But… a lot of the world didn’t. In fact, the majority of the people that I cared so much about, supported me. Sure they disagreed and still do, but they gave me support. And, strangely enough, my relationships with almost all those who judged and pressured me the most throughout my life somehow improved. By leaps and bounds. The judgments and the pressure disappeared and were replaced by love. From both sides.
And with each major and difficult life change I made, something truly phenomenal started happening.
Person after person after person in my life confided in me things that they never had been able to unburden to anybody. Things that I never would have guessed.
When I left the church, close friends, family members, neighbors, and even church leaders told me that they struggled believing. Many people told me they wished they could leave but couldn’t. They’ve worked to be good members of their churches. They’ve fought to believe. And no matter how hard they try, they just can’t. Many of them told me stories of pressure and judgment that were so harshly similar to the stories that graced the pages of my own life.
When I got divorced, close friends, family members, neighbors, and colleagues began telling me of how miserable they were in their own marriages. I’ve been told by many people that they’ve worked on their marriages, they’ve fought for their marriages, and no matter how hard they try, they just can’t be happy. The emotions and traps they felt pinned beneath were so harshly similar to those from which I had just freed myself.
And since I quit my job, I’ve had several people ask me how I ever found the courage to do it. How did I get the brass to follow my dreams? How did I look “responsibility” in the eye and flip it the bird? The longing in their eyes is always so thick, so heavy.
I haven’t just had a handful of people confide these things to me. I’ve had probably more than sixty in the past two years. And so many of these people know one another. They live next to each other. They work with each other. And some of them are getting the pressure and judgment that they hate from each other of all people!
And do you know what I’ve learned in all of it?
I’ve learned that happiness is more important than anything else.
And when I say anything, I mean anything.
Because if you’re not happy, you can’t let go of yourself long enough to truly be there for others. To truly love others. Not the way you’re supposed to. And that includes your kids.
Instead, the people in your life become your happiness crutches and you become the manipulator of those crutches. Unhappy people often force their principles onto others. They guilt their beliefs onto others. They are usually pushy and harsh about what is right and wrong. They work endlessly to squash those around them into these very specific molds that they think will somehow fulfill them.
So often they look at others as nothing more than fancy props to make their own lives seem better. My children need to be perfect so that I look better. My spouse needs to be perfect so that I look better. Everyone who surrounds me… they need to be perfect. So that I look better.
Because no matter how hard I try, I’m so damned imperfect. And how else am I going to cover that up?
And while we use others for our crutches, they use us for theirs. And while we demand perfection and certain action and attitudes, so do they.
And pretty soon you loathe me. And I loathe you. And we all loathe everybody else. We loathe so many of the very people we love and can’t live without. Deep down. And we don’t even know it.
And we get to this point for one reason.
We yearn to be happy.
We are desperate to be happy.
And sometimes we’ve already given everything we can to our current situations.
And sometimes, for reasons we can’t find, that isn’t enough.
Well, there is a reason for that, you know…
People change. People grow. People evolve.
And not everybody is compatible with everybody else. And not every belief sits well with every person. And not every path in life is a path that the entire world can fit on.
When I met my first wife, only a few years separated me from the vicious bullying I went through as a teenager.
I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know my own value. I didn’t know a lot of things. And as much as I wanted to believe that I had the whole world figured out at 21, oh my God… I didn’t.
And the further I got from the bullying, and the further I got from the pain of the past, and the more I learned that I might actually be a valuable human being… the more happiness seemed like a viable possibility. I also realized that my life decisions thus far were not very sound.
My wife changed too. And she moved further and further from a disrupted past. And the further from it she got, the more she realized that her life decisions had not been very sound.
And while I’d love to say I was all the way there by the end of that marriage, I was still changing at significantly measurable speeds when I got married the second time. Still learning who I was. Still no clue what I wanted.
So many people in the world are doing the exact same thing.
And you know what? Some married couples change together in a beautiful and complimentary direction. But sometimes those changes which are beautiful for the individual are not so beautiful for the couple. And happiness becomes (yes, I’m actually going to say this) impossible.
Religion is no different. Where I live, some people are very happy in the LDS church. Something whispers to them, this is true. They believe in it. They find happiness in it. And then there are others who don’t. And no matter how hard they try, something whispers to them, this is not true. I’ve never been a part of another religion, but I can only believe the dynamics are similar.
And work… well shoot. Everybody has an opinion when it comes to what is responsible and what isn’t responsible. Especially when you have a kid. But see, something whispered to me there, too. “If you aren’t happy with your life, you aren’t going to be the best dad you can be.” And no matter how hard I was trying, I couldn’t be happy sitting in that office.
So let me ask you this. What is the responsible thing to do?
Do you really believe that any two people can find happiness in any marriage? If they would only work hard enough. If they would only go see a counselor. If they would only do X, Y, and Z. If you do believe that, it’s only because you don’t know the truth about many of the “happily” married people who surround you.
Do you really believe that your church is the only way to true happiness and that if any other person would just put in the time, effort, prayer, and study they too would not be able to deny it? If you do believe that, it’s only because you don’t know the whole truth about many of the people you love so much who you think “share” the same conviction you do.
Do you really believe that money is everything? That security is the most important thing a parent can offer his child? That no matter what the job is, the paycheck justifies the misery? If you do believe that, it’s only because you have never been pushed to the edge the way so many others have. You’ve never gotten to the point where you take that misery and you spread it to those you love most. To your spouses. To your kids.