I recently played a game that was intended to show that we are all responsible for our own happiness. I agree 100% that in most cases, happiness is a choice. In almost every case, I am the one who decides to enter a situation with a good or a bad attitude. For example, I don't want to go to Back to School Night at Kaylin's school tonight. I would much rather go to the herpetology meeting at Forest Park Nature Center. I've been to plenty of Back to School Nights and I know they are long, boring, hot, crowded, etc. I will not walk into Kaylin's school excited and thrilled to be there. Perhaps that's a bad attitude in itself, but c'mon, everyone has obligations they'd prefer to skip. What I CAN control is whether I will go in with patience and a sense of humor and walk out relieved it's over for another year or walk in impatient and angry and leave with my blood pressure through the roof and freaking out about the two hours I'll never get back. If I choose to make the best of an undesirable situation, I'll come home and laugh to Kaylin about how fun Mrs. Smith is and about how crazy Mrs. Jones is. I'll have a bit of insight about her teachers and will be able to better relate to Kaylin's school experience. If I choose to make the worst of it, I'll come home furious and scream at the kids to go to bed and fight with Gene over leaving a towel on the floor (which he would never actually do, but it was the only minor thing I could come up with...)
I think that overall, I have been happy in life. I have a great husband and two wonderful kids. I have a job I love. I get a huge amount of enjoyment from my pets. I have hobbies that I find fulfilling and fun. I have a crappy house, but it's in a great neighborhood and has a big yard. My car is nothing special, but it runs well. If I suddenly came into millions of dollars, I'd be most excited about using the money to travel. I still wouldn't care that much about having a better house or car. I love to laugh and find humor in most situations. I have worked hard for what I have and am satisfied.
However... In the past few years I've had major problems with my feet. I've had months at a time where I was in so much pain it was all I could do to make it through work. By the time I got home I just had to sit. I felt terrible about myself because I hurt too much to ride bikes or play catch with the kids. I was terrified that I'd have to leave the job I love. I was depressed because I could no longer exercise and I started eating poorly and gained a lot of weight. I struggled to come up with something else I could do with my life, but stubbornly clung to zoo keeping as the only job that could possibly make me happy. BUT, how much longer could I do it? I mean, let's get real, I was pushing 40! I better switch careers NOW, before I'm too old and no one will hire me! I'm stuck here with no opportunity for advancement in the career I love- I need to find something else YESTERDAY! But there's nothing else I want to do! I was spiraling out of control.
My wake-up call came in a strange way. My friend Meghan and I were visiting a former coworker in Florida and hiking at a nature preserve. We had seen all kinds of amazing birds and I said "If I lived here, I'd go birding every weekend." Meghan looked at me and said "Pffff. No you wouldn't." I think she then went on about how she'd lived lots of places and she basically spent her time off in the same way wherever she lived. That was it. I realized that I lived 20-30 miles away from some major bird hot spots and I had never been to ANY of them! And the beauty of birding? I CAN do it from my car! I mean, it's great to hike deep into the woods, but I've had some excellent birding adventures with a walking cast and even with crutches. If my feet are good I can hike, if they're bad I can bird from my car or my window at home. If I can't get out this weekend, I can read about what's out there and plan for next weekend.
Birding started my attitude adjustment. I realized that being "stuck" in Peoria wasn't such a bad thing. I have great birding areas close enough to home that I can get out there any time I have a few free hours. I can always travel to see other birds. Birding calmed me down enough to realize that maybe I should fight for my job rather than giving up just because it might be easier to change careers at age 40 than at age 50. I realized that very few people have jobs they even like, much less love as much as I love zoo keeping. I decided to stick it out until I physically can't do it anymore and THEN figure out what to do next. It took me a long time, but I finally requested a change from my "string" working in the new Africa area back to my former area that included much less work on concrete. It was a tough decision because getting the Africa string was a huge privilege, I loved the animals and it was hard to give up. However, switching not only helped my feet immensely, I also got to work with my beloved camel during her final months. I got to help with tiger introductions, get our new male tiger to FINALLY go out into the yard (tigers are insanely neurotic) and then work every day with tiger cubs, which has been my favorite thing I've ever done at the zoo. At the same time I switched strings, I also went to physical therapy and learned some amazing techniques to keep myself in less pain. Overall, things were looking up.
August was a major setback in my attitude. It was an extremely busy month at work with opening a new area and adding a lot of responsibility to my string. We were short staffed and I was going crazy trying to keep up with the extra work. The frustration and exertion got to me. My feet were flaring and the pain was adding to my despair. The tiger cubs were the only thing that really kept me going. I don't think that August as a whole was a situation where I could simply choose happiness. I don't think every situation has an easy choice. I think that sometimes you have a crisis period that you just have to claw through and then, AFTER the crisis has passed you make the choice to make the best or worst of it. I work at a zoo and I truly believe it is the best job in the world. I love working with animals and even on my worst day something with the animals themselves absolutely thrills me and warms my heart. Feeling overworked, exhausted and in pain IS stressful! We all have a crisis period now and then.
It's now September. Things have calmed down and routine has been established. My choice now is to think back on August and laugh, be glad it's over and move on- or I can stay angry and bitter about "what I was put through." I choose to laugh and move on. Every aspect of my job will never be perfect. My coworkers and I will never have the exact same, fair amount of work as each other and will never work at the same pace and do everything in the exact fashion that makes each other perfectly happy. My bosses will never make "pleasing Susy" one of their top priorities (nor should they, but it would be pretty awesome!) Even working the Best Job in the World will have occasional setbacks and crises. I may not be able to choose happiness every second, but I CAN AND WILL choose happiness overall.