I Ditched My 9–5 And I’m Not Any Happier Because Of It

I learned fast that my happiness lies elsewhere

Illustration by Vivian T.

It was at the end of my college journey that I decided I really wanted to go after the idea of ‘working for myself.’ I just had no clue how that would come about. Ever since I was a kid and found out what ‘working’ was, I knew I wanted to ‘work’ creating, well, stuff. Cool stuff.Cool stuff that had value.Whatever that was.

The conviction too, was that I didn’t want to spend my days in a musty carpeted office with AC that ran too cold and an always empty water dispenser in the corner with a boss ready to shower you with stale coffee breath.

I wanted more — Or, at the very least, different

I wanted to work in a way I could express the creativity that has always been alive in me. At that point in my life I had not an idea what I wanted to do.

Among the cards were: Nursing (dawg…hell to the no, no, no), Architecture? (I dunno, the drawings looked cool…until I learned it was more math than drawing), English major? How do you even ‘work’ that thing? Umm teacher? (I can’t teach to save my life).

I ended choosing business admin. A safe bet, though in the end was still mostly a dead end choice considering my current abilities at the time (absolutely terrible at job interviews) and natural talents. A series of waiter and retail jobs later and I’ve ended up where I am now — moved as far away from my small town (VA →CA) as possible and working as a freelancer and blogger.

Once I found this and made it work for me (another story for another day), I thought this would end the long search of ‘what to do, what to do that can make me money and feed me too?’

Turns out it was only the beginning. Albeit a good beginning, because there’s still lots more exciting things to achieve, learn, and do. One thing’s clear though —

I’m not any happier working from home.

This isn’t me complaining. For the longest time it was the dream.

No bosses? No third party imposed deadlines? No commute? No work place politics? No having to pick up the slack at work and be given even more work than the others because you’re a ‘great’ worker? Sign. Me. Up.

Yes, not having to deal with all those things is some form of bliss. But this doesn’t change the fact that working for yourself brings a whole set of other problems to solve that aren’t always the most pleasant to deal with — just like any other career.

I learned fast that my happiness lies elsewhere.

The focus that cultivates happiness

Ugh. First of all I really want to get rid of that icky word — happiness. We should have a different word for it. It’s way too loaded and barely moves under its crushing weight when you focus on it solely.

Let’s call it a…busy joyous contentment. I think that’s a good way to describe ‘happiness.’ Because that’s the essence of what makes it up, really. We’ll call it ‘BJC’ for short.

I’ve realized what brings me BJC is constantly making progress on the things that matter to me.

Progress does three things for you:

  • Keeps you busy (the good kind of busy)
  • Brings you joy when you actually get to a milestone
  • Those two things combined and sustained over a period of time make you feel all the good feels — happiness, contentment, etc.

The thing is sometimes we focus on getting the next new toy that will make us feel great. Or we want the instant gratification of enjoying a nice Pasta Primavera with some fancy wine. Those things are great. And they do bring happiness — but not the sustained type.

Whether you work for yourself of have a 9–5, happiness isn’t necessarily found in the job you do but in the progress you make.

As with all things, it takes work to get to a place where you can constantly make progress on the things that matter to you. And that work comes in the form of change.

We have to be willing to change what we tend to complain about as much as we love to complain about them. If we want some busy joyous contentment in our lives, we have to be willing to change what isn’t working. Complaining by itself won’t do.

All complaining does is cement what isn’t working in your life into an escape-less loophole.

When you complain, you keep feeling like you’re trapped and unhappy. Which leads to another bout of complaints. And that’s not good for anyone involved. In the end, we have to make up our mind that we’re going to seek progress instead of things, or jolts of gratification, or staying complacent in a dead job that simply keeps you afloat (and complaining).

Then ‘busy, joyous, contentment’ is yours for the taking.

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