A small bite of the Big Apple

I have three words of advice for every aspiring young professional - move to Manhattan.

I have three words of advice for every aspiring young professional - move to Manhattan.

A couple of years in New York is the best basic training course I know. It's the Camp Lejeune of the corporate universe. It'll sharpen your senses, toughen you up, and teach you things you never imagined.

My first night in Manhattan was spent in a cramped hovel at the YMCA on 34th Street and 9th Avenue, complete with dried roaches on the wall and a public bathroom down the hallway. I became so depressed that I went for a walk at 11pm to get some air and attempt to shake my mood.

Unfortunately, the only establishments open at that time were a peep show, a McDonald's, and a scary-looking tavern. I settled on McDonald's, but when I got back to the room, I had to call my mom. She talked me off the ledge and kept me from spiraling into tears.

I saw things in New York City that I had only read about in Mad magazine, but never witnessed - things such as men on street corners whispering "Pssst" to get me to buy stolen watches or guys playing Three-card Monte, where you have to guess which card is the Ace of Spades.

Living in New York City was like ingesting a wonder drug that sharpened all my senses. The minute I rolled out of bed, my brain got supercharged. I knew I needed exact change for the newspaper, the subway, and the coffee and roll because if I didn't have it, I'd slow down the line and people would get pissed. I learned to determine the best way to get cross-town by factoring in weather, time of day, traffic patterns, and distance to destination. I knew how to locate a clean, accessible, bathroom in midtown Manhattan when necessary.

I had to overpay a cab driver in a snowstorm to take me on a short trip because he wanted bigger fares than mine and there was a long line of customers behind me.

I chased a thief down 10th Street after he rushed by me with two older guys trailing and yelling "Stop. Get him. He's a crook!!"

I had two con men execute a "pigeon drop" on me in which I exchanged all the cash in my wallet for a wad of Kleenex wrapped in a handkerchief. Don't ask.

I lost my wallet on the way to work and later bought it back from a junkie who had obtained it from a bag lady. He charged me forty bucks.

I learned to make small talk with security guards, supers, and receptionists because you never knew when you'd need a special favor.

I experienced the exultation of being 24 years old, dressed in a suit, and hailing a cab on Park Avenue on my way to an important business meeting. I had breakfast with reporters at the Waldorf Astoria and held press conferences at Tavern on the Green.

New York City taught me to think fast and to never stop looking for an edge. It also equipped me with confidence, ambition, and, above all, resilience.

Despite all that, I ultimately left. I kept learning lessons, but my body craved grass, trees, and a slower life.

Well-known author Joan Didion wrote an essay about why she left New York called Goodbye to All That. In it, she notes that New York is widely considered to be for "only the very rich and the very poor... and the very young."

In my case, I was slowly becoming none of those, but I had certainly grown wiser.

Don Spetner is EVP, corporate affairs at executive recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International.

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