I always thought that I had to do something that makes me unhappy now, in order to be happy later.
Nobody really enjoys the stress and deadlines of university, do they? Or the grunt work of that incredibly inane and boring office job? But it’s the necessary evil that gets you through to the first rung on the ladder to that job. You know the one…the one with the stability and progression and status and salary that are going to take you to that place. You know…that place where you are happy.
I looked at a lot of people doing what made them happy and thought to myself ‘Ha ha! It’s ok that they’re doing something they love and that makes them happy, while I’m doing this thing that I know I should be doing, even though it doesn’t make me happy. Because I’m going to get the last laugh. I’m doing this grunt work now to get me out to that place, while they’re going to reach a place where, because they haven’t paid their dues, they’re unhappy’.
Ok, so I know you’re probably thinking (and it probably isn’t the first time you’ve thought this, if you’ve been reading other posts), that I’m a little crazy. That my logic is clearly, fundamentally flawed. Mostly, I’ve been thinking bullshit.
I should note, in my defence, that I don’t I was aware of this all before… It was more of a subconscious feeling. A kind of self-justification that allowed me to continue to do the things that were what I ought to be doing, instead of what I really wanted. Instead of what made me come alive. It was the story that let me look at all of those people who were doing what they loved, and knew it, and not be shaken to the core at the disparity between what I saw in them and what I was missing in myself.
I told myself that if they were happy now, doing all that they loved, then there was no way they would be happy down the road. You know…because they hadn’t paid their dues.
It never occurred to me that maybe they would be happy down the line, because the had discovered something important: that ability to follow what was right for them. It never occurred to me that this ability might stick with them and continue to allow them to make the choices that were right for them.
But then I had a thought.
When exactly was I going to get happy? When was I going to stop doing what didn’t make me happy to follow what I wanted? When was I going to make the brave decision to move out from the grunt work and into what I love? How many years was I going to spend saying to myself, “It’s ok you aren’t happy now, you’re setting the foundation for happiness later”?
Here’s a hypothetical example of what I’d been saying to myself. It’s particularly exemplary because I almost did it, too.
“I’m in a big name university. I hate it, but that’s ok, because it’s going to pay off later when I can get into a big name law school. Of course, I’m going to have to study and write the LSATs first, which I’m going to hate, because I hate standardized testing and studying for it is stressful and worse, it’s incredibly boring. But that’s ok, because it’s going to pay off later when I get a spot at that law school. Then I’m going to get into my big name law school, and I’m probably going to hate that too, because I don’t enjoy big programs, the competitive academic settings, or the stress of recruitment into a law firm. But that’s ok, because if I do that, then I’ll get into a big name law firm in some high-paying area of law. And I’ll probably hate that too, because of the pressure of performing well, and the office setting, and the paperwork. But that’s ok, because if I do that, then I’ll probably get offered a job at that law firm eventually, and after the hard work (which I’ll find boring and stressful), I’ll get to finally work on a project that I believe in. And I’ll be paid well. And be a lawyer. And that will make me happy…because I’ll have stability and status and wealth. That’ll make me happy…right?”
Thankfully, there were a myriad of reasons why I didn’t go down that path, although until now none of them included recognizing this bizarre framework that I keep that somehow equates current unhappiness with future happiness.
But looking back at that law-school path I almost took, I have to ask myself…why did I ever think that if I keep following the things that make me unhappy, that that will somehow pay off into something that makes me happy?
If I am unhappy every step of the way, why on earth would I think that it would culminate into something I loved to do? When does 1+1 ever equal 3?
Why can’t my happiness now be the foundation for my happiness later?
I should point out that I don’t imagine that there won’t be steps along each of our paths that we don’t enjoy. Sure, we’re all going to face some stressful deadlines, and there will always be parts of what makes us happy that we like less than others. I wasn’t talking about that. I was talking about when the heaviness of unhappiness is routinely and totally outweighing any small happiness.
So. Hello, Happiness. I’ve been chasing you the wrong way my whole life. I never found you under the bed or in the closet or down the back of the couch, because you were never hiding from me. I never saw you at my kitchen table or at my desk or sitting on my bed because I didn’t think I was allowed to find you there, so easily.
I’d like to be your friend, now. I’d like to show you off, just the way I find you. I’m a little scared–I’ve never let myself do this before–that I’m going to be judged for the way I see you. But I’m more scared of whiling away the years telling myself that I’ll find you at the end of the road when, instead, I can walk with you for the whole journey.