Asking for Help Isn’t a Weakness

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Photo by Han-Hsing Tu on Unsplash

I blame my countryside upbringing for my fear of asking for help. Where I come from pulling yourself up from your bootstraps is the ultimate goal. Nothing is worth having if you haven’t completely busted your ass trying. I still feel guilty when something comes to me too easily. Without exhaustion, hard work, pain, or even, tears some things just don’t feel like an accomplishment.

It’s not the worst way to live–my ability to work non-stop, to press through pain, to forget my ego to get a task done, has always served me well– but it’s not the only way to live. In fact, there was this whole concept of asking for help that I didn’t discover until I was an embarrassingly old age.

I am hesitant to name the concept “nepotism” because of the many negative connotations for the word, especially now with Trump as President and his kids skipping along to political careers too despite their lack of, well, any civic engagement whatsoever. While I don’t find that nepotism is an inherently bad thing, it is the cause and root of many troubling things so I must instead look to define the concept I really care about, which is “asking for help.”

I always thought I had to do everything on my own. In high school, it wasn’t until my junior year that I took teachers up on their office hours. There seemed to be a trick to what they were doing. They were going to stick around after class to teach me one-on-one? It seemed too easy. In college I never went to the Writing Center because I was convinced there was going to be some sort of plagiarism going on because, other students were going to edit my work and help me? It seemed like cheating. And when I graduated I had family friends and family members who worked in publishing or TV or journalism, and I pretended not to know them, or  to ask for introductions because I wanted to earn it. 

In other circles, using every single resource given to you is a way of life. I saw it as making things too easy, but other kids (often from privileged backgrounds) saw this process as more work and a chance to get ahead. I was afraid to get ahead. My whole middle class life I had been taught to care for others, to stay in my lane, to not get too greedy for a life I clearly wanted. Again, not a bad way to live. But without the balance of asking for help, I was lost well into adulthood.

Enter New York City. A place where everybody knows somebody and asking for help is part of your day-to-day. Nothing is a favor because more often then not, you have something to offer in return the same day, same week, same month. New York City can be very lonely but in a lot of ways its very tribal… if you find the right tribe. I can get friends discounted hotel rooms, they get me theater tickets, another friend always has an open bar to attend. Ideally, if you work your connections well enough, there’s not very much you actually have to pay for, or line up for. I haven’t perfected that, but I see people who have.

The easiest way to get a job here is to ask your friends who they know. Ask for introductions. Have someone send a resume through. Of course, the job market is still tough, interviews still suck, and you have to rely on your own talents after the introduction, but a good introduction can be 25 or 50% of the work. Even as I write this my country background is firing off: “You sound sleazy! This is gross!” It’s ringing all the bells in my head.

But I’ll say this. When done graciously and with purpose, asking for help doesn’t have to be sleazy. Grabbing on to opportunity isn’t gross. Everything in this life is hard enough, why do you want to make it harder on yourself? You will still have failures and you’re still going to feel lost and lonely. I promise you. So don’t feel bad if, this time, it was a little easy. And yeah, there are people who abuse it, exploit it, use the system for “evil” but that’s just about every system there is. Don’t let that fear keep you out of the game.

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I Know My Brand is Indistinct… And I’m OK With It

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Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

Very few of you probably don’t know how I spend my time off the blog and off the page. I work a regular “9-5” job in an office in Midtown Manhattan. My official title? Marketing and Brand Innovation Manager at a hotel company. Which means I spend my days creating and honing hotel brands and then determining how we market those brands to the wider public.

So why does my personal brand seem a little…wacky and unfocused?

Well, cause I am wacky and unfocused.

My brand is me.

I once spent a lot of time trying to cram myself into different, single boxes, to make a brand work. I was going to be Fitness Amanda or Writer Amanda or Book Reviewer Amanda or Foodie Amanda. And then I tried to be all of those things at once, trying to be an expert in every single one of my hobbies. It took years for me to realize that the most authentic true brand I could create for myself, was just to let my freak flag fly and see who came running.

That means I talk openly and honestly about how tough all of this is. I sometimes cook on my Instagram stories but rarely share photos of the food I prepare on my feed because I am terrible food photographer. I workout all the time, but only post the occasional photo of what that looks like. I share poetry more often. And I share photos of my day-to-day life, of the beauty in a life that sometimes either feels too fast or too boring. I share the balance between all those aspects of who I am and I encourage my followers to do the same.

