Choosing happiness

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When I left my 9-5 career last summer to go back to school, I figured that at some point I would pick up some kind of work, whether it be a part-time job or freelancing, in addition to my graduate assistantship. Since then, I’ve done both, picking up odd writing jobs when I can (I am available for hire!) and working at weekends shifts. These part-time jobs were supposed to be stress-free and complimentary to my school work with a small income to cover some monthly expenses.

I started working at the market attached to Heartland, and when that closed at the end of the year, I picked up a job at a bakery. It seemed quaint, right? Who hasn’t thought of working at a bakery with fresh cookies and breads coming out of the oven? My job was to take orders and make coffee drinks, but maybe eventually I could do some baking. It would be a decent gig, with delicious benefits.

And, at first, it was. The bakery was very welcoming and everyone was friendly and willing to help me learn the ropes. I really liked the owner and my co-workers, and it was fun to walk in every day and see what creations they were dreaming up.

The semester ramped up, though, and I started to dread the shifts. I often worked Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, in addition to spending 10-11 hours at school Tuesday-Thursday. I often couldn’t sleep Friday evenings thinking about all the things I needed to do at the bakery Saturday morning to prepare for the weekend rush. Work worries started to seep into my school life, and I became a stressed out mess, even royally screwing up an assignment that nearly cost me my overall grade. Before my shifts, I was usually in such a foul mood that I was mean to both Ethan and the dog, and overtime, that mood didn’t just start in the hour or two leading to my shift but a day or two before.

It was clear to my husband and close friends that I needed to leave my part-time job, but I had a hard time coming to that conclusion on my own. Like I said, I liked my co-workers and the owner, so what was it? The work wasn’t hard, but I wasn’t particularly good at it, especially as the business expanded its food and drink menu and there was more for me to prepare. Most of the customers were pleasant enough, and I started to build relationships with the regulars. The mornings were early, but really not that much. There was nothing super specifically terrible about the job, so why was I so unhappy when I was at work?

I hesitated leaving because I was afraid that I would be unhappy wherever I went. Before I went back to school, I had had a pretty decent career, but I haven’t stayed at any job for longer than two years. I get restless and want to find something that will finally fill this lingering void. I wondered if I could just hold out for the summer, save some money, and then quit when the fall semester began. That became my plan until the mere thought of working there a few more months made me physically sick.

One day I was scrolling through my Strava app (the only social media account I have), and a singular post stood out. It was from a woman in South Dakota who mentioned a group run at 605 Running Company. At that point, I was running quite a bit and just loving running again. I wanted to spend my weekend nights going for group runs and Saturday morning doing long runs, but my work schedule didn’t allow for that. It made me think about how I wasn’t really a part of the running community in Chicago, but I wanted to change that.

Then, one day, I was in my career counseling class, and we were doing partner activities to practice advising someone who is making a career change. We were to think about issues with our current jobs and present them to our counselor, and when it was my turn, I just blurted out that I wanted to quit my job and start working at a local running store. From there, I kept saying that to other people until I decided to make it a reality. It made sense. Running makes me really happy, and I love talking about it with other people. If I had to have a part-time job, why not have one that is centered on one of my passions?

When I got the job offer, I didn’t accept it right away. I know that seems weird, because obviously I wanted the running store gig and needed to get away from the bakery, but it felt like I was running away from hardships yet again. I have this pattern of jumping from thing to thing in order to find happiness, but ignoring the fact that these are external changes and if I really want to be at peace the work needs to happen internally. Couldn’t I just make it work at the bakery? What if I am not any happier, not just at the running store but eventually as a counselor? It also didn’t help that the running store wage was lower than the bakery, and I wasn’t sure if the pay cut was worth being a bit happier each day, especially if that ended up not being the case.

Eventually, I did take the job, and I actually have my first day today. I know that this job won’t automatically make me happier, but I actually feel a bit lighter since I left the bakery a few days ago. I feel more relaxed, and even hopeful. I still need to do internal work, but this is just a part-time job. Yes, I am doing it for the cash, but I also just want to be around running more. I am excited about working at the running store through the summer, and I could see myself keeping this job through graduate school and even beyond. It will be up to me to not let it become stressful, because it doesn’t have to be, but I also deserve to have a job that doesn’t make me miserable every day I have to work.

This time, I chose happiness. Maybe that’s me running away, or maybe it’s me making my happiness and mental health a priority. In the end, it’s still just a job, which is what I need the most right now.

 

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