Optimize for happiness
After college I was off to the races. I optimized for success, impact, and visibility, thinking that if I were to hit one or two, my real goal would follow: happiness.
Man, was I wrong.
I don’t regret any of the amazing things that happened in my 20s — working for MTV, getting to know Helen Thomas, working for Katie Couric at the CBS Evening News, and being one of the first 400 employees at Twitter. All of it made me feel like I was on a rocket ship, dangerously and excitedly in close orbit of the sun. I was an adrenaline junkie and my career delivered high after high.
Three years ago, I thought to myself I have it all. I had been at Twitter for a little over a year and I felt unstoppable and on top of my game. But happy? Not quite sure. I realize now that I had equated career achievement to personal happiness. Success can indeed be part of a full life, but it can’t be all of life. At least not for me.
Life had become a hamster wheel of work, coffee, email, work, coffee, email, winks of sleep and repeat. In my role getting Twitter’s news partnerships off the ground, I had the privilege of consulting some of the top newsrooms in the world. And yet in my moments of high visibility, I felt more isolated than ever.
Then one Saturday morning, things changed. I was doing my weekend cleaning as the sun poured in through the bay windows of my apartment. All of a sudden it felt as if the earth tilted on its axis. Everything physical faded away and I became remarkably aware of my inner self. I sat down, bewildered and newly open. I knew in this moment it was time to change course. It had been seven years since my mom passed away, and I had chased success as a way to diminish the grief. It was time to face the past, come to peace with that chapter of my life, and give myself the chance to find happiness.
In the days and months that followed, I fumbled around finding new joys in life. I put my phone on airplane mode for a hour a day. I learned to surf. I watched films without checking my email. Before this, I had been trying to be in a million places at once. It depleted the completeness of the moments that made up my life.
Little by little I reclaimed my personal time, and to my surprise, it helped me to be better at work. I was more focused when I was there and I thought more about what I could contribute as opposed to what I could take.
I’m now starting my fifth year in San Francisco, a colorful, hilly place with curious people and earthy motivations. In a town ripe with stories of comings and goings, I wonder if this is meant to be where I set down roots, or just a stop along the way. I’ll be forever linked to this place where I closed out my 20s and had a profound internal shift. Or to put it in classic San Francisco terminology, this city was the site of my Saturn return.
Last month, my partner was admitted into a competitive painting program on the east coast. I’m not sure what I’ll do quite yet — stay, or go. But what I do know is this: I will do my best to optimize for happiness.
The rest will follow.