I believe the secret to happiness is compatibility.
I first learned this about 15 years ago while working as a mid-level manager at a cellular phone company. I supervised a dozen employees and managed departmental budgets. I had a gold MasterCard and a nanny. I dined out regularly and drove a new car. In short, I had everything I always thought I wanted. So why wasn’t I happy?
Sitting in my office one day, I remembered my high school friend Ellen. Ellen and I had big dreams. I wanted to be journalist, she a television writer. Together, we flipped through college catalogs and visited campuses. But when I graduated, I took a job as a secretary in a California hospital while Ellen went to Boston College to pursue her dream.
As I advanced in my job and started a family, journalism didn’t seem practical anymore. I visited Ellen once in Boston and contrasted her cramped, drafty quarters with my sunny San Diego apartment, and flew home believing I made the right decision. I wasn’t so sure when she graduated and took a job at Universal Studios. She was making less than half my salary. But she was happy.
By the time I realized I wasn’t, I had lost track of Ellen. But I didn’t forget her. I thought about her as I sat in my office feeling suffocated by piles of paper. That night, I went home and cut up my credit cards. I drew up a budget and reduced expenses so I could quit my job in favor of a low-stress clerical job. At night, I practiced writing. I attended writers’ conferences where I submitted my work to humiliating critiques. I tried harder. I took a correspondence course and read books about how to write and how to make a living at it. Eventually, I quit my job to freelance.
A small, weekly newspaper hired me as a part-time correspondent, and I fell in love with work for the first time. Journalism transformed my faults into virtues overnight. In the business world, coworkers perceived my bluntness as tactless; my single-mindedness as pushy. In journalism, these traits became gifts. They allowed me to ask the hard questions and to remain undeterred by hesitant sources.
I didn’t make a lot of money at first, but I was happy. Then opportunities began to fall into my lap. Before long, I was earning more than I ever had, though that no longer seemed important.
Over time, my faith in compatibility extended into other areas. Divorced for 20 years, I saw myself as too stubborn, too selfish and too independent to marry. Then I met Gerald. Sharing my life with him felt as easy as breathing. We’ve been happily married for several years. We’re not exactly alike. But, yes, we’re compatible.
Now I teach aspiring journalists. I tell them what I believe: That the secret to success is finding compatible editors. That compatibility is the secret to happiness in everything else.
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