Ever since I quit my professional career to facilitate my family’s move to Vermont, I have assumed I would go back to work shortly after settling in. After a longer than expected settling in period, I figured I’d go back to work part-time, once my youngest was in pre-school. Once she entered kindergarten, I figured I’d get to work. She’s in third grade now. I dabble in substitute teaching and occasionally elementary-school-kid-sitting (which is what “mainstream teaching assistant” sub positions feel like to me).
I have friends who have gone back to work full time. I have friends who have gone back to work part-time. I have friends who have never gone back to work and have no plans to. I have never seen myself in the latter category. Something has been driving me to be the professional I once was. But what?
The other day, my sister posted the above image on my FaceBook site with a question asking me and others essentially “is happiness a goal in your life? Something you strive for? Did your parents encourage you to ‘be happy’ ” It got us both thinking about our childhood and I realized that despite the fact that I am in my, ahem “late forties” and my mother has been dead now 10 years, I still have her little voice inside me pushing me to “be something”.
You see, growing up, Mom was a great believer in her daughters. She would encourage us to work hard, to be leaders, to volunteer so we could get a job later, to be independent and strong, to be courageous. She told us repeatedly “you can be ANYthing you want to be.” She never brought up happiness. I remember sitting in my sister’s bedroom — she had a huge bedroom with a couch in it so often we’d be hanging out there — and mother drilling me on what I thought I’d want to go to college for. I dunno. And in college, the conversation continued and I’d have just enough of the pressure to finally say, “Look Mom, I just want to be happy”. Maybe because I grew up in a house that lacked its share of happiness. My parents persisted in a marriage “for the kids” for 24 years; my middle sister brought much stress to our family. Maybe because “happiness” was something I valued over all the others. I’ve always had a bit of an independent streak.
Was happiness not discussed because it was not considered a goal in and of itself or was it expected to be a natural consequence of hard work, maturity, a good job and civic leadership? I don’t know.
And so it happened that this thinking of “happiness” occurred on the same day I was negotiating for what seemed to be the perfect part-time job: 25-hours/week, 8:30-2pm, summers off. The perfect formula. During the negotiations, however, I realized that kind of schedule doesn’t pay much <sigh> and that being the “church administrator” didn’t strike a passionate enough cause for me to work for just $11,000/year. All of the sudden, thinking about working for that job made me very UNhappy. I withdrew my name from consideration.
I realized at that moment that it was time I finally figured out what I wanted to do with myself to make me happy. Was I really happy? Yes, I have a loving husband, a good marriage, delightful children, awesome friends, enough money to feed everyone and support a travel hockey player. What more did I need? I needed to feel happy; to smile more; to worry less; to cut myself a little slack. I need to find a way to create more everyday happiness in my life.
Maybe that will lead to a new job. Maybe it won’t.
But I feel really good about taking a “pause” from the mental pressure to “do something; be something; work; be independent, yadda yadda yadda” long enough for me to be mindful about creating happiness around me.
I don’t believe happiness is just a by-product. I believe it can also be the objective. And I believe that as I work to create this around me, I will better see my path in life.