The personal search for happiness: And why there’s no such thing

I’ve learned a lot about myself this past week. A whole lot.

And today, on this sunday morning where my house is still asleep and restless thoughts dance through my mind, I decided to rise early before church and get to writing this.

First off, I learned I don’t do traffic well *Anxiety central*. Secondly, I learned that coconut milk isn’t as good as it sounds *Tried it. Hated it*. Most importantly–there’s no such thing as my personal search for happiness. Let me explain.

This last Tuesday was my first day of training for my new job. And if you’ve been following my blog, you know without a doubt that I was nervous just short of the point of breaking out in hives. But on the long way there *hence my strong dislike of traffic* I prayed and I decided I’d do my best and do everything in my power to do well. I decided that I was going to go above and beyond and prove that I know what I’m doing. This training was about improving and creating ME. Help me to do well, I found myself praying, and grant me happiness with that confidence.

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I arrived early at the training center and found a room filled with desks that made a half-circle. I found my name, cracked open the manual underneath it, and watched as one by one, a stream of new hires made their way in, each face reflecting my own nerves. Finally there was around twenty of us– new ties, ironed skirts, sweaty hands and all. And all I could remember at the back of my mind is during my interview when the manager told me that not everyone in the training group will make it. There are exams, assignments, verbal tests, and on-the-floor demonstrations that have to be mastered to a tee. It won’t be me who fails, I thought. It has to be one of them.

But then training took an odd turn. Instead of diving into the material, talking about the responsibilities, or taking us to individual work areas, the trainers divvied us up into groups and for the first handful of days we were taken back to elementary school in a sense. We had to come up with a team poster and cheer, we competed against other teams for poker chips that’d add up to a prize at the end of training, we went out to lunch and chatted about our lives and we played Catchphrase and team-building exercises that had us laughing so hard that each of us could swear by the end of it we’d found our best friends.

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Without even being asked we started to form a study group to help those in our group who were having a tough time with the material, and we all started to find more joy watching our teammates earn those poker chips than when our own selves did. By the end of the week during an on-the-floor test I wasn’t even nervous for my time up to bat. I was more nervous for one of my teammates who was struggling with a portion of it.

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And it happened without me even realizing it, I think. My original attitude of, “I’ve got this. I’m not going to be the one who fails” quickly turned into, “I want these people to succeed. I care about them.”

And I wasn’t alone. Our CEO must have known what this kind of training meant.

“The trick to being successful,” he told us, “is to surround yourself with good people, treat them well, and help them all to succeed. That’s the trick.”

My training grounds weren’t peculiar.

In a way that crowded room now filled with team posters, remnants of laughter, and fallen poker chips hidden under chairs was exactly what all of our lives are on a daily basis anyway. In life we can easily find where we’re supposed to sit or be, dive into what we need to know, ignore those beside us, and focus on getting it all right so we can succeed. But then there’s the other way. That’s the way that leads to friendship. That’s the way that leads to the focus on things outside of your personal bubble. That’s the way that leads to happiness.

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It’s not a revolutionary idea or breaking news to share *there’s my newsy side coming through* but it’s something we often forget I think. It’s something I forget every now and then since rising above and over-achieving has always been at the forefront of my mind.

The idea stems back to when Christ sat with a loaf of bread and a few fish amongst throngs of people. He was hungry–so he could have eaten. But he didn’t. In John 6 he demonstrates to us the power of thinking outside of ourselves when he multiplies the food and therefore gets even more satisfaction when everyone is well fed.

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We need to multiply our loaves of bread more.

We go through life thinking our troubles are so great that we only have enough time for those problems, and no one else’s . We go through life thinking our financial burdens are so heavy that no way would we have time to alleviate someone else’s. We go through life thinking that the search for happiness is a personal one and helping others is just a bonus. In reality they go hand in hand and finding happiness has always been a group activity.

Careers can teach so many things. Luckily for me, my job started with a game of Catchphrase, fifty-five poker chips, and a lunch talking to someone who lost her dad the day after I lost mine.

Luckily for me, I didn’t find happiness here alone.

And I choose to keep it that way.

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The trouble with waiting on God

So—I’m kind of nervous. OK, more like really nervous. 

Today is the day before I start a brand new position in a brand new place and my stomach is doing the barrel roll because change is one of the most terrifying things that happens in my world. I go through it enough, you’d think I’d get used to it. But I don’t. And today, as I enjoy a day off before the crazy schedule kicks in again, I’ve become reflective. 

