50 Important Lessons New York City Taught Me -Forbes Magazine

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Reflecting upon the anniversary of September 11th, 2001, I stumbled across this Forbes Magazine article. It is a wonderful reflection upon the great city, with all its quirks, buzz and magic that it is known for.

For those who live in New York, have lived there or those who dream of living there one day, I would definitely recommend reading it. It brought a smile to my face and a twinkle to my eye thinking about the place.

Unsurprisingly many of these lessons translate to not only New York City but to life in general. Take a moment to read it and perhaps you will learn something too.

Fifty Important Lessons New York City Taught Me

Article by Brett Nelson, Contributor, Forbes Magazine

This is the first September in 14 years that I won’t sleep in the shadow of the World Trade Centre. In 1998, at age 27, I moved from Chicago to lower Manhattan—four short blocks south of the twin towers—and didn’t budge until this spring.

Yet 11 years after seeing the towers fall with my own eyes, I still don’t know where to put that monstrous vision and pointless loss. So this year I tried another way—however inadequate—to pay respect: I reflected on the city itself and its many revelations.

While the Big Apple isn’t, as some boast, the centre of the universe, its lessons are no less universal. Here are 50 of them.

For those who have their own NYC lessons to share, feel free to chime in by commenting on this post. There’s no better occasion.

1) Walk 

Manhattan’s density encourages it (as do expensive cab fares), but wherever you are, if you have the time, find an excuse to put feet to pavement.

One highlight for locals and tourists alike: On a warm Sunday in 2000, a colleague and I footed the entire length of Manhattan. We started at 7:15 a.m. at the very northern edge, where the Harlem River hooks west to the Hudson. From there we hit the Cloisters museum and gardens, crisscrossed Harlem (chocked with decked-out church-goers), carved off part of Central Park, took in the swells on the Upper East Side, dodged tourists in gaudy Times Square, plunged south through the fashionable Flatiron District, meandered through bustling Greenwich Village, Soho and Tribeca, took stock of slumbering Wall Street, and eventually docked at the South Street Sea Port. Nearly 16 miles, five food stops and 12 hours in all.

2) Competition Is Good

Proof: some 150 exceptional restaurants I can think of.

Photo Credit: Nat Ma, Rainy Day NYC

3) What We Crave  

Whatever shape the economy’s in, millions of people continue to pay an absurd premium to toil and escape in New York City. That’s because deep down—more than any specific satisfaction or vice—we all crave possibility. In that sense, NYC might be the world’s greatest brand: It makes you feel (goofy as it sounds) like anything can happen.

4) If You Don’t Care, No One Will 

People have their own dreams, details and distractions to contend with. If you want them to care about your story, you have to make them care.

Ode to a legend: If you ever took a 6 a.m. out of LaGuardia Airport during the early 2000s, you’re probably familiar with the Brooklyn National Diner in the main terminal. The small stand made decent eggs, good coffee and generous sandwiches; it also made for great theater, thanks to the tireless, remorselessly effervescent taskmaster who ran it. “DA-li-cious break-FAST!” he’d bark at bleary-eyed newcomers while moving committed customers through the line. I never caught his name, but I’ll never forget him.

5) Markets Will Always Be Inefficient 

An 8-foot Christmas tree goes for about $100 in Manhattan’s funky-cool Greenwich Village. About one mile south, in ritzy Tribeca, an inferior specimen might run $150. An extra two subways stops (yes, you can squeeze one of those suckers on the train) saves you $50.

6) Star Interns Are Lifesavers

If you can find some whippersnappers who demonstrate serious aptitude, take initiative, can survive on a pittance, and keep coming back for more, show thanks for your insanely good fortune by training the living the hell out of them.

7) Unplug 

You hear this advice a lot in NYC, especially from miserable souls who can’t seem to follow it. “There’s a time to surf and a time to synthesise,” warns Chunka Muimanaging director of The Devil’s Advocate Group. “Multitasking makes it hard to focus on the right information and near impossible to think through the implications. If a meeting isn’t worth unplugging for, it’s not worth having.”

