I’ve been doing a lot of thinking in recent months about my life, and where I’ve been and where I’m going with it. You see, even though I have a decent job, a comfortable home, and a loving wife, I’m not happy. And I didn’t know why. I should be, but I’m just not. I spent the majority of my life expecting that I’d eventually figure things out and get my life in order, but never quite got there. First it was “Things will be better when I’m in High School, I’ll figure everything out and get myself on the right path.” Then it was, “Ok, once I’m in college, everything will fall into place and I’ll know what I should be doing.” After that, “When I graduate and get my first real job, then I’m sure I’ll get things sorted out in my life.” Well, those all have come and gone. I’m coming up on 6 years out of college, and I’ve had no clearer a vision of what I should be doing than I did twenty years ago.
However, during my recent bouts of introspection, I finally stumbled upon an idea that hadn’t occurred to me before. What if my problem wasn’t that I wasn’t achieving goals, but that I wasn’t setting the right goal to achieve? During school, my goal was simply “graduate high school” then “graduate college.” After that my goals were “get a good job,” “buy a house,” “get married,” and so on. My understanding was flawed in thinking that happiness was a byproduct of success, and that only by checking off all the boxes on my life’s to-do list would I have any chance of being happy.
What if it’s all so much simpler than that? What if, rather than being a side-effect, happiness itself should be the goal?
It’s such a simple idea, but so profound in its implications that it warrants a lot of consideration. Society has always told us that the only way to be happy is to get a job and make a lot of money and buy a lot of things you don’t need, eat, drink, party, and have sex with anyone you can. It all seems really shallow but everyone buys into it, and nobody is really any happier.
So here’s what I’m doing: Starting now, I’m wiping clean the to-do list and taking on a new goal, just one, but it’s that one big, glaringly obvious goal that everyone seems to not be seeing: Be Happy.
Obviously, the problem with that becomes a question: “How can I be happy?” For someone like me who’s been locked for so long in such a narrow mindset regarding this area of thinking, it’s kind of a tough question to answer. I think the best way to tackle that should be to look at the things that cause me to be unhappy and attempt to remedy them.
Things that cause me unhappiness
To be quite honest, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about things I’ve done wrong, or things I should have done that I didn’t. Some days I find myself obsessing about the past so much that it blocks out all other lines of thought and I literally cannot get anything productive done. It seems fairly obvious to me that this needs to be dealt with before I go any further.
What’s done is done, it’s in the past and I can’t change it, so I need to let it go and stop dwelling on it. There are still some grudges I’ve been holding on to and more than a few things I’ve said or done that I know have negatively impacted the people around me, so I can take this as an opportunity to make amends, but for the most part, I just have to realize I can’t change what’s happened and move on.
As much as I spend time looking back and thinking about my mistakes, I’m also looking forward and worrying about the mistakes I might make in the future. Some amount of concern for the future is normal and healthy; planning ahead for worst case scenarios is a good way to be prepared for what might come your way. The problem arises when I nit-pick every detail of every possible problem, and think only that the worst will ever happen. Similar to my regrets, I need to realize that I can’t control what will happen and be optimistic that I’ve planned well and things will work out for the best.
Part of what’s holding me back from being happy are my fears that things will get worse. Probably the main reason I’ve never been able to finish writing any of the books or comics I’ve started, or why I’ve never seriously attempted to showcase my artistic work professionally is a fear of rejection. My fear is always that I’m not good enough. The subversive reasoning in my mind is that I can’t fail if I don’t try. The problem with that is that by not trying I’ve already failed, which is a concept that for some reason I hadn’t been able to grasp. This sounds like something painfully obvious that your high school guidance councilor would say, but it’s a truth I have a hard time taking to heart. Something else which I fear just as much, if not more than rejection is change. I’m reluctant to do anything differently even if it would make my life better, solely because of the inherent difficulties associated with major changes. In this way, you could say I fear success as much as failure, because at least if I fail everything will stay the same.
If I ever want to move forward, I need to acknowledge that I do have great skills and talents with which I have the ability and responsibility to use toward the betterment of myself, others, and the world at large.
4) My need to be right
I’m not a very argumentative person when speaking face to face, but online I find myself in verbal fist-fights on a regular basis. Sometimes I’m provoked by others like myself, but often I’m the one intentionally saying something controversial, laying out bait hoping someone will bite and so I can tear them down and prove them wrong. I’ve alienated a lot of people this way and it needs to stop. There’s a quote from Wayne Dyer that I need to tell myself daily: ” Would I rather be right, or would I rather be kind?”
