There are times when you stumble upon just the right book at the moment you’re in desperate need of it. That is what recently happened to me.
Near the end of August, as I was stocking up on healthcare items to fight the sinus infection I was on the verge of, I decided to treat myself to a new book as well. The book selection in that grocery store wasn’t very impressive but it was convenient. I walked down the aisle hoping that a title or cover would stand out to me. That’s when I noticed The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. The sky blue cover with a row of townhouses at the bottom and happy yellow lettering attracted me—I’m a sucker for good cover art—I had to pick it up.
I knew it was the book I needed to get when I read the first paragraph in her “Note to a Reader”:
A “happiness project” is an approach to changing your life. First is the preparation stage, when you identify what brings you joy, satisfaction, and engagement, and also what brings you guilt, anger, boredom, and remorse. Second is the making of resolutions, when you identify the concrete actions that will boost your happiness. Then comes the interesting part: keeping your resolutions (xvii).
I’m longing to change my life. I feel like I’ve been in the preparation stage of a happiness project for the last few months without knowing that was the purpose.
In February, when I stepped into a leadership role within the promotions company I work for, I began seriously experimenting with the idea that I could be satisfied with a life outside of higher education. I used all my powers of persuasion to convince myself—and everyone else by extension—that I’m happy with this life. I am not. It isn’t that things aren’t going well. I have a lot to be grateful for: a beautiful home that offers me a lot of space, a good group of friends and coworkers who I love spending time with, and a job where I am well liked and well respected. I am comfortable but not satisfied.
Not too long ago, I asked someone who studied Anthropology in college and then went on to run an IT business for a decade how he made that transition. I realized afterward that what I really wanted to know was how he coped with leaving academia behind. What I wanted was for his story to give me hope that I could find fulfillment in a normal life where intellectual conversations are a rare joy instead of the norm. What I wanted from him betrayed me.
No matter how compellingly I can argue that I don’t belong in academia, I have known in my gut for years that teaching philosophy in a collegiate setting is my vocation. It is what makes my heart sing and what I will excel at far more than any aspect of the promotions industry. While coordinating events and training employees may not frustrate me like academia can, it doesn’t fulfill me like academia does either (which is a statement about me not that industry).
I am dissatisfied because I am not pursuing my passions. I am restless because it is time to move on. I have known—even when I wouldn’t admit it—that this time outside of higher education has been meant to be a sabbatical not a new start.
Another part of my restlessness has had to do with writing. I want to do more than freelance copywriting and blogging. I got a great idea for a new website back in May. The more I worked on it, the more I realized that I want the project to be a book, not a blog.
I enjoy blogging but my ambition has always been to write books. After I graduated, I wanted to start working on a book proposal. I had too many ideas at that time, I couldn’t settle on one. Plus, I needed to be practical and focus more on finding work that would pay me now instead of later. It typically takes a few months to hear back after submitting a book proposal to a publishing company and, usually, you receive many rejections before you’re accepted. I couldn’t afford to invest that much of my time and energy on a long shot. Now the timing is right. I am on steadier feet financially, I have acclimated to my new position (as well as gotten through all of our big back to college events) and I know exactly what project I want to invest in. Knowing it is time to begin isn’t enough.
The primary reason I haven’t ardently pursued either ambition (and have tried to pursue others) has been the knowledge that I need to do more than apply to a PhD program and write a book proposal. If I am going to be happy (and sane) pursuing both a career in higher education and creative nonfiction writing, I need to develop better habits and improve my ability to balance having a multifaceted life. The poor job I did juggling work, school and a social life/leisure time, along with the bad study habits that I carried with me from my undergrad, left me with a lot of regret when I graduated from Fordham. I have no desire to repeat the past. Plus, as Gretchen says in her book, “arriving at one goal usually reveals another, yet more challenging goal. Publishing the first book means it’s time to start the second.” I haven’t felt like I’d be ready for my next challenges.
As I’ve been journeying with Gretchen through her happiness project, as she’s worked on improving different aspects of her life from vitality to spirituality, I decided that I should strive toward my goals in the context of my own happiness project. Instead of just focusing on getting published and back into grad school, I am going to work towards these goals while developing healthier habits and learning how to better balance living a full life that is relationally, spiritually, intellectually and professionally fulfilling. The great draw to this approach is that it both makes my goals seem less daunting and will equip me for the challenges that will lie ahead of me once they are achieved.
I began my happiness project on September 1st. I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.