I like to think I resisted this a bit but I think I’m slowly coming to terms with being a digital nomad. I’m typing this while in the back of a Lyft which is taking me from Long Beach California to Santa Monica where I have set up shop for the Summer. When I was younger, growing up in California, I used to fantasize about being bi-coastal.
I thought that might mean having an apartment in San Francisco and one in NYC and travelling back and forth for work. Now I think that’s a bit limiting. This country is mighty big, it’s true, but the world is mighty small. After spending time in Mexico City, Brussels, Berlin, and London last year I figure: why limit myself? I still feel like a New Yorker though. Perhaps that’s why I’ve resisted the moniker Digital Nomad.
True nomads, I believe don’t really have a home base. I like my home base. It feels good to “go home” from time to time (as I am about to do this week to teach some classes in NYC). Perhaps one of the reasons I feel at home there, is that it takes a long time to *feel* like a New Yorker. NYC is a brutal place at times and at other times – the times tourists seem to not understand – it is one of the best places on Earth.
I’ve had friends I care about, and strangers I’ve spoken to slam my city because of the brutish pride with which New Yorker’s speak about their home. “It’s the greatest city in the world” sounds incredibly ignorant especially to those who’ve been there. I think those who speak the most ill of New York are those who have tried living there and find it wasn’t to their taste. “It’s just a city. Why do people wear living there with a badge of pride?” It’s not a terrible question to ask, rhetorical though it might be.
Shall I answer it with an equally rhetorical and cryptic response? Do you think if you have to ask, maybe you don’t get it? I constantly hear from current and former New Yorkers, that we denizens of this city can be narcissistic. Having spent the past month in Los Angeles I can’t say I don’t notice the differences. Though I’d be remiss to say I haven’t witnessed a fair amount of self-absorption here. Indeed, I’ve been very curious about interrogating the differences between narcissism and self-absorption. If you figure that one out, let me know. But is being focused on one’s self entirely bad?
Understanding Adaptive Narcissism
I can’t say I don’t see the criticism that New Yorkers are self-focused as valid at times. I do, however, also sense that there’s something missing in the critique. I went so far as to find this article by psychology today that suggest narcissism isn’t all that bad. How can being aware of one’s self be bad if balanced with understanding one’s limits and an extreme focus on empathy? Is the adaptive narcissism described by Psychology today realistic?
On both coasts and abroad I find that there’s a renewed interest in meditation. Long the realm of crunchy culture, meditation is being considered seriously by science and is making it’s way into corporate culture. Having spent a couple Sundays in Long Beach taking meditation classes, I think I’ve found another word that encapsulates this kind of adaptive narcissism: Mindfulness. Merriam Webster (sorry brits) defines mindfulness as: “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”
Mark Twain said: “All generalizations are false, including this one.”
A friend commenting on the differences between Los Angeles and New York said that New Yorkers are hard on the outside but soft on the inside because they know the struggle is real. What registers as smug self-absorption by outsiders, sometimes is, in fact just the opposite. I think New York breeds its own form of mindfulness. Don’t stop walking on the sidewalk. Don’t stand at the top of the stairway leading to the subway. Don’t have a long phone conversation on the train. Look forward and at others and: walk. fast. Does this mean everyone follows these rules? Of course not. As Mark Twain said: “All generalizations are false, including this one.”
People in LA I’ve spoken to found New Yorkers to be rude. “The people at the deli counter seem set on getting you in and out. No chats or pleasantries. Others cut in front of you on line.” I think this is the quintessential New York experience. It’s not that we don’t see that as rude sometimes. It’s that we don’t give a shit. Life is too short. We have our own shit to deal with. If you think we haven’t seen some shit, you’re wrong. Dead wrong. We just refuse to let it get us down. We are hardened on the outside but knowledgable within. That’s why you can take the New Yorker out of New York but you can’t take the New York out of the New Yorker.
I came down to Mexico because I care about education. My friend Eme, trusted me to come to New York when I was hosting an event last November. He bought his ticket and jumped in and while here, he gave a wonderful and moving talk about Dev.f a school that he set up with his partners Elias and Enrique to teach young Mexicans how to code. Having witnessed first hand the explosion of tech education in New York and San Francisco, I was surprised to learn that there wasn’t an equivalent in Mexico.
