Why I Like Being “Simple”

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Photo by Khai Sze Ong on Unsplash

It’s been over a month since I’ve last written and I just want to thank you all for giving me that time! My last post went up three days before I started my new job and then it was a whirlwind of travel and learning and bonding and total, absolute exhaustion. But I am happy to report I feel like I am settling in nicely and I am so excited to be challenging myself in new and interesting ways.

A younger version of me would have pushed myself to maintain the blog, the poetry, the novel, the social media presence all at once, even while trying to learn a new job. This time around I said no to overwhelming myself. I said no to setting unrealistic expectations for myself. I said no to torturing myself about “not being enough”. I wrote when I could, I slept when I needed to, and I took a break from obsessing about every little thing. I focused on my new work, I got to know my team instead of hiding away in my room to write (they made that easy) and I am so happy I did.

Maybe it’s because I am older and I’m finally learning a thing or two about life, or maybe I’ve changed for another reason, but I can tell you this: allowing myself to be simple kept me happy, healthy and sane these past six weeks.

I’ve never wanted to be simple. Simple was a sin in my book. If I wasn’t multi-talented, multi-tasking, multi-stressed out, then I was failing. A typical day would have been an intense weight workout, a full day of work, writing all night, responding to piled up texts, walking the dog, cleaning the apartment and then passing out totally exhausted. I got sick a lot. I wasn’t productive. My writing was… well… shitty.

Simple felt wrong, simple felt too easy, simple felt like I wasn’t doing my best.

What I’ve found is that SIMPLE allows me to excel. What I’ve come to realize is that my other talents, my other interests, and loves? They’ll still be there. This blog is still here. My poetry is still waiting for me to edit it and share it with the world. I’ve found other simpler workouts that don’t require me to travel to the gym every day. It’s all there and I will get to it. (When I can!) When I focus my attention to one or two things, I kill it. I sleep. I am not sick all the time. When I am simple I am a better, calmer, version of myself. It took a million and one tries, but I finally saw the pattern.

Now that the travel is done for a bit, now that I am finding my rhythm at work… now is when I can pick up the pen again. Write this blog post for you. Take some new photos for the IG. Make special plans with my friends. And when I do all of these things I will be more engaged because I won’t be tired, or worried, or thinking about the next task. I can simply be present.

I know there will be days when I want to go back to the way I was. When I want to pressure myself and push myself and overwhelm myself. And maybe I’ll need the extra encouragement. But knowing that it’s ok to take a step back and breathe is going to make all the difference. I mean, how often do you let yourself be simple?

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Letting Go of All the Versions of Me to Reveal… Me

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Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

I spent a majority of my life trying to be several different people, all at once. It maybe all started with what I call a success-hybrid I created as a kid. Someone would ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I’d say, “A doctor-writer-veterinarian.” As I got older I adored to try new things. I played soccer for a year. I played the clarinet for 3 years. Theater and singing lasted longer, almost 8 years. I took on International Studies as a minor for a semester and dropped it almost immediately. I am a girlfriend, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a best friend, I work during the day, and write at night.

All those years I always compartmentalized who I was. If I was in a relationship but my friends were single, I would insist we not talk about my boyfriend. I didn’t want them to think I was actually that sensitive. (But I am.) I wouldn’t talk about my writing with my friends at the gym. I hardly ever mentioned my outside interests at work. It could seem at times even wrong to do so. I operated each piece of myself on its own.

Which ultimately started to drive me crazy because it was impossible to balance my time. Sometimes being a girlfriend took up three more hours than I had planned for. And so I couldn’t be a writer that day. Or I’d have to work late, and not be a friend that day. I have no idea why I did this, but I did. It wasn’t until the last year, maybe two, that I noticed it and attempted to stop it.

I asked my friends to welcome my boyfriend into our friend circle more fully, I made very close and dear friends at work, I told my superiors when I had work published so we could all celebrate. Instead of one or the other I was getting closer to the idea of me that I had as a child, I could be a couple things and it would be alright.

By removing my own compartments, I am a much happier person. My time doesn’t need to be parceled out hour by hour. My planner has become less precious to me. I write in the same room as my boyfriend. I am writer-girlfriend. I share my poems with my co-workers. I am poet-coworker. I make friends at work and introduce them to my boyfriend. I am coworker-girlfriend-friend. The more I combine my passions closer to one another the more like myself I feel. Every time I do not compromise one part of me for another, I glow. The tighter I wind in, pulling it all back, the more complete and whole I feel.

It turns out that I don’t need to be one person for each scenario. I just need to be me, in my entirety, and I will be happy. The closer I can get to my own core, the closer I get to being truly happy with the life I have built.

