The 5 Most Important Life Skills I Learnt From Living in NYC for 10 Years

I didn’t have a greencard. I floated in and out of the USA with a business I owned and by getting stamps in my passport each 3-6 months. It was more a bohemian existence than a corporate super power, but, I did work with some of the most creative and successful people on the planet over that time. In New York, people don’t really give a cuss about all that, what they care about is what you do, and how well.

1. You’re only as good as your last note.

My first awareness starts with a quote from an Italian, Paverotti, still my favourite singer. You’re only as good as your last note. What a pressure! To be the world’s best means you are so absolutely meticulous about your art form that, one single slip, one single word misplaced, one single error could bring you down, and no greater truth, is the world of NYC.

I stumbled into NYC with my Aussie casual style and proceeded to aspire to be respected and valued as a contributor. My standards at best, were bad, and soon I leant, in NYC, only the best will do. I slipped and “slided”, I wiggled and waggled, I wormed and squirmed but in NYC, the standards are exceptional, and only the best of the best, survive.

There is an underbelly of NYC where those who aren’t good enough can exist. They etch out a life, work hand to mouth and try and try and try to reach into the upper realms of the wealth and celebrity of the city. But only the very real, very good, make it.

Prior to living in NYC I had spent time in India studying yoga. During that time I met Eddie Stern. A mild quietly spoken guy who had a yoga school in NYC. Eddie and I became friends and in NYC I helped keep his school open while he went back to study more in India. Eddie’s devotion to Yoga was astonishing. His love for students and the simplicity of his vision for them amazing. By the time I left NYC, Eddie was teaching Madonna, Sting, Gwyneth Paltrow, Deepak Chopra and a host of others. He had never advertised. He simply taught yoga brilliantly. This is how NYC works to separate the wanna be, from the real bee.

2. Time is Everything

At a NYC function, if you get an invitation, people are open. Wide open. The wealthy mix with the not. But, you will be asked in the nicest way “am I wasting my time talking to you?” And if, in 10 seconds you can’t prove the answer is no, the conversation is over.

What I love about this is truth. I love truth. In NYC there are the needy, and these are supported by all manner of charity and scholarship. There is no prejudice in this process, if you’ve got potential, you’ll get funded and supported. If not, f…k off. Very little is left unspoken.

Contrast this to Europe where polite conversation might give a person the sense that they are getting through to the inner sanctum of money or opportunity. But really, it’s just a polite way of not saying NO. The F..k off is a longer slower process.

In hundreds of meetings with business leaders and potential funding sources for our venture, 10 seconds was enough for someone to declare, “this is a waste of time, thank you for coming.”

This raw honesty and value of time I have realised is a standard for those who are successful in life. Time is just too precious to waste on fluff.

3. First Impressions Last Forever

I knew how important first impressions were. I am no slouch when it comes to meeting people, dating women or making an impression on stage. But in NYC it goes to another level.

Contradictions are transparent. The person with a dirty pair of shoes and a fancy brief case is seen. The person with uneven eyebrows and a Gucci tie, is recognised. Dressing up is a fine art of honesty.

We launched our $200,000,000 venture in NYC and invited the who’s who of brokers and investors to attend. We spent $35,000 on the launch night, redecorating an entire warehouse to become a super conscious store, just as we were creating. BUT then NYC turned up its nose at us. Not our fault totally. On the launch night, we flew a team from Australia, put everything together and then, it rained, as only it can rain in NYC. Streets flooded, cars went into a jam up, nothing moved, and the night was washed away. Those who did make it felt bad because they were in the minority, and needed to leave to get home. Rescheduling was not an option. Accidentally we got caught with our pants down and it wasn’t a good look.

At first I really worked hard to make a first impression but over time I realised that you just can’t fake it. What NYC looks for is not impressions but authenticity. If you’ve got dirty shoes and an old case, they don’t care, but if you try hard and don’t get it right, you’re sunk. My uniform on Wall St was blue jeans, RM Williams boots, A white cotton shirt and whatever jacket Giorgio Armani had on sale that year. It fitted my authentic Aussie message and no one commented. Adding an Akubra hat would have crossed the line.

be Real but never boring… be you, and dress accordingly. It works.

4. There is no half

Attend a party, a meeting, a retreat or a dinner at a restaurant with friends and you are required, not invited, but required to contribute. That’s such an inclusive attitude but it comes with a hook. It better be interesting. What is tolerated in those environments in lower intensity environments, say in Melbourne or Hobart, would be spoken about, loud and clear.

The invitation to participate means 100%. Half is not acceptable and there are no second warnings. On the odd occasion where I felt a but underpar and I didn’t throw the full weight of my self into whatever we were doing it usually resulted in not being invited back a second time.

Tolerance of “non engagement” is zero. Excuses are forgiven but they need to be great, like “I’m having a heart attack” for example. This carries over to the dating scene, and when, on the odd occasion I tried it in NYC and didn’t throw my full energy into a date, I walked away knowing it.

Throwing the full weight of your engagement into anything becomes a habit, a great way to respect and value the opportunities life brings. It’s something I’ve done and do, ever since with great enthusiasm.

5. Fuck Off

Fuck you, fuck off, fuck … with a NYC accent, it’s an amazing word and I feel that I heard it more in the time I was in NYC than everywhere else combined. Just like car horns in NYC don’t mean “I hate you” as they do in Australia, fuck off in NYC doesn’t mean, “I want to kill you” like it does in Australia.

Shit of get off the pot, is a rather gross expression that really says the same thing. If you aren’t in it, don’t bring us down, fuck off.

All over the world people tolerate the half empty brigade of energy sucking negative speaking critics. In NYC, you try it, and you’ll hear it, “F..k off.” What it reveals is the level of conviction required to do something right and good and special in life and how there’s just no room for those who thrive on doubt, anxiety and uncertainty. Especially in entrepreneurial business teams.

As mentioned we often flew Australians over to NYC for projects and it’s absolutely amazing to witness how many times they were told by NYC teams to F..k off. Aussie standards of work investment and conviction are very laid back and it really challenged work groups in NYC. We didn’t have this problem with other nationalities – mostly Aussies who, in the big scheme of things probably did a good job but were less gung-ho about it.

So, these snippets are by no means the end of the story.

After 10 years living and working in and around NYC, and while standing at my office window overlooking Soho, Wall St and the Hudson, a plane flew over our roof, and into the world trade centre. One minute we were building a massive business, the next we were stone cold broke. And NYC didn’t act romantically about it. Someone needed office space, our office was perfect, the landlord tripled our rent, locked us out and sent us home. I could be angry about it, but there’s two sides to everything. And for that, NYC, thank you for being so REAL.

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