There’s Nothing More Than This

THE MORNING was calm as a soft rain fell upon New York City. I watched the last autumn leaves gather and blow across the empty streets as I sat in the back of an Uber at the onset of dawn.

To me, this is the most inspiring time of day. I looked up with wonder at the iconic buildings, black against a faint pink sky. In a couple of hours the city would be awake, moving, beating. Everybody going somewhere to do something to be someone.

The depth of the city, of any city, where millions of simultaneous realities occur at once and coalesce, dance and share — this interweaving of human consciousness inspires me profoundly.

I crave it. The collective heartbeat of people existing together awakens me to who I am and what I can be, but the magnitude of the city makes me feel small, like a student with countless experiences to learn from.

Any moment could be life changing, and on this rainy morning, my life and the way I think about the world did indeed change.

“Everybody’s always in a rush, going nowhere quick,” the Uber driver said as we discussed life in New York. I learned that he was from Long Island, like my dad. I could understand why he liked to drive at this time of the day. He could kick back, listen to tunes, and simply enjoy the ride and the beauty of the city without the chaos.

His statement didn’t strike me as either valid or invalid. People are people wherever you go. It’s not like New York is the only place where people are rushing through life.

The statement stuck with me because I think we’re all in a rush at some point, perhaps to get through the day, or the meeting, or the month — going nowhere quick. But where are we rushing to? What do I think is out there in the future that’s more important than this? 

There is nothing more than this. 

And this, watching the sunrise on a winter’s day, or sitting down to enjoy a cup of coffee, or going to work with people you actually connect with, whatever it is, the fact that we’re alive is a fucking miracle.

I don’t know if that’s what my man meant, but that’s how I’m receiving his statement, and that’s what I want to share.

I just finished listening to the audiobook The Third Door by Alex Banayan and I can’t stop thinking about how it relates to what the driver said. The book tells the story of how Banayan goes on a quest to interview the most successful people in the world, to inquire about how they started out in their respective careers.

He was a pre-med college student at USC, but like countless others in today’s world, he didn’t feel aligned with the path he was on.

Like myself, Banayan questioned if there’s another way to go about life; we aren’t meant to do work that we hate, only because it’s what we’re supposed to do. Go to school to get a degree to get a job that’s comfortable enough, to work and one day retire and start wondering what we really want to do.

I can’t accept that, and neither did he. He set out on a journey to interview Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Maya Angelou, Lady Gaga, Mark Zuckerberg, Jane Goodall, and many others to learn how they broke through the third door.

Banayan describes the third door as the third option in life — not the line that most of us are waiting in to get into the nightclub, which snakes around the block and crushes your soul, and not the VIP entrance that’s reserved for a select few.

The third door is the alternate path where you hop a fence and climb through a window and sneak through the kitchen and find your own damn way.

The book isn’t just a compilation of interviews; it’s the journey that Banayan embarks on to get those interviews and what he learns while fulfilling his mission.

The book is incredibly inspiring, but in the beginning it made me anxious about my life. Banayan’s story is often unbelievable, and it’s apparent that he put every drop of blood, sweat and tears into getting interviews with the world’s wisest.

But the more I listened to it, the more I felt like I should be doing more. It made me feel like if I want to make something of myself, I can’t waste another second looking up at the stars.

That scares me, but it’s also made me think more deeply about what I really want out of life. No matter what happens, there will always be that feeling that we’re missing something. That’s the game, isn’t it?

We have to recognize what we’re missing, and why we think we’re missing it in the first place.

If there were a roadmap that would tell us what to do, what chess pieces to move, and where to spend our time to ensure we’d reach our dreams or become successful or whatever it is we think we want, what would be the point of being alive?

The questioning, the wondering, the trying and failing — that’s what life is — discontent. We’ll never be perfectly content with where we are, because where we are is just a step on the journey of where we want to be.

Yet, as I continue to question why I feel unsatisfied, I’m realizing that being content isn’t the point. Meaning comes from the discontent, as it causes us to appreciate what’s truly important and what’s worth striving for. All we can do is feel grateful for where we are and how far we’ve come while stumbling forward with open eyes.

And while I think feeling unsatisfied with the present causes us to work and explore and question, there’s something to be said about stopping where we are to appreciate how far we’ve come and how good this really is.

In the book, Banayan dreams of interviewing Bill Gates, hoping that he may share his secrets of business with Banayan’s generation, which I’m a part of.

But he learns that each of our journeys is unique, and there isn’t some secret formula that will ensure success, whatever that means to you. Those Banayan interviews made it because they believed in themselves, and they were willing to embark on the adventure of their lives.

My two favorite conversations came when Banayan spoke with the poet Maya Angelou and the record producer Quincy Jones.

I resonated with their words not because they gave golden business tips, but because at the core of their advice, they both spoke about the value of learning about this world and staying true to ourselves.

Get out of the box and expose yourself to great works and big ideas (Aristotle, Taoism, MLK, Cesar Chavez),

says Maya Angelou. 

It can feel like I’m wasting time by longing to travel and open myself to new ideas; perhaps my dream is short-sighted, immature, irresponsible. Yet I can’t shake this desire to watch the world go by and see how it affects me. I want to feel the drops of rain and be present in the moment to cherish it.

I want to get out there and break down the walls of who I am, by taking Maya Angelou’s advice and learning about all the life I can’t possibly know. I simply want to live, and embrace this gift of being alive without the pressure to do.

And maybe I can. There is no right way, no what you or I should be, no falling behind, no wasted potential. There is only what is — life as an open book, waiting to be written.

Quincy Jones helps Banayan realize that this journey is all about making mistakes and growing. After his meeting with Quincy Jones, Banayan says:

I swore to myself that from now on I would be unattached to succeeding, and unattached to failing. Instead, I would be attached to trying and growing.

Jones tells Banayan to get out there and see the world, explore, try and fail, live. In the end, Banayan realizes that the greatest lessons didn’t come from the interviews. They came from trying every day, failing, breaking down, and growing by going after what he believed in.

From what I could tell, my New York City Uber driver was content. I don’t know the journey that he’d been on in his life.

But he was there and so was I, and I felt the sincerity in his words. They made me feel that if I could just slow down too and see the rainy morning as a gift, then the rest will unfold naturally.

In a rush, to what? To who? The person I want to be? The life I hope to live? It will come. With gratitude and a heart that’s open and a willingness to try and experience and learn, day in and day out, whatever it is we hope for will come.

The day passed by and at dusk, when the bustle of the town below was at its peak, the buildings glistened against the dark blue night, shimmering with the stars that burn in another world. If we can appreciate this, the sun rising and falling, then we have it all.

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