Surprising love in a city of strangers

Silver doors quickly slide open, and my family and I piled into the subway car with everyone else. All of the seats were taken: It was morning rush hour.

But, our five year old whined, “I waaannt toooo siiiit.”

Mortified, we tried to hush him thoroughly. But before we did, a man in his fifties of a darker hue wearing a baseball cap got up without a word and moved aside. And my son plopped down in his place.

That man stood before me smelling of cigarettes and alcohol, and I wondered what his story was and what caused him to give up his seat to a demanding boy he didn’t even know.

I looked at this man, amazed, and said: “Thank you.” And he glanced at me and nodded with a sense of understanding and then went back to gazing at nothing.

Every time we enter a subway car, what happens is this.

People get up.

Once they see my wife wearing our three-month-old, walking with my five-year-old, they automatically surrender their seats to strangers—to us.

Women, men, young, old, light-skinned or dark, white collared or blue, it doesn’t matter. All rise to the occasion—to this unspoken rule—unspoken but followed.

Love thy neighbor, especially if they are small and helpless, by sacrificing your comfort so they can be comfortable. It’s living art. It’s small but great. It’s humanity shining.

Surprise takes me every time, and I marvel at the generosity of these people in this city. We are strangers, yet we are friends, maybe family. And in that moment we are connected, loving and loved. We are grateful for you.

We love you.

All of you.

I want you to be happy

Last week, I read about Jeff Bezos buying a three-floor penthouse apartment in Manhattan for eighty million dollars. And when I did, I felt something. 

What was it? 

Envy. 

Maybe you can relate? 

But it wasn’t the apartment, for me, no. 

What does one do with twelve bedrooms and seventeen thousand square feet? I haven’t a clue. 

I wanted (and am still tempted to want is) his ability to buy something like that. I envied his wealth. 

Because somewhere inside of me I think that that would make me happy. There’s a part of me that believes Jeff Bezos’s kind of money is the answer to all of my problems. 

But there’s one slight issue. 

It’s a lie. 

I know money can’t make me or you or us happy. Do you know how I know? 

Because every time I’ve ever added more to my little pile, I am happy for a moment; and then it transforms into wanting more, worry about getting more, feeling like I don’t have enough; and before I know it, I am wishing I had the money to afford an eighty million dollar apartment.

I’m not saying that having a lot of money, or even Jeff Bezos’s kind of money is bad. It’s not—at all. 

Being the richest man in the world certainly has its benefits: crazy big luxurious apartments, private jets, money to buy whatever you want. Those are nice perks. Having money is better than having no money, that’s for sure true. 

But believing you need that to be happy isn’t. 

Just because you have an easier life doesn’t mean you have a happy one. 

When I worked with millionaires and billionaires in private banking, every one of my clients had what would appear to many of us as incredible lives. They didn’t need to worry about money. Most of them had more than enough for several lifetimes. Some of them were pleasant and happy people, but others always seemed miserable. No matter what I did, how much they had in the bank, what good happened to them, they just couldn’t be happy. Some even stressed and worried about money. 

I guess that they reacted that way because they had envy, too. Millionaires, even billionaires, can want what others have. They can want more. 

Envy robs us, leaving us bankrupt. It makes the wealthy feel poor and the poor poorer. That’s what envy does. It blinds us to what we should be grateful for and focuses our attention on what so-and-so has, stealing our joy. 

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t work to make more money. We all need it. It’s good. The issue is wanting what others have and believing that it will make us happy.

Our unhappiness isn’t caused by what other people have or what we don’t have. It’s caused by us failing to see and appreciate what we already have. We don’t know how rich we already are. 

We have our lives; we have potential; we have time; we have today; we have loved ones and those whom we love. 

And I will enjoy all of the good things I have. 

Shouldn’t we all. If you have your daily bread, a roof over your head, a person you can call a friend, aren’t we rich? 

If we have enough money in the bank where we don’t need to worry about tomorrow, aren’t we wealthy?

We may want more, but we don’t need it to give us joy. 

I hope Mr. Bezos enjoys his palatial home in the sky. I’m happy for him. 

