My younger cousin just finished school and asked me for advice about what to do next.
This is the condensed version of my answer.
Travel. Whether in the outback or overseas, go and fend for yourself in a new place. It’ll set the tone for the rest of your life.
Be really true to yourself – you’ll only ever be happy if you ake up every day feeling passionate about what you do.
Start writing your goals in life – for 10 years time, 3 years time and 1 years time. List all the things you want to do and then think about what you need to be doing today to achieve them.
Try things. Don’t think too much about them – just do them. The more mistakes you make now, the better. Mistakes are the only things that really let you find out who you are and what you really believe.
“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.” Here.
Do things that make you nervous as often as you can.
Do debating. Join a University debating club or Toastmasters. Trust me, you will always be grateful that you did.
Be impeccably honest.
Think about the things you are really good at. Spend as much time doing them as you can.
Don’t base your decisions in life around what you think other people want you to do.
Never take rejection personally – always assume it’s circumstantial.
Learn to focus on one thing for long periods of time. Learn to not be distracted.
Learn the art of delayed gratification.
Let your curiosity drive you. Remember that the most interesting people are those who are most interested.
“The phrase ‘I don’t have time for’ should never be said. We all get the same amount of time every day. If you can’t do something it’s not about the quantity of time. It’s really about how important the task is to you. I’m sure if you were having a heart attack, you’d magically find time to go to the hospital. That time would come from something else you’d planned to do, but now seems less important. This is how time works all the time. What people really mean when they say ‘I don’t have time’ is this thing is not important enough to earn my time. It’s a polite way to tell people they’re not worth your time.”—
Someone said that to me recently. They weren’t sharing an opinion, they were stating what they saw as fact.
My human side wanted to disagree. What about the promise of democracy? The power of the people? The breadth of human achievement?
Then last night two things happened, almost simultaneously.
I flicked on Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares to see a restaurant run by people who fall into the category of ‘stupid’. I won’t go into detail, except to say that the proliferation of cockroaches throughout the kitchen and debt of $850,000 hadn’t raised alarm bells for them.
As I was watching that unfold, I read this article. It’s pretty amazing. In short, a ReadWriteWeb post about an AOL/Facebook partnership found its way to the top of Google search results for the query ‘facebook login’.
As a result, RWW was flooded with people who had searched for ‘facebook login’. Lost and bewildered upon arriving at RWW, they concluded that the Facebook login page had been replaced by the RWW article. And so they started complaining in droves.
The comments make for amazing reading.
The new facebook sucks> NOW LET ME IN.
EXCUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUSE ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHY NOT JUST LEAVE IT ALONE!!!!!!!!!!!1111
I just want to log in to Facebook - what with the red color and all? LOLLLOLOL!!!!!111
IAM NEW AT FACEBOOK NOW WITH CHANGES IAM LOSSSSSSSSST!
Can we log into face book? This is crazy I want to get all my info off and be done with this. I recently moved from MN to SC Myrtle Beach and facebook was a great way to keep in touch with family and friends but this is getting to be to difficult.
Clearly there’s plenty of evidence for the theory that people are stupid.
A few minutes after reading the RWW article, I switched over to Q&A. Bill Shorten, Federal Member for Maribyrnong was on the panel and midway through the show, he was asked - Are you a conservative?
This was his answer (paraphrased):
"No. Sometimes a debate about labels in politics doesn’t help a lot. I think most people are just interested in what are you going to do for them and how quickly can you do it. But having said that, conservatives are people who believe in the status quo. To me they’re people who think the past is probably a safer place than the future. They’re people who adhere to, you know, the memory.
What I’m interested in is the new fault line, which is: either you believe in knowledge, innovation and change or you don’t. Either you have an optimistic view of the human character or you don’t. Either you’re positive about the future or you aren’t.”
I thought about that a little bit. People are definitely stupid, sometimes.
But if there is a divide between those who are optimistic about the human character and those who are not, then I know where I stand.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
"A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way — an honorable way — in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”
At the beginning of the third quarter of today’s Lakers-Nuggets game I decide I am going to walk from 100th St to Ground Zero.
