- Ainsley Thomas
How can you be happy and still striving for something better?
I believe there’s a difference between being happy and being content. I think we should all focus on attaining happiness and recognize we have the power to bring it into our lives through our reactions and attitude and mindset and gratitude. It doesn’t mean problems don’t come along, or we don’t have challenges. It means overall we wake up knowing we have a good life, and we are blessed. You can feel this no matter where you live, what you drive, how much you make, how you look, and how many friends you have. The notion that you are happy doesn’t mean you are satisfied with everything in your life. I believe that’s the feeling of being content, and that’s often the death of striving.
Before I met my husband, I had a boyfriend who complained I was too content. He said he never wanted to be that way because he wanted to constantly be driven to succeed in bigger and bigger ways and always wanted to feel that pressure to advance his career, make more money and complete more prestigious projects. He was a movie producer. It’s true what they say about working in the Los Angeles entertainment business; you’re only as good as your last movie. Before you even feel the pride and possibly accept the awards from one film, you’re already trying to position yourself to get hired for the next one – lest you are unemployed and in danger of becoming a has-been. I didn’t like that approach to life. I was happy with my life while I was with him — even though I dreamed of having children and he didn’t, even though I worked as a newspaper reporter but dreamed of a job as a TV reporter. I knew our feelings about children might change, or we might some day move on to other partners whose family goals were more aligned with our own. So I didn’t take any steps to change the relationship while I was happy with it. I also wasn’t taking too many steps to get my dream job. I had put it in the background, and he thought that made me too content. He was wrong. I didn’t forget about it. I knew I didn’t want to wake up in 10 years and realize I never achieved my dream, but at the time I was enjoying my life. I was covering the entertainment industry and interviewing celebrities and going to red carpet events and attending award show parties and hanging out in dance club VIP rooms (and partying too much. It’s before I had kids.) I knew I didn’t want to do this my whole life, but I recognized this was a special opportunity many people don’t get to live a glamorous life. I wasn’t making much money, but my position gave me incredible access to a world so many people envied. So I lived sort of on the fringes of that world, showing up in a Sentra instead of a limo and in a knock-off instead of a designer dress, but still indulging in the same exquisite food and watching the same famous music performers and interacting with the same star-studded crowd. I was certainly happy with my life but not content, because I knew I had a passion to be a TV reporter and wanted to experience that no matter where I had to go to do it. I ended up leaving Los Angeles and show business behind to go to a small Midwestern to chase my dream. I reveled in the TV News environment as much as I thought I would and made a career in that field that I loved. So my LA movie producer boyfriend was wrong. I wasn’t content and unmotivated to go after something I desperately wanted. I was happy where I was and grateful for what I had and patient enough to know I would keep reaching for my dreams and would get there eventually. (On the other hand, he got what he thought he wanted by being hired for bigger and bigger budget movies but eventually got disillusioned with the Hollywood scene and left to focus his energy and skills on an environmental organization that promoted urban sustainability, possibly realizing he wanted a purpose beyond entertaining people.) The whole happiness vs. content situation is like the work hard-play hard mantra. I’ve lived that mantra most of my life. It’s why I stayed home with my kids part-time and worked part-time. My ideal of motherhood was sitting on the floor playing board games, reading to my kids, bringing them to the zoo, going on their school field trips, running their Girl Scout troop and still working a job I loved a couple days a week. I was stuck in neutral in my career because of that choice. I didn’t progress to the bigger markets like my colleagues. But I had my eyes on the prize long term. I knew I wanted to do more in my career, but I was patient to wait until after those fun and interactive mothering years. Now that my kids are teens and don’t want me around, I am pursuing the next phase of my career. I am producing video stories focusing on a subject I deeply believe in – improving the emotional lives of working mothers. I see too many mothers who feel so overwhelmed they are not happy, even though they have what they always wanted: kids, husband, career. They are the epitome of having it all. But balancing it all is harder than they thought, especially balancing their expectations for their career and family. I want to help those mothers by introducing them to the moms who have figured out how to live a happy life despite the stresses of their career and family. It can be done, and those who are doing it share their tips and hacks and secrets in the videos I produce for my YouTube channel. I still work hard-play hard. I’m no longer devoting lots of time to be interactive in my kids’ lives because they are teens who don’t want me so involved. I’m devoting much of my time to my Working Mom Warrior brand – in my home office, writing and editing and posting. It’s pretty isolating for someone who loves to socialize. So once a week I host a trivia night. I get to command the attention of an audience for a couple hours and ramble on a microphone now and then about my life or something funny I saw or ironic that I heard and form friendships with the regulars at the bar and have a few glasses of wine and play a little pool and cut loose and stay out late and sleep in the next day. I don’t get mad at myself for not working as hard on my videos that day.
I’m living my happy life, but I’m not content. I want more for my career. I want my videos to spread my message that working moms can get to a better place emotionally with some inspiration and guidance and connection. That message will not only help them but also their children, our world’s future leaders, because happy moms often raise happy children. I think these concepts began rolling around in my brain this morning because of an odd dream I remembered vividly as I woke up. In the dream, I was on my way to an important event. I was being driven by someone else. She was going the wrong way. I was getting mad at her. She realized she went to the wrong place and turned around to head towards a different location she decided we were supposed to go, even though I still thought she was going to the wrong place. She was about to pass a restaurant where I believed the paper placemats had the address of where I thought we were supposed to be going printed on them. I told her to let me run in and grab one, so if her destination was wrong we could try mine. I got out of her car, and she immediately sped away laughing. I was in shock. My cell phone and purse were in her car. But I went in the restaurant anyway. I didn’t worry. I knew I would see her at the destination where we would both end up, and I would get my stuff back. I just had to figure out how I would get there now, because I was without transportation or my phone or wallet. I realized some of the members of the organization that was meeting at the destination were in the restaurant. They were in groups driving to the destination. One by one I asked each group if they had room for me. “Are you going to the same place? Can I ride with you?” None of them said yes. They said their cars were full. They were all members and parents and teachers from my children’s high school band program. (After being a part of band for seven years, my daughter dropped out last year in real life. I don’t see those people any more. I don’t go to the band recitals. It makes me sad, but my daughter’s happiness is more important than her being involved in so many things, which seemed to have created a crushing pressure on her that led to anxiety and depression.) In my dream, I just keep coping with each letdown. When none of the people I knew had room for me to ride with them, I found a newspaper and started reading. I decided it was good I was catching up on the news. I knew I would get to the destination; I just didn’t know how. I didn’t give up on getting there. I just took a break to avoid the stress of my unsuccessful attempts and relax my mind a bit to allow a new idea to present itself. Then I woke up. All of the elements of my odd dream and the feelings I experienced in the dream make sense in the context of a working mom’s life. While we are raising our children, many working moms still have a destination we want to reach in the future. It’s okay to slow down your pursuit of that destination to spend more time with your kids if that’s what makes you happy. (If what makes you happy is to wholeheartedly pursue your destination though it means time away from your kids, of course that’s okay too, if your children are safe and being cared for.) By slowing down your journey to get to your destination, you’re not giving up and being content with “good enough.” You are recognizing that good enough is a calm place of peace that allows you to delight in the joys of your every day life with your children, and you can pursue your dreams in a different way or at a different time. That’s what I did for years, and I’m so grateful for those times and experiences and memories in my family life and my career. Is my career where I want it to be? No. Can I still get to the next level? Yes. I just may not get there the way I thought I would. But I’m going to keep seeking that next level through hard work, internal reflection, networking, friendship, guidance and assistance. It’s okay to reach out for help. And that brings me to a question: Are you going to the same place? Can I ride with you?
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