It was one of those San Francisco drizzle dusks where you couldn’t tell where the fog ended and the rainclouds started. Dressed in a black trench coat, I met an old colleague outside the warm glow of a Brasserie sign. It was time to confide a dark secret.
“You’ll never believe this, “I whispered. “I’m happy. Madly happy.”
“What!” she exclaimed and pulled me into the wet shadows, nervously looking around to ensure no one had heard me.
“You are still single, paying rent in the same apartment you’ve had since your 20s and among the few ’04 MBA women without an executive level title. How could you possibly be happy?”
“I have no idea. It’s such a conundrum. I don’t know what to do.”
“Heidi,” she said, her face pale, “How on earth will you be motivated to attain anything in life if you are already content?”
She had a point. I wasn’t motivated to do much outside of what I was already (happily) doing.
We all covet happiness. Yet society only seems to bestow it to those who had slaved away in Calvinist fervor, hoping their toils would be rewarded in a later life (aka retirement). Is happiness meant to be earned? “I’ve worked really hard to get here and enjoy myself” people like to boast at dinner parties. No one wants to be thought of as lazy. Or unmarried. Singledom is a sure sign that you must be unworthy. (God forbid you just want to be free).
When I told my parents about my new found happiness that didn’t center around a diamond ring or career promotion, they seem baffled.
“Well, we are happy you are happy but also confused,” Dad said. “Why, when we were your age, we had two homes and two small children! What do you have to say for yourself? Too bad you’re not like your friend Mazz with regular quotes in the Wall Street Journal…”’
“Well, I do have this blog that’s gaining attention…..”
“Where you tell the world you are frolicking nude in a desert festival…”
I was ashamed. Had I turned into a happiness thief? Instead of earning my euphoria was I just stealing it from hedonistic moments at hippy festivals?
Despite a few past bouts with impulsiveness, I always tried to temper my bohemian tendencies with “THE PLAN” and dutifully try to meet society’s expectations. THE PLAN consisted of running my own company, organizing charity dinners, 2.5 children, and a venture capitalist husband who wrote me poetry at night while massaging my feet. But every time I tried to meet this ideal, I became cagey and agitated. From dinner party dishes to business case proposals, I obsessed on perfection and missed out on the joys of the present moment…and present person. If you recall from a previous blog post, my perfection neuroses became so bad, I hung an overcooked pork tenderloin from the ceiling with a suicide note.
THE PLAN was strangling me. I finally looked it squarely in the eye. “F – You PLAN. I’m moving on without you.” Unburdened by expectation or timing, I could now deliciously ride life’s waves, taking risks on crazy projects and people. Insanity is, after all, the neighbor of genius.
Did living impulsively mean I had failed? I had read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean in. I knew women were supposed to carefully plot their career steps and husband choice starting at age 24. I wondered if Sheryl would look at me with disapproving eyes, “Wipe that smile off your face, young lady,” she would say.
But I can’t. Plus, I’m not sure I want any of the things in THE PLAN anymore. What a relief. I’m too busy enjoying my undeserved happiness.
“Everyone praises the endurance of the ascetic, but no one appreciates the stamina of the hedonist. To laugh until the throat burns and smoke a cigar to soothe it, to black out but not pass out, to love without climax, to be immortal in the moment – what stoic has such fortitude?”
― Bauvard, Ozark Nights