Your Job or Your Life?

Mar 24, 2014 by

“I’m not living to work. The moment I do that, I’ve already died.”

– One of my 2008 clubbers in crime

 

          At the beginning of March, I was at the dentist for the first time in years. (The new office that my dentist has moved to since my last visit is a friggin’ spa, by the way. Bleeding gums and splashing saliva aside, I felt like I was being pampered.) In that typical way that dentists lecture patients, he asked me, “So where have you been for the last three years?”

          “Without benefits!” I defended my lack of oral healthcare.

          “Ah, you’re not a student anymore,” he understood.

          When he asked me what I’ve been up to since he last saw me at age 21, I tried to quickly summarize, starting with the obvious: “I have a blog!”

          “Really? What’s your blog about?” he asked,

          “It’s called The Happiness Experiment,” I began at the talking equivalent of the speed of light. “It’s about making happiness a priority in life. Basically, I really hated my life. I had this shitty job – the one that had me without benefits – that was glamorous on paper, but provided no work-life balance. I managed amazing events across the country for international brands, received invites to huge parties (that I ironically couldn’t attend because of work), and regularly went home with free alcohol. I worked all the time though, from the moment I woke up every day to the moment I went to bed every night, weekends included. Just over a year and a half ago, I quit. Eight months after that, at the beginning of last March, I decided that I needed to focus on being happy. I started going out again, making friends, saving to go to Europe . . . and all of that turned into my blog!” (FYI: When people ask me what I’ve been up to, I give real answers. If you don’t, try it! It’s much more exciting than, “I’ve been working. How about you?”)

          “Wow! Where do you want to go in Europe?”

          “I’d like to spend a lot of time in both Italy and France. I’m thinking about stationing myself in apartments in each country for a bit and taking short trips to visit other parts of Europe from there. It’s all up in the air right now. I won’t be going for a while, so I don’t have solid plans. I don’t even know how long I’ll be there, but it will be a minimum of a few months,” I said.

          “A few months?” he laughed. “How are you going to make that happen with work?”

 

***

 

          I always forget how work-oriented North American culture is – and how foolishly career-oriented I used to be – until I mention Europe to someone for the first time and get the usual, “What about work?”

          What about life?

          Jobs are replaceable; experiences are not. I do not make life decisions based on my employer (even though I actually really like my current workplace). That, my friends, is a life of enslavement, and we’ve been taught to sell our souls to it. Fortunately, I don’t do as I’m told. I dismiss conformity. I question everything. I put happiness above all, and convention before none. I’m aware that prioritizing happiness is rare in our society, so it makes me unbelievably proud when I hear one of my friends say something like the quote above.

          I’ve known the beauty who said it since Grade 11. We occasionally hung out in high school, but we got close during the summer of 2008, following our first year of university. We were 18. I had a fake. She had a fake. A few of our friends had fakes/were legal. Our weekends were epic. Spend a summer with girlfriends haphazardly creating makeshift clubbing outfits in cars, cleverly nicknaming guys, melting over Hot Bartender (re: clever nicknames), befriending the late-night staff at Denny’s, and conducting each other’s post-make-out hair checks (this particular friend will insist that she wasn’t one to hook up with guys in clubs, but I can attest that she’s a liar), and I guarantee bonding. Come that September, I was back off to Guelph (fuck my life) while she remained at home to continue studying at U of T (fuck her life). We called each other every so often, mainly to discuss the guy she was possibly dating at the time. We weren’t sure. He confused the hell out of us. Sometimes he was her friend. Sometimes he was dating her. Sometimes he was MIA. He didn’t know what he wanted. He exhausted me, and I didn’t even know him. When she unexpectedly called me after a year and a half of their back-and-forth to tell me that they were officially in a relationship, I screamed. The amount of effort that had been invested into analyzing this guy finally seemed worth it.

