Over a quiet family dinner in 2005 I made a very confident announcement: “I’m going to move to New York City.”
“Good luck with that,” my mom said. Her response was way too automatic and there was a mildly sarcastic edge to her tone that lit a fire inside me. Then we all quietly finished our dinner.
11 years later, here I still am. Just four months ago I would have been writing this from an apartment in North Brooklyn with lots of space by New York standards, a cheaply carpeted floor that sloped Eastward, and that shook whenever trucks went by on the main road across the street. Once there was a small explosion in a plant a few blocks away and the whole place shook from that—I was certain this was it, it was going to come down at last. But it didn’t, and life went on. That was the apartment I liked to imagine looked like Carrie Bradshaw’s even though it in no way looked like Carrie Bradshaw’s. It meant something to me because it was the first apartment I could call my own, without a roommate, in New York City.
Today I live in another small apartment but this one has an amazing view of the city, a dishwasher, a garbage disposal and a concierge. Holy shit! Can you imagine? I couldn’t, and someitmes I still wake up wondering how I got here. In Silicon Valley the thing is “optimism,” like some form of unconditional hope. Kind of like a cult of optimism. Which is fun for a while, until reality rains down hard. I’ve experienced a ton of reality over my ten years in New York, probably more than enough to know that unconditional hope doesn’t cut it. But optimism is still key.
So what is one to do if one wants to be realistic and optimistic? It’s called believing in yourself, motherf***ers!
I’m just talking about being confident—not arrogant—about our fine, fine selves and what we can bring to the table in any given situation. And sometimes the desire to prove a naysayer wrong can be the biggest and best driver of all.
In 2005 my mom didn’t believe I could move to New York. She and my father couldn’t help me with money, so in her eyes it was the impossible. Her disbelief lit that fire in me, and that forced me to take action. Against all odds it worked. And to this day, any time someone tells me that I won’t be able to achieve something, I aim to prove them wrong. This hasn’t failed me yet. Sure, some negative things have happened along the way, but those don't compare to all of the things I've achieved because someone doubted me:
- Moving to New york City
- Having my own apartment in New York City
- Hanging out backstage at Roseland Ballroom with my favorite band and a famous Rolling Stone writer
- Surviving the recession without having to leave New York City
- Grabbing enough interest in my vegan cupcakes to get an order from a restaurant on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, nearly sell out the first time I went to market, and get a glowing review in a popular local vegan web publication
- Building a successful team and new deliverable format at a place where that previously did not exist
- Getting to travel to London
- Having my own upgraded apartment in New York City with an amazing view (and a dishwasher, garbage disposal and concierge)
- Getting accepted into Seth Godin’s altMBA course
All of those things above were things I was excited to pursue and about which one person or another said to me, “Dude, that won’t happen. Be realistic.”
To those naysayers I thumbed my nose and confidently acted, pivoting when necessary.
My point is very simply, blind optimism is bullshit. The kind of optimism that brings good things isn’t blind at all—it lies in smart realism and being unafraid to act on a strong belief in onself. With those two things in your back pocket, it’s easy to go confidently into the unknown, survive the twists and turns, and come out better for it.
Go confidently into the unknown!