My last post was very meta; in that I talked about the right to pursue happiness in general terms. But what does all of that theorizing really mean for you and me? As the pursuit of happiness is such a personal issue, I can’t even begin to imagine what it means for you. It could mean buying a yacht and sailing the seven seas, it could be owning an NFL franchise, it could be finding a cure for cancer.
But what I can do is share with you my personal overarching goal, and how I’m pursuing it, in the hopes that it will inspire you and help you discern and pursue your own. My dream, very simply, is to never again have my day ruined by being upbraided by a boss.
My Pursuit of Happiness
For me, it’s very simple. My goal is to never be in a position relative to another person that he or she can send me an angry email that will make me feel small, cause me to doubt myself, cause me distress or reduce my will to move forward. I think it’s a very instructive goal because its 1) fairly modest, 2) conventionally unrealistic, and 3) very personal to me.
You see, I suffer from clinical depression. I’m in remission right now, but the last fifteen months have been a bear. I don’t know what the rust cause of my depression are, but I suspect they have something to do with being picked on a lot as a kid, and being in a relatively low supportive, high stress environment as an adult. As an attorney, especially in private practice, I got yelled at a lot. Getting yelled at was my biggest fear and my biggest cause of stress. Initially, I thought it would get easier to deal with over time, but it didn’t. It got worse every time. After 42 years of living, I know that I have a thin skin. I know what physically hurts me and I want to avoid it. The greatest pleasure of my life would be to never have to deal with it again.
This is not to say that I MUST achieve my goal in order to function. Obviously, I’ve achieved a measure of success up to now, and I’m sure that if I had to, I could continue to succeed all the while getting yelled at. And I may have to. But I don’t want to. I have set forth a tangible goal, however implausible, and I have a plan to achieve it. I may or I may not. I have no right to achieve it, but I absolutely have a right to pursue it because it’s MY dream.
Most of you would probably say that it’s an unrealistic dream. That you will get coffee for somebody. That there is no way around having a boss, and no way to completely avoid the wrath of people who have power over you. Perhaps a certain amount of criticism is even helpful. However unrealistic, I know what I want, I have a right to want it, and I have a right to try to get it. If I manage it, more power to me.
Your Pursuit of Happiness
As I said at the beginning of this entry, I can’t tell you what your dream is, or should be. But, using my own as a model, I can offer a few pieces of advice to help get you on the road to pursuing it:
- Know yourself—really take the time to reflect on who you are. What gets you going in the morning? What do you love? Why do you love it? What do you hate? What makes you sick? Only when you know yourself inside and out will you be able to know what you really want out of life.
- Set a goal—It doesn’t matter how crazy your goal sounds. All doers of great things began with crazy ideas. Steve Jobs wanted to put a computer in everybody’s life when computers were owned by large corporations and filled cavernous rooms. Columbus wanted to sail across the Atlantic Ocean when conventional wisdom doubted he would even survive the journey. Martin Luther King wanted full civil equality for African Americans during the darkest nights of the Jim Crow era. Henry Ford wanted every American to drive a car back when cars were rich people’s playthings. There is not an original idea out there that didn’t buck conventional wisdom before it took hold. Don’t be afraid to admit your dream to yourself and others. Don’t cut your legs off before you’ve even started walking. Don’t let anyone, including you, tell you that you don’t deserve what you want. You DO deserve what you want, and even if you are not entitled to it, you are more than entitled to the right to chase after it.
- Make a plan—Once you know what you want, break it into it’s smallest component parts and begin pursuing it piece by piece. Dreamers reach their dreams step by tedious step. For example, I want to be independent of employers and bosses. The quickest way to do that is to start my own business. So I think up a niche, set up a website, subscribe to services that will generate attractive keywords for my articles, put aside money for investment, incorporate myself. I invest a little of my money every day. I take the profits and the losses even though they hurt. I try to write regularly, even though it’s very difficult to generate content at times. I’m nowhere near where I need to be to fulfill my goal to be free of the need for conventional employment now and for all time. But every day, I’m moving. Sometimes I’m taking a few steps back to take one tentative step forward, but I’ve set my vector and I’m applying thrust.
- Cut out the naysayers—There are going to be people in your life who will not believe in you. These people are going to tell you that your dream is unattainable. That you can’t do it. You need to limit your exposure to this type of nay saying. Obviously, you don’t want to cut close relations out of your life, but you can at least change the subject. When they bring it up, tell them that you have chosen your course of action and don’t want to discuss it further. If they won’t relent, you may have to go low contact with them for a time. It will be especially difficult to avoid taking counsel of the toxic people in your life when you feel like you are failing, and you will at times feel like you are failing. You are swimming against a very powerful current and at times you will feel like you are being overtaken. Pessimism from others will multiply the force of that current. That’s when you have to really lean in and press forward, because with a bit of grit and tenacity you will come out the other side.
- Surround yourself with support—On the other side of the coin, you probably have people in your life who believe in you, and believe you can do anything you set your mind to. Cultivate these people. They will give you the pickup you need to keep going in the tough times, keep you grounded when it’s smooth sailing, be there for you when you fall, and be ready to dust you off and push you forward once again. You need these people in your life. Don’t get so caught up in your pursuit that you forget these relationships. Instead, make pursuing these relationships part of your goal. After all, what is happiness if it is not shared?
So what are your dreams? Share them in the comment below and let’s get a robust discussion going.