Why Mess With Happiness?

by Gabriel Urbina


Unconventional changes in career plans, strain the relationship of a young couple.

"If you are happy, why mess with it? And that's when Megan went out the door. She's been gone for three days now, and I don't know if she is coming back or not", I told my sister Francine who had dropped by my apartment, bearing the gift of coffee and bagels.

My sister said, "What happened, Dan? Start at the beginning. Happiness is not something a couple quarrels about!"

"She thinks I don't have any ambition, because I quit law school, and I started working full-time as a paralegal."

"Well, she must see you as a failure, or as least becoming one. You know what I think? This is rooted in the fact that both of her parents are achievers in academia. They are already full professors, at a relative young age"

"So, you think she is trying to follow in her parents' footsteps?"

"I think so, but she also wants her boyfriend to achieve professional success. Look, she is a graduate student; she is a teaching assistant, and her path will lead

eventually to a doctorate. And here you are quiting law school, and working as a paraprofessional. It breaks a certain bond. She wanted you to achieve success as well."

"Then part of conflict between us, is that we have a different concept of success. Megan's emphasis is academic success; and mine is to be at peace with myself, and my surroundings. My vision of success has little to do with society's expectations."

"I think so," said Francine.

I was very happy that my sister had come to visit. I knew it would help me discuss the situation with her.

Francine and Sebastian had a successful marriage. They knew each other since middle school, and by the time they were in high school they knew they would be together in their adult lives. They didn't want an exciting life; they both wanted to have an optimal family life together. Sebastian wanted to become an accountant; Francine wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. They were in agreement about this family vision. That vision, that common purpose, helped them plan their college coursework. They both attended the same community college. Their goal was not a getting a degree, but to acquire the skills necessary to build their future together. Sebastian took every Accounting, Business, and Computer courses available. In one year he got a job as a junior accountant in a medium-size accounting firm. Completion of a degree would come later. Francine took courses in personal and family finance, a sociology course about Family and Marriage, and courses about nutrition, and wellness. She also took Spanish courses, because she wanted to communicate with her (future) in-laws who did not speak English. Definitely, Francine and Sebastian worked hard to achieve the kind of success that leads to happiness.

Sebastian's parents were very proud of their son's achievements. They never pressured him to do anything; they just wanted him to be happy. In their eyes, they saw Sebastian achieving incredible success. Our parents were blue collar workers; but Sebastian's parents were extremely poor. For them, success meant a string of small successes; at the beginning finding day labor jobs three or four days in a week; then finding more steady work; it meant having money for rent and food for a month, without knowing what the following month would bring. And, most importantly, providing for their son so he could get an education. It was impossible for me and my sister not to see the contrast between their lives and ours. It goes without saying, the contrast with Megan's life was even more striking.

Francine and I were on our second cup of coffee, when he heard the door being opened, and we saw Megan come in. She gave Francine a hug, and a kiss on the cheek to me. Francine said she had to go, but Megan asked to stay. This is what she said to us.

"I went to stay with my parents. I needed to be alone to think about our future, and about our last conversation. I left disagreeing with you Dan, but the more I reflected about our life together, and about our career paths, the more I began to agree with you. I realized that I didn't want to be a professor like my parents. What I really like is the college environment, the college life, because I grew up in the middle of it. I called a friend who works in Administration, and told her about my predicament. She said she had to make a phone call, and that she would call me back soon. She didn't call me back; but I received a call from the Director of Admissions. She said that one of the Admissions Representatives was going on maternity leave for three months. They needed to fill her spot rather quickly. Would I be interested in working as an Admissions Assistant on a temporary contract? I said yes. So, I'm giving up my teaching assistantship. I wll finish my master's degree program; but I am embarking on a new journey. What do you guys think?"

Francine and I approved wholeheartedly.

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