The Artist Date

When you’re five years old, trends come and go abruptly. Curiosity is abundant, and nerves are easily ignored. We were changing for gym class in the bathroom one day when a girl unexpectedly decided to climb on top of the toilet, latch her fingers around the bar above the stall, and swing from it like a wild and carefree chimpanzee. One by one, all of the others began to follow suit. I couldn’t do it. Days later, we were watching a movie during a slow afternoon. All I could think about was that bar and what it would feel like to sway back and forth, giggling like the others had. I oh-so-casually asked my teacher if I could excuse myself to go to the bathroom. No one would suspect a thing. I would have the privacy of an abandoned jungle. I arrived, and my confidence instantly vanished. I sat, contemplating, for what felt like years. Finally I mustered up the courage and stood up. One, two, three fingers slowly extended out from my sweaty, clenched fist. I made contact. The breeze from the first swing felt like pure victory. My high, however, was quickly diminished as I looked up and saw my teacher. Her timing was impeccable. I was thoroughly mortified and entirely petrified, but I felt something else as well. A tiny rush, a sense of excitement….It was my first trip to the principal's office.

Tobias van Schneider didn’t spend much time talking about what it was like to work at Spotify at the Future of Web, but he blew my mind in many other ways that day. One thing that resonated so profoundly was the concept of what he referred to as an “artist date”. He had left Germany to explore New York without a job waiting for him on the other side. The rebel. A week in he just so happened to bump into a friend on a walk in Central Park that resulted in an opportunity and just like that, he carried on. It sounded more like a movie plot than anything. I couldn’t fathom doing something so unplanned, but that was indeed the point. Most importantly, he stressed the need to push yourself out of your comfort zone in order to grow creatively. His artist dates often involved dressing up and going out to a fancy dinner, alone. The only time I’d ever been comfortable eating alone was during airport layovers, my head buried in a book as I devoured cheesy pasta from a chain restaurant and sipped on a glass or two of wine. 

I first considered the move to San Francisco a few months prior to Tobias’ speech, with an unexpected phone call from my uncle. He had become recent dog walking pals with a designer at Uber and wanted to chat about my interest in the area. I had always refused the thought of moving to California. Granted I had never been to the city, but it was so far from Michigan. The hilly, scenic routes often brought on bouts of humiliating motion sickness, and family trips came with accepted warnings such as “Disney Land is about two hours from here, five with traffic.” That being said, there were obvious benefits given my brief visits. I couldn’t get over my fascination with the Doctor Seuss palm trees, or the fact that my aunt and uncle had avocados and lemons growing outside. And don’t even get me started on the wine. So I made a tiny decision that day as I hung up the phone with him. Don’t rule out San Francisco. 

October rolled around, and my coworker and I took off to explore the Future of Web Design conference and the city itself. This was my first visit. The week was a giant and glorious blur full of new friends, delicious food, and sometimes not-so-subtle reminders that my liver wasn’t accustomed to a huge city full of people my age. Navigating my way through Market Street on my own gave me an equivalent rush to that of a theme park ride. I could do this. I visited my first start up office, and drooled over scenery I suspected I would come across typing “start up” in a Google image search. I stared at murals and danced at festivals and walked until my feet bled and spoke with designers I had idolized for years. I was exhausted. I was inspired.

I wasn’t unhappy at work, I was comfortable. I was comfortable in my home, in a city where I knew all the streets and quickest routes, with grocery store employees that noticed my haircuts, and lunch spots that had memorized my spicy Thai fried rice orders long ago. I wasn’t bored. I was comfortable. Two days after my birthday I got the call while sitting in the San Francisco airport. My stomach was a nervous wreck but I was able to comprehend the good news. I didn’t know where I would live, or where my favorite spot to eat would be, or how I would spend my Friday nights. All I knew was that this was exactly how it was supposed to feel, and that I needed to reach out and grab hold of an indefinite date with myself. 

Samantha NovakComment