New York is shit. New York is paradise. New York is a place I know all too well; I spent by far the biggest chunk of my life in this city (San Francisco/Bay Area is second), and my feelings about this city have changed throughout the years. There was a time when I absolutely loved everything about it, to the point of even being a proud New Yorker. Then, I began to hate it with a passion. Now, I’m kind of “meh” about the city. I don’t see myself living here anytime soon, but no matter how you slice it, it’s a city you just can’t ignore.
I’ve been all over the world, but if there’s a city where I feel the most productive, New York would win that contest by a landslide. I always get a ton of work done whenever I’m back — whether it’s for a quick trip to see the family and play with my sister’s baby daughter or a longer sojourn to clinch some deals and embark on new projects.
I spent most of last year in Ukraine. Ukraine is not an easy place to live in; the winters are rough and depressing, a poignant reflection of the stoic people and the Soviet-era architecture. But once the summer rolls around, the country transforms into one of the happiest in the world. Case in point: I rented a great apartment smack in the middle of Kiev. I was enjoying myself so much that I did absolutely zero work during the summer; walking around the parks and coffee shops was so much more rewarding and nourishing to the soul.
And why should I have worked? I didn’t see anyone else working either.
New York is different. There’s a certain air in the city. This air permeates everything in sight. People behave differently. They’re running everywhere and talking about nothing but money and work. That feeling is hustle. New York is all about hustle. In fact, I can’t think of another city on this planet that’s so entrenched with hustle. Whereas socialistic Western Europe has 6-week vacations and two-hour lunch breaks and Eastern Europeans are still trying to understand capitalism (yes, you have to work. No, Lenin isn’t going to return from his grave and pay your bills), America and New York specifically live and breathe money. The word hustle must’ve been invented by a New Yorker.
Whenever I’m in New York, I feel invincible. I feel like I can create any business, scale the fuck out of it and make a ton of money. And that has less to do with my ability and experience (that plays a role too) but is more rooted in psychology. In New York, I feel encouraged to hustle. I feel encouraged to create and sell stuff. I don’t feel ashamed of asking someone for money for a product or service that people can’t even touch, smell or taste. In the most of the world, people would roll their eyes at digital entrepreneurs like me who create products/services out of thin air and sell them. But not here. In New York, such products are the foundation of its massive economy.
In New York, you will be hustled if you don’t hustle first. Seemingly everyone is out to get a piece of you. There is the police that give out tickets for seemingly small infractions, insurance companies that deny claims unless you threaten to sue, supermarkets that promise discounts only to casually “forget” them during checkout and lots of other day-to-day hassles to keep you on your toes.
I don’t blame any of them. That’s just the nature of the beast. Either you hustle or you get hustled.
Another thing I realized is that you can’t really fail in New York. No, I don’t mean that you can’t fail if you’re originally from New York. I’m talking about being physically in New York. If you’re in New York, you can’t fail.
The world has gotten flatter, but you have a massive advantage building a business if you’re in a rich country. If you’re from Ukraine, Bangladesh or East Timor, you’ll be automatically looked up with suspicion when using the services that Americans take for granted. Good luck getting approved for Stripe, a popular credit card processor, building your store on the super popular Shopify (non-Americans can’t use their convenient payment processor), and countless other services where you’ll be treated as a second-class citizen and must jump through hoops to have a chance.
A few years ago, I was having a great time in Ukraine. That is until I tried opening a new bank account. It was my second bank account at the bank. The bank already had me as a customer. They knew who I was. Nevertheless, they refused. Told me I needed to appear in person with my passport — in New York City. Nobody trusts Ukraine. Can you really blame them? I’m sure the same thing would’ve happened if I was in Bali, India or Nepal.
But if you’re in New York, you’re fine. You’re protected. You’re taken care of. You’re as legit as they come. I mean who the heck is going to give you hard time if they see that you’re in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens or Bronx (and even Staten Island). That your phone has the 212, 347 (mine), 646 or 917 (old school) area code. If you’re in New York, you mean business. You don’t take any prisoners. You’re out to make money and make everyone around you filthy rich.
When in Rome, do as Romans do. When in New York, do as New Yorkers do: hustle. And who am I to disagree? What else am I supposed to do? Sightsee? Soul-search? Not in New York.
So, I did the only thing I knew. I registered a new business. Opened new bank accounts. Got several new company credit cards. Set up new business accounts on Stripe and PayPal. Registered with Facebook and Google as an advertiser. Opened up accounts at a bunch of marketing and remarketing sites. Created a couple of new sites. Some stores, too. E-commerce, leads, and digital products. The whole fucking enchilada. Began running ads to them. A few days later, thousands and thousands of people saw ads for my products and services. I felt like I conquered a good chunk of the globe from the comfort of my living room couch.
Money started flowing in. Dollars. Motherfucking dollars. Into my US bank account. Denominated in dollars. No transaction fees. No foreign exchange fees. No transfer delays. Dollars are motherfucking dollars. Not some worthless third world piece of paper masquerading as a national currency that loses most of its value by the time you spend it. I’m an American working with American companies. I’m in motherfucking New York.
After 90 days of non-ending hustle where I learned an array of new skills from complete scratch and felt like I entered a completely new world, but also where I barely stepped outside, I’m burned out. I’m ready for a break. I’m ready for some soul-searching and getting lost somewhere. I’m ready for a place where people are lazier, things are slower and the word hustle doesn’t exist. It’s the beginning of summer in Eastern Europe. Hope that place doesn’t make me too soft.
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