 

Key to Happiness? Space & Time.

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Photo: Zohar Lazar from NY Mag

I adore my New York Magazine subscription. I know I can almost always read the stories in the print edition on my phone or laptop but there’s something about holding the physical copy in my hand and reading it on the subway that just makes me feel SO good. (It’s also just easier on my aging eyeballs.)

This week they really nailed the cover story… How to be Happy. Which is of course also available online so you can read it too. (But grab it off a newsstand if you can, if only so we don’t all wind up like the humans in WALL-E.)

The story is structured around the most popular course at Yale– Psychology and the Good Life. Why is it so popular? Because college kids are more stressed and depressed than they ever have been before. And arguably, so are the rest of us. The article takes a skim across the course curriculum and its structure. A huge chunk of the course is focused on how our brains trick us into making us unhappy and then moves on to how to rewire our behaviors to be happier. Our brains are basically sabotaging us. Which is depressing to even think about. My favorite takeaway from this portion was that 40 percent of our happiness is entirely within our control. Holy shit.

I will not go on to recap the article here but I strongly suggest you give yourself the time to read it. Which brings me to where I wanted to get to… TIME. The breakdown is this: people are happier when they have more time to just BE than when given some extra money.

Living in a city like New York, it is so hard to see the value in having empty time. It’s a city of hustlers, the city that doesn’t sleep. But filling every waking hour with work, with side hustles, with stuff just to feel “busy” is making us depressed. The misconception is that “busy” means productive and “free time” means lazy.

I have been so guilty of this it’s not even funny at this point. I used fill every wakeful hour with whatever I could. I thought I was being productive. But by the end of the year (for many years) I didn’t move the needle much on any of my goals. I had just kept myself busy and stressed for essentially, the sake of being busy and stressed. I was trying to match the busy and stressed out lives of my peers. Which makes me sad just thinking about it.

This article has come at such a good time for me. I have been exploring self care, meditation, and relaxation techniques for the past year. It’s insane to think that I have to research how to be chilled out, that I actually have to read articles about this to learn that it’s OK to spend an entire weeknight just resting… but I do. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that almost all of us have work to do in this department.

Happiness and success in America have always been measured by money and by time spent working… things that stress us and depress us. It’s time to flip the switch and change how we talk about ourselves and each other. If a friend likes to spend every Thursday night sitting in a coffee shop alone reading our reaction should be “Wow good for them for carving that time out,” instead of  “Shouldn’t they be working on their small business idea?” And the next time you want to spend an hour reading a book, let yourself. Give yourself the time and space you need to be truly happy. I know I am trying.

 

 

 

 

How to Be Resilient

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Photo by Hyungyong Kim on Unsplash

2018 at my day job has been wild. We’ve lost a lot of great people to new jobs and it was painful for me to let go of friends and mentors all at the same time. I won’t say that I handled it particularly well because I had to call my mom to keep myself from crying one day. That’s pretty rare for me. I mean, I waited 24 hours to tell her I spent the night in the ER with a broken nose.

What she told me that day stuck with me and since then, each challenge that arises in my life, whether in direct relation to these big changes or not, I think about it to calm down.

She said to me, “All of this proves just how resilient you are.”

Wow, that’s a word. A word I was and am proud to have bestowed on me. Resilient! I sometimes walk around wondering if I am crazy for putting up with certain things or for not jumping from place to place, job to job, like many of my millennial counterparts. I often think of myself as a lame duck, just paddling along with one sad foot. But resilient? I feel flattered, Mom.

She’s right by the way.

I am not sure when change became so trendy– Quit your job! Travel the world with your savings! Keep moving until you’re happy. All of those concepts never resonated with me. Sure, on a surface level I was like “Hell yes let’s do it!” But deep down, I am the type of person that much prefers to work through the complications I have in front of me, to find happiness and joy in the everyday. I mean, duh, this blog is dedicated to that. But I needed her to remind me that this tendency also makes me resilient.

(PS – I mean if you’re unhappy please find your own happiness, I am not telling you to be miserable! That’s different and you know it. Don’t pin that on me. ;))

Resiliency can be a learned trait. I truly believe this and I will preach it to anyone who will listen. Learning how to be resilient comes from learning how to be uncomfortable. Finding comfort in your life is like finding comfort on a crowded subway– you may not have seat, but you can probably work your way into a safe corner. Since everyone responds well to lists, here’s a “How to Be Resilient” list to get you started on your own journey or to continue growing (everyone, no matter how resilient, always has room for improvement!)