I’ve needed this change for a while now. I wasn’t going to where I needed to go–goals weren’t being met and I wasn’t growing the way I should have been where I was. I miserably trudged through work days, all the while knowing I should make a change, but I simply didn’t. “I’m waiting on God,” I would often say. “He must want me here.”

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And today, looking back, I realize the ridiculousness of that saying. Waiting on God. Waiting on him for what? To send a lighting bolt across the sky, the tail of it scrawling a message that tells me what I should do? Waiting on a grand vision? 

Let me tell you, it’s a phrase I hear a lot–always by people who want to make the best decisions and align their lives with Christ–but a phrase that shouldn’t be said half as much as it is. I’m waiting on God for my big break. I’m waiting on God for a husband. I’m waiting on God to start getting along with my estranged child again. I’m waiting on God to tell me if I should start up that business. 

Always waiting.

And that phrase quietly excuses us from creating the life that He actually has planned. 

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The truth of it is, I shouldn’t always be waiting on God. He’s simply waiting on me.

It’s a lesson that’s been hard to swallow because I have the tendency to absolutely love step-by-step directions from the Almighty. Where do you want me to go, Lord? Show me! I sometimes catch myself thinking. Because if he shows me, I’ll most certainly go there. I wouldn’t even hesitate. If I got a sign or some kind of dream or…well, you get the gist of it. I’m that kind of person.

But I have the power to choose for myself. And so do you. The Lord never gave us agency only to tell us later on that we can’t use it or that we have to wait for his cue. The Lord never says in the scriptures to wait for a sign before making a decision to change a miserable situation, to forgive that son, or to put a down-payment on a house for your family. Instead the scriptures say in Proverbs 16:9, “A man deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.” 

In D&C 58:27 the Lord also discourages us from hesitancy and idleness but instead says, “do many good things of your own free will.” 

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Blasphemy, you might be thinking. How can Kayla say that I’m supposed to choose a direction and just start walking? I have to get the green light from God!

And I don’t blame you for thinking that. All my life I was Queen of seeking revelation. And sometimes I got just that. Sometimes I felt strongly to do something or felt guided by the spirit to take a certain path. But other times Heavenly Father falls silent–an unresponsive ear pressed against the windows of Heaven, and I would sometimes sit on my knees, wondering why something so important would go unanswered. I think that with many of us the silence of God is  the time when our faith trembles and our doubt seeps through the cracks, whispering lies to our hearts. That’s when we abruptly stand up from prayer, clench our teeth and decide he turned away from us. Or it could be the time when we decide that silence is merely our answer to just wait. Wait on God through misery, long days, depression, brick walls that stop us in our tracks from ever achieving anything we’ve ever planned.

So much of our life is spent waiting.

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I fell into that category. It wasn’t that I was lazy. No, I actually can be ambitious to a fault. I can be hard on myself at times or push myself the extra mile when I can easily be satisfied with where I’m at. But I still fell into the category of expecting God to hand over a blueprint and check off suitable directions. It was too terrifying to do it on my own. What if I made the wrong choice?

In the midst of my decision to leave something I had become comfortable with, a job that was good but not the best for where I was headed, I had to become comfortable with slipping into the driver’s seat and using the free will He gave me for such a time as this.

As I once heard in a sermon given by evangelist pastor T.D. Jakes, Heavenly Father never gave the world a chair. He gave the world a tree and we used our talents and our need for somewhere to sit in order to create a chair. He offers raw talents, raw emotions, raw circumstances and materials–and he lets you create your beautiful life.

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I wonder now how many times I passed up an opportunity to create something within my life simply because God was silent and I took that as a no or as a “just wait”. I wonder how many times in my life Heavenly Father simply folded his arms and waited for me to just work up courage enough to pick the path and then ask for help along the way.

Martin Luther King Jr. once eloquently said, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” For too long I wanted to see the staircase. Too many times I simply want an answer on if I’m even ON the right staircase.

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But faith doesn’t work that way. Faith is using free will instead of waiting to be told. Faith is coming to God with a decision, and trusting that he’ll provide along the way. Faith is penning the business plan and investing the money even when the only kind of answer you have in your heart is desire. Faith is moving your feet.

Sometimes there will be days where you have to wait. Sometimes that’s the answer you get. Sometimes the Lord’s timing isn’t quite your timing and he’ll tell you so. But more often than not we’ll come to realize that we have a Father in Heaven who is just waiting for us to MOVE.

