Reach for the Stars - But How Far? A question of ambition vs happiness

People have always said I’m a go-getter, ambitious, implacable when it comes to achieving what I want. Nothing has seemed out of my reach if I really wanted it.

In addition, ingrained in me is also a very strong desire to help others. Maybe it’s selfish, but I don’t feel satisfied with myself if I don’t do some community service project or perform some act somewhat frequently that helps someone else. A lot of times I feel like I owe it to society for having a good place in my own life.

Along with that, I would also say I am a people-pleaser and am easily influenced by the thoughts and opinions of others. I have found that I like exceeding other people’s expectations. Good grades and good jobs were not attained out of luck, but rather out of expectation.

One of the more recent results of that was that I joined the local Police Department to become a dispatcher. To me, that seemed like the pinnacle of helping people in a capacity that was realistic for me. I was really excited about this opportunity that seemed challenging and far outside of my comfort zone, but extremely rewarding.

"The Stress !!!!" via stock.xchng
"The Stress !!!!" via stock.xchng | Source

What I found instead was constant stress, frustration, and desolation. While police departments perform great deeds, and while the work was rewarding and people were always impressed by my job title, it was not for me. I found myself so upset so frequently and found myself more depressed than I can remember ever being.

The cultural perspectives behind this are jarring to me. It reminds me of Japan, where, according to the Christian Science Monitor, the suicide rate among its citizens fell in 2012 for the first time in 15 years... to below 30,000. The standards are so high that some people would commit suicide if they went bankrupt, experienced relationships problems, etc. I also think of the problems that Ivy League university students experience that contribute to news stories such as the CBS News coverage of Cornell University installing nets over bridge gorges where 27 people leapt between 1990 and 2010.

I also think of what students as young as elementary-school age are learning compared to what I was expected to know when I was their age. It is incredibly competitive to get accepted to certain high schools, and my friends’ kids have to take placement tests to get into preschool. I never even went to preschool. I couldn’t imagine having to do what kids are expected to do now.

How important is your job to your happiness

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I’ve always believed in public service and found myself in difficult jobs with long days and work on weekends and evenings, and enemies at work due to the political nature of my positions. For the first time in a long time, I decided to do something for me. This year, I left the PD and took an 8-5 desk job that was basically a demotion. As soon as acquaintances found out, the responses were the same: “Won’t you be bored?” “Well, don’t worry, you’ll move up soon from there.” I’ve gotten jabbed at by my old colleagues for things as small as my current job title.

My response: “…But I love it here.”

When I was desperately looking for something outside of the PD, I found myself thinking back to restaurant or hospitality work, which I did for many years before. No one thought it was a good idea and thought I was overqualified. But I kept circling back because I couldn’t remember being happier than at that time in my life.

I realized that yes, some people feed off of constantly aiming for something else, something “more”, “higher”. It works for them. But for others, there is a breaking point,

and without the right support or desire, it’s not feasible or healthy. For me, I had neither – it was forced on all sides, it wasn’t a good fit, and I really didn’t want to be a dispatcher in the end; I just wanted to help people in general. At my job now, I feel that I’m helping people still, just in a different way, plus I now have the flexibility to volunteer more in the community. Last year I remember lamenting how the last time that I actually recalled being completely happy was in 2009 – everything was in place, and I felt more than content. I think since then I felt the pressure to be the best that I could be… which I learned was actually more like “the best others thought I should be.”

I’ve always believed that every job has a purpose, and that there’s no shame in a good job that you enjoy. Additionally, I believe more than ever what my parents have always told me: Do what makes you happy. I find it unfortunate that I lost sight of that, and I see now how easy it is to do so as a result of oftentimes external pressures influencing the pressures we put on ourselves.

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15 comments

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

You are singing the song I used to sing. I was a corporate person, couldn't work hard enough, traveled whenever and wherever they needed me to, relocated, put up with politics and crap, took phone calls during vacation from my boss. The workload was awful and i was their workhorse. Then I simply decided I was DONE. I volunteered for their big layoff in order to save someone else's job but they said they needed me too much. So I waited for my big annual bonus, then walked away. Jaws dropped because I was such a go getter. But I could not be happier, two years later. Life is short and you gotta be happy. Too much stress shortens life and makes life not fun. Breathe. Live.


