When I lived in San Francisco, work was a grind but it was enjoyable. I was around a solid group of young, hungry adults working hard and having fun at the Investment firm we all worked for. In hindsight, it was a great experience, one where I gained a lot of professional and personal skills. Depending on what teams you worked with and the complexity of the portfolio’s you were helping manage, you could be reviewing estate documents, preparing all the reporting, and conducting analysis until 3:00am in the morning. There were too many times where I found myself in this situation.
One of the redeeming perks about the job was the fact that due to confidentiality and data security, we weren’t allowed to work remotely. Everything we worked on was done while in the office. We handled a fair amount of sensitive data on a daily basis regarding the clients we worked with and the broad investment landscape. This was probably an over precaution by the Managing Directors, but a good one at that. I knew when my day was over and the work was done, it was over. My phone wasn’t ringing at 8:00pm to solve a problem that was probably blown way out of proportion. I wasn’t answering emails on the way into work as I took the 19th Judah train from the Inner Sunset to the Financial District. I wasn’t interrupted in Golden Gate Park when hanging out with friends on weekends. That’s not to say I didn’t work weekends – I worked plenty of weekend. When I was at the office I was working and when I wasn’t at the office, I was playing. This structure largely gave me the ability to explore a bunch of different avenues I could get involved in. I had to maintain my sanity in some way so trying whatever interested me was the first step to maintaining some semblance of a work life balance.
Outside of living in a crazy house with a bunch of strangers (many of which are still close friends to this day), I needed outlets to relieve the stress. It is here where the true beauty of SF lies. There is literally an infinite number of things to do across the city that cross so many cultural, political, and subject boundaries. SF is a giant cluster of ideas and opportunity. Regardless of what side of the fence you fall on politically, spiritually, morally, there was something for everyone and that’s what made it great to get involved and easy to meet new people.
I used to be on the boxing team at my university. I did it for about a year and a half. I never had any bouts, just trained and eventually gave it up because my parents did not want me to fight. Seeing as they were footing the bill for my education, I thought it was reasonable put it on hold as a sign of respect. As I inched my way up the Bay post graduation, I found myself living in the back of a pool house in Menlo Park with a buddy of mine I met through a previous job we held together on campus. I was a poor college graduate with no job who just spent my entire savings on a trip to Australia and New Zealand with one of my best friends. We’ll have to table this adventure for another time. Back to doing what you got to do…
We would split days between who got to sleep on the couch and who got the pull out bed. Our diet consisted of Chipotle and anything we could cook via a single microwave located in a little nook in the pool house, ergo we had no kitchen. Every day we woke up, worked on the resume and cover letters, hit the phones and scheduled interviews. In total, over a span of 2.5 months, I applied to over 90 jobs across the country, had less than 10 phone interviews, and only 2 in person interviews. Jobs were scarce and given the demographic in the Bay Area and how many top tier schools churn new graduates out each year within a 50 mi square radius, it was a competitive environment to say the least for a fresh undergraduate with ZERO contacts.
My roommate eventually got hired at a company that was quickly acquired by Google and has been there ever since. I was able to land my first job at a high finance Investment Consulting firm in downtown San Francisco that focused on Private Wealth and Alternative investments only after submitting my resume and cover letter for the third time.
Once I made it up to the City and had finally secured a job and a home, it was time to secure some hobbies so I could try to differentiate myself from the stereotyped SF millennial. See, at the time I moved, you either lived at the Tipsy Pig in the Marina or you’d hang out with the truffle man at Delores park. I’m comfortable not being omnipresent. I like my space and I like being different. I chose to not live with anyone I knew from before up in the city to start fresh and break out of the bubble. Because Kickboxing always intrigued me, and I wanted to throw the gloves back on again, I started looking into local gyms to start my training again. Lucky for me, there was a little dog eat dog, no frills, gem of a gym just 5 blocks over and 3 blocks down from my house in the Inner Sunset off 9th & Judah St.
I grew up in a family full of pretty tempered people. Both parents are doctors, so I got all the juicy ER stories growing up about the bar fights they were called in to treat at 2am in the morning. I’m not an aggressive person at all and my temperament has a closer resemblance to a teddy bear than a pit bull. Ask anyone who knows me. I can’t put my finger on it or where it came from but I’ve always had a draw to the ring. I couldn’t tell you a 1/4 of the names of the current UFC fighters and maybe know a handful of top level boxers by name. I’ve never seen red, nor did I get into it for the blood sport, I just loved the challenges it presented. How far could I push myself into the art? How far I could push my body through a serious training regiment? How much can I learn about myself?
