What’s first? Is it to be happy? Is it to look at your life and be satisfied? Or is any of this even realistic?
The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence says “that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I throw caution to this because first, we are not all men. Therefore, we are not all equal. We are not born from the same groups. We are not born with the same talents. We find ourselves in mixtures of people, races, beliefs and cultures.
There are no guarantees; yet, this is what people are looking for.
For quite some time, I have been part of the working world. In fact, I have been working for more than half of my life. My jobs were not always the same and, like most people who work for a living, I had to find my way. I had to learn more about my talents and how to sharpen my skills to improve to a professional level.
I date back to when school was out and work was in. I did a tour of door-to-door sales. This was nothing short of brutal and unkind. The amount of rejection was unimaginable. However, I truly believed that the more that I earned the happier I would be.
I sold items like calculators and picture cubes. When this didn’t work, I sold vinyl windows until I was fired for arguing with the sales manager. (For the record, I was about to quit when he fired me. In fairness, I view this as something similar to the dating scene when I was a teenager. I say this because as I was quitting, he screamed “Get out! You’re fired,” before I could say the words – almost like a child who says, “I break up with you first. But I digress.)
I waited tables for one night. Or more accurately, I waited on one table, in which case, I was shouted at by a man who sat with his family and thought that he had the right to shout and scream and call me names.
Full disclosure: The person I am now would not handle this the same way as the person I was then – and dare I admit to this but perhaps explaining that I would be mindful of the way I speak to someone who is about to handle my food was not a good strategic move in the restaurant business. I was going to take a stab at being a stockbroker, which was supposed to make me a millionaire before the age of 21. Also, there was a chance at selling insurance. However, both stockbrokers and insurance required that I take a test and tests were not my thing.
I interviewed for a toy company, which could have been fun but the company selected someone with more experience – or, as they told me at the time, “We had to hire someone who doesn’t look like a teenager in a suit.”
My first real sales position was in the garment industry. I was told that if I kept moving and kept knocking on doors, I could easily make a six-figure income.
But was I happy?
I had to cold-call new prospects. I had to service old accounts, which were given to me but the commission from these accounts wasn’t enough to buy a cheeseburger from the 99 cent meals.
I was yelled at and cursed at. I was discouraged on a daily basis. To top this off, I worked with a woman who was nothing short of cruel and unusual. She was dishonest on her good days and vicious on her better days. But at her worst, she was downright unlikable.
Another issue was her son was the only other salesman in the company. What were we selling, you ask?
I sold the most boring part of any garment. I sold the woven and printed labels you’d find in the back of your shirt. I sold size labels and care labels. I sold the hang-tags or the printed tags that you’d rip off upon buying the garment.
I was told that my items were at the bottom of the food chain. I was told that telemarketers were more important than me. Plus, everyone had their relationships and everyone in the industry, “Knew a guy.” Unfortunately, that guy was never me.
I thought a good job and a strong career would make me happy. I thought that money would make my life better. But something was amiss.
First, no one pays anyone just because they like them. Secondly, no one will hire a person just because they want someone to come in and take up space.
No, work means work.
This means there’s a company that needs to survive and either you help this company survive – or, you can enjoy the fabulous parting gifts that they’ve prepared for you which is otherwise known as unemployment.
There was a salesman who told me that if you enjoy what you do for a living then you’ll never go to work another day in your life.
To be clear, I did not like this person. I hated his smile and his fancy, snazzy, little outfits. I hated his positive affirmations. I hated his cologne and the sound of his voice. I hated him without hesitation and, by all means, I was sure that he was F.O.S. (that means Full of Shit for those who didn’t know). I was sure that he went home and kicked the dog or found himself on a drug binge.
In truth, I envied this man because, somehow, he managed to stay happy (or whatever that means).
He smiled. He suggested that I should do the same thing. He said that when I read something, I should try reading it with a smile.
He suggested that when I find myself locked in the battles within my head that I should force myself to smile. No matter what and no matter how long this takes. He said that I should smile – force myself – just smile until I am distracted by the fact that I am smiling.
