Letting Happiness Find You.
I’ve placed a lot of emphasis throughout my life on the idea of “doing the right thing.” I’m not talking about actually doing my laundry before I run out of clothes or anything, or recycling for that matter (for all of the environmental science courses and east coast upbringing I’ve had, I really ought to be much better at that by now…) I’m talking more about the elusive art of choosing what’s in my best interest. Historically speaking, I tend to exhaust an extraordinary amount of time and energy to insure that I have listened to myself so wholeheartedly that I will never have to suffer through waking up in my old age and wishing I had listened more closely. For someone so obsessed with not having regrets, it’s ironic that my biggest and perhaps only regret to date is the amount of time I’ve spent obsessing over the very idea of being regret-free.
I struggle immensely with putting an enormous amount of pressure on myself to always choose as wisely as possible. I can even see some of my friends in my mind as they’re reading this, nodding their heads in acknowledgement that I, Laura Max, am royally obsessed with making the perfect choice...whatever the hell that is. (Author's note: it doesn't exist. Trust me.) What I find interesting, though, is the that things that have served my best interest the most are things I was more or less forced into participating in, things I had no control over and thought would surely be to my detriment.
Take the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus, for example. For those of you who didn’t wear out two VHS tapes of this ‘90s classic when you were a kid (a la yours truly), the film revolves around an aspiring composer, Mr. Holland, who longs to have his compositions heard all over the world. Hoping to pile together the funds he’ll need to take time off and compose full time, Mr. Holland gets a job teaching music at a local school where he imagines he’ll only be working for a few years. Only a short time into what should have been a brief teaching career, his wife Iris gets pregnant, essentially forcing him to continue working and spend the rest of his working life teaching to support his family. Mr. Holland exudes bitterness as he struggles with living a life that feels far from what he had planned for himself, but then he meets 18-year old Rowena, the gorgeous star of the high school musical he’s directing. With phenomenal talent, she follows Mr. Holland’s direction and plans to make a break for show business in New York City, but to Mr. Holland’s surprise, she asks him to follow her so they can both have the life they’ve imagined, chasing their dreams. It’s only when Mr. Holland makes an active choice to turn down this beautiful woman’s request in favor of the life he’s made for himself that he realizes the reality he was forced into is the one he would have chosen all over again if given the chance.
Ultimately, Mr. Holland gets to live in the relief that he didn’t mess everything up when he went with the flow of life – perhaps the flow of life was even better than what he’d originally wanted for himself. Unforeseen and forced change in direction is uncomfortable and terrifying, but many times we get an opportunity later on to go down the road we thought we should have chosen in the first place. When we ultimately choose our current lives instead of what we think they should look like, we understand that we haven’t been led entirely astray by the non-negotiable forces of the world around us.
Often I am carried somewhere I’m sure I have no business being, only to find out after I’ve arrived there that it’s something I subconsciously wanted the whole time. I can say at this point that without fail, if I am stuck somewhere I feel I don’t belong, life will give me an opportunity to either see that I do belong there or allow me to choose a different direction. I am never without hope if I am not without the willingness to see that my dreams might be coming true in ways I couldn’t have planned myself. The outcomes of where I’ve “chosen” to go, or rather where I’ve been pushed and shoved, are usually not what I planned on.
Most of the time, they’re better.