As a New Yorker, I feel like I am constantly apologizing for the crowds. When I’m talking to friends or family from other parts of the country, the most frequent refrain I hear is, “I could never live around so many people”.
Believe me, I get it. But there is more to the story than what meets the eye. Believe it or not, the crowds add to the value of living in New York City.
Yesterday I was at one of the parks in the city. It was my day off and I had a book open while I basked in the truant Spring weather. I could hear birds chirping. Birds! As I sat there in my favorite spot in the city, an Asian family sat in a cluster of chairs next to me.
“Excuse me,” the matriarch said in a thick accent. “What is that building?”
“It’s a library,” I replied.
She translated to her party and they chattered excitedly for a few minutes. I went back to my back. Two minutes later:
“Excuse me, sir. What is that building?” The matriarch pointed to a towering building in the distance.
“That’s The Empire State Building.”
She translated and the chatter escalated.
This pattern happened about four more times. The curious tourists getting their bearings, searching for directions.
It was annoying. I mean, they were adorable, so that helped. But in the face of it, I was trying to read on my off day and these people wouldn’t leave me alone.
More than Me
Every single day in New York, two things happen to me. Someone asks me for money and someone asks me for directions. As I walk down the streets, I get annoyed at someone who is in my way and I get annoyed by someone rushing up against me.
The crowds in New York interrupt my life. In a thousand little ways, the eight million people here hijack what I had planned for the tiny little moment in front of me.
I spend so much of my life trying to make every element of the world around me perfect. My kind of pace. My kind of people. The vision for my life is about Me.The sheer mass of humanity in New York challenges this predisposition every single day. And it does so to my benefit. New York reminds me that I am not the center of the universe. It lets me know that my best laid plans may not be the best option for the day.
Talking with the Asian family at the park may have been the best part of my day. Interacting with a homeless person may be the most important thing I have to do today. Getting annoyed that the people on the street aren’t parting for my desired pace is convicting; it reveals my entitlement and my absurd expectations.
Being a New Yorker changes my perception of the world around me. It forces this introvert into challenging relationships. It pushes me outside of myself and into participation with the collective.
Although it sounds strange, being interrupted has actually helped to refine the vision for my life. I am so easily driven by whatever is at the forefront of my mind, whatever obstacle is right in front of my face. An interruption causes me to take a step back and reflect. It forces me to evaluate my values and the scope of my vision. It invites me to live with more intention, ironically.
Obviously, a balance is needed. I avoid people as much as the next New Yorker. I steer clear of the tourist sites during rush hour. I have set up boundaries and am working hard to find a balance. But the interruptions of the city have helped make me aware of the need to refine those boundaries, of just how much I have overcorrected to self-protection, and of how much broader my opportunity to influence is than I ever imagined.