Happiness vs Success (or: Can you have everything and nothing at the same time?)

I’ve been avoiding writing for a couple weeks now. The fact is: there is so much going on, and I can’t seem to make sense of it. But it’s pretty stupid of me to ignore writing so that I can figure things out, since writing is my best tool for figuring things out.

How do you measure happiness? How do you measure success?

For many, happiness and success mean the same thing. For some, they are completely different and mutually exclusive. An uptight CEO may go home to an empty mansion and be wildly successful but completely unhappy. A poor family may struggle just to make ends meet but cherish their moments together; maybe they’re not successful but they’re happy. But some say you can’t be successful unless you are also happy. They argue that the above example of the CEO is neither successful nor happy, but that the family example portrays true success because the family is happy.

In my company, the question gets posed often: “What does success mean to you?”

Usually it’s not on such a grandiose level as what I am referring to. My boss, Phil, cares a lot about me…but he’s typically not asking me to be philosophical. Most of the time, the question is only referring to a specific situation. Like my recent project, Project X. [Which, by the way, got canceled but recently revived. Yes. That's right. So in two weeks I will resurrect this two-million dollar beast of a baby I have been conceiving the last thirteen months. Excitement but also nervousness abounds!]. Phil is typically asking me what success means today.  Or in the meeting we are in. He is rarely, if ever, asking me what success means to me overall.

But with the recent developments, I have to ask myself the question: What does success mean to me? And what does happiness mean to me?

I am part of a women’s group at work that has been tasked with reading the wonderful book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. It’s a great book. If you haven’t read it, you should.

I try to go to the gym at my factory for a half hour each day. I find this time to be my moment away from work, away from my friends/boyfriend/dog/boss, and it keeps me happy. Coincidentally, I read The Happiness Project while on the elliptical or bike.

Gretchen poses some great questions and ideas about happiness and what it has to do with your family, your work, the way you approach yourself, etc.

So inevitably, she gets me thinking. What do I want in life? How do I get from where I am to where I want to be? And will getting there make me happy (something she calls the Arrival Fallacy)? Will it make me successful? Will it do both, or neither?

I’ve been recently debating whether or not to move to a factory in Chicago. I would be doing similar engineering work and I would stay with this great company, both of which relax me and make the decision a bit easier. I would also be close to my sister, who is pretty much my best friend. And close to a city that makes me come alive. A city that I almost cry every time I leave it because I feel that intensely bonded to it.

But I ask myself if this decision will make me happy.

My boss asks me if the decision will make me successful.

Phil is biased. He’s been in the paper portion of our company his entire career, 22 years. He’s been through NINE promotions in that time and he’s met a lot of great people and worked on some kick-ass projects. He likes me. He sees potential in me. And he worries I will make a bad career move by going to this factory in Chicago.

I, on the other hand, am not really worried about my career. I have this crazy confidence in my work-self that I wish I had in my overall-self. I recognize that (at work) I am very good at what I do, I make friends/allies easily, I get shit done, and I get recognized for these things by others.

In my mental debates, I worry about the other stuff: Will I make friends outside work? Will I like my apartment? How will being single again feel (I have pretty much arrived at the fact that my relationship with Sean will need to end for me to move)? Will I be able to write in my free time, hopefully eventually landing me a career in writing — my biggest dream? Will the crime rates get to me? Will the wind get to me? How will Rocco (my dog) like it? Will my furniture fit in my tiny apartment? Will I go broke living in a city, despite my solid income? Will I disappoint people here by leaving?

Will I be happy?

I don’t ask myself, “Will I be successful?” I believe that the questions above are more important.

While Phil rambles on about how I may be forgotten going from a factory with 2200 employees to a factory with 42 employees and how I will make less money over the course of my career and how yaddayaddayadda….I am running through the possibilities of my future days in Chicago. Waking up in the morning, looking out my window to the city, going to work, spending time with my sister at her apartment or trying a new restaurant, dating again…it’s exciting but it’s terrifying. Maybe the terror is part of why it’s so exciting.

Sometimes when girls hang out  a lot, their menstrual cycles align. Interestingly enough, my two best girlfriends and I have aligned our quarter-life-crisis cycles. We are simultaneously trying to decode what happiness is for us and how we can make moves towards it. Lauren has secured confirmation that she can go to the job she’s been dying to do for years at this time next year, and Morgan is investigating ways she can move into a more analytic field at our company Headquarters (in the city her parents live in — double win!)

I’m going to Chicago this week. Friday I will see the factory and meet the engineers there. Then I’ll spend some time with my sister on the weekend. I am hoping so badly that I get a feeling. A gut feeling. That tells me where I belong. That tells me what will make me happy.

I think I have a starving artist living inside of me.

To be honest, I’d take the poor family over the CEO any day.

About factorymaid

I am a 20-something living in Rural, USA. As an engineer for a worldwide famous consumer products company, I manage million-dollar projects in a manufacturing environment. I like to write about what it's like to be a woman in a factory of men. But there's a lot more to me than my career. I have a very storied past. Check out my "About Me" section and my blog posts to find out more! Enjoy! :)

Posted on March 11, 2013, in Engineering, Family, fear, Fitness, Manufacturing, Relationships, Work, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. You’re at a fork in the road of your life. Which ever way you choose, no regrets! Good luck and keep writing!

  2. I love that you are able to keep such a sense of optimism about things. I also love the idea of a quarter-life crisis. I sort of wish I could go back and have one now! I suspect success isn’t making money, or getting what you want, or even being happy; it might be simply knowing what you want from your life in the first place. That’s something I think few people ever quite figure out.

  1. Pingback: Are you successful | Merk & Her Mastiff

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