Now here I find myself, looking forward to a whole new journey ahead of me, and it’s natural to be afraid. I can’t help but feel fear that takes the form of the big knot in my gut and my pacing back and forth as I try to decide what to wear tomorrow for my first day.

But I also can’t help but feel that for one of the first times in my life I came across a tree in the path. And I decided–finally–to just get to work and make that chair. 

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Giving up on the quest to be extraordinary: And how it will change your life

My dad was an ordinary man.

He rose at dawn to go work at an ordinary job, tossing his lunch pail in the back of a maybe less-than-ordinary pick-up truck that lacked a solid floor on the passenger side. 

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He was quiet and attentive to conversations already begun–and he could pass through a room quickly without gaining much notice. He had a daily routine of reading the paper at half past six and watching every Seahawks game in his chair–it was only interrupted by play time with us kids–an ordinary hobby for many dads.

When I was a child I remember feeling sorry for my Dad. He mentioned he used to want to be a doctor before he decided it wasn’t for him. And in his youth he didn’t make much of a stir in his hometown newspaper or in sports–he just spent afternoons at the river’s edge with a fishing line and a can of worms. Ordinary things, really. 

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But me? I didn’t want ordinary. Not at all! I wanted to be extraordinary. I paraded around in dancing dresses, hosted backyard carnivals in the summer, auditioned for every school play, and dreamt of the day I’d see my name on a hardback book. I wanted to leave a positive legacy behind. I wanted to be ANYTHING but ordinary. And I loved my Dad so much–I used to cry that he could never be an important doctor.

And that mindset followed me well into my life. It wasn’t a mindset of pride or self-love. It was the desire to change lives and be known for something good–something special. But that desire, I’ve come to learn, is the desire of so many others who leave nothing behind except for a granite stone, piles of money, and bylines that quickly get shoved into archives. The desire to be great, if that desire is a sole purpose, will completely cloud over what really makes you someone to remember. But the desire to just live life fully and completely with love for people being your main purpose–THAT desire and THAT quest can change your life forever.

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As for my father with his “ordinary” life–I’ve come to understand the beauty of such ordinary things now, and the importance.

Since his passing, I’ve began to take notice of things he left behind. Ordinary things. Sifting through his things after his passing, I noticed old notebooks filled with notes from church sermons and past General Conferences–notes that he took to heart and lived. Notes he never shared.

My mother found stacks of receipts from his monthly tithing slips–tithing that she never knew he paid when she stopped going to church for a short time and he would sit alone in the pew every sunday.

Friends–from the job that everyone said he was “stuck in” for years and years–have filtered through the front door and across our social media pages, telling stories of a man with quiet faith, great love for those around him, and kindness. Always kindness. Even my father’s insurance agent from five years back called with tears in his voice, just to tell us that he’ll always remember Dad and the way he was so patient.

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Ordinary watches and worn-out wallets–thin from years of use–are now our flecks of gold. Yellowed photographs of summers at the river and tanned arms against a lawnmower are now precious heirlooms.

The ordinary, simple things that I once thought were like “every other dad”. But now, to me, are extraordinary. And he never tried to be.

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I think it’s easy, since we live in a world dedicated to proving how “special” we are or how “unique” we are, to measure ourselves at the end of the day by how many awards line our desk or how many nods of approval we get for special projects at work. But putting all of our efforts into that kind of journey distracts from the truly extraordinary. We shouldn’t give up on success within the world and careers we hold, of course–but we should also remember where true success lies.

Like being the mom that finger paints with her toddlers and doesn’t care that some hair dipped into the blue. Like being the friend that sits at the lunch table with the bullied kid in complete silence, just offering a presence. Like being the dad that works a 9 to 5 at a completely ordinary office and always makes sure to make every single ballet performance. Like being the artist that paints, that writes, that sings, that creates–just to make life more relatable, or more beautiful, for at least one person.

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How beautiful the world is when we count the little moments that make up our memories, our goodness, our friendships, our faith. How beautiful it is to leave behind something much greater than anything tangible, even while losing ourselves in ordinary tasks.

How beautiful that is. And how extraordinary. 

The day I walked you home: A letter to my Dad

Writing, to me, is synonymous with healing.

I suppose that’s why I’m here–writing–just a day after you took your last breath, Dad.

