What Life Should Be Like

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I’m back post-holiday to return to my blogging roots–talking about some serious business. *Queue Serious Music* I took a little break to get into the holiday spirit with my gift guide and to support a group of incredible female entrepreneurs. But now… it’s back to business as usual.

Today I’m talking about shoulds, how they haunt me.

Sometimes (seriously, sometimes) I can come off as pretty collected and calm. But that’s after many years of learning to be that way. By nature I am a worrier. When I was 12 I stopped sleeping at night, plagued by insomnia and anxiety by my very *complicated* life. I was sick over old things and worried for new things and was very tightly wound. My memory of that year, and even the next couple after that, is of lying in bed every night, wide awake and troubled.

I’ve come a long way since those days. I am often able to sleep through the night and have been doing that for years. But lately, I find myself falling into old patterns. Waking in the night to start worrying and overthinking. Spiraling knowing very well I shouldn’t be. It’s odd to find myself here 18 years later.

The cause of it all, of course, is the shoulds of my life. I am straight up shoulding myself. Maybe it’s because I turned 30 this month or it’s because my life keeps butting up against serious life moments (for not just me, but my friends and family around me too) and it is causing me to look at my life and start making choices for my future in a new and terrifying way.

When I was younger all I wanted was focus and security, even though my nature is (again) the opposite of this. I crave new things, excitement, and change. To counter that I made highly secure choices and this, unlike my efforts to calm myself, has backfired into making me feel caged in and to put it bluntly, kind of a big fat failure. I keep telling myself that I SHOULD be doing X,Y,Z or that I SHOULD HAVE done X,Y,Z when I had the chance. On the surface I guess this looks a little like a midlife crisis but really it’s the return of the same fears I had at 12 years old:

What is all of this? What should life be like? 

Smaller goals over time (graduate high school, graduate college, do not starve) gave me the ability to stray from the bigger picture, the life picture, that I saw back when I was a little girl who could not turn her brain off no matter how hard she tried. No matter how tired she was at school the next day and the day after. The smaller goals are now accomplishments to be proud of,  but as I stare down the next phase of life, without any small hurdles to cross, the big questions I never answered “What do I want to be when I grow up?” “What do I want to see and do?” “Who do I want to be?” are bubbling up with a ferocity of a caged animal.

The positive in all of this is that with my blinders removed I have the opportunity to start exploring the things I have always been afraid to try. And that is what I need to keep in my mind–that instead of anxiousness for the future, I can instead feel excitement for it. I am standing on a cliff and I can jump or I can worry about would happen if I did. (I hope there’s a net there…)

The answer to what life should be like is this: to not look for shoulds and instead find joy in the past we’ve survived the potential of what can be in the future.

But it’s never so easy. I’ve been here before. You’ve all been there with me and you’re probably rolling your eyes getting ready to push me off any old cliff already. I feel you. I can say it and I can write it but living that truth is so much harder in reality. I’ll keep working to balance out of course… that’s who I am and though I’ve tried not to be, that hasn’t changed. I’ve been here before and I am sure I will keep coming back to it. I can only hope it will one day result in something great.

How do you handle your fear of the future? Do you keep trying obsessively to smooth out your life or am I crazy? Curious to know.

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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.

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!

Do Less to Get More Done

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Three years ago I made a note to myself in my journal. I had been reading something–an article or a book– and wanted to boil down what I had read to a mantra.

The entry says this:

Work when you are working.
Relax when you are relaxing.
Write when you are writing.

And it is something I try to keep at the top of my mind every day. At the time, I was trying to do it ALL. I kept my days loaded with To-Dos and appointments and I would beat myself up mercilessly if I didn’t get it all done. I was overloaded and scattered — I got very little done for years. (Not an exaggeration. I drove myself crazy.)

I was busy for the sake of busy. Which I see as a silent epidemic in the US. We’re expected to be super fit, eat healthy, go to work, have a side gig, have a romantic partner, party all the time, have a nice home, have another side gig, have a hobby, volunteer, save money… this is a list that could probably go on forever. I thought that if I wasn’t busy, if I wasn’t part of the “hustle”, I was failing.

Projects fell apart. I spent more time making to-do lists than actually getting anything done and felt tired and overanxious most of the time. I really wanted to be perfect, or close to it, and of course it all came crashing down almost as fast as I put it up. It took a lot of time for me to realize that by not focusing on the present moment and present project, that I was ineffective and often times, rude to those around me.

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Instead of picking a date night with my significant other and sticking to it, I’d try to squeeze in a couple of hours of work before or after our “date” so the day wasn’t a “waste.” When I was at work, I was distracted by everything I had to do when I got home. When I got home I was distracted by everything I couldn’t get done at work.

I was an inefficient wreck.

I was prescribed to the “do more” movement and I was a whack job. It took a lot of time to unravel myself from this mindset, to love myself unconditionally and allow myself to be a human. Humans need rest. Humans need love. Humans need to unwind after a terrible day or week. I had to allow myself to “do some of it” and be okay with that.

My little mantra can be shortened into one word and it is this: FOCUS.

By being present to the task at hand you are able to finish it faster and at a higher level of quality than if you try to multi-task it with another or if you are distracted and distant. In the past I told myself, “Write today, all day.” Which was unrealistic and I got very little done. Now I tell myself, “You have 30 minutes. Turn off the phone and go for it.” I get more done in a shorter amount of time because I am tuned in.

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Also, another remarkable change was giving myself time to rest and recharge. To be lazy. To sleep in. To take a day off from the gym. When I am well-rested and happy my projects are easier to tackle. Slogging through a day at the office after four hours of sleep was hardly efficient and I had no energy when I got home to do a single chore or write a single line of text.

