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I continue to read everything I can get my hands on to help expand my knowledge and better both my life and that of my family. I’m currently reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People. Yes, it’s a classic and I should have read it years ago, but I’m only now getting around to it and so far I’m realizing just why this book is so timeless.
But anyway, one of several things that I’ve gotten out of the book is the reminder to be a happier person. Other people enjoy being around people who are smiling and enjoy life.
Now if you know me at all, you’d know that I’m already a guy who loves to make a joke about everything. I like to laugh and I love it when I can get other people laughing too.
However, this book got me thinking about how much my job is making me a little less jovial while I’m at the office. Sometimes the stress gets to me and I’ll end up being unnecessarily curt with some of my fellow employees even those who are also friends of mine.
Here’s why that’s important…
My dad suffered from what we’re guessing was bipolar disorder – he was never formerly diagnosed because they didn’t really do a lot of that back in those days, but my mom told me over the past few years that this described him exactly. In a nutshell, his moods would swing much wider than most people. When he was in a good mood, he would be the center of attention in the room – the life of the party – and everybody loved him. But he would also have the swings where he could go into an instant depression over something small that you would think would be the end of the world.
The reason I say that he suffered (as in the past tense) from that is because he shot and killed himself when I in the first grade. I was at home in the living room at the time playing checkers with my younger brother and my mom when this happened and my dad was in his bedroom. I don’t remember a ton from that age, but I still remember every detail of what transpired…
I remember the checkers game we were playing and us all hearing the loud bang. My mom sent us to our rooms and told us to close the doors. I snuck the door open and remember seeing him being hauled out of the house on a gurney to the ambulance. I remember my mom’s friends coming over to watch us while my mom went to the hospital. I even remember lying in bed that night counting to myself and being proud of how high I was able to count to.
I remember my grandparents (on my dad’s side) coming in from out-of-state late that night and learning the next morning that my dad had died. I even remember going to the funeral home to say one last goodbye before he was gone. That last visit was without my brother because “he’s still a little too young to understand.”
That was a long time ago and until the past handful of years my mom had always told us that it was an accident – that he was cleaning the handgun he had in the house for protection and it accidentally went off. He was only about 30 years old at the time.
She raised us as a single mom and busted her butt in taking care of us – and she did a pretty darn good job if I do say so myself. It was only recently that she told us that it wasn’t an accident.
The whole thing is obviously very sad and I don’t have a ton of memories that I recall with him, but all the ones I do remember were good. He took a lot of pictures and a number of videos (some of you might not be old enough to remember 8mm film!), but because he was usually behind the camera, there aren’t a ton of photos or videos with him in the picture. I specifically make it a point to make sure that I include myself in a lot of the shots with my daughter for that exact reason.
I’m also aware that my daughter is only a few months away from being the exact age I was when he died. I think about that quite a bit.
So how is this relevant?
I was always a pretty quiet kid when I was younger. I was a good kid, did well in school, and had some really good friends. Then around the 10th grade, things changed with my moods. I had a lot of the giant swings from being life of the party to ready to end things at the drop of a hat. Although I didn’t know about my dad’s emotional swings at the time, that’s pretty much what was happening in my life.
In fact, it turned into a big problem where my lows were pretty low and I contemplated suicide for quite a while. I can’t tell you if I would have ever gone through with it, but I did think it was the answer to any small problem I was having at any time for a good number of months.
I definitely was having a hard time controlling my emotions even though I kept them pretty much to myself. The thing that really saved me though was music. I was, and still am, a big music lover and for whatever reason, being alone and listening to all my music really took me away and helped carry me through the hard times.
But the real point of all this is that during these hard times of mine, I had a thought – a wake-up call. Instead of killing myself, why don’t I just change some of the things I don’t like and live life as a different person – the way I want to.
In other words, what’s the difference if I just substitute taking life in a different direction instead of suicide? No harm, no foul.
That was a life-changing moment for me and since that time in the 10th grade, that’s exactly what I did. I came out of my shell and became a lot more sociable. I had more fun and took more chances. I laughed a lot more and loved to infuse humor into every conversation.
And that’s the new attitude I’ve had in place since that day. It’s also what I believe has taken me places in life. I’m sure that attitude has helped me in my career path as well as my social circles. And I’m now the guy making fun conversation with people I don’t know everywhere I go – bars, grocery store, mechanic, you name it.
I still have those major swings – it’s hard to explain how dramatic they are, but I’ve since learned to step back when the lows happen. I’m not able to control the emotions themselves, but I am able to put them into perspective and know that they will pass in time.
Jim, what the #$%^ does this have to do with Dale Carnegie’s book?
Ok, ok – this was a really a long way around my point, but it’s all actually relevant. The point is that Dale’s book has really got me thinking… am I losing some of my edge and forgoing the promise I made to myself decades ago?
I’m still the same lighthearted guy when I’m outside of work. However, when I’m at the office, I’ve got to get a better grip on things. There’s no reason to let the little things at work get me depressed, angry, or stressed.
When I started out at the company I work for 17 years ago, I was just a good-natured, have-fun kinda guy (while still retaining professionalism) with customers. That remained the same until probably the last couple of years.
I think that as I’ve been working my way toward financial independence, the path itself has now become a pretty big focus in my life… I’m counting down the days! In the meantime, my job has made me pretty miserable. I’m letting it get to me and I need to stop it.
Could I switch jobs to something less stressful? Probably, but I don’t think it would make much difference. My job is actually not that stressful compared to a lot of jobs out there and I’m in a valuable position at my company. No, it’s really not the job that’s the problem.
The problem is me.
I’m focusing too much on why I shouldn’t be working and not enough time just enjoying life a little while I’m there. Being miserable isn’t going to make the path to financial independence go any faster. And depending on how things go, I’ve still got a handful of years left with my 9-5.
So, I’ve decided that I want to make those years fun for me. I’m going to try to be a little more light-hearted with everyone and not be as judgmental. Stressing about things doesn’t solve any issues and, to be honest, could affect my health enough that I don’t make it through to early retirement.
So, it’s time to bring back the fun!
And finally, as an added benefit, this might keep my co-workers from wanting to punch me in the face. 🙂
Has the track to financial independence made you a little less fun at work? If not, it’s Ok to just tell me I’ve completely lost my marbles!)
Thanks for reading!!