card that says “I’m CEO, bitch”.
I wanted this story for myself because I knew I didn’t want to follow the white-collar corporate ladder of my father. I saw him make what seemed like daily choices between what his work expected of him and what his family expected of him. The constant tension between work and family created distance between my father and me during some of the most formative years of my life when I was experiencing romantic crushes for the first time and building up my identity. I felt like I couldn’t turn to him then, so I turned to creativity like music and comedy as forms of expression for myself during this time so when it came time to choose a college degree, I chose Music Merchandising as a means to continue my creativity but also gain tangible business skills. And when it came time to envision where I’d look for work to apply that degree to, I chose New York City.
New York City is where people like me at 24 go where they know the story they want to write for themselves but they have no idea how to actually write it. Opportunities to progress your own story throw themselves at you in New York City every day. Unless you arrived in New York on the Financial District’s doorstep from an Ivy League school, the experience of an entry-level 20-something New Yorker is more often an exercise in both enduring horrid opportunities and experimenting with the fun ones than it is an exercise in following a pre-written path to your story, an exercise and process I relished and enjoyed.
My golden ticket to begin writing the glamorous life of an entry-level 20-something in the concrete jungle came in the form of an unpaid internship at an ad tech startup called F Sharp. An unpaid intern isn’t exactly CEO (bitch), but in my eyes, it was one step closer to being that person than an entry-level job at any company who employed more than ten people. I enjoyed four of the most fun years of my life with the crew at F Sharp. We worked long, difficult hours together, then partied together on the LES and Bedford stop scenes of early-2010s along with every other young, hip New Yorker. It felt like I was writing the story I wanted for myself page-by-page, day-by-day; and that once the story was done and F Sharp achieved the size and notoriety of its ambitions, that there wouldn’t be a start-up in the country that wouldn’t be interested in the secret sauce of entrepreneurial success I had perfected along the way.
But that didn’t happen. F Sharp lost its biggest client, lost most of its revenue, and laid off almost every employee, myself included, on a Monday in March. That news should have been devastating, but it wasn’t. I had mentally prepared myself for that reality in the weeks and months prior, and I always understood the risks of startups financially. I wasn’t devastated until about a month and a half after the layoff when I began to realize that there wasn’t a start-up in the country that was interested in the secret sauce of entrepreneurial success I fought and battled for at F Sharp. In the four months between being laid off and accepting a job offer, I applied to 100 different companies, engaged in 20 different interview processes, and got to three final rounds. And the holy grail at the end of this process for me wasn’t the setting for a rockstar entrepreneurial success story, it was American Express, one of New York’s oldest and most entrenched businesses.
Being denied the conclusion to the story I had envisioned for myself by moving here led to a period of profound mental disturbance for myself. I experienced prolonged bouts of intrusive thoughts and doubt related to my career and my relationships. What was the colorful, fun life of a young person in New York City quickly turned into a life colored with the gray lens of anxiety and depression. The ego I had built around this story couldn’t reconcile itself to the reality of the situation. That disharmony caused an immense sense of doubt in myself and my identity. In short: the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.
Why are stories so important?
I believe that New York City is not the land it’s built on, it’s not the concrete that now has created its exoskeleton, and it’s not even the people that spend their days within the exoskeleton. It’s the stories. Everyone who has chosen to sign their first lease along with four strangers on Craigslist in New York has done so to write the opening lines of their own hero’s journey. We seek New York as the setting for our hero’s journey because it was our heroes who chose to make New York the setting for theirs: from artists, to musicians, to bankers, to writers, to white-collar ladder climbers, and to the rockstar entrepreneurs. The cold reality of New York is that it is truly nothing more than the sound of constant construction, blaring police sirens, grimy catcalls and the solicitations of the homeless hitting your eardrums and the sight of concrete, fire hydrant water parks, and the East River hitting your retinas. But how our consciousness takes these inputs and weaves them into our own personal narratives gives New York its meaning in our collective story. While you may see and hear the same inputs elsewhere in your life, it won’t mean the same as they do when woven into your New York City experience. And the fact that every New Yorker wholeheartedly believes their version of that same fundamental truth makes New York one of the most amazing settings for your own hero’s journey.
I’m leaving New York. Partly because the weather is better in Austin, but also because I trust that with an awareness of the power of personal narrative and its effect on ego comes with it a personal realization that a setting like New York may not be the best for my narrative any longer. I now work for another small company, this time in one of the most fertile cities in America for small tech startups, surrounded by another band of similarly-minded misfits in pursuit of a story: to build the best freaking iOS and Android apps possible. I didn’t get to write the story I moved to New York to tell about myself, but that’s sort of the point. You don’t get to write the end of the story before it happens, you can only put yourself in the right place, at the right time, prepared to make sense of the constant stream of beginnings and ends that present themselves to you. Even as I continue to try, I realize I may never be the rockstar entrepreneur of my New York dreams, but that’s okay, as it was always a means to an end. All I really want is to be myself, to love, and be loved in return, and that can happen wherever it is I choose to call home. As I close this chapter, I find I am grateful for the story I did write, a story that prepared me to write this blog post, by taking the chance on myself to move to New York five years ago.
Thank you, New York. I love you. Never change, because I will be back for more bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches soon.
I curated a playlist of all the songs of my time in New York City. If you catch me for a beer in your town, I’d be happy to tell you the story behind each song! Enjoy the listen, and we’ll keep in touch.