Each of the past three years, my parents and I have convened in New York to celebrate Christmas. Originally born from a combination of my nightmare of a journey home in 2007 (short version: it took over 24 hours after one flight was re-routed and two canceled due to — of all things — fog) and my mom capitalizing on an opportunity to see both of her sons in a 10 day span. It works out really well, and we always have a lot of fun. This past year, though, was when I took my parents rather by surprise, announcing that I had tendered my resignation in order to pursue a writing career.
Bless their hearts, my parents have always been supportive of me. They raised my brother and me to believe that we have the talent and ability to do whatever we want– not in that fairy tale, pie in the sky, “dreams really do come true if you just believe” sort of way, but in the make-full-use-of-your-abilities-and-bust-your-ass sort of way. It was precisely these values that endowed me with the brazen confidence and (somewhat foolish) courage to make my stand against the unhappy path I was on and take a shot at what I really wanted.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when my news was met with scoffs and rolling eyes. My dad wondered aloud, “I just don’t see why you would ever quit a job with that pay and those benefits.” I responded simply, “Because I’m unhappy! You can’t tell?”
To be fair, I caught my parents off guard, as I had never breathed a word to them about quitting before then, so I think they can be forgiven for their initial reaction. As we talked more, they became more at ease with my decision. As the trip wore on, I think they made their peace with it. Like I said, my parents have always been supportive of me, and this endeavor is no exception. Any good parent would want to be diligent in making sure their child had carefully thought through such a critical decision. I think that’s all they were trying to do.
My dad was right, though: my job paid well and granted me great benefits. There was a time when those things made me happy, just as there was a time during my 4+ year stint in human services that the simple satisfaction of changing lives — even slightly — for the better made me happy. That time had passed, though, and in that field, at the level I had reached, I was no good to anyone if I was miserable. And miserable I was.
With those sources of happiness dissolved, I had to rediscover and redefine what made me happy. The word had to take on new meaning for me. That process is still ongoing, and maybe I’ll never fully be able to define the word. Maybe it’s meant to be nebulous. All I know is that now, every day I have some small experience that contributes in a tiny way to finishing the sentence, “Happiness is…”
- …finished a writing project you once thought you couldn’t complete.
- …sending an invoice soliciting payments for words — words you wrote.
- …deciding on a Thursday afternoon that you would rather work late than waste the day, then heading to the park to play football for two hours.
- …writing late at night during a thunderstorm with a dog on your lap.
- …eating properly, sleeping well and getting yourself into the best shape of your life.
- …not being afraid every time your phone rings.
- …gradually and systematically shedding all your extraneous possessions.
- …meeting someone for the first time, and, when asked your occupation, responding unflinchingly, “I’m a writer.”
That’s just a partial list, but even so just looking at it feels pretty fucking awesome.
What’s your definition?