Jerry Colonna said it best:
The unhappiest moments in my life coincided perfectly with making the most money in my life. It isn’t that I’ve had a rosy life, or that money is bad. It’s that to get that money was encompassing myself. It was all.
This seems like a trivial problem, but happiness is more important. I would have given it up to be happy, but I didn’t know how to make that exchange. I did know how to work and bury the feelings in exchange for a paycheck. In fact, I didn’t even know why I was so unhappy.
I worked. A lot. When I wasn’t working, it was late at night. I didn’t really drink, hated clubs (still do) so I took up playing pool. I didn’t even really like pool. Your options are limited when you stay at work that late.
I still loved what I did so I felt entirely willing to make these decisions and trade-offs. I was young so I thought I balanced it pretty well, until that one day. That one moment I woke up and realized the balancing act is all bullshit. This happened to be the day after I found out the company I was working for was closing their doors.
I did what any young, sane, rational person would do. I packed up and moved to a randomly chosen city. The benefit of earning so much and living so little is that I had financial flexibility. It made me feel invincible, which I often confused for happiness.
What followed were not the darkest years of my life, instead they were the years in which I finally opened my eyes and realized how much of a mess I was. That’s a big hit to take, and I fought against accepting it.
There is one person who I credit for getting me through long enough to meet my wife. He was my Best Man, and his toast touched on my obvious inner struggled but that he always believed I would “be alright”. It was the best speech that could have been given.
I wanted to be more than alright, obviously. This took years, even after being married. Slowly my base level of unhappiness faded away. Through any of this I don’t think I was depressed, just deeply unhappy. I was still motivated, eager, ambitious. Just very unhappy and it stemmed from this feeling that everything was out of balance, that everything was competing. I didn’t want to compete anymore.
The first step was to get a job I truly felt aligned with my interests. So I quit and did that and it helped. For a bit.
Then I thought I should get a job where I was amongst good friends. So I quit and did that and it helped. For a bit.
Then I didn’t know what to do next. Everything was still out of balance. Work made life stressful. My life was beautiful, I had two kids now, and for no good reason my work was ruining it! It competed with what I wanted to do, with what I felt compelled to do.
I realized that my work and life needed to be integrated, not balanced. I can’t compete with “work”, it will always win. Work doesn’t care.
It’s been a year and a half now since I’ve practiced this integration. While it’s sometimes scary it’s not unhappy. It’s still work and there are individual items that need to find their place.
It’s a long road and it, like all things, requires constant investment and attention. I’m happy to pay these dues, because I know the alternative.