While New York is saturated with coworking spaces and incubators, things down here in Mexico are at that exciting stage where, there’s a feeling of almost infinite potential.
As a teacher at General Assembly for several years, I’ve seen small developer bootcamps grow into multi-million dollar companies. There’s been an explosion of demand for developers in the states and a growing niche industry built around training junior developers. Being in Mexico City and seeing the tech startup scene here, reminds me of being in New York tech 4 years ago. While New York is saturated with coworking spaces and incubators, things down here in Mexico are at that exciting stage where there’s a feeling of almost infinite potential. Surprisingly for me most of these companies and individuals are working under the radar of U.S. companies.
Dev.f has a key partnership with Google’s Latin American arm and is being approached by some major U.S. tech companies for partnerships. I spoke with my friends at tech startup Bridgefy who were incubated in San Francisco and frequently travel to the U.S. to speak with their investors. Admittedly I had a small sample size for my data, working mostly through the connections I have directly from StartupBus Americas. But seeing the reactions of my compatriots in the U.S. to the perceptions of Mexico just doesn’t square with the reality. In our global economy, Mexico seems poised to become a real player and there’s an excitement you feel here like discovering a gold-mine of energy, talent and hope.
I will admit, I didn’t see much outside a small section of Mexico City, and what I’ve been told by others who live there, the hipstery tech scene is quite a bubble of wealth in an otherwise impoverished country. But the American perception of Mexico as essentially a scary, desert could not be further from the reality. Walking the streets of Roma/Condesa or seeing the opulence of Polanco, it’s easy to imagine you’re in European capital or New York City at times – and for someone like me who loves Mexican food, in many ways it’s far superior to both. Seeing the state of tech here and the growing potential and places like Dev.f and companies like Bridgefy make me very excited. I can’t wait to return.
seeing the reactions of my compatriots in the U.S. to the perceptions of Mexico just doesn’t square with the reality.
Last year I attended Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit for the first time. I was ushered to Portland by my colleague and friend, Jim Hopkinson who simply said, “you have to go!” To be honest I didn’t quite know what to expect. Jim and I had co founded a conference Reboot Workshop the year before encouraging others to live outside the 9 to 5 and I suspected that WDS might attract the same kind of aspiring entrepreneur. Employees working full time jobs they hate and can’t wait to leave to start their own companies. That group attended WDS for sure, but was just one small group amongst many successful artists, world-travelers, adventure seekers and a wide spectrum of people doing the most imaginative things. WDS isn’t just for entrepreneurs, current or aspiring, but for any creative thinker looking to squeeze just a bit more out of life.
Surprisingly, being around a lot of non-traditional creative types gave me quite a bit of perspective on my career. It wasn’t just an industry conference like SXSW. It was a life conference. Now in my 3rd year of running my own business, I’m one year ahead of where I was at the last WDS and so I’m curious to see how the people I meet and the experiences I have will shade where I go in the next year.
Like any endeavor without a definite end goal, it’s easy to get mired in the day-to-day. Last year I was still fleshing out my role as a teacher. I had some classes under my belt and some semblance of financial security but now I’m 100% on my month to month finances. Teaching has become my sort of “part-time job” that lays in a solid foundation that keeps my finances from fluctuating the way they did when I relied only on freelance work. Still this has come at the expense of taking on new projects. The time spent for preparing for class and working with students sometimes takes away from hustling for new business or launching new projects. When I conducted the New York City StartupBus in March I woke up to the fact that I really love being an entrepreneur and I want to build my business more. But I want to do it in the right ways.
Often failure to take the next step isn’t for lack of options but for lack of the right option. I hope that with WDS this year I can find new inspirations and ways of looking at projects that excite me and change the way I’ve been thinking about what I’m capable of.
As some of WDS friends know, I’ve been working on a new beta project that I’m excited to debut at the World Domination Summit. It’s called Lemur and it’s the embodiment of a lot of the best things that I’ve done in my business over the last three years. It’s a product and a coaching service and it’s specifically designed for helping creative professionals, my favorite audience. While WDS isn’t specifically about business, I think it’s the perfect place to test out reactions to Lemur. That’s because Lemur, for me, isn’t just about making a high-scale for-profit businesses. It’s about helping others and empowering creativity. I look forward to hearing what others think about the project and ideas they have for getting it out to the right audience.