People are telling me to go lay down. Or rest. Or watch a movie. But all I want to do is write about what it was like for me. For all of us, really. As my fingers tap the keys my eyes flicker to the bracelet I have on my wrist. It’s the one you wore ever since your diagnosis last November. “No one fights alone” it says. And my spirit can’t help but agree. No one fights alone. Or loves alone. Or struggles alone. Or dies alone.

We’re all walking each other home.

It was Thursday night when I got the call that I should come. “Dad doesn’t have much time,” my teary sister said. And I knew it in my heart, even before the call came in.

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But it took three days of sleeplessness, tears dripping from sore eyes, holding you up as you walked around in confusion, sponging water onto your lips, and prayers by your bedside before you took that last breath. And I realized–as soon as your labored breathing went silent and your Savior greeted you somewhere near the top of the Christmas tree, a spot I looked toward as soon as your blue eyes did, hoping I’d find him there too–that the walk is always worth it. Leaning near your still face and kissing your forehead, that’s what I said too. “It’s worth it”. Even though I want you to know my heart wasn’t feeling it, Dad. My heart screamed “Come back!” instead. Because I didn’t see Jesus near the top of the Christmas tree. My faith just had to rely on the fact he was there.

Now, digesting the memories–memories that haunt me in my dreams and awaken me from sleep with tears and a racing heart–I want you to know why I was honored to walk you home.

The walk home started on November of 1989…when I was born.

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I’d like to think we chose to walk together–that before we even came to earth we knew we’d be walking in unison along with some very special others–taking on the challenge, and the joys, of mortality.

During the walk home you taught me many things. You taught me how to play. And in turn, I think I taught you patience 😉

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The walk home entailed some discomforts–some trials that required me to cry in your arms or vent to you–or get so mad at you that I slammed my bedroom door. I tried to say sorry about that later on–you didn’t let me though.

During the walk home you showed me how to walk on my own at times and forge a new trail when others get to their own trail’s end. You showed me how to change oil. How to respect my body. How to be a good friend. How to listen more than I talk *although I still have problems with that*. How to put family first.

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During the walk, sometimes it rained. You showed me how to play in it.

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During the walk–you showed me to dance always *Even if you’re not very good at it* And to “Sing louder!” as you’d always say when you caught me humming to myself.

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There were a few times on the journey I didn’t feel I was good enough. But you pushed me to bring home the A’s. To aim high. To be everything I want to be simply by living as if I’m already there. Oh–and I love that you always bragged about every single goal we met. You loved when I’d write and you’d read my blog. You hung my first poem on your cubicle wall at work and kept it there ’til you died.

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During the walk you taught me what kind of man I should choose–simply by being that kind of man. And in turn you finally got the son you always wanted to have one day.

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You loved my mom–even when lighting struck and rain hit and rocks in the trail made you two stumble. And that’s the greatest gift to give to a daughter.

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During the walk you encouraged my sister’s restless, wandering heart. You taught her faith and courage–you nourished the light in her eyes into something much greater in her heart. She said it was all because of you, Dad.

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During the walk home you taught me not to fear the trailhead coming up–the part of the walk home that splits the trail in two. The part where we would separate for a time. You told me it would come–and it was okay. Because you knew that if we kept walking, the two trails would join as one again.

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During the end of the walk home I had to carry you. I held you like you held me when the dark scared me and I couldn’t sleep. I rubbed your back the way you’d rub mine when I’d sit on the floor in front on you or lay in your lap. I was strong simply because–well, so were you.

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I’m sad, Dad. I miss you so bad that sometimes I can’t breathe. And when I do, it hurts my lungs. I miss you so bad that sometimes I hear your voice and jump to a start in the middle of the night. I miss you so much that I get angry that we already came to the fork in the road–sometimes I get mad at God. Sometimes I get mad at myself that I didn’t hold you a second longer the last time you hugged me.

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But then I remember, like I remember now. No one walks alone.

No, even though we came to that place in the walk where the trail splits in two–I still feel you guiding my feet. I still feel the same Savior that took you home and held me at the same time. I’m not alone.

I’m honored I was one of the people to share the walk with you, Dad.

You’re my hero.

And you will be until our trails meet up again somewhere on the horizon–and I’ll meet you there at home.

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To the 20-something: Not where you thought you’d be in life? Perfect.

It happened this weekend.

Someone asked me some of the questions that I hate more than anything in the world. Even more than sushi and awkward first dates–*and that’s a lot, by the way*.

“So…you’re a writer, but not a reporter? Didn’t you go to school for broadcasting?”

“Have you published all those novels you write yet?”

