Chasing Happiness After 5

You know that rush of freedom that flows through your body when you reach a goal? There’s this fixation on leaving the mediocrity of your recently conquered stage of life in the past while diving fearlessly into the open abyss of novel experiences and opportunities for self discovery and happiness. These are the emotions that overwhelm every high school or college graduate as he or she flips a tassel from left to right. These milestone meeting individuals have been fed a not-so-balanced diet of ambiguous messages, such as “you can be anything you want to be,” “work hard, and you’ll be happy,” and “if you find a career you love, you’ll never work another day in your life.” These encouraging messages offered by mentors throughout our early years leave happiness scavengers feeling boxed in and plagued with the fear of choosing the wrong path. From kindergarten to death, spring represents a season of growth, change, and accomplishments. As the days grow longer, and the outdoors beckon us, I’m left pondering the reality that this is just another season breeding young adults caught between fear of change and a search for fulfillment in all the wrong places.

Parents, educators, and other mentors consistently lecture children throughout their early years about relying on school for gaining knowledge and work ethic so they can one day earn a degree and a good job, and as a result of those two accomplishments, they will find a happy life. Well-intentioned fallacies about work, career, and happiness result in adults living in a constant state of identity crisis over the small portion of their lives that are their careers. Webster defines an occupation as “the work in which a person is employed.” Friends, careers are jobs filled with training, effort, task completion, and commitment. Work is supposed to be work. When we enter the workforce as naive students desiring a taste of freedom and happiness, it’s no wonder we’re left starving and empty as we find that no matter what passion or path we chase, there’s always so much hard work involved. Is the problem that we’re overly focused on finding happiness in our toil?

It’s confession time. The greatest struggles in my life are the result of my love of pain. I think a person’s experience of meeting and surviving pain is his or her most important trait. With that said, I thrive under stress, and I chose a career path that is not only stressful, but I am privileged with the task of holding individuals’ baggage for a while so they can unload and rest before packing back up and facing their lives all over again. Just because I love the stress and pain of my job does not mean it’s the only job I could do to provide for my family and contribute to society. Is a career a calling? I think so, but aren’t our roles in relationships and other activities we participate in day after day also a calling? The stress over choosing the right college major or job to earn a happy future is an epidemic that needs to come to an end.

I have a close friend who works somewhere in the world of numbers and money (I’ll choose vagueness in an attempt to convince you all I’m not an idiot). As we discussed current careers and job changes of people within our social circle, she made the profound statement, “I wouldn’t say my job is the most fulfilling and exciting thing out there, but my friendships and weekend activities are.” Friends, when we view career as life purpose, we feel mediocre and empty. If we can adopt my friend’s way of thinking, we can be successful members of society who feel accomplished and productive by a job well done but more importantly who experience happiness due to the relationships and adventures we chase after 5:00 PM.

My husband is a teacher and coach whose love of baseball surpasses any passion or hobby of mine. For him, baseball encompasses all the good things in life. One year ago, he was capping off the school year as a successful science teacher, soccer coach, and baseball coach. He was prepared to begin the next school year in a comfortable position professionally that would create a posture for an even more successful year to follow. Instead of making the “right call” professionally, my husband chose to take a step down. This school year he moved to a much smaller school with lower academically performing students (overall) to coach a baseball team who entered this baseball season with 12 consecutive losing seasons under their belt. As the last game of the season (and let’s be honest, losing with a horrific final score was only a small piece of what made this year tough), my husband was privileged to watch his three little girls run the bases and learn how to throw a pitch. He made this “crazy” job move where he would have to work harder and endure more failures so he could spend more time with his girls. Long story short, it was worth it. He chased happiness after 5:00 PM (or even better, happiness after baseball season).

Are you struggling over professional decisions for fear of failure or misstep? Remember there is no right path to success. There is no job that will produce ultimate satisfaction. When evaluating your career or current job, ask yourself these questions: Are there things you like about your job? Do you feel productive at work? How does your job affect more important areas of your life? If you are left with a positive impression of how you’re spending your efforts, it’s going to be okay. Don’t be afraid of fading away in the mediocrity that is an eight to five. Focus on the happiness and success your family and friends bring you. Regardless your focus, you’re either growing or shrinking. Make decisions based on personal growth. Be a person whose success is about more than a job well done. Focus on your people. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

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