One of the biggest hurdles for anyone who has never attempted to learn a martial art or fighting discipline is understanding the violence. Why would you want to get hit? Don’t you know you could get hurt? Do you want to hurt someone else? In this day in age, I’d argue about 85% of people who decide to train in a martial art are doing it to get in shape, about 10% really want to learn the art and be the best at it, and about 5% are just there for the violence. We are primal at heart, no matter how much we discredit where we came from. Society might be civilized, but not all humans are. As the zen proverb goes, it’s better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener at war. I’m comforted knowing what I am capable of if ever put in a bad situation. Unless you know what it feels like to cross the ropes, hear that bell go off, what it then feels like to walk step by step towards your opponent knowing all your training and preparation has culminated to this single moment, it’s hard to understand the desire fighters have to square up in the ring time and time again.
Gym 445 was my sanctuary for some time. It was absorbed by another gym about 6 months before I left San Francisco. It’s really too bad. It was a special place. It was like stopping at the neighborhood bar and running into all the regulars every time you trained. We had people travel all the way from the East Bay and North Bay into the city on a daily basis, just to train at the gym. Everyone hung out at the gym. A lot of good people pushed me further mentally and physically than I had ever been pushed before. They prepared me for my first Muay Thai fight. We did potlucks at the gym when the big ticket fights were on pay per view, every Thursday night after training we hit up the Blackthorn, an Irish pub down the street, all together in our sweaty clothes and talk about what happened at the last sparring session, fights from way back when and life. Relationships were forged, we went to weddings together, celebrated holidays – it was a special tribe of folks. And everyone had each others backs. We were family.
One of my good friends who I would always partner up with and spar at the gym, Chris, helped me get back in the water by introducing me to surfing. And I fell in love with it. I grew up skating and snowboarding. I practically lived on a board for most of my youth. I had always wanted to get into surfing but without access to the ocean, that turns into a bit of a problem. Now that I had it in my backyard, there were no excuses.
Anyone who has surfed in the Bay Area knows it’s a bit more challenging and dangerous than most coastal breaks, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and blah blah blah. I didn’t have a care in the world once I threw my board down into the water and sprung out on my stomach to coast that first paddle into the oncoming waves. You’d dunk your head and get this wake up call unlike any other. No joke, I’ve been on the receiving end of of some serious brain freezes out there on those colder days. I would be an idiot to say I never thought about it cause it was always in the back of my mind, but once I hit the water, that the entire area from Santa Barbara to Bodega Bay notoriously known as the “Red Triangle” went away. It was easy to forget Great Whites were a plenty in the water because I was having too much fun and it was where I was supposed to be. Maybe that is ignorant but ignorance is bliss and I was full of it.
I’d regularly pack up my wetsuit and surfboard in the car and would gladly pay the $20 to park at work, just so at 5pm I could jet off to the beach to catch a dusk set. I got a little over zealous once and probably stayed out in the water a bit too late and got a rude awakening as I realized what just crossed over the top of my hand was no plant. I nursed the Jelly Fish sting for a good few hours and noted that nighttime is when all the creatures start to swim and eat; we’re in guests in their house, best be careful.
I remember days where I wouldn’t even catch a wave and I’d be totally content. I’d spend 3 hours in the water paddling around, sitting on the board, taking off on one, taking a break to rest the arms, talk to some folks in the water, just taking it all in. It was only when I noticed my feet going numb through the neoprene boots from the frigid water temp that I’d decide to make my way back to shore. Water is the great equalizer, it’s also one of the most beautiful places to find yourself. I never gave enough credit to the men and women who charge in the surf. Until you experience it for yourself, it’s hard to understand the feeling you get from just being out there, let alone the feeling of paddling into and actually riding the wave. It’s spiritual on a whole different level. And if you are frowning at any point in the water you are doing it wrong.
Soon after I started getting involved in all these things, I was still looking for outlets to throw myself into. Mind you I never gave up one for the other, I just kept carving out more time to dive into the new flavor of the week. I’m an analytical person at heart. I also have a creative side that I need to feed. I picked up Photography from my father when I was younger but I didn’t really start shooting more skillfully and learning how to manipulate the camera on a seriously level until I got up to the City. Auto went out the window and the Manual setting took over. And I finally had subjects to shoot and practice with. Especially after getting more involved in surfing, I’d carve out time to setup the camera on the dunes of Ocean Beach and shoot the surfers on days when it was firing. Coffee from Java Beach? Check. Sandwich from Kawikas Ocean Beach Deli? Check. Camera equipment? Check. Hours getting lost behind the lens? Check. I eventually grew my love for photography through the other hobbies I picked up along the way.
What you do in your free time says much more about who you are than what you could ever say about yourself. The best part about it is, it doesn’t matter what you are doing, as long as you are getting out there and doing it. Experiences and stories aren’t forged on the couch in front of your TV. They are forged in the time you make to go out and do things, both new and familiar.
On this extracurricular quest, one pulled me in harder than any other. In a completely unexpected way, it became an integral part of me and I was forever better changed by it.
Stay Tuned for Part II…