“Is there a reason you write on a blog? Does it further your career?”

“Are you working toward a promotion?”

Yeah. It happened. Wham, bam, all at once. And I bet you a dollar (because that’s all I’m willing to bet at this stage in my life) that you’ve had the same thing happen to you in some way or another and it made you feel like a deadbeat slob. At least it did for me.

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(I thought me eating an entire tub of ice-cream was fitting for my whole deadbeat comment)

Now, let me paint a picture of where this happened. A whole bunch of us–family and some friends–were gathered at my parent’s house this weekend and some of us hadn’t seen one another in a while. And if we had, we hadn’t had the time in a while to sit down and go over the many events of our lives. So this was the perfect setting to talk about everything. There was plenty of time. Yay..

More often than not it’s no problem talking about my life and I’m excited to tell people about what I’m doing. I’m excited about the awesome place I work and who I’m married to and my little apartment with a blue wall and two bunny cages. Life, to me, is an adventure every single day and exactly what I want. But every now and then someone (usually with very good intentions) stumbles across my path and reminds me that there are a million things I STILL haven’t done. A million things I thought I would have done by now, too. And it’s easy to slip into the “Wow, I’m 23 and really haven’t checked off those goals that I wrote down when I was 12.”

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The good-intentioned person who asked all those questions and twisted their face in an odd, “Oh, okay. That’s nice” kind of an expression probably didn’t know that he/she stirred up all of these insecurities in me, and I’m sure they’ve already forgotten about the exchange. I mean, my insecurities are my fault and no one else’s. But this made me think of everyone else in my age group who might be battling the same kind of thing. Every generation has bigger obligations on their shoulders. Their parents want them to do better, just like their parents wanted THEM to do better. And on one hand, it’s a good thing to have goals and expectations and shoot high. But on the other hand, if we focus so much on what we haven’t done yet, we forget that it’s all about the process, and it turns destructive.

And even more than that, we can forget that our happiness in life shouldn’t be valued on how much of our  checklist we’ve checked off.

“Are you going to get your master’s?”

“Are you married yet? Well, do you want to be?”

“When are you going to buy a house instead of rent an apartment?”

“Do you have health insurance yet?”

“Are you using what you went to school for at your job?”

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Questions. Questions. Questions. And sometimes, they fill our heads because of our own voices and not even the voices of others. Some people think that my generation is one to feel special, entitled, and self-righteous. That can be true with some people. But I also think there’s a side of my generation that feels hard-pressed to meet a status quo and to compete to be known and recognized and to contribute in some amazing, never-before-heard-of way–because that’s who we’re SUPPOSED to be for the world, right?

I look on my social media feeds and I see people in my generation who are all over the map. Some are holding newborns in their profile pictures and some are holding trophies. Some are starting companies and others are unemployed and looking to get back into school. Some are buying wedding dresses and others are designing them. I don’t know what kind of questions all these people face. I don’t know what kind of questions they may even ask themselves. But they usually spell out success to me. Most of them are doing what makes them happy or what will lead them to happiness eventually.

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So what if that new stay-at-home mom on my Facebook page once told me in high school that she’d be a pediatrician by 25? Maybe her dreams changed.

So what if that kid who wanted to be an engineer decided that he’s happiest when he paints? He might get a lower salary, but his spirits are higher, I can bet on it.

You see, Twenty-something, you and I have a journey that’s all our own. And we’re not called to fit a mold that other people–or even our younger selves–created. We’re supposed to gain success that ultimately brings happiness, even if that means our dreams change or the dreams we’re still pursuing are a little bit slower in the making. Life is meant to be lived one day at a time and goals are to be achieved one step at a time.

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Yeah, I’m a writer and not a TV reporter right now. I happen to love my job and besides, I have to write because writing is like breathing to me.

Yeah, I blog. And it helps me more than anyone probably.

No, I don’t have kids. But I’m an aunt–to 22 little kids. And it’s the best thing in the world.

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Yeah, my health insurance sucks. And so does 95% of the country’s right now.

Yeah, I’m in a one-bedroom apartment and none of my novels have been published. Yet. But I still write novels. Every gosh darn day.

I’m successful because I’m happy.

So, to the Twenty-Something who’s reading this–are you not exactly where you thought you’d be by now? Well, good. That means that this whole journey thing is working for both of us just like it should.

Move forward. Find joy on the path, not just at the path’s end. And you’ll always be exactly where you should be.

I’d bet my “twenty-something” salary on that one.

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