In this January's Outside Your Comfort Zone newsletter, I challenged people to venture outside their comfort zone by practicing "showing up." I thought I would share some of my own experiences from when I lived in New York. To set the scene, I moved to New York City to start fresh, but I was not prepared for how hard it would be. In my three years, I grew more and more financially and emotionally drained and finally called it quits. But no matter how discouraged I felt, I always forced myself to rally and get out into the world. Here are three short stories of when I decided to "show up" and what happened.
Showing up for a Chamber Music Group in Queens.
After a long hiatus from playing music, I decided moving to a new city would be a prime opportunity to join a music group and pick up my violin again. I searched MeetUp.com and settled on a “chamber music group” hosted by a guy named Herb. The description led me to believe it was a casual group of musicians, who wanted an excuse to play once in a while.
An hour-long bus ride later I found myself on a side street in the residential area Kew Gardens in Queens standing outside a large apartment building. I rang the bell and went up to the apartment. Everyone was friendly enough, but it was clear that everyone in the group was a classically trained and accomplished musician. I was not.
Not wanting to be discouraged on my first attempt at fitting in, I returned three more times before accepting that these were not my people. They were already talking about putting together a recital as a steppingstone to paid gigs. This casual music circle was clearly not that casual. The group was not exactly rude to me, but it was not exactly welcoming either. The final sign that it was time to move on was when Herb offered to let me help them book their performances and organize their rehearsals. The musical equivalent of “You can be our water boy!” I politely bid them adieu.
I learned the following:
• Recognizing and accepting when it’s not the right fit
• Trying more than once even when it’s hard.
• Figuring out what I want to get out of the experience
Showing up for Toastmasters.
One career path I was exploring when I arrived in New York was becoming a professional development trainer. I was attending seminars regularly, and I asked the trainers what I needed to do to one day be in their shoes. Over and over again, I heard, “Join Toastmasters.” Looking back on it, I can’t remember why I was so hesitant to go, but it was months of researching different clubs and locations before I finally walked into a classroom on the fourth floor of Hunter College on the Upper Eastside for my very first Toastmasters Meeting.
The first evening I just listened and observed. At the end, a number of friendly people welcomed me to the club and asked me to come back the following week. So, I went back again…and again… and a month or two later I gave my first speech. And a year later I was a member of two clubs and regularly visiting other clubs.
I fell in love with the support and unconditional friendliness that each group offered visitors and members alike. I watched myself develop into a more polished public speaker, and I got to see others transform from a shaky nervous mess into confident presenters. Almost all of my fondest memories in New York happened at or after a Toastmasters meeting.
I learned the following:
• How to be a public speaker (obviously)
• The importance of support and community
• How to give specific and constructive feedback with kindness
• Patience and empathy
• Everyone has a story
• Encouragement to show up for something else
Showing up for the Park Slop Home Office Lunch Group
Being unemployed for the majority of my time in New York meant I was free to explore all parts of the city, and I was available to attend all sorts of MeetUp groups. In one of my many aimless searches, I discovered a group called “The Park Slope Home Office Lunch Group.” It had been meeting monthly for nearly 15 years (pre-dating MeetUp). As luck would have it, that week they had decided to start a more casual weekly group that would meet at a coffeeshop.
It was a 90-minute subway ride from my Queens apartment, but let’s be honest… I had no place else to be. Might as well be on the subway getting some reading done.
My first visit was a rainy miserable day and only two other people showed up, but as in the case of the chamber music group, I was not going to be so easily deterred. It ended up being the highlight of my week. There were a handful of regulars. Bob, a retired energy expert, who was part of the team that developed LEED certification. There was Talia, née Tobey, who started a business planting sidewalk trees for Park Slop residents. We were often joined by Helen, who was psychologist and therapist. We also had a number of interesting people drop-in on occasion.
I had originally joined the group because I was looking for every opportunity to network. But the most valuable thing I got out of the group was the fact that there was no networking. Sure, we all shared what we did for a living, but the conversation always quickly moved on to politics, movies, current events, personal stories. It wasn’t until I got to the group that I realized my entire existence had become networking, which isn’t unusual for New York, but exhausting all the same. I came to enjoy knowing I could show up once of a week and forget that I had no clients, no job, no prospects and nearly no rent money.
Bob and I are still in touch and I have also heard from Helen as well. Second only to Toastmasters, the Park Slope group was a hugely valuable experience in New York.
I learned the following:
• The value of intellectual conversation
• True connections take time to build organically
• It’s okay to take a break
• Finding your people is worth the wait