New York is a unique place. As known the world over, it’s truly a city that never sleeps. It’s also one of the few cities in the world where people are endlessly hustling. There’s an energy in the air unlike of other cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Kiev or Chiang Mai; other fantastic cities where I’ve lived and dream about returning from time to time.
As time went on, I’ve also discovered something else interesting and unique about NYC: it’s the only city in the world where I interact with people who work at 9-5 jobs. Everywhere I go, whether I’m in Belo Horizonte, Bali, Barcelona or Kiev, the Big Apple is really the only place in the world where I meet people who—like clockwork—wake up at 9 in the morning, commute to some distant office, usually on the other side of the city, and then return home at 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening. To an untrained eye, it’s almost like the city is populated with an army of robots.
So, who are these people that I’m meeting with regular 9-5 jobs? They are mostly my old childhood with friends with families (some with kids) who live their lives exactly how society wanted.
The other day, I met such a friend for coffee after work. We were scheduled to meet at 6 pm, but at the last minute his boss forced him to work more, so he showed up an hour and a half later. When I saw him, he was completely exhausted. He told me that he’d been working 16-hour days for a few weeks now because they were nearing the competition of an important project that was being delayed a few times.
After seeing him in this lifeless state, I took mercy on him and cut the meeting short so that he can return back to his wife at home.
Everywhere else around the world, the people that I deal with on a constant basis are never 9-5 employees, but other self-made digital entrepreneurs. The South African friend who’s running a six-figure business in Thailand. The British expat whom I’ve gotten to know when I lived in Brazil. He recently bought a lavish beachfront condo in Rio and has no plans of going anywhere else. Then, there’s a guy in Kiev who found me via the blog. He’s from The Netherlands and has spent seven years living in Bali, but recently decided that Ukraine is a fantastic place to be in the summer. Naturally, we quickly became good friends. And, how can I forget my old friend from Lithuania, from when that country was my home. He has a small but thriving business that allows him to spend summers in his own country while bicycling around Southeast Asia in the winter.
As far as I’m concerned, this is the new normal. I’m surrounded by people who’re hustling and running their own businesses, whether they’re in Ukraine, Lithuania, Brazil or Thailand. Everyone is hustling. Everyone is experimenting. Everyone is endlessly hustling, experimenting and building new business.
I used to think that business and entrepreneurship was something that was exclusively reserved for the “used car salesmen” type or just plain insiders. However, as I quickly discovered, I was very wrong. Actually, dead wrong. In fact, it’s as though my reality has been turned upside down; the world that I inhabit is made up of nothing but entrepreneurs, meeting someone who isn’t experimenting with a new product or service, or a new marketing campaign is now strange and unusual.
They say that you’re the average of the five people you interact with on a constant basis. That has been absolutely true in my experience. Sure, you can become a lone wolf and learn everything on your own. I’ve done that for many years. I’ve gone the solo route, devouring information and endlessly experimenting. While it’s not easy, it can definitely be done.
But it’s also helpful when an event happens that shifts your reality in fundamentally new ways. About fifteen years ago, one fine afternoon, I made friends with a guy who was selling t-shirts out of his locker in high school. I was immediately impressed. We became friends. He introduced me to his other friends. They were more successful and ambitious than him. Let’s just say they were selling much more than t-shirts to high school students.
Seeing these men build value and literally print money spoiled me for life. There was no way back. From that point on, everything to me became about building businesses. And I’ve done it all. I’ve built websites. I built e-commerce sites. Created my own software company. Wrote and marketed iPhone and Mac apps. Imported phones from China and hustled them on eBay (This was before the iPhone ruined my market). I’m currently running several businesses and very close to launching the “business of my dreams.”
When you’re surrounded by hustlers and go-getters, your mindset and thinking shifts and what was once some aspiration or ambition becomes the new normal. As a result, what were once insurmountable challenges and struggles instantly become more natural, seamless, easier and frictionless.
That’s because a big part of trying something new is actually changing the way you think. It’s about shifting your perspective. As humans, we tend to mimic others and naturally move towards a path of least resistance.
If you’re surrounded by people who’re all working at a soulless corporation, then you’ll find nothing strange about working at a big corporation. If everyone around you is working 100-hour weeks at a startup, you’ll find nothing strange about working 100-hour weeks at a startup.
And, if everyone around you is an entrepreneur who’s juggling several online businesses and easily clearing five-figures per month, you’ll begin to view everything except business building as strange and unnatural.
This is precisely why, knowing what I know now and seeing the experience of others with my own set of eyes, I can never work at a regular company ever again. These were my beliefs ten years ago when I embarked on this journey. And, not only have these beliefs persisted since, but they have become even stronger over time.
One of the reasons these beliefs have strengthened over time is because becoming an entrepreneur in today’s hyperconnected world is literally a matter of clicks. Everything that’s needed—from researching a new market, making a product to selling it—can be done on the Internet in a matter of hours, not days or weeks as was the case before.
Then, there are the unstoppable economic forces that, depending on whom you ask, are either slowly eroding the labor workforce or outright crushing it through automation and artificial intelligence. In twenty years, children will ask their parents to define the word “job.” Indeed, we’re in a middle of an important transformation of how we work, create wealth and live.
Spending time in New York is making me see that, for most people, a job is simply the “default” path. It has nothing to do with intelligence or ability. There are plenty of smart people who’re working boring and monotonous jobs, people that, with the right motivation, can easily start a simple business, automate it and enjoy a new stream of income—income that didn’t exist before.
Ultimately, what is life? Life is short, yes. We’re born. We live. We learn something. We use our skills to cooperate with others and create something bigger than ourselves. Then we die.
We can’t unborn ourselves and we can’t escape death. But what happens between those two important events is up to us. We can use that time for meaningful purposes or we can simply let our society and culture erect that purpose for us. We can serve ourselves or we can serve others. We can choose to find our own path or follow where society takes us.
The only meaningful life is a productive one, a life of never-ending hustle. That’s why my biggest culture shock is no longer going to a favela in Rio de Janeiro. It also isn’t passing by a rough and decaying Soviet-era neighborhood in a Moscow suburb. It’s not fishing with the locals in a tiny village on the island of Bali. It’s also not getting lost in Mumbai, India and being surrounded by crowds of people and cows as I’m rushing to the airport to catch my flight to Thailand.
My biggest culture shock is New York City after spending time with people who work 9-5 jobs. They seem so lifeless, pale, and devoid of any ambition or interests. They’re the modern day robots, specifically trained to perform tasks in a predefined, predictable manner.
But they’re not robots. These people are just like me and the other entrepreneurs I know. They look like me. They talk like me. They are also intelligent and capable. And since we’re all really the same, then what remains is a subtle matter of perspective, environment and your definition of reality. And, maybe, just, maybe, meeting the right person in a high school locker room.
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James Maverick used to work in a cubicle as a code monkey in Silicon Valley. Then, in 2007, he quit his job and a one-way ticket to Brazil. Ever since, he continued to travel, visiting over 85 countries and living in more than a dozen of them. He loved his location-independent lifestyle and has no plans to live in America.