Turning 18 is an important milestone. This period of growth and fun marks the cross-section of childhood and adulthood. However, it isn’t as simple as that. As a new adult, the road ahead is daunting and full of uncertainties. Sophia Perez-Olle, an 18-year-old Hoboken resident is graduating from high school this year and upon reflection of who she is and wants to be, thought it would be beneficial to look to the community for advice. For her senior capstone project at The Hudson School, Sophia asked Hoboken residents and workers what advice they would give their 18-year-old self. Read on to see what advice these Hoboken locals would give their 18-year-old-selves.
About Vivian Hasbrouk
Vivian Hasbrouk is a theater and ASL teacher at The Hudson School and has lived in Hoboken and Hudson County for the last 30 years. She previously has worked at Hoboken Charter School and in the film and musical theater industries.
Don’t Forget to Look Up at the Sky
When I moved to Hoboken, I was very excited about living in this part of the country and living in this urban area and atmosphere. Things were extremely fast-paced, so the one thing I would tell my younger self is to look at the sky more. About two weeks into living in the city, I was at a bench in Elysian Park eating some lunch while going over a monologue for an audition. This woman was slowly walking, sat down on the bench. It took a lot of effort because she was elderly. She clearly had lived in the area for a long time. She started talking to me. I didn’t say hello or anything, but she sat down and started talking and I just listened. She was marvelous.
She told me this story about how she grew up in Hoboken during Prohibition. For a dime a week, she would carry notes from merchants all over the town at age nine or ten, maybe even younger. One merchant would send a note to another and all-around telling each other where all the alcohol was stored during Prohibition. She was taking these messages from one area of Hoboken to another. She told me how the town got through WWII and the Depression. Essentially, she told me about how she and Hoboken got through so many aspects of what historically this country has dealt with. And she talked to me about her family. She looked at me and said: “You’re in such a hurry, don’t be in such a hurry. You have to remember to look up at the sky because if you don’t, it’s going to pass you by and you’re going to go by and say you missed things or regret things.”
I think there have been times in my life where I have forgotten to look up at the sky and take a moment to slow it down and think things through. So I would go back to remind myself to listen to her more clearly and throughout my life continue to remind myself to look up at the sky. Because it’s probably some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. I never saw her again. Sometimes I think that she wasn’t even real – she was, but her stories were incredible. I don’t remember a lot of the details because I’m 53 now. She told me when I was like 23, so those 30 years have erased a lot of the details she told me, but I remember her essence. I never forgot that phrase that she said, but I wish I could go back to that younger me and say – “What she is telling you is important, you need to hold onto that.” No matter where you live it’s a journey, not a horse race, so relax more. At 53, I am getting better at remembering to look up at the sky.
About Mark Leyner
Mark Leyner is an author and screenwriter who has been living in Hoboken with his wife, Mercedes, for the last 35 years. Describing his work as less of a job and more as his true passion, Mark enjoys working out, good times with friends, and going on walks. You can check him and his latest book, Last Orgy of the Divine Hermit, on Instagram @markleyner.
You Are Smarter Than You Think
When I was thinking about the question, I realized I don’t have a really elaborate answer to it. I don’t think I subscribe, as some people do, to this idea of age and wisdom being necessarily simultaneous or working in tandem with each other. I think that I would just as likely want to get the wisdom of my younger self now, rather than the other way. I really thought in the reverse: I would really like to have access now to my 18-year-old self to get advice instead of the other way. I just think as you get older and older, you worry. I worry about Mercedes, my wife, when she’s out or I worry about Gaby, my daughter, less and less so as she’s doing well. But you still do. At 18, you sort of just exalts in life. It’s not like you don’t have your days where you’re just enraged with everything or sad, but generally, as a kind of default emotional state, things are kind of wonderful. It’s a wonderful time to be 18: it’s perfect. It would be nice to talk to myself when I was feeling that way.
The thing I remember most is being so angry at my parents, and this will sound like one of those things no one wants to hear. I had a girlfriend in high school and for a year or so into college, not too long. At some point in all this, she and I broke up, and I was completely distraught. I was looking for bottles of pills and things and just being really dramatic saying, “I can’t live.” It was so bad. My father was trying to say something to me along the lines of “this will pass, this will feel better.” He even alluded that there may be another person possibly, you’re only 17 or 18. I got so angry at him, yelling, “You don’t understand. You’ve never loved someone like this.” Can you believe? I was saying this to my father who presumably had loved someone deeply. Things are happening for the first time and they feel cataclysmic and there are many cataclysms to come. I think becoming resilient about things is by getting hurt a little bit – there is nothing you can do to sort of speed up the process. I guess what I’m saying is, knowing that everything would turn out alright would be a good thing to know except that it would be meaningless. It wouldn’t have changed anything. I think a lot of things are like that. To have an older self tell your younger self something unless it’s a piece of information, most things have to be experienced by the person. It can’t come from anyone, especially from your ancient, elder self coming back and telling you something. Anyone can say that to someone slightly older than them: “You don’t understand.”