Last year I met not one, not two, not three but 10 or so colleagues from around the world that I regularly check in with about business, life and everything else. I didn’t go to WDS to increase my global contacts but that ended up happening. I found friends in Europe, England, The Netherlands, Scotland, Portland, Texas, and Canada that I have either done business with or that I regularly bounce ideas off of. It’s been great to share my experiences with them and to see how we help each other with expanding possibilities of our own businesses. I also enjoyed the random encounters with strangers who, though we weren’t going to do business together, inspired me to think differently about how my business could be run. I met artists and life coaches. At one point I met an apothecary. People are really the reason to attend a conference. It’s not just the people on the stage but the audience that can grow your outlook and ideas. WDS presents one of the most mind-expanding audiences that I’ve had the pleasure to know and I’m looking forward to seeing who turns up this year.
Image from Flickr user R0Ng Creative Commons license.
San Francisco is an eclectic city. Proof of this concept is the breadth of differnt songs written about it. How can writing about the same thing spur such diverse output? In no particular order here are four songs about San Francisco.
Lights – Journey
The song is a ballad about Journey’s city of origin, San Francisco, although it was actually written in and originally intended to be about Los Angeles. It was one of Steve Perry’s first Journey songs, and was recorded soon after his joining the band. In an interview, Perry said, “I had the song written in Los Angeles almost completely except for the bridge and it was written about Los Angeles. It was ‘when the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on LA.’ I didn’t like the way it sounded at the time. And so I just had it sitting back in the corner. Then life changed my plans once again, and I was now facing joining Journey. I love San Francisco, the bay and the whole thing. ‘The bay’ fit so nice, ‘When the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on the bay.’ It was one of those early morning going across the bridge things when the sun was coming up and the lights were going down. It was perfect.”
Sitting on the Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding
In August 1967, while sitting on a rented houseboat in Sausalito, Redding started writing the lyrics to the song. He completed the writing with the help of Stax producer Steve Cropper, who was also guitarist in Booker T and the M.G.’s. The song incorporates mimicked seagull whistles and sounds of the waves crashing on the shore. Tragically, just three days after Redding and band mates finished the final refinements of the song, Redding, five band mates (James Alexander, Carl Cunningham, Jimmy Lee King, Phalon Jones, Ronnie Caldwell, and Matthew Kelly) and pilot Richard “Dick” Fraser died in a plane crash that landed in Lake Monona, Wisconsin. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” became the first posthumous album to reach number one on the Billboard Music Charts.
We Built This City – Jefferson Starship
The lyrics describe a city built on rock n’ roll music. The lyrics explicitly mention the Golden Gate Bridge and refer to “the City by the Bay”, a common moniker for Starship’s hometown of San Francisco, California. However, the lyrics also refer to “the City That Never Sleeps”, a reference to New York City, and “The City That Rocks”, a reference to Cleveland, Ohio. Capitalizing on the ambiguity, several radio stations added descriptions of their own local areas when they broadcast the song, or even simply added their own ident in its place.
San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)
The Bee Gees wrote their song “Massachusetts” as a reaction to this song. The Bee Gees’ song is about someone who has been to San Francisco but is now homesick for Massachusetts.
I can recall in my youth in Northern California a constant frustration called FOMO or fear of missing out. It is the anxiety felt that there’s someplace better you should be. You worry that you’re never where the cool stuff is happening. When I moved to the east coast and New York City seven years ago I felt that the big city had cured me of this ill. I was overwhelmed by all the choices, I simply had to deal with the fact that I would never be able to do everything. I learned that life is about making decisions. By making a choice you are inevitably missing out on the thing that wasn’t chosen. What moving to New York taught me was that wherever I was at the moment, was the right place for me to be. I brought the party.
