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New City, New You: How This NYC Transplant, Morganna Nickoff, Transformed Her Life

By Emily Merrell

Have you ever felt stuck but too complacent to make a change? Meet Morganna Nickoff. After Morganna moved to NYC she left her career in aviation behind and picked up drawing, stand-up comedy and a new lease on life. Now learn how she did it so you can make changes in your life as well!

SDS: From aviation to travel to drawing, you’re a person with multiple passions. What advice do you have for someone who wants to try something new later in life?

MORGANNA NICKOFF: Many of us place pressure on ourselves to succeed in everything we do, often psyching ourselves out before even starting. While a “make it or break it” mindset can be beneficial in parts of our career and business, it can make trying something new later in life very scary and nerve-wracking.

To relax the nerves and lower the stakes, I approach new things as play. I tell myself this new activity or interest is a new game I’m trying, and the only expectation is to show up and give it a chance. Worst case: you try something new, realize it isn’t for you, and now you know what you don’t like. That’s still a win.

SDS: As a transplant to New York, what was your biggest surprise moving to the Big Apple? Any tips for people hoping to make the move?

MN: I’ve been blown away by how helpful people have been. There isn’t a week that goes by where I haven’t met someone who offers to help me in something or who introduces me to someone who can. People are also no-nonsense here. I love that. I appreciate the honesty and directness.

Before moving here, I recommend thinking about what you want from New York City and your experiences. Is there something only New York City can provide you? Why do you want to be here? What makes New York different from any other city? Write your answers down. Revisit them often. Update them every few months or years if you need to. Having an objective or an idea of your “why’s” will get you through the frustrating days. Knowing why you’re here will also keep FOMO and its distractions at bay. With anything in life, I think it is important to practice awareness and ensure your decisions and experiences are working in your favor, not the other way around.

SDS: In the new year, you’re adding more change to your life and recently started doing stand-up comedy. What suggestions do you have for people to get out of their comfort zone?

MN: Courage is a muscle. I believe you have to exercise courage, consistently and frequently, to maintain or grow it. The best way I’ve been able to get myself to exercise courage often is to treat “getting out of my comfort zone” as an opportunity to play.

I often pretend I’m a big kid, and New York City is a playground. I imagine it’s a city filled with new friends, games, sandboxes, jungle gyms and slides… all waiting for me to come out and play. Thinking about taking risk in this way is honestly how I often trick myself to do anything new and anxiety inducing. “It’s okay if you feel scared or shy, Morganna. Just go and play anyway! There is fun waiting for you.” Try it by treating yourself like a kid. Find a new comfort zone and jump in. Go watch that movie or eat that fancy dinner alone. Feel uncomfortable and weird, notice those feelings and sensations and let them be. Sit through it once and you might discover that you’re much braver than you thought.

SDS: Tell us more about your drawings, how did you discover this talent and what do you plan on doing with it?

MN: I discovered I could draw while working at my last job, living in and out of airplanes. I loved travelling for work but after after a couple years, I realized I didn’t have any hobbies or a creative outlet — or even a social life. One day, while feeling particularly bored with myself, I thought: “What did I love to do as a kid? What exactly did I want to be when I grow up?” I wanted to be only two things: a comedienne or a cartoonist.

That realization changed everything for me.

I began doodling regularly. I wanted something creative to do while sitting in airports, and drawing was the easy thing to do. Eventually my sketchbook became an iPad, and I taught myself how to draw digitally. There was a learning curve in the beginning, so I created an Instagram to keep track of my drawings and progress.

A year later, that decision to draw has turned into new changes: I now live in New York City, my Instagram has grown to more than 10,000 followers, and I’m continuing to learn cartooning and illustration in my spare time. I’m not sure what exactly this will grow into. I want to keep creating stories through illustrations and comics, and growing my brand and online store. I’m building with my website and portfolio, and have started to do freelance design projects. Perhaps I can become an artistic ninja or mercenary for hire? That would be fun!

SDS: Can you tell us more about society6 where you sell your work and how that platform connects independent artists?

MN: Society6.com is an online marketplace where you can directly support independent artists and buy products with their art. I love Society6.com as a place for up-and-coming artists because it handles all of the production/packing/shipping aspect of a creative business, allowing us artists to focus on creating.

SDS: Where do you find inspiration for adventure?

MN: I make an effort to change my routine and habits in minor ways. Instead of walking the same route all the time, I’ll turn a different corner. That’s how I’ll find an amazing new bakery or coffee shop I never noticed. The more change you’re willing to make in your everyday life, the more inspiration and adventure will come on their own.

When it comes to travel, I think about this often: many people are comfortable with flying from NYC to LA for a long weekend. Yet these same people hesitate in taking that London trip they’ve always wanted to do. Nonstop flights from NYC to LA and NYC to London take about the same amount of time. So, why are we willing to go to LA but not London? Why not go this weekend?

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