Friday, March 5, 2010

Happiness Project: Aim Higher

I'm following along on Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project challenge. This is my eighth installment:

It's March now, and I have hopped back on the Happiness Project Bandwagon. This month's topic is work, which is something I very purposefully don't write about here except for the most basic of things. (I have a job. It is in Boston. I take the commuter train to get there.) I do this because for starters, the point of this blog is to NOT be about work. The point is to be about all the other things I love to do with my life. I also refrain from writing about work to retain some modicum of privacy and because I would never want to risk getting into trouble at work for writing something here. It's the trade-off I make for using my real name.

But as it happens, I've been thinking a lot about work lately, and I've decided to delve in just a bit here. Specifically, I've been wondering why it is perfectly acceptable to spend forty or so years of one's life working in an office, sitting behind a desk and computer? Who decided that was a good idea?

On the one hand: I've raised a lot of money sitting behind a desk, writing grant proposals to fund a myriad of really great and meaningful projects. In the grand scheme of things it's a pretty cushy job in that I make enough to support myself, I have health insurance and vacation days and paid sick time. I get to work where there is (usually) heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. I'm not working in a factory or a retail store and I don't have to stand on my feet all day. Plus, I can at least delude myself into thinking those projects would not have been done without my involvement in them. I really have no right to complain.

But on the other hand? If I'm totally honest? The idea of spending the next thirty years doing the same thing feels so soul-sucking that I cannot even contemplate it for more than ten seconds. The minute the idea flashes across the inside of my brain I immediately push it right back out. The truth is, when I look back at all the jobs I've had over the years, I can easily pinpoint the days I was happiest and I can tell you I was NOT sitting at a desk. I was wandering around downtowns taking pictures with my office's ridiculously great high-end digital camera. Complete and total bliss, so much so that at my current job, whenever I see one of my coworkers getting to take pictures I am overcome with jealousy and it's all I can do not to physically tackle them and wrest the camera out of their hands.

Does this mean I should have been a photographer? I'm not sure. The truth is, I never really considered any sort of creative work to be WORK. I grew up in very working class rural Maine where pretty much anyone who was an artist was considered to be a crazy ex-hippy "flatlander" (which is Maine-speak that means "not born here"). Work was any honest trade (usually involving manual labor) that you could do to survive, to keep a roof over your head and food on the table and shoes on your kids' feet. The notion of "being happy" or "loving what you do" wasn't really ever discussed. When one of my English professors in college tried to convince me to switch my major to English, I dismissed him out of hand because I was in college so I could get a good job...not to pursue writing essays or, God forbid, poetry. English was easy for me and I liked it, so therefore it couldn't ever be WORK. Instead, I studied political science where I struggled but still got good grades...mostly because of how well I wrote. (Go figure.)

I bring all this up because Gretchen Rubin says in her video this week that "you can choose what you do, but you can't choose what you LIKE to do". Amen, sister, and I plan to ponder that a lot this weekend (while hopefully finishing the Green Monster that is my Tomten jacket). Another bit of advice from her is to find new ways of challenging yourself at work, and as it turned out I had a perfect opportunity to volunteer this week to take on some additional work in a different area. I'm also seriously pondering starting a new blog that focuses on one particular area of my field that I am really interested in and passionate about. (More on that later, if I decide it's worth pursuing.) And then finally...while not exactly work related, my "big project" and my "learn something new" project this year was learning to play guitar, which I have not touched since my lesson last week and must delve into immediately. Apparently I am not that motivated by "Hey Jude".

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