During WDS we were in a space where what we said and did mattered as individuals
I’ve been back West many times to visit friends and family in the Bay Area and I brought with me my adopted New York attitude of nonchalance in the face of uncertainty or doubt. I brought the confident swagger that I had assumed New York had given me. I recently returned from Portland after attending The World Domination Summit (WDS), a two day conference built on the pillars of community, adventure and service. Attending WDS and finally seeing Portland, I realized something. It’s not about the space where you are but how the you change yourself in reaction to the space you’re in. In other words New York didn’t make me more confident. It was the permission I gave myself to see the confidence in me. At the conference much was made of the reactions of Portlanders to WDS attendees. I met some former Californians working in a food truck who claimed we were the nicest group they’ve ever met. Conference attendees heard this echoed everywhere, we were the kindest, most interesting and fun group they’d ever seen.
How did it happen? What was the magic that made WDS so worthwhile and impossible to describe to others? What caused this collective joy and positive outlook? As a teacher I’m often struck by the way the structure of a classroom affects the ways in which students interact. If I’m sitting at a table with my students, the questions I get and reactions to the material are much different than if students are in rows facing me at the front of a classroom. Reflecting on WDS I see this same sort of shift in how the space works to reflect back the attitudes of organizers, attendees and locals.
Two things, in my opinion, make WDS successful. One is that every attendee has a story. Not only were the speakers obviously very talented and amazing. It was equally engaging to hear the stories from attendees both on and off stage. Even the afterparty was interrupted briefly so an attendee could propose to his girlfriend. Why? Because it makes for a compelling story. The story of that wedding proposal was told in front of us because of the possibility we made for it to happen. During WDS we were in a space where what we said and did mattered as individuals and because of that we as a group made impossible things possible.
WDS is a collective wish to be positive about where we are in the present moment
The second reason for the success of WDS is Chris Guillebeau. He draws a stark contrast from others he’s sometimes compared to like Eric Reis or Tim Ferris. Chris’ character is what sets him apart. It’s defined almost entirely by his humbleness and kindness. At one point in the conference Chris gave what he called a “soft sell” which, for anyone who’s seen him speak before, is just what comes to him naturally. He can’t hard sell you or pressure you. You get the sense that Chris wants more people to be happy and comfortable like him. He invites you to enjoy life the way he does and you want to do it because he gave you a place to do it.
Portland itself is a magical place, filled with nonconforming and thoughtful people. The fact that so many of the attendees aspire to overlapping positive ideals and are brought to a place that encourages it is really what makes WDS great. It’s not about what we are doing for money or the bad patches you may see in front of you. It’s not about what you’re missing out on or the fear of it. WDS is a collective wish to be positive about where we are in the present moment and what we aspire to change in the future.
Very inspired by Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
This passage just about sums up what I’ve learned in the past year about curating events while building up my business:
In thinking about networked innovation this way, I am specifically not talking about a “global brain,” or a “hive mind” There are indeed some problems that are wonderfully solved by collective thinking: formation of neighborhoods in cities, the variable signals of market pricing, the elaborate engineering feats of the social insects. But as many critics have pointed out – most recently, the computer scientist and musician Jaron Lanier – large collectives are rarely capable of true creativity or innovation. (We have the term “heard mentality” for a reason.) When the first market towns emerged in Italy, They simply widened the pool of minds that could come up with and share good ideas. This is not the wisdom of the crowd, but the wisdom of someone in the crowd. It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that the individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network.
With fluidity Johnson moves from looking at networks on a molecular and sub-atomic level and then zooms out to look at cities and society. The adjacent possible is a clever principle, one that feels like so intuitive, as I’m reading, I feel as though I’ve known about it all along.
Listen to a dictaphone inside a parcel while it’s shipped from London to Helsinki.
Catching up with some of my rss feeds found this nice little photo over at Flora Douvillea blog about Parisian Life:
Reminded me of a photo I took a few weeks ago at Coney Island:
A sort of visual association game Brooklyn’s answer to Paris but what’s interesting is the comparions go deeper. That wire structure towering outside the Brooklyn Cyclone’s MCU Park has, according to wikipedia, been named the Eiffel tower of Brooklyn. The comparions between Brooklyn USA and Paris FR go further as well. Grand Army Plaza
is also called Brooklyn’s Arc de Triomphe. What’s with the overlap? To my knowledge Manhattan doesn’t look for such parity. If it means beautiful structures to pretty up the place I guess I’ll take it.