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.
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
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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