Tag Archives: manhattan

Goodbye, New York

It’s been five days since I left New York, and as is the case with week-old nostalgia, I often find myself thinking about the city.  I’ve always loved the vibrancy of New York, the energy, and even the street meat smell.  Since I left, I have found myself missing those aspects of the city: the pavement-pounding commuters, the holier-than-thou coffeeshops, the 3 AM chicken and rice.  Most of all, though, I miss the people.  I miss the tour guide in Midtown who attracts customers by telling people his name is Kofi Annan (“Really? I’ve totally heard your name before.  You’re a famous tour guide!”).  I miss the crazy (and perhaps sight-challenged) men who would hoot at me in the mornings (“Hey baby, you’re looking fine in those Old Navy dress pants.”).  I miss the friends who came with me, during my last week in the city, to visit a heralded NYC institution–the Olive Garden in Times Square.

While I lived in New York, I had my complaints too.  For me, the city was expensive, crowded, and dirty.  Rats were everywhere, as if the Pied Piper had settled in Manhattan.  Over the last four months, I lived on the Upper East Side, where Juicy-Couture-wearing poodles would be juxtaposed with the pigeon-poop-lined sidewalks.  I’d dodge feces of all kinds (dog, rodent, fowl) as I walked to work.

But as nostalgia goes, all my complaints about New York are now forgotten.  The good memories are the ones that remain: dancing with kilted Scotsmen at Gatsby’s, table-searching in the basement of 30 Rock, discussing pedophiles on Wednesday nights, finding the best fajitas in town (still Zarela’s), Zog Sports football, Central Park, 24-hour diners, even Joshua Tree.

I think that anytime something ends, there is an afterwards period of great reflection and self-doubt.  If I were in an early-90s TV show, I’d be sitting next to a bay window now, a single tear streaming down one cheek, watching the rain fall outside.  Am I doing the right thing?  Am I just being crazy?  Who chooses LA over New York??  Where did my stoic, hardened, East-Coast-is-the-Beast-Coast mentality go?

Well… I don’t know the answer to that right now.  But with regards to the city of New York, I’ll quote the modern-day, muscled bard of California: I’ll be back… perhaps.

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Take a Risk, Take a Chance, Make a Change*

* Yes, the title is from a Kelly Clarkson song.  I’m not ashamed.

During the summer before my senior year of college, I did an internship at a large investment bank in New York.  To get the job, I professed my love for DCF models and calculating betas.  I made myself sound like the most interesting person in the world: “I enjoy reading Reuters.com, making data tables in Excel, and taking nonlinear walks along the beach.  I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer A&W.  That company’s got quite the cash flow.”

I suppose it worked.  I accepted an offer from a prestigious bank in midtown Manhattan, working in equity research for the summer of 2006.

salesI thought I would need a few weeks to determine whether I’d find my calling in finance.  But after just a few days, I already hated it.  I hated the dress code, the formality, the hierarchy, and the Big Brother-ness of it all.  I hated the work, which teetered between mundane and soul-sucking.  Most days, I just felt like a highly-paid supermarket cashier, plugging in numbers and being rude.  I quickly learned that there were three tenets of business: 1) Jerkiness is a coveted personality trait…  2) “Fuck” can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, insult, directive, and occasionally, term of endearment…  3) Lastly, in order to fit in, you have to be strongly opinionated about HR, women leaders, and taxes.  (The opinion must also be negative, although you can “support them in concept.”)

Throughout the summer, I felt like I was part of a giant sociological experiment, where you throw fifty impressionable college kids into (what I would consider) the worst job in the world (except, maybe, dairy farming) and record their reaction.  The people who loved it also seemed to hate it as well, but they had all accepted that hatefulness was part of the job — therefore it was palatable.  And for a summer at least, it was palatable, especially given the fact that we were well-paid, well-fed, and living in New York with an unlimited reign over the four-letter word dictionary.

lincolnNearing the end of my two-month stint, I had to meet with HR (ugh) to discuss full-time opportunities.  The bank was well-known for only hiring first-years from its summer intern class.  Even though I knew, deep down, that I didn’t want to do this for two full years, I still wanted to get an offer.  I still wanted to have a job lined up, even though I swore I wouldn’t take it.  I wouldn’t.  Even though it was a prestigious firm.  I wouldn’t.  Even though I’d built up a strong network.  I wouldn’t.  Even though I’d get to live comfortably in New York City.  I wouldn’t.  Or would I?

During my session with HR, I was bombarded with a barrage of questions that I hadn’t prepared for: “What are your three biggest weaknesses?  What would you title your autobiography?  Which historical figure do you identify with most?”  To the last question, I blurted out “Abraham Lincoln,” after a long, awkward silence in which I contemplated whether Chairman Mao had any redeeming qualities.  (For some reason, he’s the first “historical figure” that pops into my head.)  After trying to justify to HR that Abe was a perfectly legitimate answer (“I see myself in him through his honesty…his passion for humanity…his log cabin roots”), I realized that I would always be better at BS-ing about Lincoln than modeling cash flows.