I love a beautiful brand. I love curated photos. I love color schemes and different tones of voices and I adore creating logos. (Truly!) And these are all aspects of powerful important brands and we should learn from them for our businesses. But for me, a lack of focus and a lack of breadth are just who I am. I am a little wacky. I am overwhelmed a lot. I become obsessed with something and then abandon it weeks later for something new. I am a creative nutcase and I share it. And I’m ok with that.

So tell me, what’s something you’re doing that you KNOW isn’t the “right way” but you’re doing it your way anyway? Why do you do it this way? Why is it important to you? Tell me in the comments or make an IG post and use the hashtag #cheapcourage.

Part of Writing Non-Fiction is Not Writing

averie-woodard-122274Spring has flung me across the country multiple times already and it’s only mid-April. I knew my work life and social life were both going to ramp up at the same time (showers, events, travel) but I didn’t realize just how much it was going to put my ever beloved writing life on hold. You don’t really know how much you love to stare at a blank screen, willing yourself to write something brilliant, until it’s ripped away from you for a couple of weeks. A couple of weeks can feel like a lifetime.

It was in a particularly bad moment, when I was spiralling about not writing enough, not writing ever, potentially never again (?!), that my boyfriend pointed out that part of being a writer is also living. And that is even more important for someone like me, who writes non-fiction. My stories are the stories that I have lived. My stories exist because I was not alone in front of a computer screen at every chance I had. They exist because I went on dates, and traveled with my friends, and broke some bones, and almost lost my brother. They exist because I was off living, not worrying about getting a certain essay completed.

When the travel calmed a bit, and I was able to see two beautiful weeks ahead of me with time to write, I came across a Self Care Challenge. 7 days worth of Self Care. A challenge to love ourselves and give ourselves the time we need. How freakin’ radical. It came at the perfect time because I was so frantic last week to get back to work on my essays and my poetry that I was willing to forego a much needed haircut, to lock myself up and get the work done. I was desperate to be left alone and work. I put every other single need– work, side gigs, writing, family, friends, dog– ahead of my own. I was willing to put myself at the very bottom of the list because that’s what I’ve always done. Seeing that so many people struggled with Self Care last week helped me to at least try and take care of myself too.

Outside of taking care of myself I have to remind myself that I am so very lucky to find myself traveling, visiting friends, having things to celebrate. Yes, it does take me away from my writing but in the end it is enriching my life with memories and lessons and inspirations that will ultimately help me when I do finally find those glorious couple of hours to sit and pen something. Why is it so hard for us to see what’s full in our lives? Why are we trained to always see lack? Almost every bucket of our lives could be full to the brim, but it is the one that is empty that we worry about. I am so guilty of this and it’s embarrassing to admit to the greater public.

But I am hoping there are others out there, that feel overwhelmed as well. Overwhelmed with not just life’s annoyances, but overwhelmed with goodness too. And maybe together we can find some tactics to stay grateful for a little bit longer. Live in our present a little bit more. And accept that we cannot be all things at all times and let each part of us (sister, girlfriend, employee, writer, friend, daughter, SELF) have their moments to shine, and let the others take a step back. The others are still awake, still learning lessons that can be applied in any situation.

It’s a painful cliche–but I have found that the older I get the more I understand these cliches–but life is meant to be lived. And even though figuring out how to do that with success is killing me (I will figure this out one day!) it still feels worth it. Remarkable.

Now tell me, how often do you forgive yourself for having a little fun? How often do you avoid something fun because of your work, your “dreams”, your diet? How do you find balance between all the yous there are, and when do you find time for self care? FILL ME IN!

Essay: Sad French Movies

Publicly sharing my non-fiction is literally what my nightmares are made up of. But in my constant fight to open myself to new possibilities and to grow as a writer I have to actually let me writing be read. I am starting a writing class next week on Narrative, taught by one of my favorite non-fiction writers, Chloe Caldwell. Since I had to submit a piece to be accepted and this one made the cut, I figured it was safe to share.