5) My fear of intimacy
This may have been the primary cause of the termination of my last romantic relationship, and if I don’t deal with it, it will definitely be detrimental to my current relationship.
I moved around a lot as a child, and as a consequence I never really had any real friends during my primary formative years. I don’t blame my parents for it; I know they were just doing what they thought was best at the time. Regardless, the problem I deal with now is that somehow in the back of my mind I still think any time I get close to someone, something will happen and I’ll lose them forever. I dealt with this during adolescence and through young adulthood by simply not letting myself get attached to people. However, now I’m married and planning to start a family, and it makes me sick to realize that I’m still unintentionally keeping my wife and others around me at arm’s length.
I need to let people in. I need to make friends and love my family to the fullest extent of my ability. If I don’t then what’s the point of any of this?
So, where do I go from here? I realize that in the past, I’ve often said “This is it, this is when I’m changing for the better”, but in all those attempts, I laid out a lot of goals that I thought would make me happy. Some of them I achieved, some not, but I realize now that in all those attempts (Operation Eternal Puma, Chapter 5, “2012: The Year of Change”) I was going about it the wrong way and not working toward the proper goal of just being happy.
I thought about what does make me happy for about as long as I thought about what doesn’t and I’ve come up with a few things:
Things that make me happy
- Being with my wife
- Playing D&D with friends
- Watching movies
- Playing video games
- Doing creative things
- Entertaining others with my creative things
- Helping others with my creative things
Thinking about these, I now have a loose game plan now of how to move forward. I can tweak it as I go, but this is where I’m starting from.
I’m obviously not quitting my job without having another source of income. I already learned that lesson the hard way. But I’m going to stop looking for a new “job” in the traditional sense. For several months, I’ve been putting in applications for jobs, even for jobs I would probably hate, in the hopes that I could get more money and that would make me happy. On average, I’ve been finding and applying for two or three positions I’m qualified for every week, with little or no results. I rarely hear back, and those who do contact me are only letting me know they’ve hired someone else.
Rather than find another job that might pay the bills but still make me unhappy, I’m going to focus my time and energy outside of my current job into my creative ventures. Primarily photography and writing. I have plenty of good artistic photos just sitting waiting to be exhibited, and about 4 books and a few dozen short stories in my head waiting to be written. With the photos, I’m going to research the so-called “professional” art world, and see what I can do to go about showing and potentially selling my work, and with the writing I’m going to attempt to push past my fears and actually finish some of those works, then start submitting them to publishers.
Yes, I realize that I’m in for a lot of rejection. That’s to be expected. But honestly, what’s the worst that could happen? I don’t show any photos in a gallery? I don’t get published? That’s already happening, so there’s literally nothing to lose.
I’m in the early planning stages of starting a new blog as well. Something lighter than this personal soul-bearing crap, more like a variety show with video game and movie reviews, short stories, my art, essays on pop culture and the like. There are a lot of writers who started out blogging and were able to transition into a paying literary career, and as I said, there’s nothing to lose by trying.
I’ll keep my eyes open to other opportunities though. I’ll try to pick up freelance design work when I can, and if some great job opportunity falls into my lap, I’ll probably send in a resume, but the job is no longer the goal, it’s the means to a goal.
This is going to tough for me, but I’m going to make a conscious effort to open up more to friends, family, and my wife. I may be opening myself up to more pain later if things turn sour, but I can’t let my fear of what might happen keep preventing me from enjoying what is happening.
There are a few people I know I need to make amends with and I plan to address them individually and apologize for my offenses and try to make peace with my past.
3) Internet Trolling
I might need a shock collar to stick to this one, but I’m going to make a serious effort at not starting or being dragged into arguments online. Also, I don’t want to get pigeon-holed as “the angry atheist/libertarian” so I’m going to try to enforce a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy on myself on issues of politics and religion. I’m still a anarchist-leaning libertarian, so I’ll continue to vote for whoever promises less government interference in my life, and I’m still an anti-organized-religion agnostic, so I’m going to continue to stay away from churches and operate from my own moral code, but I don’t plan to shout about either from my soapbox anymore.
So, overall, I’m hoping this plan for personal growth sticks better than the others did. I’m optimistic that it will this time, but I’d still appreciate your support in this. If you notice me slipping back into my old habits, please tell me. I really do want to change, because I’ve gotten quite weary of the person I’ve been to this point.