I know, trust me I KNOW, this is going to go against everything you feel is right. It’s going to take time to relax. It’s going to take so much time to be okay with not doing it all. It feels weird. I’ve been there. But I promise you, by doing less and FOCUSING on each individual task at hand, you are going to get so much more done and be so happy because of it.

Guest Post: Why I Fear Happiness

I will not gab here for long, because the guest posts are for other voices. But I just wanted to say: hurrah! My very first Cheap Courage guest post. YOU COULD BE NEXT. Just drop me a line! And now without further ado… “Why I Fear Happiness”:

img_20161009_120902054I could talk your ear off about Ireland.

My second semester my sophomore year in college, I lived in Cork for five months to study abroad. On a brisk January morning I found myself in a taxi with a man with an accent too thick to decipher, two red and white polka dot suitcases, and some scribbled instructions from my father on how to find my apartment. I knew no one and tried to wear a confident, albeit terrified and tired, smile as I entered the worst apartment I’d ever live in.

What followed was five months that, as every cliche about studying abroad goes, “changed me forever.” I stumbled between pubs and classes, fell in love for the first time, traveled 8 countries over 30 days with my roommates, and found I was a person I actually quite enjoyed. My anxiety stayed at bay and my depression never seemed to take hold while overseas.

It was every montage sequence you find in a grainy sepia-toned coming of age film about 20-somethings trying to find their way. It was chaotic and hard and therapeutic and exhaustingly beautiful. When I got back to the states though, it took me years to find that person again and more or less, I never recaptured that frenzied happiness I had once felt.

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Molly at 20 in Ireland

Three weeks ago, my husband Luke and I boarded a plane headed to Ireland for our honeymoon. Us picking Ireland as a honeymoon destination was a decision made on a lucky find with a cheap airline back in March. It wasn’t until we took the train from Dublin down to Cork and taxied through the city that it started to feel real.

The next few days, next to the day I married Luke, were the happiest I’ve ever been. My cheeks frequently hurt from smiling too much and my slight Irish accent came back within days. Unlike my college town, the city of Cork hadn’t changed in the nearly six years since I had lived there. The hot chocolate shop still stood, as popular with locals as ever, and the famous chipper was still serving bags of greasy chips. The pub I used to frequent still had the same white daisy painted over the blue exterior. Even the table configurations inside were the same.

We took trains around the county of Cork and on our last day ventured out to Doolin to hike the Cliffs of Moher. While I had lived in Ireland, I joined a mountaineering club (mainly to meet Irish men but that’s beside the point) and seeing the Irish cliff sides again brought everything back. It brought me back. I was 20 again and confused but also deliriously happy about the freedom that being away from home can only give you.

But I wasn’t back. I stood on a mossy tuft of grass and looked out over the sea. We had taken a picture together moments before and when I looked at it, I could see my forehead wrinkles. I had smile lines. My hair was longer but slightly less thick. I also was thinner but different.

This was different.

I was now 25 and married. I lived just beyond the city limits of Chicago with Luke and our aging dog who didn’t quite understand she was aging. I had a stable job. I was happy.

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Luke and Molly, the newlyweds

I’m not a fan of happiness. It’s weird to see that written out but it’s honest. Happiness is fleeting, it’s inconsistent, it’s never permanent. It’s a hope, not a promise. When you finally start to feel happy, that’s when you should be afraid because now you have something tangible to lose. I didn’t realize how happy I was in my life until I stood in the October air of County Clare but now I’m do. And now I’m afraid.

Most of my life I’ve been unhappy. I don’t know if most people would gather that as words are easy enough to hide behind. I talk about myself in vague, self-deprecating ways so no one delves deeper. I talk constantly about anything and everything so people don’t question me for fear that I’ll never stop talking. I can remember two concrete times in my life I could call happy: those winter and spring months of 2011 and the past couple years.

I don’t know what to do with happy. It feels like something palpable I should be able to hold tightly. I remember my flight home from Ireland back when I was 20 and how scared I was. It was like emerging from this contained segment of my life and desperately wanting to hold onto who I had found. What I had found. I had figured it all out and nothing would ever be bad again. I remember crying the second the wheels touched down in Milwaukee. The pressure behind my head built and I was nauseous. Somehow, I felt I had to let go. In the coming months I’d fake my way back into sorority life and be more miserable than I’d been in years.

Recognizing happiness is like when you’re in a horror movie and thinking about the monster is what makes it more powerful. If I recognize I’m happy and draw attention to it, that’s what will be the end, or so my brain keeps telling me.

When the plane touched down in Toronto from Dublin, Luke and I scrambled through the airport, desperately trying to get through customs as fast as possible during our short 1 and a half hour layover. We made it just in time to our plane to Chicago. We laughed the way you do when you’re tired but also relieved. He squeezed my hand and kissed my sweaty forehead. As the plane took off and we headed back to Chicago, I reached out and grabbed a hold of his thigh.

This time when we landed back home, I didn’t want to let go.


img_20160612_124208-1Molly Sisson, 25, graduated in 2013 from University of Iowa with a BA in English and a focus in Creative Writing. She attended University College Cork for a semester in the spring of 2011. Following college, she fell into a career in finance and currently resides in Oak Park, IL with her husband, Luke, and their overly energetic dog, Lucy. She spends most of her free time reading listicles, binging entire series on Netflix, and eating lots of macarons. She sporadically posts blog entries on her blog: http://awriterswordvomit.blogspot.com/.