Some of the best conversations I had about things when I was 18 was with my grandmother. I had this very funny grandmother who liked bourbon and cigarettes, not terrible things. Maybe not good for you but fun. When I was 18, she would come up to my room, and I wasn’t probably supposed to be doing either of those things, but we would have a drink together and sneakily smoke cigarettes and talk about things. She understood everything because, at the end of the day, we’re all human beings. She went through it because it’s all basically the same stuff just in different packaging. We all hurt, we all love, we all experience the emotions of what it means to be human. We all think, but that doesn’t mean we are necessarily smarter with each day. Other than caring for others more because you’ve been through more, there’s no real accumulated wisdom that comes with age as we would like to think. By the time you’re kind of on your deathbed, you’re not overflowing with wisdom compared to an 18-year-old. There is a lot of wisdom in youth. That’s what I would tell my 18-year-old self: you’re smarter than you think.
About Elena Skye
Elena Skye is a singer-songwriter from Chicago who has lived in Hoboken for the last 35 years with her husband. She tours across Europe and the US with her band, the Demolition String Band. Previously, Elena worked in the Culture Department at Hoboken City Hall and at Guitar Bar Jr. You can find her work here.
Learn a Language or Two
I feel like I have stayed true to the things I’ve wanted to do and haven’t let people tell me that I should have a backup in case my music thing didn’t pan out. A lot of the people in my family are big achievers or much wealthier in terms of money. I am really glad I followed my heart and made sure I could provide for my family.
I think the one thing I regret is not having learned a second language. I wish I had studied French more; really immersed myself in it. Through The Hudson School, my daughter, Ro, went to France twice and came back with a solid foundation of the language. I don’t know how much she has now, but I so wanted her to have that experience and the ability to speak another language. Travel and learn, especially when you’re young and your mind is so young and fresh, able to learn other languages and cultures. The travel I have been able to do is invaluable. Just connecting with an atmosphere that is not your own, especially with nature. I know that sounds hokey, but it’s true.
Learning languages isn’t a skill you’re going to have all your life. It helps deepen your compassion for other people and your understanding of the world in general. And it’s odd because my father was French and my mom was Hispanic, and even though they are both bilingual, their only common language is English. I used to curse them and say “Why didn’t you teach me when I was little?” I believed it was Piaget who studied the brain and he discovered that there is a part of the brain that is for language acquisition and it kind of diminishes as you get older so it’s easier the younger you are to learn. You can take a four or five-year-old and put them in a preschool and they will come out speaking another language easily. You can acquire languages easier. For me, it’s a little harder. I remember one time I was in France, and I wanted to order something from a young waitress girl. I heard her speaking Russian or some Slavic language to one customer and then French to someone else and then she came to my table. I was trying my hardest to say “Excusez moi, je ne parle pas Français” and she just adapted to English immediately. So I ordered and I was just so amazed by how she was speaking all these languages. That was one of my more painful experiences as someone who is monolingual. I think someday I’m just going to have to go live there. I just have to immerse myself at some point.
When you travel, almost everyone speaks English it feels like and you feel so silly. I have this feeling of a stupid American, like what’s wrong with me? And when you do bump into somebody and you can’t converse with them, it’s really frustrating. I feel like if I had learned at least one other language my experience abroad and with others would have been more enriched by those tools.
^ Pictured left to right: Ben Sobsey, Dan Londono, Mayor Ravi Bhalla, Andrew Arrospide, and Dan Sobsey
About Dan Sobsey
Dan Sobsey grew up in Hoboken with his brother, Ben, and his parents, who owned and ran Sobsey’s Produce. He graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in finance before starting Alfalfa with his partners, Andrew Arrospide and Dan Londono. You can find Dan and the Alfalfa crew on Instagram @eatalfalfa.
It Takes a Team to Build a Dream
We always dreamed of opening a bicoastal business, as crazy as it is, and especially a place like Alfalfa. We bootstrapped the whole thing. We started this concept out of our apartment. It was a whiteboard, with Andrew, Dan, and I thought of the idea. We thought about our value, our brand, what we wanted to stand for. We knew we had a lot to prove, and we knew we had to learn a lot. We all came from professional backgrounds, so we had no restaurant experience, but we knew what we wanted to achieve.