          That is the last phone conversation with her that I can vividly recall until age 23. As if on cue, we evaporated from each other’s lives. She became highly invested in her boyfriend, while I was in the midst of the disappearing act I had begun one year prior. Depression is a social life’s death sentence. Mine would remain buried from the end of 2008 until I chose to revive it in the spring of 2013, coincidently around the same time this pretty lady and her boyfriend of three and a half years broke up. Prior to this, I could count the number of times she and I had seen each other since age 18 on one hand. Fortunately, we’ve always continued as if we’ve lost no time at all. Last spring’s reunion over coffee was no different. Our situations, on the contrary, had changed vastly. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, I was executing an experiment in happiness, which meant reprioritizing my life, pushing my dream trip to Europe high up on my priority list. She was single for the first time since 20 years old. When she told me, I shrieked with as much joy for her as I had when she called to tell me that she was in a relationship years before.

          “This isn’t good news!” she reminded me, laughing.

          “Oh, right,” I responded, toning down my excitement slightly. “Sorry! I’m just so happy that I’m going to get to see you again! Let’s relive the summer of 2008!”

          She burst into laughter. “Remember Hot Bartender?”

          “Yes,” I sighed. How could I forget?

          Within weeks of that coffee date, she and I were downtown, confiding in one another more than we ever had. It had been little over a month since her breakup, and her confidence had shot up. Her single status was doing her very well. I’d never seen her so secure in herself and motivated to go after what she wanted as an individual. While we waited in my car for our cells to strike 9 pm, the free parking hour, before heading to a nearby bistro bar, we began talking about Europe. Other than my best friend at the time, she was one of the first people I told about the big Euro trip I’d been dreaming of since childhood and had begun saving to make happen. She had always wanted to go to Europe, and mentioned that she was considering a two-week trip with her mom. We gushed over the idea of Paris, but I wasn’t sure she was serious about crossing the Atlantic. Some people follow through; others say things without intent to execute. I wasn’t sure which category she fell into.

          It turns out that she belongs to the prior. Fast forward to February, and I was researching flights, trains, hotels, and B&Bs until I had her and her mom’s two-week Rome/Barcelona/Paris/London adventure mapped out under budget. (Vacation planning is fun for me. I get right into it, even if I’m not the one travelling.) When I sent her the details complete with pricing, I crossed my fingers that she was legit about going. She absolutely was. Within days, her roundtrip Europe flights were booked for the end of this April. This chick was officially Rome-bound, and I was loving it!

          In early March, over pasta at Osso Bucco, we were talking about her upcoming trip. Then less than two months away, it would mark one year since her breakup. Because she booked as quickly as she did, I wondered aloud how she got her vacation approved by her employer so fast. Given that I hate the message that question implies – that work takes precedence over life – and that my dentist had asked me a similar question just days before, I internally scolded myself for posing it, but I was curious.

          “Work doesn’t know yet,” she laughed.

          I beamed with pride. “Good for you!” I encouraged. “I used to book my vacations before telling [my old employer]. It was my fuck-you to them for repeatedly contracting me for years. Worked every time! I never thought you’d do something like that!”

          It was at this point that she mirrored my own perspective on work and life so perfectly that I wish her words had been mine: “I’m not living to work. The moment I do that, I’ve already died.”

          My mouth dropped. One year prior, she wouldn’t have said something like that. One year prior, she wouldn’t have even been sitting in front of me. I was certainly impressed. “I love that!”I exclaimed. Stunned with my fork frozen in midair, I warned, “I’m going to blog quote you!”

          Her words reminded me of a conversation I had in early February with my then neighbour. Like me, he loves to travel. In talking about the reasons that stop people from seeing the world, he expressed his belief that it isn’t lack of money that keeps people from travelling, though it is undoubtedly the most cited excuse. Those who want to travel badly enough will make tradeoffs to ensure that they have the necessary financial means. There are other factors that hold people back. Relationships, careers, and fears are some of them. I had to agree. Once upon a time, I held my entire life back by use of such excuses. Thus, the ability to travel is more so about determination than money. If travelling makes you happy, you have to prioritize it. Placing other people, work, or personal insecurities above happiness is not worth the cost; because, friends, the cost is your life.

 
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