A Lesson From My Cat

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orange tabby cat inside cardboard box
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About seven and a half years ago, I made a very bold decision and decided to move to New York City. You could say I was relatively coddled as a kid and enjoyed the comfort of home and the help I received from my family growing up. Even leaving the Boston area to go to college in New Jersey seemed like a big deal at the time – but a necessary big deal, so I could challenge myself a little bit being on my own for awhile. I had spent the first 3.5 years after graduation from college back in the familiar confines of Boston close to my family and almost all of my friends.

I wanted to find a new job, and I had had a relationship go south as well. You could say that I wanted to shake things up a bit. At that time, I knew very few people in New York City, and I had always told myself I could never end up living there because of how anonymous I would probably feel in such a big city. One thing I always loved about Boston was its neighborhood feel. I would recognize people in my gym, on the subway, or people in restaurants who I had passed on the street walking to work. I would get dinner with my parents every Sunday night, and sometimes spend weekends with them in Cape Cod. As a die-hard Bruins fan and season-ticket holder, I would often go to games with friends. I seemingly had everything in that place and I was a particularly risk-averse person who feared sudden change and relished in comfort and the known.

So the decision to move to New York City was very sudden. For one thing, I wanted to get out of the higher education space, which had begun to bore me. The higher education industry is known to be a laggard, and it did not excite me to sell into that industry any more.

For another thing, I felt I had kind of outgrown Boston. It’s a great city and I love it. It’s also a college town. And once you become 25 years old, you feel like you are a little too old to hang around that crowd any more. At a certain point, you have been to every bar and every restaurant and you have done everything there is to do. So you decide to try to take on a new challenge.

The process of moving to New York City was rushed and stressful. I made a few trips back-and-forth to the city so that I could simultaneously interview for jobs and also look at apartments. I had very little money to my name at the time and when comparing my income opportunity against the cost of living, I often doubted that I would ever make it.

I received a few job offers. One was to work at Apple. Another was to work at a Series B technology company. The last was an opportunity to work at a pre-revenue startup with two co-founders who were looking for their first sales hires. Ultimately, I decided to go with that opportunity because it was the riskiest option. Feeling like I still had my whole life ahead of me, I still wanted to swing for the fences. More importantly, I wanted the work I was going to be doing to be work that really mattered.

The second part of the equation was going to be where I lived. A broker showed me around a bunch of apartments. Eventually, I landed on a shoebox apartment in the West Village, on the same street as  Carrie Bradshaw’s “Sex and the City” apartment, which was 33% more expensive than what I was paying in Boston and about one-third the size. I thought all the tourists were there because there was a museum nearby, not because of the location of the apartment of a fictional tv character.

Moving day was very stressful for me. At least when I left to go away to college, I knew that after four years, I might be back home. This time, there was a lot of uncertainty about when I would be home, or even how much money I would make at this startup company that was very high-risk. If that did not work out for me, I would have a hard time paying for my apartment. Of course, the morning itself was a drag, moving everything of mine into a U-Haul truck. I then drove 5-6 hours down to New York City, struggling to find a parking spot for my U-Haul as my cat, Zoe, cried in the seat next to me. Once I got the keys from the broker, I had to move the U-Haul over to my apartment where movers helped me move everything in. Then I needed to drop off the truck and get back home.

When I got back home, I realized I had done a poor job of planning: half of my furniture did not fit in this tiny apartment. I had rushed this process so much that I had forgotten to take measurements and sort out what to do with my furniture. In fact, I realized that most of my belongings would need to get thrown away or stored somehow. Sitting in a room full of boxes and furniture (with more boxes and furniture stacked outside in the hallway, to the ire of my new neighbors), I was completely deflated. I thought I had made a mistake. What was I doing sitting amongst this clutter in a tiny apartment I could barely afford, taking a job that had little certainty of ever amounting to anything?

As I sat there in despair, I noticed something funny. My cat, Zoe, was seemingly unaware of how I was feeling. She was too busy jumping in and out of all the boxes. It is no secret that cats love boxes, but she was really having a field day. Never mind that she had spent most of her life living in an apartment unit in Boston – she was seemingly unfazed by the change of scenery. Looking up teary-eyed,  I actually started to smile, seeing how much fun she was making of my messy situation. What I saw was a pile of clutter and a problem to solve. What Zoe saw was an opportunity for fun.

Life is all a matter of perspective. In that moment, I learned to have some perspective and I stopped feeling sorry for myself. From the eyes of my cat, this new situation seemed quite ideal: of course, her perspective lacks all the nuance and pressure of mine with my job and the clutter.  My apartment was small, but it was in the heart of New York City’s most desirable neighborhood. I may not have had many friends, but two close friends did live in New York City at that time. My job might have been highly uncertain, but it was a new opportunity and a new part of my life. I might have had to throw a bunch of furniture away, but I had too much stuff anyway and that was a wake-up call.

Zoe had no idea of the lessons she taught me that night.

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