Now THIS is how to be a Badass

This is a Guest Post by Elyse Brendlen. I first met Elyse when she was a camper at one of my Life of Yes℠ Sleepaway Camps (LOYSC) Summer 2013. A complete rando – and I mean that in the most loving way possible! – she learned about LOYSC through a Tasting Table article, a blog about food & drink (have no idea how they found out about me!). She had no personal connection to or referral of me. Which just demonstrates what badassery this gal has. She invested a chunk of time and money and courage into flying to Chicago from Jersey, to go to some girl’s house, give up her phone, and get in an unmarked white van to travel across various state lines with a bunch of strangers to do vaguely described activities.

I immediately liked her. She was friendly and warm, the type of quiet that when she spoke, you listened, a processor; she seemed to be taking in all the new faces and exercises and emotions and letting them stir within, to be determined at a later point how she would utilize the newness. Initially, I wasn’t sure if she was enjoying herself, if she was glad she had come. When it came time to choose beds our first night, she immediately took the one bed that was off by itself, in a little nook right outside our “Counselors” room, where she quietly unpacked and set up her area. I thought, “Oh no, she’s hating this, me, us!” Turns out, some people just need time and space to themselves and that in no way reflects how they’re feeling about their current situation.

A few weeks after our Michigan weekend, she sent me an email that started “Saya, I am hoping that you can weigh in on a huge decision…” The gist of the email was that she was very unhappy at her NYC job, that she was her “worst self at the office” and that she needed a professional change. She ran some ideas by me — prep staff at her favorite food truck, barista at her favorite cafe — and asked the questions I oft-hear from Cheese-Its. Am I crazy? Am I being irrational and grass is greener? What do you think, Saya?

This always freaks me out. I’m not a career counselor or life coach. I have no certifications or expertise. While on one hand, I’m ridiculously flattered people put so much stock in my thoughts and opinions, I’m also very nervous for the day when someone takes a leap and it turns out disastrous. My heart both filled and sank when someone I had met once, for two hours, at a Life of Yes℠ Meetup, shared with me that because of what was discussed that evening, she was picking up and moving from Chicago to Spain. Yay! Eek! Oh God! Luckily, I haven’t yet heard of any disasters. Which I guess is a lesson to be learned — while some leaps haven’t turned out as planned and some have needed revising, not one leaper has expressed regret. Which gets at the Life of Yes℠ tenet I always preach — I’d so much rather move and stumble than not move at all.

Which is why when Elyse wrote “I have so much trust in your opinion. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done for me. I wouldn’t even consider leaving the museum if not for the retreat” and then followed up with “I’m thinking about moving to Chicago!”, and then “I’m moving to Chicago!”, and she didn’t have a job or apartment or any connections here save for us LOYSC randos, my heart soared for her and her new journey. I had (almost) complete confidence that her life puzzle pieces would fall into place over time and she’d end up exactly where she needed and wanted to be.

I’m so happy it turns out that where she needed and wanted to be so happens to be firmly implanted in my everyday world, as she brings light and badassery and wings wherever she goes.

 .badass sardinia.

Elyse being a badass in Italy

FE matt photo

Elyse at Fear Experiment℠ rehearsal; photo credit MBA Photography

It’s about the jump, wings or not

About five years ago, I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself facing the decision of whether or not to move to Italy by myself. I had stumbled across a graduate program in Museum Studies that sounded like something I’d like to pursue…except that I’d have to move to Florence to do so. As a perpetually emotionally unstable 22 year-old, moving across the ocean alone sounded like the worst idea in the world, but what an opportunity!!! With my college graduation looming and a voice in the back of my head telling me that English degree would get me nowhere fast, I was desperately grasping at straws for a next step.

