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.

Raising Independent Children – and facing the consequences

Anna – self-portrait, circa 2000

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

What was I thinking when I thought putting myself out of the parenting job meant the ultimate success as a parent?

The greatest piece of parenting advice I’d ever received, I liked to brag.

Several years back, my daughter called me to give me some news. She was newly graduated from college, but we lived in the same town in Florida.

“I’m moving to Portland, Oregon,” she said when she called.

I managed a few questions, such as, “When?”

“In a month,” came the unwanted reply. I offered a word or two of encouragement before we ended the conversation.

She wisely chose to present this bit of news right before she went to work and twenty-four hours before we planned to get together for dinner. My daughter knows me well.

Anna on the coast of Oregon, 2008

I spent the next twenty-four hours composing myself and stemming the tears every time I imagined the breadth of this country where Oregon sits as far west as I could imagine, and Florida lies as far south and east away from it.

I called a friend and sobbed, “Anna’s moving to Oregon.”

My friend let me carry on for a few minutes, before she said, “But remember, you raised her to be independent and free-spirited and to follow her dreams.”

“And what was I thinking?” I asked.

But I knew my friend held the answer. My ex-husband and I raised this independent creature whose first complete sentence set the pace for the road ahead.

“Me do it myself,” Anna said before her second birthday.

Independent child does it herself

We should have done something then because in retrospect it’s abundantly clear that our daughter would do exactly what she wanted when she wanted to do it. If only we’d tethered her to the bedpost the day of the first sentence perhaps, she’d remain in close proximity to me for the rest of my life.

As the day of her departure drew closer, I fluctuated between sadness for myself and happiness for her. Happiness won out as I saw my daughter grow up as she prepared to travel cross-country with most of her belongings.

Her father is a freelance artist, and as a child, Anna watched him draw portraits or logos for clients. Often, she went with him when he delivered the products and received a payment in return. Afterwards, they’d go buy groceries. One day when Anna was five, she wanted to buy something at the store. We told her we didn’t have the money. She didn’t say anything, but turned around and went into her bedroom. In a few minutes, she returned with a drawing of her own design.

“Now we can go to the store,” she said proudly holding out her offering that she planned to present to the cashier in exchange for the item she wanted.

So what was I thinking?

I hoped my daughter would turn out exactly the way she is as an independent, free-spirited woman possessed with the ability to follow her dreams.

With my independent daughter


Be Elvis or be yourself

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I saw a poor Elvis impersonator on a street corner in Portland, Oregon a few years back. I watched him from across the street as I sat with my daughter at an outdoor cafe in one of Portland’s lovely small-town neighborhoods.

He wore all the accoutrements of a typical Elvis imitator:  thick black hair, yellow plastic glasses, white sequined bell-bottoms, red cape and hand-held microphone. He looked the part. But when he sang? Nothing at all like the real “Jailhouse Rock” rocker. If someone walked by without stopping or tossing money, he drooped his shoulders and stopped singing, leaning down to turn off the boom box that sat near his white vinyl boot-clad feet.

Nothing sadder, I thought, than a poor Elvis impersonator. All the trouble it must take to dress for his excursion to the street. And frankly, , it looks ridiculous unless the impersonation is impeccable.

“Are you going to give him some money?” my daughter asked as I continued to watch the Elvis wanna-be across the street.

“I’m thinking about it, but I don’t want to contribute to his sad state of being,” I answered.

I wanted to walk across the street and give him the best philosophy I could impart.

“If you’re going to be Elvis, be Elvis, or just be yourself,” I wanted to say. “But whatever you do, do it well and don’t let anyone else tell you you can’t do it.”

I never gave him the advice, but I’ve remembered it myself every day since. Whenever I find myself headed away from who I am, I remember that man in Portland and change my direction.

Maybe he’s not such a sad character after all.