Finding the Road to Happiness

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I wrote Raising Independent Children about my daughter moving to Oregon. Here’s a follow up to that post.

I stood on the bricks of an old St. Augustine street just after dawn one Sunday morning. Tears streamed down my face as I waved to the back of a VW bug. My daughter, Anna, drove away, on her journey to Portland, Oregon.

Her roommate and I stood together crying, when I suddenly realized something.

“She turned the wrong way,” I said.

We both began to grin through our tears when I heard the putt putt of Anna’s VW. A minute later, she passed by again headed in the right direction.

That moment not only made me laugh through my sadness at seeing her depart for her new life in the West, but it also brought to mind all those seemingly wrong turns we make in life. In just the matter of a second, we can change the direction.

When I changed careers at the age of forty-six, I took one of those turns in the road, not sure of the outcome. The reactions of others to my decision surprised me the most.

On my final day of teaching, students stood in line to wish me well and give me notes of appreciation and encouragement. It surprised me that these teenagers understood why I was leaving. One theme ran through all of the messages. They expressed pride in knowing someone who decided to change course when the present road brought little happiness.

“I’ve watched my parents and my aunts and uncles work jobs they hate,” one student said as he walked out of the classroom. “It’s been awful to watch so I really admire you for recognizing your dissatisfaction, and then doing something about it.”

This profound statement came from a fifteen year old. When I made my announcement to my students a few weeks earlier, I simply told them my love of teaching no longer motivated me, and I wanted to leave before I burned out. This young man understood and so did my other students.

My fellow colleagues surprised me as well. One teacher, a burly football coach, congratulated me on my move with tears in his eyes. He said he wished he had my courage to make a change because he had not been happy in a very long time.

My alleged bravery came from the conviction that my unhappiness in my work led directly to dissatisfaction with all parts of my life. Conversely, unhappiness in our personal lives permeates into our work life as well.

When this happens, we have three choices. We can remain unhappy or we can change our attitudes or we can change the road.

I decided I didn’t want to change my attitude nor did I want to remain unhappy. I’d done a decent job as a teacher, and I left while I still had pride in my work. I had something else tugging at me that would not leave me alone. I followed that path.

More than a decade later, my journey as a writer has brought me more satisfaction and happiness than I’ve ever had in any job before. In fact, I don’t think of writing as a job. It’s as much a part of me as my arms.

We all deserve happiness and satisfaction in a life that is much too short. Following Anna’s lead, when we discover we’re headed in an unsatisfactory direction, we only have to turn the car around and head a different way.

My daughter stayed in Portland for five years. Last year she moved back to Florida. My writing life has taken another direction as well. But through it all, both my daughter and I always knew when the journey no longer made us happy, we could make a turn and change our course.