“I’m just ready to be there,” he said. “I want to start living and be happy.”
His frustrations were not new to me because I’d experienced the hunger to get to a destination where a buffet of happiness was waiting. But after twenty years, I still haven’t reached this magical place. So where do we get the nourishment to satisfy our appetite for the perfect life? Where do we get the strength?
When I graduated from college, my goal was to find a job that would not only support me financially, but would fulfill all of my career aspirations. In my mind, everything would fall into place after that. I’d find somewhere to settle down and buy a house and start a family, all protected by a white picket fence.
But to my dismay, my first job as a manager at a J.C. Penny in an Atlanta mall didn’t fulfill my hopes and dreams. Except of course for the access to large discounts on socks and underwear.
So I went to graduate school in Connecticut (with many pairs of multi-colored boxer shorts), and received a Masters in Business Administration. This brought me to a job as a marketing manager at a uniform company in Chicago. I had a great two and a half years there, but was starving for something else. Something heartier.
Then one night as I searched the Internet for a take-out menu for the pursuit of happiness, (which I hoped could be delivered in twenty minutes or less like a pizza) I believed that I had figured out how to satisfy my hunger.
“A book,” I thought. “All I have to do is publish a book, and like Scarlett O’Hara, I will never be hungry again!”
Shortly after my realization, I moved to New York City to study writing. Finding a tolerable job that supported me proved to be difficult, but I focused on the day a book with my name would sit in a library. I thought this would also be the day that I’d reach this wonderful, perfect life where I could feast and satisfy my hunger pangs forever and ever.
After eight long years, I published a novel. Seeing it on bookstore shelves gave me a feeling I’d never experienced before. For a short time, I thought I had arrived at my life’s destination. For a short time, I thought everything would fall into place and I could finally start living happily ever after. For a short time, I tricked myself into believing that I wasn’t hungry anymore.
But then, my stomach started growling again. My body and mind were exhausted and couldn’t find the strength to continue the journey for food. Instead, I sat and starved.
For several months, I thought about and analyzed the past twenty years. Where, when and how had I gotten off of the path to this perfect life? Why did I have to keep traveling instead of just arriving?
As I thought about everything I’d been through on the journey, my mood began to change. Memories of my first fall in Connecticut, a summer of beach volleyball on Lake Michigan in Chicago, walks through Central Park in springtime, all made me smile.
Why had I expected to reach a place where I would live happily ever after like an animated movie? Even Shrek had parts two, three and four.
I’m not saying that I’m unhappy with my current situation. It satisfies many of my needs and wants. I love writing this column to you, and becoming reacquainted with my family and the place where I grew up. Living in my childhood home brings me great pleasure, even if there are challenges like hunger pangs or being forced to cut my mother’s toenails.
What I am trying to say is that if I ignore the hunger out of fear that there is a time limit on reaching the ultimate destination, I won’t be living my life. There is a lot more I want to accomplish. Other places I want to live. Different jobs I want to work.
I think it is wonderful for those who have arrived at the perfect life that satisfies all of their needs and hunger. Although I can never know for sure, I assume that it was a long and hard journey.
For those of us still traveling, we must keep our heads up and enjoy the ride. Although the destination might seem like Utopia, most of its value comes from the experiences it takes to get there. Through determination, hard work and faith we will reach it. By standing up to the fear and believing in ourselves, we will satisfy the hunger and find our strength.