CS: The Pursuit of Happiness

I was born a creative. My favorite books growing up were two craft manuals and a cookbook on the shelf near the study room. They were not only memorized in my prepubescent mind, but they were mesmerizing. I spent hours every day during my summers pouring over those pages, and gathering glue and paper, or the baking flour that remained from the previous day’s adventure, hoping that my newest creation would be the pinnacle of culinary or artistic expression. They were often mediocre at best, and even at that age, I knew not to be proud of it. So I tried different recipes, hoping to stumble upon a specialty, something my hands and heart naturally yielded to. I hope it’s not too late to make such discoveries because I put those hobbies away a long time ago, in favor for a rat race where there is no apparent finish line.

My life goal isn’t one that is encouraged by academia. In fact, I didn’t know any writers in college, people courageous enough to follow an unconventional dream; instead, I was surrounded by budding professionals nailing down internships and buying nice blazers. Everyone was preparing to be employees, and I got sucked into that vacuum of normalcy. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I knew several established authors to mentor me, show me that a different path exists. Maybe I wouldn’t have stopped writing in college, and maybe all the creativity I held inside of me wouldn’t have been exchanged for a 3.9 GPA, and letters from honor societies.

I was on the phone, driving home from a job interview. The job was going to be mundane, and even when I toured the facility, all I could think of were small, tired rats running in a closed loop, energized only by the hope for a bigger piece of cheese at the end of the day. The building was clean, white and modern; there were a few yoga balls and even a dog sleeping under one of the tables. It was a millennials’ dream, more or less. But I was anything but excited about it. As I drove, I couldn’t help but remember all those details, and how unhappy I would be there.

My boyfriend didn’t like that I was interviewing for jobs that I’d hate, and asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I was rounding the corner of Riverside and Congress when I paused. After I told him what I really wanted to do, something inside me shifted. All of a sudden, I saw myself in a career that didn’t bring in a steady paycheck and no benefits. I was walking outside of the norm, where the terrain was uneven, and very few others were brave enough to tread there. But I had verbalized my dream to the one person I could count on to keep me accountable on a daily basis, and there was no turning back.

The thing is, the education system doesn’t encourage the type of lifestyle where you make your own future. It creates employees. That’s it; it prepares people for the office setting, to do a task, do it well and maybe even get a raise after a few months. It tells you to make sacrifices beyond reason so that your GPA and resume stands out among a stack of 600, but doesn’t tell you that nepotism and connections will still outdo all of your hard work. For the average millennial, the job I interviewed for is the pinnacle, the absolute zenith where there is potential for a bright future. For me, that job was literally a place where my unhappiness would grow.

I didn’t get it by the way.

And that’s the thing: for years, I was convinced that the way to make it in the world was to work hard and impress the adults. I wanted to be a journalist as a teenager, but my father told me to do public relations because the pay was better. I listened to him, and everyone else who screamed incessantly that money was a key factor, power and success were it’s suite-mates, and I should want, more than anything, to live in their company. So I forsook my loves. I didn’t bake for two years; not once during that time did I pick up a book outside of my assigned readings, and for sure I didn’t have enough time to craft or draw. I wrote my first story in college at the tail end of my last semester and I sacrificed the things that made me happy, so that I could become a worker who would always be too tired to pursue personal ambitions. And the Christians would say that your happiness doesn’t come from anything in this world, but from God. I’d differ, my joy comes from Jesus, that will never change. But I am happiest when I create, and that creativity is a gift given from God for me to enjoy. It breaks up my days and makes me smile.

I have very few regrets in this life. One of them is turning my back on my passions in pursuit of the American Dream, and we all know what that’s worth in this economy. I got my first job through a summer-long endeavor following up and pestering one of my business connections, not because of my resume. Now, having a solid resume for my age, I work at a second-rate restaurant serving wings and beer. My GPA can’t save me now, neither can all those hours invested in public relations. None of it can. The only thing that is keeping me afloat is the dream I’ve buried for a long time.

I don’t need a 401K to retire comfortably, nor do I need a job with paid vacation days. However, I need a job that is easy on my body, and kind to my mental health. One where I can make a living, and also make a life – give that some thought and you’d see that they’re two very different things.

God created everyone with the natural ability to do one or a few things that align with their purpose. I know many people who have an eye for business and effect real change in the organizations they work for, change that work for God’s glory. Others are photographers creating with purpose, or administrators doing church planting work. For me, I am happiest when I slow down, look at an empty medium, and fill it with beauty. Whether it’s an empty cookie sheet, blank canvas or blank word document. I realize that I grow restless and unhappy when I am away from this part of life.

So even though I studied PR, I wasn’t made to fill my days with press conferences and event planning, and even though I’m a great marketing consultant, I never want to return to that life.

But for this new year, I’m making a commitment to myself unlike those I’ve made in the past. I’m dedicating time and other resources to self-care and the unabashed pursuit of my passions. It’s the only way that I can thrive and grow as a person. It’s something I believe very strongly in, because as I worked to grow other people’s businesses or listen to others’ woes, I neglected myself, and it’s a gross infraction that stands tall in my mind as a personal failure. I’m going to set aside time to read and to work on my goals. I’m going to create and build, and do all of it for me. I stopped seeing this as selfish a long time ago, because when I’m bitter about where I am, and unhappy out of exhaustion and stress, nobody wins, and at that point I have little left inside of me to give to others.

I want to get to a place where I spend most of my time working on stories that will inspire change. At the end of that day, I hope to be so full of happiness and fulfillment that it overflows from my very being, and it inspires others to follow their hearts as well. So for this new year, I pray that you all do some serious introspection and answer honestly: “Is this what I want to do with my life?”

If it’s not, the ball is in your court. As long as you’re still breathing, it’s not too late to make a change.

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