As I was melodramatically waffling back and forth about whether or not I should even apply to a graduate program in a foreign country, one of the greatest friends I’ll ever have told me that “it’s about the jump, wings or not.” I think that is the truest thing that anyone has ever told me. I had struggled with anxiety for several years at that point—sometimes so badly that I considered drowning myself in the freezing Hudson River instead of facing college with all its new people, dorms, and daunting classes—and I was committed to breaking my pattern of cowering away from the things that make life great. Even though everything inside of me was screaming NO NO NO NONONONONO, I took the jump: I applied to the grad program. And I got in.

Four months later I was in Florence, ducking in to alleys to call my mom and cry about how I didn’t belong in my grad program, how lonely I was, and how badly I wished I could go home. My anxiety reared its head in every possible way. I cried all the time, my face became a breeding ground for acne, I gained weight, I slept through classes, and I had trouble focusing on everything from reading to casual conversations. The girls in my program were lovely, but there were only 5 of us. I was lonely and always one dirty look away from a meltdown.

Things got better over time, as they always do. I made friends and had fun, but more importantly, I grew accustomed to having more alone time. I learned how to take myself out for dinner. I learned how to go exploring alone and how to appreciate the stunning beauty of Florence even without someone to always share it with. I learned how to cope with my anxiety because I had no other choice. Academically, that particular graduate program was a mistake (that’s a story for another blog post), but moving across the world was not. Personally, I grew in a way that I hadn’t thought was possible. It’s about the jump, wings or not.

At this time last year I was putting my grad school experience to use at a big famous museum in New York City, and I was miserable. The work environment was toxic, my commute was 2 hours each way, and New York with its abrasive people and smelly subways exhausted me. I wanted something new with a desperation that was difficult to ignore.

I had been thinking about moving to Chicago for a long time because I love everything about this city. In July, I tagged along on my dad’s business trip to Chicago and visited apartments while he was in meetings. On day two, after responding to a stranger’s ad for a roommate on Craigslist, I met my current roommate, Emily. On day three, Emily asked me if I’d like to sign a lease and move in with her. Despite not having a job lined up in Chicago, knowing a grand total of two people here, not having a significant savings account, and the consistent “NO NO NO NONONONONO” in my head, on day four, I said yes. It’s about the jump, wings or not. Five days later, I quit my terrible New York City job and started prepping for my life to change.

Moving to Chicago was the best decision I ever made. I found a non-museum job at a company that values its employees for who they are as well as the skills they possess; I am treated with respect, my work is appreciated, and my job makes me feel like I am making a difference in other people’s lives every day. The food scene is killer (if you haven’t had a cinnamon roll from Baker Miller yet, GET ON THAT). The people here are open, smiley, happy, friendly…basically the opposite of everyone in New York. And since I no longer waste four hours a day commuting to/from work, I have time to dedicate to doing cool things. Enter, Fear Experiment.

Despite never-ending insecurities about my weight, my belief that everything that comes out of my mouth sounds stupid, and zero experience with comedy, I applied to perform improv in front of 700 people. By now I’ve learned that it is always about the jump. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have a robust vocabulary or that I always hold my hands in a squirrel-like position when I don’t know what to do with them. It doesn’t matter that there are people out there who are better at improvising than me. What matters is that I want this. I want this experience, I want these friends, and I want to spend 4 hours a week laughing my ass off at rehearsal. My past experience doesn’t matter; it’s what I bring to the table now and what I take away after this is done. It doesn’t matter that I won’t be a pro improviser come March 28th. It matters that this jump has already brought so many stellar people in to my life (Hi FE8!) and made my new life in Chicago even more magical.

If you’ve made it this far, bear with me for one more sentence: If you’re considering Fear Experiment but you’re afraid of the performance, the time commitment, or the solo aspect, push those fears aside and take the jump. You’ll figure the rest out as you go. Just do it. It’s about the jump, wings or not.

If you’d like to see Elyse up on stage at the Park West, join us in March at her show!

If you’d like to apply to Fear Experiment℠, head here!

If you’d like an editor to help you with your writing, as Elyse’s roommate Emily did here, pay Emily a visit!