Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where is the joy?

The seemingly inexhaustible four letter word used during last year’s presidential campaign. It is what this nation needed then and it is what this nation is still trying to find now. Our world has never seen a convergence of crises like our current state of affairs and while many people claim we are on the upswing of this recession/housing crisis/financial meltdown, we seem to be in that period of time where things will continue to get worse before they get better. A year ago our nation overwhelmingly chose the one who promised change because frankly, no one was happy. In my part of the world there seems to be a pall cast over the community and at times, business owners in our little hamlet post signs that simply read “smile.” But what is the relationship between hope and happiness? It seems to be a chicken and an egg problem. Is hope born out of a state of happiness or is joy a byproduct of being hopeful?

The October 10th -16th, 2009 issue of the Economist had an interesting article titled “Hating what you do”. It certainly caught my eye, not that I could ever say I hate what I do because, I am, at the moment, going about the business of raising my beautiful children. There is undeniable joy in watching two young people sprout their wings and expand their minds. However, being a stay-at-home mother does not hold the same allure it once did for me. Now that both my children are in school full-time, and the prospect of adopting our third child is turning to dust after 4 years of waiting, I have more time to reflect on my life. What defines my life? Honestly? Laundry. Grocery shopping. Hunting for pants long enough and shoes wide enough for these growing children. I am no longer the mainstay in the budding growth of my babies’ minds or solely responsible for keeping them moving. They have their teachers and PE instructors now leading the charge each day. So where am I? Truthfully, I’m a bit lost.

About a year ago, on a three-day weekend in Vermont over Columbus Day, I realized I was desperate to go back to work. I loved working and left my career as a meeting and event planner because, for as well as I could plan the events of other people’s lives, I could not execute the expansion of my own family. After too much time trying to conceive, I realized that my job, the travel, and the demands of my clients could be possibly contributing to the failure to do the one thing in life I knew I was born to do – become a mother.

So certain in my conviction that I would thrive as a stay-at-home mother, I left no inroads, no ties, back to my career as a meeting and event planner. I didn’t burn any bridges but I didn’t keep my toes wet either. Nine years later I find myself with a big bowl of regret each morning after I drop my kids off at school. I have been sending out resumes for 12 months now but jobs in my field are far and few between. When they do pop up, my 9-year employment gap and I can’t compete with the fresh twenty-somethings with current experience. I am not saying I am not fresh. I am. Probably more in the language department but nonetheless, I am smart, creative, and hardworking. But my downfall is that I know more about the shoe selection at Target than what is going on now in hotel contract negotiation. So while I don’t HATE what I do, I connect with this article’s description of how the feeling of stagnation can demoralize people to the point of lower productivity and a higher level of resentment. If you examine the internal state of any company these days I am sure you will find that the level of unhappiness amongst its employees is taking a toll not only on morale, but also the level of productivity and perhaps the quality of work.

Like in any relationship, there has to be a free flowing, two-way street of give and take. We’ve all been in that relationship where one person does all the giving while the other person does all the taking. Those relationships don’t work out very well, do they? The giver finally gives up when the well of generosity runs dry because it isn’t being replenished with gratitude, care, or love from the other half of the relationship. This equation is not just reserved for personal relationships but can be used to describe the worker/employer relationship as well. When you are feeling taken advantage of, used up, or under-valued, the bonds of that relationship are going to weaken and, in many cases, snap. I believe this is what is going on all over the world at work and at home.

People lucky enough to have a job have had enough of feeling used up and under-valued. Bonuses have been cut, salaries lowered, jobs eliminated, promotions delayed, and hiring frozen. Yet the cost of living still continues to rise. How can people not be stressed out when their family’s means for life has at best stayed level and at the worst evaporated, while the cost of food, clothing, and heating your home keeps going up? Add to that, non-profit organizations are still vying for your charitable dollars and volunteer organizations are still hounding you for your time. I think most people feel pecked to death by the end of the day. Where is the joy in that?

At the moment, in my jobless state, I am a co-President of the PTO for my children’s school. We are having an incredibly difficult time trying to engage a stable base of volunteers for our events and programs this year. From what I heard at this week’s district-wide PTO meeting, it is a problem across the entire town. Where are the volunteers? Well according to an article in October 15th’s Boston Globe, “Many parents report volunteer-related angst. Among the worries, taking on too much and doing a lousy job - or taking on too little and becoming the object of gossip.“ I found the article to be a puff piece with little value, because while it acknowledged the economy as a contributing factor to the difficulty in securing volunteers, it focused on social implications as being the main cause. The truth of the matter is that when people can barely do for themselves, they certainly do not have the funds, energy or drive to do for others. It’s that simple.

So where on the merry-go-round of life do we find happiness and hope? Does one come before the other? Or do they co-exist? My guess would be the latter and right now in this country, and in most countries across the globe, we are in a state where without one, we don’t have the other. As the world gets back on track and people feel more safe and secure, I am sure we will see the clouds of despair dissipate.


Chatty Cricket said...

I love you and your thought provoking blogging. At the moment I was considering whether the Sesame Street representation of Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy was accurate enough to be hysterical. My assessment? No.

Ah Hope. I dunno S, these days I wouldn't say I'm without Hope (because that sounds dramatic and foreboding and is not at ALL where I'm going with this), but Hope means keeping a giant eye turned towards the future and I want to enjoy my present. In times like this (to be cliche about it), I really can't do anything but be in the present, and find happiness in the now. We've simplified our lives, and we're happier for it. And the biggest change that has lead to the simplifying seems to be a general outlook on our own parts more than anything else.

I find myself annoyed at a LOT of what I read in the Globe (which makes me feel like a crotchety old lady sometimes as I yell at the article or even WRITE TO THE AUTHOR, WHO DOES THAT?! Crotchety old ladies!!!), and I actually find the opposite to be true for myself. When we're in a situation like this, I am more motivated to do better by what we have- MORE motivated to make Lady's school a better place, MORE motivated to make our house a home, MORE motivated to set a happy tone and to find joy in the everyday.

So although I wouldn't want to say that I'm without Hope, it's just so far off my radar to be looking ahead when I really want to be focusing on the now.

(and I'm sorry if this is scattered, but I wrote it while fending off a very small person who was wielding a tractor and screaming non words at me while trying to poke at the keys from around the back of the laptop)

Meg said...

really thoughtful S. I'm kind of in the re-inventing or finding myself phase too......not sure what I will do, which way I will go or what will come of all of this introspection- but as far as hope....I'm with Chatty Cricket- I am hopeful but thinking about it isn't my top priority...we've always lived a pretty responsible life so I'm not as personally affected by most of what is going on (although I agree that decisions being made will affect us all at some point in time)I'm kind of keeping my own corner of my universe clean, happy and respectful! I love being a mom and until I figure out what I want for myself....I'll keep the PLT happy, the classrooms happy, the laundry done and dinner on the table......I do know though....I have something else waiting for me- just not sure what it is yet! Lets have that chat soon, okay? When is good for you?
ps- ever think about writing? this is a really good piece.