With the Lakers up by 6, I leave the apartment. It’s 5.49.
I take the subway from Chambers St express to 96th St. As the stops flicker by, it dawns on me that this isn’t an insubstantial walk, especially given the snow, the cold and my choice of shoes - a pair of worn down Chuck Taylors.
Yesterday I walked from East Williamsburg, across the Williamsburg Bridge and home to Tribeca. It was colder and snowier. Through the red bridge, I stared out at Manhattan and it felt like my chest cavity was expanding.
Yesterday on the Williamsburg Bridge.
As I pass 66th St I get a sense that I’ve come a long way uptown. To my right a group of kids laugh hysterically. There’s an old man reading a book beside them. He doesn’t flinch.
I boarded the subway in the day’s final light and I exit in the dark.
Standing on the corner of 96th St and Broadway I get my bearings. Downhill to the left is the Hudson. Central Park is a few blocks to my right.
I begin walking towards 100th St. Past 99c stores and cheap massage parlours. Past diners and juice bars and Dunkin’ Donuts. This part of Manhattan seems nondescript. Like I could be in any American city. The same shops, the same characters, the same sparse mix of people.
I turn right at 100th St and walk uphill a block. The snow is banked up, 2 and 3 feet deep in parts. The roads are clear, as is the sidewalk, but there remains the occasional ice spot, subtly menacing in the reflection of the full moon.
Walking east, high-rises spring up around me. High-rise, low cost, high density housing remains one of the great social failures of last century’s governments. Regardless of the country, a high concentration of towering shoeboxes always produces the same thing. Lifeless, light-less streets. People with their heads down.
Past roadworks and scaffolding and snow piled high on the roadside, I get my first glimpse of Central Park. Covered in snow yet still full of runners and bikers and families with kids on sleds or dogs on leashes, it’s light and airy and inviting.
I pass The Lake, and Dakota, on 72nd St, the building where John Lennon was shot. I think about decisions I’ve made in the past. I think about decisions I’m making now. I think about how intensely I debate and test them. How obsessively I try and squeeze out a sense of purpose from them. And then I think that really, it doesn’t matter what I do. No-one cares or remembers. I’m a grain of sand on an infinite beach.
I climb icy stairs, pass tourists with SD cameras and long lenses and circle through The Ramble.
The LED clock in Columbus Circle flashes in the distance. 7.08, 33F, .5C.
As I pass the skaters on the Central Park ice a miserable horses clicks and clacks past me pulling a white carriage adorned with frozen roses. Through the slush and mud and horse manure stench, I come out on 5th Avenue at Central Park’s SE corner. The Apple Store sits like an ice cube to my left and I cross the road, passing the Grand Plaza, thinking of Home Alone, wondering whether Macauley Culkin is happy now.
5th Avenue. FAO Schwarz, Bergdoof Goodman, Prada and a hundred more ‘flagship’ stores. All selling $800 high-heels and faux fur.
There seems to be a lot of stores selling a lot of clothes. No-one I walk past is particularly well-dressed.
I admire the complexity of the window displays and imagine the stress involved in their creation. I imagine a high strung, short, skinny dark-haired girl with bangs. An extra large coffee in her bony hands and a 15 minute diatribe about how she got no support from her west coast colleagues when she tried to find wigs to match this season’s shoes. I imagine her single and crying in her rented studio apartment. I imagine her small dog staring back up at her as she weeps in her kitchen, a pile of mail unopened on the bench beside her.
Opposite De Beers, in the steps of a church huddles a homeless man smoking a pipe, his bags piled around him to protect him from the cold.
I walk to 48th St and make a right past 30 Rock and its weird, gaudy golden statue. I pass News Corp and the McGraw Hill building. Just a few blocks away flashes an MnMs display, four stories high. That must be Times Square.
In Times Square I sit on the red steps and watch as people pose around me, cameras flashing.
"Look. This is me at Times Square. This is me standing here, smiling, doing the peace sign. I am in New York and this is the proof. This will go on Facebook and everyone will know that I was here. I will do this at The Golden Gate Bridge and the Grand Canyon and The Statue of Liberty. I am away and here I am."