My answer was, of course, spoken with a thick New York City accent. I told him, “Oh yeah? I got a smile for ya. Right here!” which was said with an extended middle finger that shot out from the top of my fist on my right hand.
I thought that I would be happier if I was someone with a valid job. At minimum, I thought I would be happier if my job was more valid than say, an unsuccessful salesperson.
I tried another position in the garment industry. I sold buttons and buckles and zipper-pulls. But to be clear, this was not the bottom of the totem pole.
However, I still received my fair share of abuse. I was yelled at. I had a sales manager take my chair away from me because I didn’t “deserve” to sit down. I had staplers thrown at me. I was yelled at. I had garbage thrown on my desk because my desk was a mess.
I was chasing my tail but, at the time, I was making more money than I had ever made before. I was inching my way up on the pay scale. But still, there was something missing.
There was no passion. There was no reward system or incentive.
Even when my income improved, I still had the same challenges. I had the same fears and the same social discomforts. Whether I made a sale or more money did not change my personal chemistry.
My background was still my background. My biases were still mine. I had the same family drama and the same fears. I had the same insecurities and the same doubts. Or better yet, I had more fears because I saw my future as bleak and dimming.
By the way, this is why people cross the line. This is why people do desperate things in desperate conditions because there is no hope, no vision, and no way to see the benefit of a strong possible future. If the mindset believes in doom then our decisions will be based on doomed ideas. Therefore, why plan for the future if there’s no future to plan for?
I was adjusting to this thing that people call “adulthood.” Not to mention, I was dealing with being on my own. My family split up, my Mother left. My Father was buried in his grave. My Brother was married and found a place to live. Then he bought a house. He was on his way and moving on.
But me . . .
I was living in the basement apartment of my Aunt’s home which was perhaps one of the most loving places – and just to be transparent, if it hadn’t been for my Aunt Sondra or my cousin Craig, I might not have survived myself.
I certainly wouldn’t have dared to do something about my lack of education. I wouldn’t have agreed to go back and get my high school diploma.
Eventually, I grew.
I improved my earning potential. I decided to give sales a break and try my luck with a union position.
I thought this might make me happier. Besides, there were no people skills necessary. In fact, most of the people I worked with cursed and spit and complained. Of course, I thought to myself, “This place is for me!”
I was earning more money. I could afford a decent living. I had material things yet, it seemed that I fell short on my pursuit of happiness.
But what is happiness?
Is this a real thing or is this something that’s only told in fairy tales where people run off to live happily ever after?
I have come to this conclusion: Happiness is no more permanent than misery. It could be said that happiness is a decision. Or, it would be better said that happiness is a practice. This has nothing to do with money or a job title. This is a caption of progress not perfection.
If this were not so then there would be no such thing as miserable millionaires.
It’s okay to not be okay. The idea of true happiness does not exclude tragedy or life on life’s terms. This does not mean that bad things won’t happen to good people. This has nothing to do with the nice person who finishes last. But instead, happiness means that we have found a way to navigate through our reward system; that through it all, bumps and bruises, scrapes and cuts, pains or sorrow, we managed to get up, stand up and live our lives to the best of our possible ability.
There is no perfect world and to think that there is does nothing else but trivialize who we are and what we’ve lived through. Assuming that happiness is always the constant depreciates our challenges and the issues that we face on a daily basis. There’s no wonder why depression lives or why anxiety is painfully real. We live a real life. At best, our perfection would be to live perfectly imperfect. This would mean that in order to find happiness – if there is such a thing – we would have to consciously accept and understand who we are without grievance.
Make no mistake about it, life is hard. Life is unfair.
This is true too.
But for the moment and for the sake of happiness, let’s try to find a common ground.
Let’s try to realize that yes, good times might not last forever.
But neither will bad times.
There is a way through . . . you just have to look for it.
And if you can’t find it . . .
Trust me, it’s there.