Photo by Natalie Holtz
I always thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I know now, after some heartache and more than a few mistakes, I really wanted to be a writer.
When I graduated from college, I became a paralegal. But all the while, my intuition gave me the Heisman. My deepest hopes and wishes, the ones I have always had, held up their arms, screaming, “Really?! We have been over this a thousand times. You want to be a writer, remember? Get out of this law firm! Go write.” Books are my thing, I majored in English Literature, etc., so deep down, I always knew what I wanted. I think each of us knows though, that given too much credit, practicality and realism can be strong dream deterrents. So, for a while, I heeded my fears and ignored my dream.
There is a happy ending to my story. One year ago, I started my happiness project called The Surfer Stoke Project. I had the idea that I wanted to dedicate one year to finding out what happiness was, and to making myself a happier person. I learned shortly after starting that others were doing something similar, and people all over the country had already started their own happiness projects. The Surfer Stoke Project was a little different, however, because I also wanted to get my community more connected. I knew connection is one of the most important components of happiness, but that we as a society are more isolated than ever before. I thought I could do something about that, and felt thrilled at the thought of trying.
When I started, I worked my day job at the law firm and wrote into the wee hours of the morning at home. I drank a lot more coffee and lost sleep, but I was thrilled because I knew I was onto something. I read scores of books about happiness and what is most important in life. I also tried to strengthen connections in my community by promoting “random acts of kindness weeks,” writing positive messages in sidewalk chalk, and even surfing in a turkey costume on Thanksgiving (last year I gobbled up some serious waves, dude). Two points stand out to me from my happiness research and thousands of man-hours.
First, neglect your dreams at your own peril. A satisfying life is one that is lived with passion and purpose. Those roads involve more risks, and whether we know it or not, many of us are taught to avoid risk. Side note: avoiding risk is also a survival instinct. It’s not easy to choose the rockier path, but as I continued on with Surfer Stoke, I began to realize if I did not take the different path, I would (most certainly) live my life wrong. We need to decide on careers for the right reasons, but if something is calling to you, if you are happier doing that thing more than you are doing anything else in your life, the money will come. Chase your dream doggedly, be persistent, and keep picking yourself back up. You will be infinitely rewarded.
The second thing I learned is we (you know, humans) are far more alike than we realize. We share many of the same fears, doubts, hopes, and wishes. We all have thoughts running through our heads constantly. You might feel alone, but rest assured that you are not, and connecting with others is one of the best ways to remind ourselves of that. Personally, I found connection to be the most important factor in being happy. Helping others, making new friends, reaching out to new people has made me an infinitely happier person. So start a conversation with a stranger or call your family more.
For Surfer Stoke, I interviewed prominent surfers like Life Rolls On founder Jesse Billauer and DeLa of the band Slightly Stoopid about happiness. The Surfer Stoke Project was featured in LOCALE Magazine’s most recent San Diego and Orange County issues. I also started my first book (yay!), and set a deadline for myself (February 1). My blog has been featured on WordPress’ Freshly Pressed and The Elephant Journal among other online publications.
I am eating Ramen and my parents raise their concerns from time to time, but it’s worth it. I think quarter-lifers need to know they should go for it. Jump off a cliff and hope you fly. Not literally, obviously, unless you have a squirrel suit or something. I think of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe when he said, “Whatever you do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.” If I can do it, anybody can.