If It Makes You Happy

This post, brought to you (in part and in inspiration) by words written by others…

Two years ago, I had a really crappy couple of months. (Okay, so it’s safe to say that most of 2010 pretty much sucked.) But those months were also an opportunity — to think about what really mattered in my life, and to get some clarity on what I wanted to spend my time doing.

As part of that process, I promised B — and myself — that more than anything, I’d spend less time working. I’ve always been driven — not by money, but by my desire to do a good job, to get it right, to hit whatever goal someone set out in front of me.

Over the years, I’ve done a good job of hitting those marks. But that success has too often come with collateral damage: too much time spent away from home, or otherwise distracted while at home; frustration; stress; crabby Sundays; and, as I’ve learned all too acutely, bad effects on my health.

So, I had to take a long, hard look in the proverbial mirror. What was going to win: my ambition and drive, or my life?

Once I put it in those terms, the answer was obvious.

And as I thought about it, I was reminded of one of my favorite Anna Quindlen passages from her book “A Short Guide to a Happy Life.” (And trust me, I’m tempted here just to quote the entire book, which I was beyond thrilled to hear her read shortly after I moved to D.C., and on the front page of which she wrote, “For Michele — stay strong!”)

You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.

…Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you’d care so very much about those things if you developed an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast while in the shower?

It turned out, I didn’t. And I still don’t. Which is why I’m thrilled to be moving to a job that, while it will use my best skills of editing and writing, will also feature more normal weeks, decidedly less responsibility, and — I hope — fewer Sunday night nightmares.

On paper, the move looks like a step backward. I get that, and I expected that not everyone in my life would agree with the move — and they don’t. But in my head and my heart, I know up, up, up isn’t the only way to move forward.

If I had Idina Menzel’s voice and an ability to star in my own musicals in which people burst into song in everyday life, I would have suggested a Wicked duet to those friends who have questioned my decision:

Just say you’re sorry.

You can still be with the Wizard

What you’ve worked and waited for

You can have all you ever wanted

To which I’d respond (and have sung to myself, in my head and in the car, many times over the last year-plus):

I know.

But I don’t want it – no – I can’t want it anymore.

Something has changed within me

Something is not the same

I’m through with playing by the rules

Of someone else’s game

Too late for second-guessing

Too late to go back to sleep

It’s time to trust my instincts

Close my eyes, and leap!

So leap I will, next week. I’m excited for the life that’s waiting for me where I’ll land.

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