A Toast: To Not Drinking My Way to Happiness

“I called to say I love you,” I told my father.

“Have you been drinking?” he asked.

“No.”

“Oh–you sound really happy.” I was, but his surprise at my happiness stopped me cold. Was it really that unusual that I sound happy?

Perhaps it was because calls to Dad always had a purpose, and–like him–I didn’t waste time on formalities like “How are you?” and “I love you.” “Goodbye” was even optional. Phoning my father was often for logistical reasons. “If I fly into Westchester at noon for Meg’s wedding, can you guys pick me up?” Or I called in search of someone else. “Where’s Mom? I called the house and her cell phone but she doesn’t answer.” Or I called for shock value. “So I walked into work after being away for a week, and they moved me into an office.”

“You’re own office?” he said incredulously. “They really like you over there.” He thinks this is a good thing.  I just think it will make it harder for me to resign.  Not that I’m going to resign anytime soon.  But it is inevitable. I haven’t held a full-time job longer than eighteen months.  By choice. And now that I think about it, I’ve only ever had four full-time jobs in the fourteen years since I graduated from college. You do the math.

Two of those jobs had definitive end dates: Americorps was a one-year program and my National Park Service job was just seasonal. The other two–like the one I have now–had no expiration. I still remember the utter fear I felt when I first made that realization as I sat in the cubicle in my first corporate job.

I’m going to pause here as some of you are thinking, “Whoa. Wait. Back up. Did you just say you took a full-time job?” Yes. Yes, I did. I’ll wait while those of you that know me pick yourselves up off the floor.

My explanation (or the story I tell myself) is this: It’s a means to an end. At first, the end was to save some money. Then I floated this idea of doing the Camino again next year sometime. Then I started thinking bigger and thought of buying an around-the-world plane ticket for my 40th birthday.

Then I reconsidered.  Because I really like Asheville. And I’m not sure I want to leave for eight months. I remember a few years ago telling my youngest sister she should join me in an around-the-world trip. “For how long? How much time would I need to take off?”

“Take-off? Oh, no. You’d need to quit your job.” The look on her face told me she would not be joining me.  Not for the whole trip, at least.

“Maybe one day you’ll be like other people, and just take your vacations a week at a time,” said my mother to me one day. “You know, instead of thinking you have to quit your job and do something big.” But we both know that’s not likely.

I’ve run some numbers. For those of you that don’t know, it’s cheaper to travel than it is to live in your home for a year. Part of that is because my trip is due to include visits to South America and Southeast Asia. Cost is also less for me because I don’t require that my place of rest be a hotel. Or even a room to myself. But those details can all be figured out later.

So yes, I have a full-time job. And as I search my mind to figure out why my father thought it was unusual that I sounded happy I thought it could be that he recalls how miserable I usually become when confined to the same space for forty hours of my week. My mother says I’m like a “caged animal” when I have a full time job: you look in the cage and think the animal has a pretty good life, but he’s pacing and really he’s thinking of how to get out. Then one day he snaps.  He attacks a visitor or just disappears.  I usually do the latter. In the form of a resignation.

But yes, I’m happy.  I can’t say I absolutely love my job and look forward to going to it every day.  But I love that it’s providing me what I need right now. It’s just another stepping stone. One day I’ll hop to another stone, or venture out into the water. But for now, today, in this moment, I am content.

Finding Time to Walk The Camino

“How were you able to take so much time off from work to hike the Camino?” a reader asked a few weeks ago.

The short answer is this: I resigned. However, you don’t have to leave your job behind in order to walk the Camino. If you’ve been thinking you’d like to take the journey to Spain to walk The Way, but are not sure you can take six weeks off, here are a few suggestions:

Click here to read more.

On Quitting a Job in a Recession

“What do you do when you’re not working here?” I asked him as we stood on the beach.

“Well, I just gave my two week notice four weeks ago,” he said.  My face lit up.  “Oh how exciting!” I said.  I don’t think he expected such a response.  I explained that I’ve quit quite a few jobs in my time.  My sister looked at him and said, “Yeah – she quits a job every year.  But how old are you?”  “Twenty-five,” he said.  I knew what my sister – a married, home-owning, thirty-two year old, mother of one – was getting at.  “And I can quit jobs til I’m 50,” I announced, feeling her rolling eyes on me without even looking at her face.

I wanted to ask him more questions – how he did it, how it felt, what he really wanted to do – but not under my sister’s unapproving glare.  I got my chance a few days later.  Turns out he liked his job, but didn’t like his hours – the overnight shift.   When he started, he was told he’d be moved to the day shift.  More than a year later he was told he was so good at what he was doing, they wanted to keep him right where he was – working 7PM to 7AM.  He expressed his dismay, nothing was done, so he left.  In a recession.  Oh how I love these stories.

When I asked him what he really wanted to do, he said he should find another IT job as he figures he should work in the field he got his degree in for at least ten years so his parents don’t regret paying for his IT degree.  I laughed and wanted to say, “You didn’t answer my question,” but we were interrupted and I never got back to it.

I didn’t get to say it to him, but I’ll say it to you: No, there is no law of the universe that says you must do what you got your degree in.  Yes, there may be a law of your parents.  But no, most likely you did not sign a contract with them saying “I will work in my field even if I’m miserable and unhappy.”

Though initially they may not see your logic, ultimately most parents want you to be happy.  They may think the way you’ll be happy is working in your chosen field.  But that may not be the case.  It may take a little – actually, a lot – for them to get over you not wanting to “use your degree.”  But really – whose life is it?  When are you going to start living the life you want to live, not the one your parents want for you?

Yes, your parents may know you.  But I think it’s our job as kids to show them all the other possibilities that exist for us that they never thought of.  Good luck.  And if you need someone to congratulate you when you quit your job, I’m here for you:)