So when I got my full-time offer, I turned it down.  I took another job, still in finance, but at a media company where I could learn to hone my creative talents.   And now, two years later, as I’m coming to the end of my term, I have to make another decision — whether to stay in my backup plan, or to go ahead and do something crazy, like compare myself to Abraham Lincoln.  Like eschew a stable finance career for the peripatetic life of a starving writer.  I’m leaning towards the latter, because I’m finally ready to give it a real shot now.  And I do truly believe that all things will work itself out in the end…

After all, the full-time offer I turned down, in the winter of 2006, was from Lehman Brothers.

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Los Angeles vs. New York… Working to Live, vs. Living to Work?

Growing up in Boston and having gone to school in Cambridge, I had a strong conviction of East Coast superiority. I loved the history of Boston, the competitiveness in Cambridge, and, after spending two summers in New York, the pace of Manhattan. There was a gritty, dog-eat-dog mentality that permeated throughout the city, both up in the boardrooms and down on the streets. There was a toughness and an urgency that New York required, as evidenced by the fast walking, fast talking culture. And even though the suits could be parading around with million-dollar bank accounts, they all still carried themselves as if entering the school of hard knocks: brows furrowed, collars up, and wielding a vast repertoire of profanity.

Even with its rat-race culture, I loved New York. During my senior year of college, I interviewed solely for jobs that were based in the city. Having grown up in the ambitious East Coast lifestyle, it just seemed like a natural progression to move to Manhattan, with its promise of hard work begetting career advancement.

img_0387I ultimately accepted an offer to work in a program which required a year in New York and a year in Los Angeles. When I got my first assignment, I was devastated to learn that I was starting in California. On a cold, wintry day in Boston, I packed my bags and flew out to the West Coast. I figured I’d just wait it out for a year until I got back to New York, where my career would actually begin. After all, LA was about its actors and singers, smoke and mirrors, and Britney and Kevin. Instead of M&A, I figured I’d just find T&A. It certainly wasn’t the same type of professional environment that I expected in New York.

img_0383Throughout my year in LA, I did encounter many examples of the superficiality that I expected when I first came to California. Most conversations centered around the gym, the beach, or the latest celebrity debacle. Meeting people out on the town invariably turned into a casting session. There was an endless supply of aspiring actors, models, and dancers moonlighting as waiters, secretaries, and personal trainers. There was a sleepy, slow pace to LA, where people mostly ambled along. Furrowed brows and premature wrinkles were nonexistent, if not for the worry-free lifestyle, then for the rampant use of Botox.

img_0271To my surprise, I found myself drawn to many aspects of the laid-back, West Coast lifestyle. One huge part of this was the weather. When I first arrived at the Burbank airport in January, I was greeted by 65 degree weather and bundled-up Californians. My landlord, wearing a thick black parka, apologized for how cold it was. (Over my year in LA, I could count on one hand how many times it rained. Almost 90% of the days were over 70 degrees and sunny…even in “winter”. I remember going to the beach in February, and just like in the Corona commercial, feeling disappointed when a cloud would appear in the bright blue sky.) The beautiful weather was something I didn’t expect, and it seemed to justify the slow pace of LA. Lying on the Santa Monica beach in the middle of March, I remember feeling rather smug–while my friends back in New York were shuttered away in their tiny apartments, I was out on the beach every weekend, enjoying the sun. While they were trekking through snow and maneuvering through the NYC subway system, I was cruising down Ventura boulevard in my car, windows down, radio blaring. While they were working weekends and long hours, I was putting in ten-hour days at most, with enough time to go to the gym and still get a margarita after work.

img_0281Yet even with this carefree lifestyle, there were often times when I felt anxious about the life I was living. I almost didn’t want to get too comfortable… it seemed like I was getting complacent or soft. I worried that I was losing my drive and ambition to the allure of comfort and sun. I didn’t want to become the stereotypical airhead Californian, without a care in the world. I’d think of the negatives of living in LA (the superficial people, the earthquakes, the traffic, and the smog) and remind myself of my East Coast convictions. I was bred to be a New Yorker after all, and there was some built-in angst that I had to have. Even with all the comforts out on the West Coast, I was never free from anxiety about my career, future, and ambitions.

A week ago, I moved back to New York to start the second year of my program. As I sat at my austere desk and looked out on the gray horizon, I missed the carefree days of life in sunny California. I can’t help but reminisce about LA and its anti-New York philosophies: work to live, don’t live to work. Life’s too short. Don’t worry, be happy.

A year ago, I would have thought that these philosophies were just an excuse for being weak, lazy, and of course, soft. Now, I’m not so sure. I don’t think I can ever completely embrace either side. As much as I loved LA, perhaps I’m programmed to feel guilt for “settling” or being too comfortable. Perhaps I can’t shake that gnawing ambition and ensuing anxiety. But now that I’ve seen how the other half lives, I don’t think I can bear the rat race of New York. I’m still awed by the intensity and energy of the city, but I’m not quite as keen to be immersed in it. Maybe that means I’m more willing to sacrifice career for life, in order to have fewer wrinkles when I’m older. Or, maybe I just need a few more weeks to get used to the fast pace of NYC again.

At some point I’ll have to choose… but I’m probably just not ready to do it now.

Update (6/25/09): What I Love About New York City

Update (10/14/09): Oddities in New York City

Update (3/31/10): I’m moving back to LA … Guess I’ve made my decision, huh?

Update (4/30/10): Goodbye, New York

Update (6/7/10): Truth is Beauty, and Beauty is Los Angeles

Update (6/29/10): Deciding On Lew Yongeles

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