Dear Mr President,
A few days ago my boss called me in for a conversation that should have been a simple 10 minute discussion and turned into an offer a promotion. I'm incredibly fortunate, especially in this economic climate, to be struggling to choose between the new job I'd resigned for a few weeks ago, or remaining with the my current company and be promoted. Immediately after talking with her, I sent out for advice from as many of my family and friends as I could. Their answers came back, begging more questions. "Where do you want to end up?" "What do you want for yourself in 5 years?"
This long-term planning has never been a strength of mine. I often feel as though I'm putting one foot in front of the other, taking one breath at a time, as though planning an entire day ahead is too much assumption. What do I want to be in 5 years? Happy. There are a number of concepts caught up in that; for instance, I don't think my happiness will be tied up in the amount of money I have, but I do think it will be directly related to how good I feel about my life. Am I helping others? Am I healthy? Do I have time for important things in my life? My head tells me that the quickest route to this is a high-paying promotion that will allow me the kind of freedom that financial security seems to promise; my instincts tell me that I need less stress, less chaos, that increasing my income will only increase my desire to make more money.
The more I considered this question, the more I realized I don't know, for certain, what happiness looks like. I've spent so much of my adolescence and young adulthood deeply unhappy for reasons I can't always access. I've been lonely and afraid and tired all the time. I've been paralyzed by big decisions, and avoid them as much as possible. I have lately looked around to take stock of my existence and found much of my behavior to be about survival, not happiness. Even my consideration for these two jobs is based more on how it will upset or please others, because I have no idea what will make me happy. How have I lost touch with myself so completely? I know I'm not the only one, and I know this because the self-help section of my bookstore is continuously full of bestsellers.
This can only lead me to believe that we don't, as a society, understand happiness as well as we should. Is it a matter of having lost sight of it, somewhere, or of having yet to find it at all? I don't know. I know that nothing I can earn or buy or consume or even vote for is going to secure my happiness. I know that whichever job I choose, I will wonder long at what the other would have offered, and will try to continue to make myself question what the future I want looks like, so that I'll know it, should I ever have the opportunity to choose it.
For now, I think a good night's sleep is the best choice I can make, with the hope that morning brings with it a small measure of clarity. I know that the next few days will not be easy for you, Mr. President, and I hope you know that the support and best hopes of so many Americans will be with you.