Love Letter to New York

Dear New York,

I don’t think I’ve fallen for you this hard since ’95 when I was a sheltered suburban high school senior visiting Barnard for Prospective Students of Color Weekend.  I remember being led on a tour of the East Village by an eager Barnard freshman and being enraptured with your infectious energy and persistent beat.  I was convinced you were the one for me and happily signed up to spend my next four years with you.

It wasn’t long before I became jaded with your expensive, overcrowded and exhausting self.  I wished for a new home, where I wouldn’t feel so cramped and wearied by your relentless drive.  I thought about prettier locales like San Francisco where greener pastures lay, but the economy ultimately decided for me that I was stuck with you.  I finally managed to escape you for three years when I left for India and Atlanta.  Sometimes I was nostalgic for you, especially your charm during the holidays and your invigorating spring season when everything is filled with promise.  But it wasn’t enough to draw me back to you.

The next time you caught my attention was in the spring of ’05 when I was desperately trying to escape the homogeneity and blandness of Atlanta for a weekend.  I remember walking your streets that April weekend feeling alive and happy and drinking in your diversity and history.  But only a year or two later, it was again over.  I became resigned to the idea that I would never feel that magic with you again.

My cute Brooklyn apartment

Book Court, Brooklyn

This time around my love for you grew slowly and took even me by surprise.  For the first time in years I found myself enjoying your unbearable summer heat.  I treated myself to an adorable space for the summer and allowed my inner geek to flourish by spending hours every week in my favorite local bookstore and exploring whole new neighborhoods solo.  I appreciated the freedom, space and safety in the simple pleasures of taking a walk, solo, in my neighborhood at 10 o’clock at night.

Maybe it was me that changed this time, not you.  I finally had the perfect balance of time and money, something that was elusive before with always too much of one and not enough of the other.  After traveling the world and making other places my temporary home, I finally learned to appreciate what I used to think were your cramped spaces and relentless drive, but is actually your way of forming a vibrant and creative community.

So many odes have been written about you that perfectly captured your essence. This is the first time I ever felt compelled to write my own, on my last night in Brooklyn. I feel a deep sadness to be leaving you, but know that I will be back again to rekindle our relationship.  No matter how many times I’ve tried, I can’t rid myself of you.

Thank you, New York, for always being there for me.

Sweetest Hangover: World Domination Summit

It’s been a few days since I returned from the World Domination Summit and it’s hard to put the whole experience into words.  Even before I arrived for the conference, I had been eagerly anticipating it for months.  I was so excited that I started to get worried that maybe I overhyped the whole thing in my head and I would be in for a big let down. I started the week visiting friends in San Francisco and doing a road trip to Crater Lake, OR and then on to Portland.  The whole time I was paranoid that we would get into a car accident or the car would break down or some unforeseen event would occur that would prevent me from making it to the event.

However, I managed to make it to Portland unscathed and quickly checked into my hotel, showered and headed to the opening party.  I was so excited to go that I turned down invitations from other friends in Portland and even cut a phone conversation short so I could head there ASAP (I know…I’m crazy!)

On arriving at the party, I was a bit nervous and worried that I would be around a bunch of hippies singing kumbayah.  My fears were not put to rest when I got in the very long line for food at a truck and the people in front of me were wearing tunics and nutty crunchy sandals and had hair braided and no makeup (complete opposite of what you will find in nyc).  However, they were super friendly and included me in their conversation.  After getting my food I started to meet more people.  Everyone was really cool and I started to relax a bit.  After a point, I found myself wandering around and exhausted from meeting new people. I was considering heading back to the hotel but also wanted to use every second to meet new people. While I was watching the WDS photo booth, two very friendly people dragged me into taking a picture with them.  It was totally fun and I ended up chatting with them both for a bit. They were from Maryland and had stories that echoed my own in some way.

WDS Opening Party Photo Booth with Chris and Monique

Near the end of the party, I once again found myself running out of energy, when I heard that some folks were going out to a bar afterwards. Though I was exhausted from the five hour drive to Portland and from meeting so many people, I decided to go. To my pleasant surprise, I met some great people on the way to bar from Denver and then more cool people from nyc at the bar.  Again, more stories that echoed mine.  I was happy I came.

The next morning started with some opening words by Chris Gillebeau and incredible speeches by Brene Brown and Scott Harrison from Charity: Water.  Chris must have known that people have a hard time describing this conference to people.  I was embarrassed to tell people the name of the conference because I thought it made me sound nuts and to try to explain it was even more difficult.  Chris summarized the principles of this group into three words: adventure, service and community.  And the part that struck me the most and has stayed with me since is the question he posed to us: How do you live a remarkable life in a conventional world?  I realized it’s a question I have been asking myself for a while now. And the past year has been the beginning of that journey for me.

All 1,000 attendees in the auditorium

In the evening, I was completely exhausted and just explored the Blues Fest by the river. I got a taste of Portland with all it’s weirdness, hippies and chilled out personality.

The next morning kicked off with a speech by Chris Brogan about super powers.  The afternoon had some great breakout sessions, which were very useful for me.  But the final moment that really encapsulated the community and the reason for the conference was when Chris Gillebeau made his closing statements.  He started off by telling us that they lost money on last year’s conference and learned some lessons that allowed them to make a small profit this year. They turned down corporate sponsorships because they didn’t want to change the nature of the conference. But they got an anonymous donation and the money combined with the small profit came out to almost exactly $100 per attendee.  He opened a small envelope on stage and announced that he was giving the money back to each attendee to do something remarkable.

Chris showing us the $100 investment surprise

I was trying so hard to hold back my tears almost the entire weekend and did not do a great job of it in the final moments of the conference.  I was so moved by the act and so touched that he could build such a huge tribe and trust us to do something important with this money. It was such a powerful moment that really topped off the weekend for me.  Evidently others felt the same way because he got a big standing ovation from all 1,000 attendees.

Standing ovation

During my time at WDS, I finally started to feel that I had found my tribe. I followed many of the famous bloggers who attended this conference for a couple years online because they were a small community who were writing the words and living the life that I wanted to live. They were the ones keeping me going in my darkest hours at my consulting job and the ones who ultimately inspired me to take the leap to do something remarkable.  The whole room was full of people who shared my story in some way and understood the burning need to do something remarkable and live life on your own terms. Not following anyone else’s rules or version of success.

I am not sure yet what I will do with my $100, but I am thinking long and hard about it. I want it to be impactful, but also live on, potentially in the form of an organization I start or a Kiva loan type of situation or a person I invest in for a better education.

The conference left me energized and happy and confident knowing that I am on the right path and have a great support network of incredible people from all over the world doing something similar and amazing.  WDS left me with that feeling you get on last day of summer camp when your face hurts from smiling so much but you feel like crying because you are leaving behind some amazing people and experiences.  I will be back next year to reunite with my tribe…

All photos in this post by Armosa Studios