Once in my early twenties I went to a cocktail party with a bunch of my mother’s friends. One man (an ophthalmologist in his fifties) and I got to talking.
Holding his wine, he asked me what I wanted to do with my life.
I remember the moment as if it happened in slow motion, where I was standing (center of a small, long-since closed restaurant on Fillmore Street, San Francisco) and the color of my dress (black). I explained that I was just finishing art school, and would be moving to New York City as soon as I graduated. San Francisco had become small after living there my entire life. I wanted to see if that thing they say about New York was true, making it there and everywhere…
"But most of all," I said, "I just want to be happy."
His response came quick, and like most unfortunate, spit-out words, they got stuck somewhere in my soul.
"Maybe happiness is overrated. Maybe you should just find a job."
My dislike of the man was immediate; his perception of life wrapped up in that one statement.
I walked away.
What did that mean, anyway? Was he insinuating that it’s somehow selfish to make happiness a goal? What about all of those Pinterest quotes about how, "When you're happy in your job, it never feels like work," and, "Whatever you do, make sure it makes you happy.” Shouldn’t happiness be the foundation from which we build a life?
I did as I said I would, following through on my plans to move.
I went to New York, and was happy. But eventually I wasn't, so I went home.
I decided I wanted to teach. And it made me happy to learn, and then to educate, until it didn't anymore.
Motherhood was next, the best and most challenging job in the world. My kids have made me happier than anything ever could, even when they’re trying hard to make me crazy.
But being a stay at home in the process of divorce(I've since learned) means that whatever work you’d done for before having kids doesn't hold the same kind of value it once did to the world outside of your kitchen.
Despite twenty years of excellent credit I couldn't get a loan in my name. If I wanted a credit card, I would have had to say I “wasn’t working;" the most unfortunate, unfair words ever spoken by a stay at home mom. I was told that a newly separated single-mother in North Carolina needed to have six months of child support and alimony statements before they could rent a house.
None this made me happy (take heed, stay at home moms, and find a way to keep some income going, just in case).
Not for nothing, I searched for the next job that would fit my skill set, whether or not the job felt right. I walked the mall and put in applications. I sent resumes to LinkedIn connections, and to businesses in RTP. I contacted my old principal and spoke to the administrator of my girls' former pre-school.
I had a certain faith that something would come up. The Universe wouldn't fail me. The calendar’s “alimony ending date”marked in ink meant it better get moving.
And so over the summer, while sitting at dinner with friends, an opportunity landed in my lap that quite literally changed the course of things.
Over the past few weeks, the opportunity grew, as has my happiness.
I love what I’m doing, so the more I work, the more the opportunities flow forth. As opportunities flow forth, the more I want to work.
The best part is that I get to be present for my kids, to pick them up at school, and to keep them the top priority.
As I think about that ophthalmologist, it strikes me funny that a man who spent his life looking into the eyes of others would be so shortsighted himself.
I'm convinced he wasn't happy.
I’m not sure there’s anything sadder than that.