Edward J. Palumbo profile image

Edward J. Palumbo 2 years ago from Tualatin, OR

Much of the quality of one's life depends on job satisfaction. We invest much of ourselves in our work and hopefully our work interests, excites and propels us to our personal best. Yet, more that 80% of Americans are unhappy and unfulfilled in their work! I'm retired now, but much of what I did took a toll on me. There's a time to walk away.

If I was a young person, I'd avail myself of the career counselors on (or off) campus, and take the battery of skill & aptitude tests personality tests that would lead to a better career direction. Life is too short to wander from job to job. I agree with you: Do what makes you happy. May you enjoy wherever your path takes you!


Earl Noah Bernsby profile image

Earl Noah Bernsby 2 years ago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

I had not heard of Japan's high suicide rate before: 30,000 souls every year. To put that in perspective, 30,000/year in the U.S. commit suicide, too, but Japan's population is approximately 1/3 our size (i.e., 127mil/320mil) - http://www.suicide.org/suicide-faqs.html

I wonder why this is so ... Does it have something to do with Japanese culture, history, and tradition? I remember reading about how the ancient samurai committed seppuku (ritual suicide) if they were dishonored, and how the kamikaze pilots during WWII were expected to give their lives in service to the Empire by intentionally crashing their warplanes into Allied targets.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 2 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

I think its sad that the validity and importance of a job is judged by the size of the salary. Most carers, nurses, cleaners, teachers, maintenance staff, waiters etc are paid very poorly but society could not function without them and they can be very satisfying jobs.


kerlund74 profile image

kerlund74 2 years ago from Sweden

I have gone a long way from administration to layout, to technical writing to Project Manager. And I have never been so stressed or depressed as I become as a PM. I get a lot of credit, they love what I do, but I feel lost. So Your hub has great points and was really great for me to read:)


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 2 years ago from Northern California Author

Thank you all for your comments. Flourish, I'm glad you chose the path that is right for you! Edward, good advice - I do wish I had a better idea of where I wanted to go earlier on so I wouldn't have had to stray so far! Earl, I think honor is still so much a part of Japanese culture, and they are so competitive! CMHypno, I totally agree, all jobs are important - I couldn't do what so many others do. Kerlund, I hope this hub was helpful :)


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 2 years ago from California

Once upon a time, how you did your job was more important than politics and philosophy.


Edward J. Palumbo profile image

Edward J. Palumbo 2 years ago from Tualatin, OR

If your work gives you satisfaction and peace, you have attained what many only hope for, and that is an accomplishment. The status of a job is meaningless. I've worked for organizations that provided titles and "ego biscuits" such as plastic awards and parking spaces instead of raises, but it was a pointlessly stressful environment. Management was well insulated from the concerns of labor, and the worst jobs were those of the supervisors, who were caught in the middle. If the work environment is positive, if the atmosphere is pleasantly productive and the service provided is helpful, honorable, and you can return home with a clear conscience, you have found a fine place to work. Your priorities may change, and you may find other work environments that suit your talents and interests, but the nature of your work environment affects the quality of your life (and your sleep). I wish you the very best.


justthemessenger profile image

justthemessenger 2 years ago from The Great Midwest

I recently (last week) approached my supervisor at the end of a week's shift so he could sign my time sheet. He said that the only time he has ever seen me smile is when its time for the payroll time sheet to be signed. I told him that this weekly event brings out my personality.


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 2 years ago from Northern California Author

Thank you all for sharing your experiences, insight and ideas :)


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 2 years ago from California

Realizing your are in Nor Cal showed me exactly what you have been through. I was raised in Oakland, it still feels like home.


glassvisage 2 years ago

:) thank you tirelesstraveler • I hope you make it back here from time to time


RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

Perceptive hub! How often have I heard people who liked their job and felt no need to "move up" criticized as "lacking ambition." I wonder how many stress-induced heart attacks might be prevented if more people adopted your perspective.


mylindaelliott profile image

mylindaelliott 2 years ago from Louisiana

I do what makes me happy and I work long hours at it. I enjoy your perspective.


bnayr profile image

bnayr 2 years ago from Manchester

Great Hub, thanks for sharing GlassVisage. I hope that everything works out for you.:)

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