The other day I was having lunch with my friend Bob. During the course of our conversation, I asked him how his daughter Jenna was doing. Jenna was away at college studying to become an elementary school teacher. Now in her fifth year, she was planning on graduating this next May.
Bob told me that Jenna had returned home for the Thanksgiving holiday. She was visibly upset but she didn’t want to talk about it until after Thanksgiving day. So on Friday, she sat down with Bob and his wife Kathy.
"Mom and dad, I have something that I need really to talk with you about."
Bob told me that his stomach was in knots as he feared the worse...but he let her go on.
"I know that I’ve been in school now for over four years at a great expense to the both of you but..."
At this point she burst into tears and blurted out in one rambling sentence, "I just don’t want to be a teacher anymore...I know this is what I wanted to do four years ago...but I didn’t know back then what I know today...I should have figured it out after the first couple of years...but I thought teaching would eventually grow on me...but it didn’t...and now I don’t want to spend the next 30 years doing something I hate!..."
Bob and Kathy were, in one sense, relieved that Jenna’s news wasn’t something a lot more serious...but it was still a disappointment to the both of them. Although Jenna was attending a State university, the cost of tuition, room and board over the past four years was still nearing the $100,000 mark. To top it off, their son, Jack, was now a senior in high school and looking forward to attending college next year.
Bob and Kathy took turns interrogating Jenna in order to learn why she was now so disenchanted with teaching...perhaps in a final attempt to get her to reconsider her decision to quit the program...but Jenna just kept repeating that teaching was not what she wanted to do in her life and that she was just too impatient to work with small children.
After about an hour, the discussion turned away from trying to get Jenna to reconsider teaching, to what Jenna’s new career plans were and how much of her previous schooling could be salvaged and applied to her new field of study.
Jenna told her parents that she was still interested in helping people, but now she wanted to do it as a physical therapist. Her general education requirements had all been met over the last four years...however, she would need to take several prerequisite courses in life sciences, math, and chemistry as well as 28 course hours in her new major. This would mean that she would most likely be at school for at least another two years.
As Bob told me his story, I felt bad for Bob and Kathy’s new financial burdens. I tried to console him by reminding him that his daughter’s long-term happiness was indeed the most important thing here.
"Bob", I replied, "Jenna would have been miserable for the next 40 years and I’m sure you and Kathy would have ended up paying a great toll for it in the end. It’s probably better to discover the truth now than to wait."
He looked at me and told me that he was actually proud of Jenna for having the intestinal fortitude to do something that she knew would be difficult. Instead of trying to please everyone else, she took a hard look at her situation, determined that she had made a wrong turn and decided that the best course of action was to just start over.
"How many people would have the courage and heart to do that?", he asked me rhetorically. "It’ll be tough...but we can manage...besides...she has to do the hard work to get through this new curriculum."
The topic soon then turned to other things, but I couldn’t help but think about what Bob had said about people making hard decisions that change and impact their lives...despite the hardships it would surely bring in the short-term.
Many times we know that we’re traveling down the wrong path (or more aptly...a path that we know that isn’t right for us)...perhaps we’re in a bad marriage, or at job that we hate, or maybe we’re questioning our faith in God or chosen religious affiliation. We continue down this wrong path because changing course is hard and most likely it will negatively affect other people along the way...people that we love and care about.
So do we continue down this wrong path because of duty and/or guilt or do we try to change our situation to hopefully bring us happiness?
Often we choose to continue on living in our unhappy situation due to fear and/or a sense of duty or obligation.
We stay in the bad marriage because we fear spending the rest of our life alone. We worry about what our friends and relative would think. We think that our kids would rather have parents who remain together and fight rather than parents who are civil and are separated. We believe that our spouse will one-day change and happiness will suddenly arrive.
We remain in a dead-end job putting up with belligerent bullying bosses and low pay because of loyalty. We have low self-esteem thinking that no other company would ever hire us. We read in the newspaper about the high unemployment and rationalize that we need the money more than a rewarding place to ply our trade. We have financial obligations so we cannot take a risk.
We perhaps grew up with a particular religious affiliation so we stay with it although our beliefs have long since changed. We rationalize our behavior by telling ourselves that our faith is just waning as we go through the empty motions while at service. We can’t leave the congregation...what will other people think? We fear of being ostracized and outcast in the community.
So we continue down our paths....helplessly lost...unwilling to admit that we’ve made a mistake or in constant fear that the new path may be worse than the path we’re currently on.
Maybe we will muster the courage to say "enough is enough"...go back to the beginning and start all over again (although like in Jenna’s situation...we rarely need to start over from square one but rather we might only need to take few steps back)...
Sure...the road we’re currently on may lead us to the place we want to go...but then...it may not...don’t be afraid to change course if need be...
Happiness is about being on the right path with the right people...choose your path well... Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we hope that our paths will someday meet.
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