Happiness Is a ChoiceAug 30, 2023
I was 28 and had just finished a world class MBA programme. I was working in a dream job for a multinational company in Switzerland. I was living in a dream little Swiss town with a beautiful lake. I was living a dream life. But whose dream was it?
One morning I left all this and started an eight-month trip through Africa. The reason why I did it was that I was not happy with the so-called dream life I had. Did I find happiness in Africa? At times yes, at times no. Did I feel I was living my truth? Absolutely. And this is where true happiness lies.
And now, 20 years later, looking back at this decision I can see that I was right. Leaving my so called dream life only helped me find another dream life and then another one, each one closer to my truth. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
This fragment from my book “Through Dust and Dreams” is dedicated to all of you who feel trapped in someone else’s dream life. Go find your own!
THE office was empty and I was the first person in, so no different from the usual start to the day. Only that this morning I wasn’t there to send out CVs. I was there to think and to take a decision. I had spoken to my friends, I had rehearsed the pros and the cons, and I had gone to London and come back. I had met the guys, chatted and thought of everything again and again. My mind seemed incapable of reaching a decision.
Through the glass walls I saw my boss entering his office. This was the ideal moment; I couldn’t allow myself to miss it. There was no more time to think, no more time not to be ready. I just went after him and I suddenly told him that I wanted to resign.
He leant back on his chair and his eyes looked steadily into mine. He was my boss, my mentor, the one who had hired me and bet his own reputation for me, a young woman with no experience but “lots of potential”, fresh out of a big-brand MBA. I knew he wanted very much to see me promoted into a managerial position.
He spoke with a slow voice and even his harsh Dutch accent seemed softer. He asked me why I wanted to leave. I said I wasn’t happy, that I wasn’t feeling like I was walking my true path. For a while he looked at me quietly and then he exploded:
“Are we talking bullshit again? I thought you had come to your senses. What are you really looking for? What is this ‘being happy’? Do you think these people working here are waking up every morning with these stupid thoughts in their heads? Do you think I can afford to think about that? Am I really happy?”
The violence in his voice surprised me. I kept quiet, not sure what would come next.
“Listen to me and listen well. Nobody in this world, in this century, is truly happy. Nobody is walking his own path. This is something that does not exist. This is something we fabricate in our brains at some young age and it’s something we grow out of when we become true adults. Come on! Wake up! Do you really know anybody who’s ‘walking his own path’?”
For a fraction of a second the image of Chris by the fire flashed through my eyes. I still kept quiet and he continued in a calmer voice.
“I told you things would change. I have a new assignment for you, a new position: it will be better this time. It’s OK, you’ve gone through a bad period. But that’s over now and you’ll be a lot happier in your new role.”
Then, silence. I kept mine and he kept his. He probably used the same silence technique I was so familiar with. He who speaks first loses.
I thought of what he said and I knew it might be true. I might be happier in my new position. I thought about the security I was about to leave and about the light of a full moon on an African plain. And I knew that this was my moment and mine alone. And nobody could do for me what I was about to do. I spoke first. But this time I meant to win.
“Look. I have taken a decision. I want to leave.”
Silence again and then the last test.
“Are you absolutely sure?”
By then I felt lighter. The hard part was over. Actually, it was all over, there was no way back. Yes, I was sure. He told me to sort out the details with HR. There was nothing more to say.
He didn’t answer. I left. I went to my desk, sat down and froze there for a while, on my everyday chair, in front of my computer not yet turned on. I had just changed the course of my life and didn’t know exactly what would come next.
(Fragment from "Through Dust and Dreams", 2014)
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