As one boards any given flight departing from John F. Kennedy airport, the slogan “New York: The city that never sleeps but always dreams” is plastered along the walls of the gates. On any given day, hundreds of thousands of passengers will board their flights leaving the Big Apple, and on any given day, this statement could be the last thing passengers think of New York City.
We as New Yorkers are too often portrayed as impatient, walking fast and talking loud, career driven, overachievers who work hard and party harder. When you ask someone to describe a New Yorker, the answers may range. “New Yorkers are rude, loud, and unfriendly.” Some say “they’ll do anything to get ahead in work” or that “they are constantly irritated”. Many refer to us as “impatient” and say that we “will let you know if you are not worth our time.” Major motion pictures, novels, and lyrics depict us as selfish creatures who are happiest when overworked. Let’s face it, even Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” will still get any bar crowd singing at the top of their lungs about how “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”
I’ve often found myself beaming with pride when a tourist identifies me as a true New Yorker, asking for help on the subway or directions in Midtown, but why? Is this concept of a New Yorker permeating through our minds and into our physical qualities? In a society that is working to reevaluate harmful connotations of prevalent stereotypes, I cannot help but wonder why is the New Yorker stereotype something we’ve been trained to take pride in, rather than question? Are we any less of a New Yorker if we slow down?
Unifying the city known as the “melting pot,” this concept of the hard-working New Yorker is ingrained in the cultural DNA of the five boroughs. While each neighborhood has its own unique characteristics, there is one, overarching defining factor; New York City is the aspirational city. With aspiration, though, comes the chance of failure. New York City has a way of chewing your dreams, and spitting new ones out of your past failures. While this may sound “romantic” to many, once you find yourself living within the concrete jungle, it becomes clear that you are expected to undergo personal growth while remaining productive, regardless of the toll that it may take on you individually. I’d like to challenge this status quo, replacing the concept of the “overworked” New Yorker, to “grit,”, as well as altering the metaphor of New York from a “melting pot” to a “salad bowl.” While a melting pot can use forces such as harmful stereotypes to force a unanimous sense of similarity within its ingredients, a salad bowl, can utilize like-minded ingredients mixed with a dressing. In this case, the concept of “grit,” would be the dressing that brings together one big, beautiful creation, allowing for the ingredients to maintain their autonomy and individuality.
Angela Duckworth, an academic and psychologist, wrote a book entitled “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” Within the best-selling novel, she describes this concept of “grit” as a tool for social mobility, challenging the societal concept that “talent is born.” Rather, she states that grit is an egalitarian, classless social indicator of future accomplishment. Essentially, talent multiplied by effort equals a skill, and that skill multiplied by effort equals total achievement. In other words, “effort counts twice,” and this essentially is what she defines as “grit.” While she often applies this term within the confines of education and childhood development, Duckworth’s concept of “grit” could be a healthy substitute for the destructive stereotypes we often cling to within the Big Apple.
In a time where we are beginning to understand and discuss the concept of self-care and the importance of mental wellness, it seems counter-intuitive to simply accept the stereotypes of being a New Yorker. While we are perceived as a culture to be tough and fast paced, it does not mean you are any less of a tough city dweller if you need to spend consecutive weekends on the couch, rather than bar hopping or working on your side hustle. In all truth, it has taken me several weeks to write this article, because I, myself, needed to slow down and allow myself time to heal and process emotional distress in my life. Am I still a New Yorker? Absolutely. To me, being a New Yorker means persevering and finding your inner grit, rather than defining who you are based on this potentially toxic stereotype.
Too often, I watch my peers experience early onset burn out. Rather than grooving to your favorite new album on the subway, too many of us feel like we must take our free time and learn something new, listening to a podcast or the news. While education is important, it should not be at the expense of your mental wellness. By constantly pushing ourselves to outperform the status quo, we run the risk of missing opportunities to enjoy the fruits of our labors. If you never stop to smell the roses, soon, the roses may wilt. In a time where instant gratification is practically the only form of gratification, Millennials and young city dwellers must work to define success as a long term goal, rather than short-term check marks on a mental to-do list. While yes, it is important to set realistic goals, viewing success as a process rather than short term emotions can allow us to reap the rewards of our hard work in a healthier manner.
Take the time to slow down and make sure you are having experiences purely for the joy of them, rather than out of obligation. I am here to tell you that it is okay to take time for yourself, to slow down, and relax. The time you take to spend on yourself is time well spent. Perseverance is far from a straight path.
I am in no way attempting to dismantle the stereotype of a New Yorker, but rather, I am working to redefine the definition. By juxtaposing the concept of what it takes to be a true New Yorker with Angela Duckworth’s definition of “grit,” we can begin to decipher how to properly balance work and reward. Pushing oneself to keep up with a delusional concept of productivity is not only unhealthy but also harmful. If you are constantly working harder than the day before, when do you allow yourself to pause and rest? While there may not be a universal answer to that question, this proposed shift in mindset can be applied uniquely to each and every New Yorker.
So you may ask, why is it essential to frame this mindset as “grit” rather than just “being a New Yorker?” I’d argue that it allows you to take control of external factors, rather than placing the blame on the quintessential parts of the city. For example, we can practice “grit” by finding alternate routes to work on a day where the M train may never show up (so every day), rather than just waiting on the platform and blaming the subways for your tardiness, something a New Yorker knows they can state and never have anyone question.
While some of the qualities that are often associated with the population in New York are far from harmful, certain stereotypes are hurtful and alienating to resident New Yorkers. By removing “New Yorkers always walk fast” from our vocabulary, we can reduce the toxic expectations of the stereotype. At first glance, this seems to be more of a social commentary on the speed at which we tackle life, however, this is a harmful microaggression towards those New Yorkers who do not consider themselves able-bodied. Those who may not be physically able to walk as fast as a tourist should never be considered less than, or not a “real” New Yorker.
While many of us may identify and define ourselves in parallel to the New Yorker stereotype, recognizing its toxic qualities should not dismantle who we are. Rather, we can utilize the concept of “grit” to understand ourselves. New Yorkers persevere and adapt. We take on challenges head first and understand how far we can push ourselves and our personal limitations. We are a blend of personalities, backgrounds, ethnicities, races, and sexual orientations. We, as New Yorkers, all came here to pursue our dreams. We are dreamers, and the path to success is not always clear and concise. While some of our paths consist of late nights in the office, the club, or the gym, others may consist of comedy clubs, couches, massages or home cooked meals. We are a “salad bowl” of dream chasers, and it is an injustice to believe that there is only one type of New Yorker. We may have unifying traits, but this is a city where you can explore yourself, persevering through challenges, rather than conforming to the behavior or expectations of others.
The New Yorker stereotype is only toxic if you let it define you. I propose we collectively redefine it. While I doubt anyone would argue that New York is the friendliest city, I would confidently state that once you break down the hard exterior, New York is filled with the most magical and unique dreamers out there. A New Yorker is gritty, and we love it.
To all of the passengers departing from the John F. Kennedy airport, know that this is a city of dreamers. We are far from uniform. We are a melting pot of collective dreams. We strive to be better every day, but there is no universal definition of that. We have “grit.” Come join us.
Feature Image via Victoria Morris