SAD FRENCH MOVIES

There is a night you take me to see a Sad French Movie. Catherine Deneuve is in it and every line of the movie is sung. It’s like a musical, but more so. It’s about falling in love and how life then pulls everything apart piece by piece, like the unraveling of a sweater by each thread. You are always taking me to movies at Film Forum, and you are always forgetting the card that gets us discounted snacks. So we never get snacks. I watch a lot of snackless movies there in those old musty seats.

The movie ends at a snowy gas station and the couple can’t be together because they’re married to other people. They’re all so sad but they’re still singing every word that leaves their mouths. Still singing in the snow. Still singing even though their love failed. The ending makes me sad too, but I guess that is the point of a Sad French Movie, to make life feel very heavy.

Though I am feeling very down, you must be feeling romantic because we walk for three avenues to find a place to have a bottle of red. We never do stuff like this, but we’ve been broke since we got together so we don’t know how to do stuff like this. As soon as the first glass hits my bloodstream, I am weepy. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I feel stuck. Where am I supposed to go? I forget how weepy red wine makes me. The restaurant is Argentinean and we are the only people not eating.

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Tales of Directionless Personal Branding

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If you’ve been following my blog for awhile you’ll notice that I have re-branded three times, changed the content twice as much as that, and fluctuated between writing every day and once a month and well, never. Running this blog has been a strange journey and I am constantly re-evaluating it and trying to determine what it can be.

The only thing that keeps me going is that every once in awhile, I write something that resonates. That moves someone. They write to me and say, “Wow, that really helped me.” Those tiny moments fuel me forward even when I have no idea what I will say next or do next.

If you didn’t know, my day job is spent branding and marketing independent hotels. I do know how to brand. I do know how to market a brand. But branding and marketing myself? I find it impossible because I change and grow and even sometimes, decline. I strive to be authentic and truthful about who I am and what I’m doing, so maintaining a brand that is no longer who I am, or just a piece of who I am feels fake and painful.

I am so impressed with the millions of bloggers out there that brand themselves so well and are so honed into what they want to share and do. I am impressed every day. And I think about the time and energy they put into managing their brand and get tired. People do manage to create authentic brands based on who they are… it’s just embarrassingly hard for me to do so. I also struggle daily with the idea of becoming a “lifestyle” blog or brand. While I LOVE and ADORE my life, because I’ve built it piece by piece, I hardly think the masses would be impressed and envious of it. But who am I to say?

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IG: @CheapCourage

 

Of course the irony of all this is it’s nearly impossible to be alive in 2017 and not have a personal brand. Social Media requires all of us to brand ourselves whether we know so or not. What news stories we share on Facebook, the jokes we tell on Twitter, the filters we use on Snapchat… these things become our respective brands. Obviously we are editing, to a degree, what we choose to SHOW about our lives and what we choose to HIDE about our lives. And in turn we all judge each other based on these very small shared pieces of ourselves.

Some of us are very good at branding ourselves, some of us are not. Some of us can monetize our lifestyle, and some of us can not. So if I am to look at it that way, as I should, it isn’t that I don’t have a personal brand, it’s that I do not know what I want out of it. That is where my confusion, my fuzziness, my lost sense of online self comes from.

So a few Sundays ago I sat and thought about it. Why was I unhappy or confused with my personal brand? If I was simply happy to interact with friends and family and occasionally spark a political discussion or make a joke, then I’d be all set. But that’s not what I want. If I wanted to be known for photos of my outfits or my makeup or my fitness regimen, I would switch gears and feature only those types of images, leave the other stuff out, and focus the lens. But that’s not what I want.

What I want, and what I too often lose sight of is this: I want people to read my writing. I want to share my writing. I want to influence people with my words. The goal of gaining followers on Instagram or WordPress or even Facebook is to funnel more readers to my work and to engage with them. And I’m not talking about my blogs, I mean my essays and my poetry. The things I write and write and write and never share because of fear. (My god I’ve written about fear on here more times than I can count.)

And so for me to build a cohesive brand that serves me… I’m going to have to start sharing some writing. I am terrified to do so. Baby steps of course… but it is possible. And all I had to do, and what I would strongly suggest to anyone going through a hard time with a creative project, is repeat to myself over and over again, “What do I want out of this?”

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IG: @CheapCourage