Cultural Compass (part 1: SoulCycle & Basic Bitches v. Unicorns)

I ride. I spin. I cycle. Whatever.

Call me a basic, but I probably have a nicer ass than you do.

Yeah, everyone wants to be a unicorn. But you know what? Ain’t nobody gonna play leapfrog with you in the park.

I’ve gone through many stages of activities and exercise, not only in NYC. I landed at SoulCycle and as much as I tried not to, I love it. I also won’t stand to be shamed for any of it. I put my all into that ride; I challenge myself on my terms but with the help of an instructor I trust; I hoot and grunt when they perkily yell into the mic, “how we doing today, SoHo?!”; and sometimes I even close my eyes and have a good cry when the lights come down. What’s basic about being brave?

I love SoulCycle and I embrace my more basic qualities.

The war of The Unicorn v. The Basic indulges those who color themselves “special” in that someone else has to be identified as un-special. But, dear Unicorn sisters, I’ve got some news for you: just because you’ve got the jump on the newest styles and go to those places to lunch (not brunch) and those parties to dance doesn’t necessarily mean you’re better. Sure, what you do makes you…uniquely you, no matter which side has branded you. But don’t for a second believe that someone didn’t make those choices for you–that you weren’t herded in your own special little way and that you weren’t prodded by a certain, maybe offbeat, invisible hand that led you to consume, however counter to the popular culture.

And also, why would you want to limit yourself by any standard or label? I’m pretty satisfied that I can brush shoulders with Jered Leto at that party while I’m wearing a gypsy dress that I bought in Provence at a market nobody around me has ever been to, or rolling up to that warehouse party wearing my self-designed, handcrafted body chains…and I also love SoulCycle and the occasional PSL when we first hit Fall, and avocado toast at Cafe Gitane

I refuse to identify with either side. I am special for many reasons. I hope everyone feels that way about themselves, whether or not they like PSLs. I actually feel more confident in my choices and in the things that make me special because I haven’t put someone down to feel that way. I’ve gone out and sought an extraordinary life for myself–and certainly not in spite of anything or anyone else.

Coming back to SoulCycle, I’m impressed by the people who teach there as well as the people who go. They want something better and they don’t give a shit what you think. I’ve struggled and sweat next to all shapes, sizes, and sexes. Sometimes I go for accountability when I just can’t motivate myself. Sometimes I go, honestly, so I don’t feel so alone, especially in the city. I challenge everyone to do something different. Isn’t that why we moved to NYC, anyhow? If it’s not this, then do something else that scares you, something that breaks down your barriers and makes you question yourself. It’s healthy for your brain and for your body.

Sign up for your first class: I dare you.


Career Chronicles (part 2: Putting the Start in Startups–Boston, MA)

This is the story of my first brush with the #startuplife (and how it almost put me off that cray shit forever…and how it actually didn’t).

Back in 2010, a month shy of finishing up my undergrad, I figured I should probably start thinking about the next step. Since September, everyone around me had been working on securing those few, coveted positions at those places or preparing to go to graduate schools. It was April, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.

I knocked around the internet for a while, asking Google what it thought I should do with a Sociology major. It was terrifying–even the brightest, most ambitious students were having a tough time getting a job. That senior semester, I delighted heavily in distractions in attempts to mitigate the fear of moving on. I had coasted blissfully through my liberal arts experience, passing by departments and picking a fruit or two from the abundant trees. It was safe that nobody was going to accuse me of taking it all too seriously.

I came across a job posting for what sounded like a marketing position for what looked like a fun, “dynamic,” small company (I couldn’t quite understand why martial arts skills were listed under required). I clearly didn’t know a thing about startups. What I didn’t know then was: this startup had, a few months prior, raised a healthy round of Series B funding from Google, having clearly met with some success and was positioning to scale.

Well, that’s what 2015 Claire knows and knows how to find out. The me five years ago had never heard of CrunchBase and hardly considered even giving it a good Google search. I sent out my resume and recommendations and heard back a few days later for a phone call. I successfully convinced a perky woman on the other end of the call that I was articulate and energetic and sufficiently not psychotic, so they invited me in for an interview. It was a simple sales pitch. I spent a few minutes going over the materials they had sent me and collected some courage.

