Follow what makes you happy, until you can’t?
I don’t have a lot of life mantras, but one rule that has always driven my professional and personal existence has been that if you want something, you should go and get it. Identify the things that can enrich your daily life and add them to your routine. If unhappy, determine what it is that can make you happy and go after it and get it. I have no bigger pet peeve than when people take the backseat in their own lives and wait for good things to happen to them, for bad things to “sort themselves out”, and for good things to fall in their lap. It happens, but it’s rare and makes for a directionless and purposeless trajectory.
So far, I think I’ve followed my mantra pretty well. I was dead set on becoming an equine industry professional, until I wasn’t. I was sure I was going to become a nurse and graduate with a Bachelor’s in Nursing, until I didn’t. I chased my dream to work in the game industry by spending every waking hour I wasn’t at school or work playing and obsessing over video games. I wrote passionately and with conviction, hoping that someone important would read my words and believe that I had meaningful observations to make about games. I’ve surrounded myself with friends who actively make my life better — people who are smarter than me who teach me and make me a stronger person. As a result, I’ve culled my list of close personal friends down to a core set of individuals who enrich my life rather than bring me down.
I’ve had some people say that I am “so lucky”, that they can’t believe that things just “keep happening” to me. On one hand it’s kind of funny and true, but on the other hand it feels dismissive of the work I put in to get there. As someone who is always introspective, I’m always consciously aware of the level of effort I am expending toward working toward any goal I have in mind. I’m purposeful in all of my actions — I network like crazy to build up mutually beneficial connections, I consume a ridiculous amount of content per day trying to stay on top of tech industry news and trends, I seek out learning opportunities and take advantage of them when I can, I demand the salary I feel that I’m worth, I’ve jumped to startup opportunities and taken purposeful risks that have worked out for me in nearly 100% of the situations. I know what can make me happy, and I go for it.
My career has moved upward at rather stunning speeds — in 6 years I’ve been a part of five acquisitions by some of the top gaming companies such as Disney and Electronic Arts. I’ve moved up in title and salary and far surpassed any goals I had for myself. But now what? My entire life I’ve been driven by a need to move upward, by some goal that I hadn’t yet attained. I set my aspirations at a level that I felt were unattainably high: being a video game producer. Now that I’ve surpassed that I’m stuck in this bubble where I don’t know where to go from here. Despite having a great paying job, I feel this internal sense of being lost because there isn’t a carrot in front of me. The entrepreneur in me wants to start my own business and take some risks. The learner in me wants to explore a whole new field of engineering, go back to school, learn to program, start at the bottom and work my way up a whole new ladder. The explorer in me wants to master a whole new genre of gaming outside of mobile/social.
But none of those options are viable anymore with a life that now revolves around me holding the level of position that I hold. I have a fiance and joint finances, and every career decision I make affects him as well as me and our life plan together. We have a mortgage and live in beautiful San Diego, so you can expect that it’s not cheap. I have an expensive hobby (okay, an obsession) in horses that takes my time, energy, and much of our expendable income. I’ve created this life for myself that is wonderful and I really can’t complain, but as someone with a drive to grow and become something bigger, I just have no idea how to follow my mantra and make myself happy. Money really doesn’t buy happiness. As someone acutely aware of the privilege I have in my life, I feel awful even writing these words — but it’s possible to feel unsatisfied at all socioeconomic levels. In my day-to-day activities I am fine, but when I sit down and think about the future, I am as lost as someone starting out in a career for their first time.
What happens next? Can I keep encouraging other people to go after what they want and challenge themselves for bigger and better things while I’m suffocating myself by not chasing what could potentially make me happy? How can I take risks and play it safe at the same time? Will I ever be satisfied to just exist for awhile without needing to improve myself steadily? Am I just uncomfortable with the idea that maybe “this is it”? What does it feel like to hit a ceiling? And when you do, do you just sit there at the ceiling forever or do you start at the carpet again and climb up a whole new set of walls?
I feel like my parents always taught me about having goals, being a decent human being, and having a successful career. They never taught me about what to do once I’ve attained all that.