My grandfather once told me he played cricket against Don Bradman in a Sydney club match. After the game, his team-mates approached the Don for autographs. Almost 60 years later, my Grandfather recounted the story, indignant. What on earth did his teammates want with an autograph? What good is an autograph to anyone? As Grandpa explained - “I got more from watching the way he played, the way he interacted with people than I ever could have from a lousy scrawl on a piece of paper.”
Needless to say, I have never since sought out an autograph.
Likewise, I don’t take photos of myself at tourist attractions.
Looking out from the red steps, the overwhelm of bright flashing neon brings to mind some Tokyonic psychedelia. It’s ghastly and beautiful at the same time. Hundreds of vertical metres of smiling faces, side-scrolling red words and male models running on desert highways in fashionable shirts. Puff Daddy, Broadway shows, and the new Bruce Willis movie. It makes no sense, and yet, people flock to it, giddy at the thought of being at the free world’s epicentre.
I head down Broadway, past the purple Yahoo sign telling me that Yahoo is where the world checks in every day. It seems like a relic from 2003. Like the marketing department bought the space and forgot to take it down. I pass through Koreatown. After the burst of light that is Times Square, Manhattan drops away below 32nd St. It’s all of a sudden desolate. There’s graffiti and small, cheap phone stores promising to unlock iPhones.
Then the Flatiron building appears and I’m left and into Madison Square Park’s Shake Shack with its famed burgers and cheese fries. - “What are the cheese fries?”
- “Sir, they are our standard saw cut fries covered with our shack-made cheddar and American cheese sauce.”
- ‘“I’ll have some of those please.”
As I go to pick up my meal from the counter, the young woman squeezes the bright yellow cheese mix straight from a 6L bottle. Minutes later, the freezing wind has turned the cheese to congealed rubber.
The burger and milkshake more than make up for it.
I sit beside a beautiful, young couple. She tells me she’s a print model and not knowing what that is, I imagine her lying on a pile of newspapers. He has more diversity in his look apparently, despite the fact he’s been modelling for a shorter time, so he does more than just print. They’re from San Diego. They live on 45th St and have their own backyard for only $1500 a month. His Dad is a carpenter, just like mine was. They haven’t been out of the apartment for weeks due to illness and the Winter Olympics. They tell me the USA lost in the Ice Hockey final and I tell them about Stephen Bradbury, the last man standing. They are wonderful, genuine people. And as we freeze slowly in the night’s falling temperature, we share travel stories and big dreams. I really like them and give them the only business card I brought with me to the States. I tell them to email me. I hope they do.
On their recommendation, I follow Broadway downtown. It’s more appealing than 5th or 6th they say and they’re right.
Union Square is still bustling and full of people. I eye the people entering the heated subway with a tinge of envy and try not to think about my left foot which feels like it’s about to strike with one of those awkward, middle of the night cramps. I don’t want to be lying in the snow, grappling awkwardly with one of my long legs, trying to unfurl my foot while all these people stand and stare.
I push on. Through Soho, past great streets like Prince and Spring and Broome and Grand. I take a self portrait, walking.
I cross Canal into Tribeca. I get yelled at by a guy with a beard and a dirty, bottle green jacket. I have headphones on so I can’t hear him. I pretend he’s yelling - You are so happy right now! You are so happy!
Broadway in Tribeca is empty and I’m relieved when I turn left at Fulton St. I have made it. 100th to Ground Zero. I take a photo of the fence that surrounds the site. I stare in disbelief at the buildings around the WTC site. I try and imagine what that day must have felt like.
Six blocks back uptown and I’m home. There’s a new doorman on duty. His jacket fits him awkwardy. He’s new here.
With the twists and turns in Central Park, Broadway’s diagonal cut and the extra walking to and from the subway, 100th St to Ground Zero probably took me close to 13 kilometres.
I open the door, take off my shoes and hang up my jacket. I pour myself a glass of water and check the time. It’s 9.42 PM.