I drove over and waltzed into the spiffy office. I honestly didn’t realize that other candidates would be there when I arrived, but somehow I wasn’t thrown. There were some impressive people in the room: a handsome Harvard grad student, obviously a few ambitious, Asian Ivy Leaguers, a few guys from sturdy state schools, and little ol’ me. I don’t actually remember any other females, although I’m sure there ought to have been one or two from Tufts or somewhere like that.

There was also another person in the room. We were told to come comfortably as ourselves, but this chick was a bit too far out there, especially in a room full of kids who came in suits anyway. I think I was naive enough to actually take the advice and wore jeans, which probably inadvertently worked out well for me.

This girl had come running in after we had all arrived. She was late and frantic. She was wearing something that seemed like it was from Spencer’s at the mall, half toddler Halloween costume, half college geek. I didn’t buy it. It reeked of some kind of stunt. I watched as people reacted to her. She was chatty to the point of nails-on-the-chalkboard annoying, and it was equal parts funny and uncomfortable to watch the more anxious kids get agitated. Some even told her not-so-politely to leave them alone. They were trying to be serious.

Others simply ignored her, turning away. I opened to the opportunity. I kindly tried to help her calm down, asked some questions about where she was from and how she came to be late. I even asked where she got some of her unique articles of clothing. Most of the other kids were cramming or trying to calm themselves down. I didn’t get why everyone was so stressed. I had written and memorized a script and had the confidence to rely on the fact that I’m a quick study and could rattle off the factoids and numbers they had provided for me in the interview invite e-mail. I also knew my personality would help drive the sale.

The others looked at me like I was crazy. I knew what they were thinking, “What if someone is watching? Why would you want to be seen associating with the psycho?” I knew what they didn’t, somehow. They were already watching. In particular, she was the one watching. The interview started in the waiting room and I was winning this round.

The pitch went fine. I was adequately adorable and ambitious enough to win a second interview. (I also honestly didn’t know there were multiple rounds of interviews). I came back and the funny girl wasn’t there. I sized up the remaining candidates. Only one of the Asians, the Harvard grad student, and me. This time I hadn’t been given any instructions. I was set up for a “situation” which I considered to be an opportunity to show my “problem solving skills.”

I tanked it. They sat me down in a room and yelled at me for 20 minutes with a timer in front of me and everything–high pressure. I didn’t have the experience or poise to pull it off. Hey, it was my first “real” interview. I totally think I cried after. Who would want to be so mean and why would I ever want to work for a group of those kind of people?

I sometimes check to see what the startup has been up to. They’ve since repositioned. I think things are going well? Even if they aren’t, things are going well for me. It was not until later that I grasped the whole thing. I took me a while to learn what I had learned and to finally love startups, but I’m so glad I’m not one to be easily scared off from something, or anything.

After getting some travel miles in, coming back to NYC to dig my teeth into a few startups, despairing in that and joining the corporate struggle, despairing in that, and then coming back around again, I am so glad for my first experience with a startup.

Here’s a list of things I learned:

1. It’s totally OK and probably better not to take yourself too seriously, even if everyone else around you is freaking out. Be brave and do YOU, because it’s super boring and inauthentic to do anything else.

2. Know what it is, very seriously, what you do well. Be proud of those qualities and hone them like you’re training at the gym. Stay sharp. Remember that once you’ve leveled up, you can’t unlearn those skills.

3. Know what it is, very seriously, what you suck at. Own it. I did very well in the preparation and personality, and I had a hard time with the assignment involving the unknown. Work on it. You can push back against your weaknesses. If you let it, this exercise in accepting and overcoming your weaknesses can become a very safe and comfortable place. Sounds counterintuitive, I guess, but trust me here. Be Midas–turn your shit into gold. Seriously, it takes work, but once you’ve got it you can sit in a sea of your riches.

4. Be confident, kind, and actually care. Those three things, right there, won’t be everything, but they’ll get you a lot of places. Believe me.