My “Early-Life” Crisis
After returning from Europe for the second time, my life got flipped, turned upside down. I brought back souvenirs, pictures, and, oddly enough, an altered perspective of the world around me. I learned more about myself than I could have ever imagined and the world suddenly became a smaller place that I needed to experience to believe. Many warned me that a trip abroad would have this sort of effect but I never really believed it until after I returned. Just a week or so after my arrival, I fell into a rut and it spiraled down into a hole of depression. I began analyzing the status quo of modern society and I questioned the paths in life that most people are expected to follow. There is too much to type in the way of my thoughts but in short, people are expected to go to college, get a job, get married and have kids. To most this seems to be the mathematical equation for success, but do many stop to wonder if it would also equal happiness and fulfillment? With so much responsibility could I really live out my hopes and desires? Could I see the world that now seemed so accessible? Would I eventually knock on death’s door feeling fulfilled and content, or would I leave this world with regrets?
I took a long hard look at my life and tried to understand the path I was taking. At this point I was headed toward an entry level position in corporations based in Illinois; a place with a brutal winter that can beat the absolute shit out of you if you love sunny days and warm weather. I asked myself more questions still…Will I be happy taking this avenue; Will I waste my youth? For weeks, I was bound to my room by these thoughts and I soon found myself removed from things that previously excited me. I skipped class and got lethargic, not giving the 110% that I was used to giving. Grades suffered, relationships simmered out, and I sheltered myself from social situations. I needed time to sort out my life and the direction I’d soon be headed. The tremendous weight on my shoulders didn’t allow much else to cross my mind. I was having a battle with myself that would ultimately decide my fate for an undisclosed period of time and to me, this internal dialogue was of paramount importance.
After much introspection and guidance from articles, documentaries, close friends, and family, I realized that a life full of fond memories should be the currency in which I measured my life. Although I’ve reached many milestones in my academic career (I’ve won sales competitions, led organizations, been recognized by companies in the form of academic scholarships, etc.) I realized that by nature of the Hedonic Treadmill I could not be happy with my life unless I was satisfied with my current situation. The initital recognition of an accomplishment brings a flood of positive emotion, but all too often that euphoria is short-lived Your brain and body soon grow accustomed to this new stimuli and you’re soon left searching for another achievement to fill that newly opened void. Think of how a drug addict always needs more self medication to reach the same high as before.
I grew to understand that the things that consistently made me happy, and I mean truly happy, were the times that I reminisced about adventures I took during my young adult life. When I look back to my week of backpacking in the Smoky Mountains, my two trips to Europe in the span of a year, and my visit to Los Angeles to visit one of my best friends, I can’t help but smile. These experiences were joyous occassions in the moment and the simple recollection of my experience made me far happier than a paycheck (with no time to spend it) could. I now realize that I enjoy traveling and discovering new places. I’ve grown to enjoy my own company yet I still look forward to meeting new people and learning new things. I wanted, no, I had to see the world and enjoy it for all it had to offer. A 9 to 5 job wasn’t conducive to this type of lifestyle and with only 5 to 10 paid days off a year and an almost 24 hour connection through phones and computers, I don’t think I could bear the work life “imbalance” of an entry level sales career. In speaking to those who have taken that path, I’ve heard words like taxing, exhausting, and worst of all, soulless to describe some of their situations. I know this does not apply to all positions of that nature but the thought of getting stuck in a position that I wasn’t passionate about was a terrifying notion for me to accept.
For many, money is the motivation for hard work. Many of my peers operate with a hope that someday they’ll have enough money to buy things that will make them happy; I believe they are mistaken in this thought process. In all my research, I found that it is not the money that makes one happy. It contributes to comfort, sure, but scientists have recorded that at a certain threshold, the level of money you have is not correlated to your happiness. In their studies, the level of happiness among people is significantly higher in those who make more than $50,000 vs. those who are in poverty. That is to be expected. So what’s my point you ask? Well my point is that when comparing those who make $50,000 to those who make $500,000, the level of happiness in those subjects did not significantly increase. In fact, their happiness was almost the same!
So after digesting everything on happiness that I could possibly consume, I had to ask myself the tough question; Why wait later to be happy, why not do it now?! In my eyes, when I stepped off that return flight from Europe into the frigid air of Chicago, I only had 5 months left to live before submitting to a fate ripe with quotas, cold calls, and social facades. Instead, after much reflection and an early-life crisis, I chose to live a life of adventure (even if only for a limited time). I applied to work in one of the most beautiful places I know and I fought feverishly to get it. I must have gone through 3 departments, 6 different applications, and spoken with countless individuals. I even got rejected twice! In the end, my persistence paid off. Not only am I living in the center of Grand Teton National Park but I’m using skills I’ve acquired in my formal education (so my education wasn’t a complete waste!). It’s been a week so far and I’m having a blast. I’m meeting new people, exploring new places, hiking, biking, and experiencing scenery that most would pay thousands upon thousands to see, let alone live in.
Life is great, make the most of it and be happy today. After all, it is you who decides to smile or not, don’t let anyone else make that decision for you. I hope that in continuing on this path I will achieve what I first set out to accomplish and find happiness in the here and now rather than the distant future. Perhaps when death knocks on my door, I will answer with a contented sigh and a smile on my face as I marinate in the memories of a full and fruitful life.
I will leave you with this quote to decode however you see fit…
“People living in destitution, in utter squalor, people whom we expect to be assuredly and unequivocally miserable; succeed in being far happier than we supposedly civilized people ever do.” –Andre Mikhail