8) Find A Role Model

Teachers provide tools, and mentors offer support, but role models set targets. Good luck without one—and that goes for teenagers and business owners.

9) Mean A Little To Many, Or Mean A Lot To A Few

With a few exceptions, that’s the continuum. Find your spot, own it, and be at peace.

10) Toughen Up

Few images bolster resolve (or just make you stop in awe) like a scoliotic elderly woman navigating a grocery cart through a crowded street—and knowing that a big part of her wouldn’t have it any other way.

11) Take Your True Measure 

Be there, do that (within reason), and then draw a conclusion.

12) Appreciate A Park: Every Blade Of Grass (And Shard Of Glass)

The dirt softball field under the 59th Street Bridge (connecting Manhattan to Roosevelt Island) doesn’t exactly make you feel, as Paul Simon would say, groovy. In fact, it’s a treacherous place, devoid of grass and littered with broken glass. Adding insult to probable injury, shallow pop flies get swatted down by the bridge’s understructure. But then, if you get hold of one over the right-field fence you might nail a bus (that’s fun!), and you can nurse your wounds over piles of worthy hot wings at the nearby Blue Room.

13) Heroes Are Everywhere 

Everyone in my apartment building who had left for work on 9/11 prior to the attacks wasn’t allowed home for 10 days during the evacuation. Meanwhile, our then-superintendent slept in the lobby the very first night to make sure all the pets—32 floors worth—had enough to eat. You’re a hero, Gus.

14) You Can Only Control What You Do 

That one’s bigger than the five boroughs combined.

15) Give Thanks 

Before I knew him, a dear friend from business school worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, a financial firm formerly headquartered in One World Trade Centre. On 9/11 Cantor lost 658 of the 960 employees based there. My friend is alive because his train was late. He still works for Cantor (in Hong Kong) but he won’t go near the Trade Centre site. Sometimes he laments his luck. I’m just grateful his train was late.

16) By Age 17 Alexander Hamilton Was George Washington’s Right-Hand Man

More impressive, that same son of a Nevis prostitute later became the father of the modern banking system. I thought about that every time I passed Hamilton’s grave (in the Trinity Church graveyard near Wall Street) and it made me smile.

17) The Joy Of Stress

The Occupational Safety and Administration declared stress a hazard of the workplace. And I have no doubt that Web MD is doing us all a public service by reporting that 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress. NYC is a stressful place. But uncomfortable as it can feel, a little stress can also be a powerful motivator. The trick is letting off steam now and again by abusing the star intern.

18) Short-Term Thinking Is The Real Health Hazard

See: America’s fast-approaching fiscal cliff. (For more on how to deal with it, check out: A Radical Way Of Building New Companies, Creating Jobs And Boosting The Economy.)

19) You Get What You Incentivise

If you want repeat revenue, tie bonus pay to customer-satisfaction forms. If you want to crank up mortgage-processing fees, don’t ask borrowers for proof of income. And, please: If you want to stop financial fraud and other nefarious behavior, forget all of these speed-bump-sized fines. Put people in jail or into penury! 

20) Success = Talent + Vision + Sustained Effort

Heavily weight that third variable—ask any entrepreneur.

21) Break It Down  

If you can’t explain something in simple sentences, numbers or diagrams, overwhelming odds are that you either 1) don’t fully understand it, or 2) it doesn’t make sense.

22) Chat Up A Cabbie 

A cab ride is an opportunity to get cheated (perhaps), to get carsick (likely, depending on the time of day), and to learn something (always). Just don’t take the dude’s stock tips.

23) The Three Sweetest Words In The English Language

“Two and twenty”—ask any hedge-fund manager.

24) Read The Footnotes (Or Listen To Those Who Do)

Short-sellers and accounting geeks are obsessed with fine print. They also tend to know better.

25) Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

One of the great ironies of NYC is that the very people who glorify its energising collision of cultures and vast menu of choices are often the same people who confine their social lives within the same three square-blocks (and I’m not just talking about newly minted parents).

26) Have A Ritual (Part 1)

Sunday morning at Petite Abeille, in Tribeca, with a Belgian waffle, a pool-sized latte and back issues of the New Yorker.

