If you’re something like me, you grew up with a relatively clear and indisputable path laid before you. You don’t realize when you’re younger how much more confined the choices along the progression through high school and college are in comparison to the vastly ambiguous and undetermined horizon of the real world that follows. You proceed and succeed, you work, you play, you progress.
Then, one day, you graduate — and if you’re like me, you majored in something useless but wonderfully interesting like sociology, so when you throw your cap in the air, you then get smacked in the face with a resounding “now what?” It’s time to fly, and lord knows you invested in some VERY expensive wings that you’ll probably be paying off for a VERY long time, and yet you’re cruising around on a breeze, more or less nomadic in an impatient world that demands direction. The elation of a culminating college career quickly gives way into the panic-inducing realization of your utter lack of career.
Because of all the uncertainty, I have found that there is a significant increase in the importance of clinging to what you are able to know or decide with conviction. That point for me was realizing I needed to live in New York. I was hit with this pulsing assurance from somewhere inside me — the regions of yourself that are immune to clouding and doubt and overthinking — and it said: just move to New York, THEN you will find a job. So I did.
There is something to be said for the pull of instinct; it is not something we can summon on command, so when it tugs at our core, we can trust that it has asserted itself for good reason — or, at the very least, reason worth assessing.
I have found that taking calculated risk(s) can play a key role in progression. Haste and recklessness are a different, more (potentially) dangerous breed; risk is different. Risk can be considered and reviewed. It can be measured and modulated. There are far more circumstances that come without guarantee than there are those that do, so risk is an inevitability at certain points if we wish to avoid stagnation, or resigning ourselves to situations with which we are dissatisfied.
I found the value in risk both in my move to New York — in which I signed a lease on an apartment before having a job — and two years later when I had come to be tremendously unhappy where I was working. While those two years taught me less about how to determine my path with certainty than they did that the search for the path is an important journey of perpetual growth and failure and revitalization, I also learned something else of remarkable importance. I learned the significance of fostering trust with myself — and that, more important than being able to prioritize projects at a job, is being able to create real priorities in your own life. I realized that happiness is a priority for me.
Securing your own happiness will sometimes involve a risk or an unconventional move or a step in an unfamiliar direction. Being happy is so important — at the least, striving to nurture and protect your happiness is essential to living a ….well, happy life. When it became undebatable that my job was the source of my stress — a leech on the buoyancy of my soul — it was time to make a change. So I quit the stable, full-time job with nothing else lined up because I loathed being there, and every morning felt like a condemnation. I was spending the vast majority of my time in a place that drained my energy, killed my joy, sucked my inspiration, and was just all-around unfulfilling and unpleasant.
If these sentiments resonate a little too close to home right now, I implore you to think critically about changing your circumstances, even if it feels risky. Sacrificing your happiness in life undermines so much of what fills each day with purpose and meaning.
So, with this sentiment in mind, and much to the chagrin of my bank account, it reached a point where the deuces HAD to be chucked. Of course, while I knew I would work diligently to find a job, a small voice nonetheless warned me that plenty of people work hard to find employment with no success; other factors outside the realm of my own effort are at play. But frankly, I told that voice to shut it; I’m a firm believer that when your instinct speaks adamantly, it’s in your best interest to listen.
So I sent my letter of resignation, and let me just say, never has clicking a button brought such a deluge of relief. I made my freedom from a place of misery a real, approaching beacon of hope — and it reminded me that, always, while many other things may be out of my reach or out of my hands — I maintain my autonomy; I always have the power to make choices in my life. The truth is, we all do. There are always complications, extenuating circumstances, factors to consider, consequences to anticipate — but none of this ever strips us of the ability to choose. To feel the dormant power of your own will in your palm, to clench it, revive it, and exercise it in full force — that is a resurgent power in our arsenal, a right we should proclaim with tenacity because it is earned through our very existence.
Unfortunately, people don’t always have other people’s best interests at heart. You cannot place the fate of your own happiness in others’ hands and expect it to be tended to as needed. It is your own to defend. Don’t let people mar your happiness — they have no right to it. But we know people take things they have no right to all the time, so you must be the champion of your own joy. The bodyguard of your spirit, a warrior whose purpose, is purpose.
My experiences are, of course, only my own — just one example — and the details change for each person, and for each choice we’re faced with. The circumstances vary, and the nuances of what constitutes happiness couldn’t be a more personally derived definition. But the threads of revelation that can be pulled from personal experiences can weave together lessons of universal value.
So whether you risk joblessness or rejection or embarrassment; whether you feel pressure from people or empty pockets or your own expectations – I think it is incredibly important to always keep in mind the simple importance of happiness. At the least, take some time to figure out what happiness means to you. While it may be a morphing, slightly ambiguous definition, there will be times in life when something is an obvious obstacle or enemy to it – and in those moments, if we do not stand up to safeguard our spirit, we likely make too great a sacrifice. So build a trust with yourself, listen when some deep, emanating certainty courses to the forefront of your understanding, and above all, remember to take a risk, a leap of faith… because if you’re jumping for joy, you’re jumping for a wonderful cause.