Sunday, April 17, 2011

You deserve more

We hear a million movie lines in our lives, but every once in a while we hear one that latches onto our heart and stays rooted there. I don't mean those heavily-quoted movie lines, or the ones that make the whole theatre laugh until they cry. I mean lines that touch you.

One of the lines I treasure most, which I think should be highlighted somewhere in history as one of the greatest assertions from a love story and, incidentally, an explanation for most of the human experience, was from "Me and You and Everyone We Know," Miranda July's quirky love story about the unusual path of a lonely shoes salesman and an equally-lonely artist who chaperons the elderly for income.

The artist finds herself in the shoe store, waiting while a friend shops.
The shoe salesman glances at her feet and sees that her shoes have rubbed sores into them. 

He notes this observation out loud to her.
She says, "I mean, they kind of rub my ankles, but all shoes do that. I have low ankles."
He looks her in the eye.
"You think you deserve that pain, but you don't."

You think you deserve that pain, but you don't.

That line may be one of the most poignant articulations ever made. It is a single icicle cutting down from the eaves of an isolated country home in the dead of winter: the accumulation of an entire season, succinctly summarized.

Too many people go through life never hearing this, never having someone say it to them - not just in the case of bad shoes, but concerning most everything - in life, in love - and especially in our careers. We tolerate jobs that cut into our well-being.

While eating lunch with my colleagues in our corporate cafeteria, I looked around the room at everyone else eating.
I turned to my coworker and asked, "do you think these people are happy?
"Right now they are."
"Do you ever think about that?" I asked. "Whether people are happy?"
He stared at me. "Do you really think anybody is happy with their job?"

And there it was.

We grow up dreaming of being astronauts and princesses. We're told we can achieve anything we want. We're promised the world and permitted to dream beyond its limits. But at some point along the way, we abandon the concept of happiness altogether. We build lifestyles of cubicles and commutes; we do what we think we should. And then we wake up filled with dread on Monday morning, and suddenly think it's ludicrous that anybody would expect otherwise. "Nobody likes their job," we justify, "so I shouldn't expect to either."  

You think you deserve that pain, but you don't.

You deserve to face Monday with something more than despair. You deserve to feel excited about something more than Friday evenings. You deserve to feel that your happiness still counts.

I expect to like my job - even my Monday mornings. I think happiness should be a standard against which life decisions are measured, and that any decisions that perpetually undermine it should be regarded as poor ones. Don't bind yourself up in a mortgage if you're going to use it as an excuse to stay in a job you hate. Don't move to a city you hate for a job you hate just because it pays well. Don't arrange your life so that you work an hour from where you live if you're going to spend the commute missing your children grow up. Don't use your low ankles as an excuse to settle for shoes that hurt your feet; don't use your steady paycheck as an excuse for a job that methodically carves the life out of you.

I think happiness is a basic necessity. I expect happiness.
And, in the words of our shoe salesman: "I am prepared for amazing things to happen."
I think I deserve it. And I believe everyone we know - and you - do too.

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