27) Most First-Person Accounts Are Self-Absorbed Crap

But sometimes (ahem) readers can be counted on for clemency.

28) Be Inspired  

If you need help, watch a new office tower’s steel skeleton punch the sky.

29) There Are All Kinds Of Thanksgivings 

Until age 35, I was lucky enough to have never missed Thanksgiving with my extended family in Chicago. In 2006, with work and business school bearing down, there was too much to do to make the trip home. At 7 pm on Thanksgiving night, a workaholic colleague appeared at my office door and declared: “This is bull@#$%. We need some turkey.” So we walked to Grand Central Station and ate in the great hall at a place called Metrazur (now an Apple store). With all respect to my aunt Judy, it was the best bird I ever had.

30) Be Alone

Not all the time—just long enough to hear yourself.

31) What It Takes   

Talent gets you invited to camp; determination gets you on the team; teamwork gets you on the field; confidence gets you on the starting unit; love for the game keeps you there. And too many sports metaphors get you smacked in the face.

32) If You Present A Problem, Present A Solution

Otherwise you’re just a whiner, and no one likes a whiner.

33) The Older You Get, The Less Patience You Have, And The More You Need 

More aggravating still is that knowing it doesn’t really help.

34) Small Is Magnificent 

That goes for movie theatres, Italian restaurants, music venues, consignment shops, grocery stores—everything except a martini pour.

35) Look Out The Window On The Descent 

That’s right: “Wow…”

Photo Credit: Jason Hawkes

36) Spending More Than You Can Afford Is Alarmingly Easy To Do… 

That’s true everywhere, but NYC puts a rather fine point on it.

37) …But You Don’t Need $1 Million To Feel Like A King  

Twelve years ago my buddy dumped what he had into a sailboat he lived on and docked in Jersey City, across the Hudson River from the twin towers. One Sunday afternoon he invited some friends to grill burgers while bobbing in New York Harbour. It was September 9, 2001. Most of us were barely making rent. But for a few hours—with the towers in front and the Statue of Liberty behind—the world was ours.

38) Have A Guilty Pleasure Or Two

Mine included the occasional dearly priced ginger margarita at the Mercer Hotel bar, and—somewhat embarrassingly—a 3-hour spin on the Circle Line Tour (the guided tour boat that circumvents Manhattan). Sometimes it’s fun to be a tourist in your own town.

39) Ask For What You Want  

“No” is a mild cut. Regret is a cancer.

40) Don’t Take Things Personally  

It frees up energy to make adjustments.

41) Always Ask: “And Then What?” 

The answer might surprise you.

42) Don’t Wait 

My parents and I had talked for years about a trip to Italy. Mom has aggressive arthritis and a weak ticker, Dad a bum back and stubborn aversion to change. Four summers ago, as they both neared 70, they came for a visit. After three days, the city had visibly taken its toll—and those years of talking suddenly felt like precious wasted time. Nine months later we booked our Italy trip, and it was one for the ages.

43) Glib Gets Old 

Jonathan Franzen, able satirist and author of Corrections, said anything that betrays real passion is uncool. It’s a great line—and you’d be amazed how many people take it to heart.

44) Best Pizza (Ever)

Lucali, in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

45) Catch Up With Clifton

Every weekday morning for nearly 10 years, a short, wiry gentleman with a Caribbean accent, grey hair, cherubic smile and kind heart camped out with a newspaper at the south exit of the Rector Street subway stop, three blocks from Ground Zero. I hope you’re well, Mr. C.

46) Surprises Are For Birthdays 

Whatever it is, get ahead of it.

47) Put Fresh Eyes On It 

Whatever it is, it’ll need work in the morning.

48) Communicate Like A Grownup 

Call to discuss, email to confirm.

49) Have A Ritual (Part 2)

Annual testosteronic outing called Steak Night—with up to 22 friends and family members from five states—at a storied NYC chophouse, preferably Peter Luger in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

50) Every Day Is New

I rarely needed a reminder. And still don’t.

Source: Forbes Magazine, September 10th 2012

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