It all worked out, but that’s only because we get along. You have to pick your partners wisely because it will make all the difference in the end. If we didn’t get along, this wouldn’t work – point-blank. We were lucky that we are able to be open and transparent. To be critical of each other without hurting anybody’s feelings because, at the end of the day, we’re just trying to achieve one thing. It’s an all-in effort from all of us to make this work.
The one piece of advice I would give my younger self, and anyone else is to look for a mentor early. You can read as many self-help and self-development books and podcasts, and you can do all of those things, but you will never gain the insight than hearing it from somebody who has skin in the game and who has been through it. When we started this business, we reached out to as many people as possible, fearlessly. We wanted to learn, and you have to wipe the chalkboard to start clean and listen. Listen more than speak, and be humble in your approach and be respectful when gaining advice. Always be listening.
We had a number of people who ended up coming here who had various professional backgrounds. They are actually local business owners and they were immensely helpful in guiding us. It didn’t need to be restaurant-specific, but more so business and life. These were people that are 20 or 30 years older than us, some close to our age. We heard it from all directions and it’s priceless. It’s honestly better than any book I’ve read. We felt that support outside of mentors too, especially because in Hoboken business owners always help each other. It really feels like everyone’s in it together as opposed to everyone being out for each other. I think for me, a lot of my mentors gave us advice that has aided us in the last three years. I genuinely believe that our willingness to learn from others has put us in a different position than if we had been closed off from the knowledge of others. Regardless of what you do in life, make sure to find someone that can mentor you and be sure to not take their words of wisdom for granted.
About Ricardo Khan
Ricardo Khan is a theater director and writer who has lived in Hoboken for the last 15 years. He started his career as an actor and is also the founder of Crossroads Theatre Company and the World Theater Lab. Ricardo is known for his play “Fly” which opened at the Lincoln Center in New York. He is currently writing a play that will open in September at Crossroads. You can learn more about Ricardo here.
Be Open to Everything
When I was 18, I was in college and I was going through what to do in life. I went from wanting to be an architect freshman year to a lawyer and then throughout the rest of college I wanted to be a bunch of other stuff. I knew that my first love was theater.
What I would say is to be open to everything. People will want you to make decisions. If you were to ask me what my profession was going to be when I was younger, it would be different every time because I didn’t know. You don’t need to know. All you need to do is recognize if you are going to college, first of all, you have this amazing opportunity to explore life and explore people. Explore who you are in that context, not in the context of your immediate family or where you’ve grown up, but truly expand your horizons. Get to know everything else around you. If you’re going to a college that is more diverse than Hoboken, you’re putting yourself on a path that will never leave you because you’ve learned so much from people who are not like you.
You learn so much from people who think differently. During Trump’s presidency, there were amazing people saying things like: “Don’t build a wall, build your table bigger.” Sunday evening people would invite strangers who think totally different from them to come to dinner. I don’t think we do that a lot, and we certainly don’t do that if we stay amongst the people we know. College is a discovery for things you never knew before, so I say to my 18-year-old self: be open. Be open to everything and see every obstacle as an opportunity to learn. See the value in every condition of life.
For example, I think about the way I grew up, I didn’t know as much about the importance of freedom of sexual preference and orientation, and I think I’m much more open-minded now than I was then. I think it took me a long time, even though I was exposed to different communities when I would go with my parents to Trinidad. Even having lived in New Jersey most of my life, I feel like I am a child of the world. I always consider myself now a citizen of the world. I had friends of all different faiths, but I never spent enough time with them to understand everything. I grew up Christian, but since that time I studied Buddhism, exploring Islam and Judaism. It allowed me to form my own faith and way of meditation, which I didn’t have then.
I think that a lot of times the divisions between people are not driven just by financial circumstances. One of my proudest moments in the community of Hoboken was when there was a protest for BLM. The street opened up for folks who came from Jersey City Heights and all of a sudden all these black and brown people who weren’t from here just flooded in. Just the fact that we are welcoming in that way shows that if we can be welcoming on one day, we can be welcoming every day. That was a proud moment. Even though we have these divides in Hoboken, they’re really something we can overcome. It’s moments like these that remind me how important it is to be open to those outside of you. The world is comprised of so much more than yourself, and if you remove the blindfold and allow yourself to step into the light, you will learn and see some amazing things.