“Are you happy?” she asked me. It was as if she knew the answer before she asked the question. Perhaps she was looking for a glimmer of hope, but I suspect she was simply confirming the obvious. It was the last question in a series regarding my career. Or should I say, it was her last. If you ask me, there was one more question. The most important question.
It was a warm day. Unusual in December, even for San Luis Obispo. I can’t remember if it was a Saturday, or if I was playing hooky from work. Same difference, really. Either way, I was with my family walking the streets and enjoying the weather when we came upon an old friend, pushing her baby as he lay content in his stroller. We chatted briefly about the horrors of parenthood, the loss of the female body, and the superfluous amount of crap we have to carry to keep the little monsters happy. All was well, until a butterfly fluttered past and whispered in my ear that I was being an a$*hole. Normal, butterflies are timid creatures, so you can imagine my surprise.
Soon enough, we had reached the point in the conversation where everyone knows it’s time to find a new topic, so our friend turned to me and asked, “What is it exactly that you do?” I thought through about fifty-seven smart ass things to say before I finally settled on, “Medical sales.” It’s just easier that way. Apparently, she had been talking with some mutual friends and they were trying to settle upon what I did for work. Had I been in the room, I’m not sure I would have been much help in finding them an answer. In some ways, I hate the question, because the one I want to answer is “what would you love to do?” I feel like answering the question of what I do sort of lets the wind out of my sails. It’s not that I’m ashamed of what I do. It just feels like a comma, when I want to answer with a period.
“Are you happy?” she asked me. It was an interesting question, and a good one at that. “No,” I replied. “I’m not happy.” I wasn’t looking for pity. It was an honest answer to a direct question. Keep in mind we were talking about careers. With respect to family, you’d be hard pressed to find a more satisfied man. But for many men, their careers have a lot to do with their overall impression of life. Careers are where men make their name – families are what give it value. It’s a sad man who doesn’t feel like he’s made something of himself. I am just trying to avoid becoming that man. It seems as if every three years, I get this itch to switch careers, which is one thing if you’re single, but it’s quite another when you’ve got a family to support. You can’t just “start over” whenever you please. The problem is that I become incredibly indifferent with a job after three years. When it’s lost the new car smell, and I’m just doing the job to put food on the table, I feel my soul slipping a bit. So, the question of “are you happy” is an easy one to answer. But the more important question, I think, is…”should I be?” I’ve got an amazing life – a better family than I could have hoped for, and a relatively comfortable lifestyle. But it’s not enough.
Turns out it’s not enough for our friend’s husband either, who is dealing with the same questions I’m dealing with. Maybe the same questions you are dealing with. How do I balance contentment with what I’ve got with the desire to see my dreams fulfilled? If the desire to make something of oneself is tempered with humility and control, I don’t see anything wrong with the desire. On the other hand, I’ve only got what I’ve got at the moment. I believe that I should be content with whatever that is. The rub is that I’ve got unrealized dreams that push me towards this idea I have; the idea that if I could wake up every morning and generally, love what I do, I would be a happier man. Who doesn’t want that? I know that contentment and dreams are essential, so maybe humility is what keeps the scales even.
The issue for me is really one of unfulfilled dreams and how they should affect my outlook on life. I can’t yield to the thought that hardly anyone gets to do what they love, so if everyone else is miserable, it’s okay for me to be miserable too. So I’m dealing with what might be the harsher reality; that my dreams are what make me…me. Pass or fail doesn’t even matter. It’s not the realization of the dream that gives a man his name – it’s the pursuit.