HOW TO BE RESILIENT

  1. Learn to Be Uncomfortable – Life is never going to be 100% sunshine. Find joy in rain. If you’re avoiding a work project because it seems complicated, try to find a way to un-complicate it. Create space where you are.
  2. Find Your Edge, And then Push Past It – Like with exercise or eating kale or starting a particularly hard book… If you stick with it, just past your edge (your breaking point, the day you usually give up) you’ll find that it is possible for you to get past whatever is holding you back. And you don’t need to go far past it, just enough so that tomorrow, you’re a little bit stronger.
  3. Support Others – Believe it or not but helping others to get over their own fears and problems will make you stronger. Others give us purpose, which in turn gives us strength to carry on.
  4. Take Breaks – No human being is going to be capable of taking sh*t nonstop. Learning how to be resilient also means learning how to take a big old break from the work of getting stronger. If you’re tired, take a seat, just don’t turnaround, you are so close!

How often do you think about being resilient? Does thinking of this word make you more capable? Is this the first time you’ve applied the word to yourself? Do you feel resilient now? Let me know…

Love, light and red wine,
Amanda

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Guest Post: Coming Out as Queer after Being Gay for 15 years

 

In Cheap Courage’s continued effort to shine a light on being honest about what scares us, I am still accepting monthly guest posts that explore the meaning of bravery, fear, courage, and honesty. Please reach out if you’re interested in sharing!

This week’s essay, “Coming Out as Queer after Being Gay for 15 Years” comes from one of my closest friends and a recent self discovery he has made. I thank him for his bravery and for your openness and dedication to my little project here.


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Photo by Serrah Galos on Unsplash

I was fifteen and living in Iowa when I first came out as gay. I was young, terrified, and hurting so much emotionally that my only way to control heartache was by cutting myself with a fishing knife.

But I came out. I got help. I got better eventually. And I’ve known love since then.

I think a lot about this time of my life. The scars on my arm won’t let me forget it. And, after 15 years of survival and knowing myself as a gay man, I am now confronted with a new, terrifying realization:

I am not a gay man. I am a queer man.

And that’s hard for me to reconcile. It’s hard for my family and friends to understand. And it’s a hard conversation to have with gay men who view queer men as a threat or unknown they can’t process.

Over the last 18 months I’ve found myself in these moments that feel emotionally similar to those I was having before I came out as a gay man. I noticed increased levels of anxiety as I struggled to resolve a grating tension between my mental and emotional self. Like before, the feeling of heartache and the inevitable loss of control were ever-present and frightening.

It is really hard to look in the mirror and have the thought, “who you project to the world isn’t who you are.”

It’s nearly impossible to look in the mirror at the age of thirty and have the thought; “you can’t possibly do this for the rest of your life.”

Recently, my twin sister came to visit, and I came out to her as queer. I did it very nonchalantly – as I have with most of my friends – because I’m secretly hoping if I’m casual about it they won’t ask me what I mean.

Because if I’m honest. I’m still figuring this out. I’m not sure what it means. But I do know that for the first time in a long time I haven’t felt trapped in a consciousness that wasn’t my own. And that feeling is a sacred space that many LGBTQ folks struggle to find.

During this conversation with my sister she did the most loving thing a person could do at that moment: she was honest, “I don’t know much about this. What does being queer mean?”

I didn’t give her a finite definition. I’m not sure that there is one definition of what it means to be queer – it differs for every person. For queer folks their own identity is a sacred place of understanding.

But I do know what I’ve been reconciling as I’ve navigated this realization:
• It started with my increasing rejection of the binary. I’ve never believed in the binary when regarding sexuality and have always believed that sexuality is an every-moving point on an endless spectrum.

• I’ve also been contemplating how the binary (sexual, gender) has been, is, and will always be used as a means of oppression for one end of the binary.

• And what it mans to be an “other” outside of an accepted binary caste system.

Mostly, though, I’ve felt trapped inside a definition of myself wasn’t me, but rather what I felt was wanted from me.

Looking back, I’ve realized that I was accepted for being gay by many because they could understand what being gay meant in opposition of themselves, or straight. They were comfortable only because they could compare it to themselves, with my sexuality being the abnormal identity.

In the few times I expressed any behavior that crossed any sort of known boundary, it was rejected because they couldn’t place it within their binary understanding. And as such, I too, internalized the idea that a binary look at sexuality and gender was the only correct way to understand these complex identities.

Struggling to be gay for fifteen years has confined the possibility of me being my actual self – whatever or whoever that turns out to be. And if I feel this at thirty in New York, I can only imagine what a scared teenager of 15 in Iowa is feeling. So I’ll leave with this: I’m queer, and if you are too, you have don’t be alone in this.

 

justin

Justin Dewey is a former playwright and current arts marketing professional living in Queens. He currently serves as a Marketing Manager at The Public Theater.