But I also hope we know that we don’t need to be him to be happy. 

Being us is more than enough.

Fatherhood: Reflections on the last days of summer with my son

Popcorn, beer, and fans in blue surrounded us. Summer sun was beating down; a cool wind comforted us; and the crowd roared when a homerun soared over the back wall.

His face glowed with hope and joy as we sat: My son and I perched in the Bronx. 

He knew that I didn’t like staying for a full game, but he asked me, “Dad, can we stay till the end?” 

Usually, I said no, giving a reason like we needed to get home to do something important. 

But a realization slapped me, hard. And it was this. The only summer I have with my son as a five-year-old is ending. 

“Make the most of it, fool,” I thought to myself. 

Making as many happy memories as I could with him became my aim, doing the things he wanted, even if they went against what I preferred. 

So we stayed. 

The innings were exciting. But witnessing the wonder and excitement in his eyes brought me the greatest joy. My son smiled, cheered, clapped, and laughed. And I couldn’t help but join him.

And I found myself not wanting to leave the game even after the last out. 

But we both left satisfied, hand-in-hand—father and son. 

Confessions of an introvert: unexpected events at a barbecue

Walking into a room full of people can be hard. A party isn’t just a party, especially if you’re an introvert like me. They are work.

But it’s summer in the city, and people want to barbecue. And I got invited to one in Brooklyn.

Usually, I would have stayed safely at home, giving an excuse about needing to take care of our newborn (children are always the perfect leave-me-alone-I’m-an-introvert card). But this day I felt like it would be good to put myself out there and connect.

When I arrived at the beautiful rooftop, a breeze was blowing, and the weather was unseasonably cool for an evening in August; but the crisp air was magical in the midst of the canvas of twinkling city lights surrounding us like the stars in the night. 

About fifteen guys broken into smaller groups of two to four were drinking beer, talking, and getting ready to devour meat. They were friendly, but not all were my friends. Not because they weren’t good guys, I just didn’t know them well enough yet. 

There were some I knew better than others and would even call them friends. But I didn’t expect them to treat me the way they did. They ignored me. 

At one point, one of them reached around me to throw something away but didn’t even bother to say hello. I had to remind myself that I had been invited, even though it felt so uninviting.

The night wasn’t a complete disaster. There were two good conversations with a couple of people I didn’t know well, and hearing their stories was a privilege. It felt as though I might have made two new friends. 

As the hours wore on, my bed’s call to me transformed from gentle wooing to shouting; resisting was too hard, so I left. 

And as I walked home, I reflected on the time, the interactions, and the lack of them. Gratitude filled me as I thought about the conversations had, but I couldn’t help thinking about the friends who seemingly ignored me. It was hard not to blame them. It was what they did to me. 

But then an unsettling thought occurred to me: I didn’t greet them either. I didn’t walk up to them and say hello. I wasn’t inviting; I wasn’t friendly. 

Furthermore, I said to myself, “Maybe they are introverts like me, where a party isn’t just a party but an inner battle. Maybe they were working through their own issues, and none of it had anything to do with me; and it was just me being self-absorbed and petty. Maybe. Probably.” 

A new voice filled my mind. It was a mentor’s. “Those who extend friendship have friends; those who don’t won’t,” he told me once when I was a college student. 

Two decades later, I’m still learning this lesson:

To have friends, you must be one.  

One thing that helps you reach your potential

Sometimes who we are and who we want to be feel too far apart to do anything about. But that’s not true in many cases. 

You can reach your potential. 

It starts with these words. 

“I can.”

That simple phrase is the key to going further than we ever thought we could. 

And yet many of us find it difficult to say. 

I know I do. 

Continue reading “One thing that helps you reach your potential”

Improve your life one day at a time

We all want to get better, reach our goals, live better lives.

But getting there is so freaking hard.

When we think about growing a business, getting healthy, getting a promotion, saving for retirement, etc. it can feel daunting, overwhelming. And no matter how much we don’t want to, we can end up quitting.

But we can change that by doing this.

Focus on today.

Continue reading “Improve your life one day at a time”