The Palmer Press

A Sense of Arrival

Last Updated February 2024

On March 1, 2020, I published an essay "Why Aren't You Happy Yet?" Earlier today (in February 2024), I responded to another newsletter that I receive where the author was grappling with the arrival fallacy. I made the reference in my response to her about how "People who were unhappy before they won the lottery are unhappy after they won the lottery." 

It was the final kick I needed to finally get back to writing what I consider an important thing to say. I am personally still in an active battle of trying to stop thinking "I'll be happy when..." but I do feel differently now than I did when I wrote that essay in 2020. I think that I feel differently but others might not see any difference in me. It's the opposite of what a doctor told me when she prescribed me anti-depressants a few years ago, which was that I "won't be able to tell if the medication is working, but others will." I went onto the anti-depressants later that year in 2020, which for those that read the old essay, I had definitely gotten the reduction in travel and social activities to give me time to study for the GMAT that I asked for only a few weeks before my world locked down. I was still unhappy after winning that lottery.

Here I am, almost 4 years later and I likely have the life I would have described as the goal back then. I went to a top MBA program and through a series of rejections, layoffs, full-time offers being rescinded and sponsorships expiring, I successfully spent over 8 months as "my own boss" as an independent consultant and I am now a Director-level in a product organization in a healthcare company. Despite the MBA debt, I'd consider myself an on-paper success. (1) 

With my quote-unquote success, I am realistically still unhappy after winning this personal lottery. I am back on anti-depressants, for example. But the point is not that I'm likely just a depressed dude. The point is that I do feel differently than I did in 2020. Maybe it is burn out or I've reached the level of my own incompetency, but I am not driven by a sense of ambition to get anywhere next. In high school, I wanted to get to college. In college, I wanted to get into consulting. In consulting, I wanted to get promoted quickly. After I got promoted, I wanted to get an MBA. In the MBA, I wanted a job with high compensation and reasonable work hours. Now, being somewhere in the realm of ironically self-actualized, I actually don't want to "make it" anywhere else. The chip is no longer on my shoulder. Have I achieved everything that I have ever wanted? No. But where I'm at is so damn close to anything I could have ever imagined that it does feel like I can start putting my attention elsewhere. 

Where is my attention now then? A significant part is on the life milestones that Elizabeth and I need to play catch up on. These don't feel like goals or things to accomplish, but more so as representations of our connection and celebrations of finding our person. These are things that I get to do - there is no sense of "completing" getting engaged or married. (2) Another significant part of my attention is on music, which is actually what I had spent a lot of time on in high school, before I knew the rat race existed. The pace of life in East Liverpool, Ohio affords ignorance as bliss. (3) Once I finally get this essay off my chest, I think I'll be able to write essays on things-less-self-aggrandized, like what I've been able to learn about music and about myself and others by playing music with people again over the last year and a half. 

Maybe I'm still ignorant, and some other rat race will begin the moment that Elizabeth and I have children. (4) But I hope not, so that I can continue to operate in this sense that I have arrived somewhere. And while I'm not tearing the sheets off and jumping out of bed each morning, I do not feel the intense pressure to play a meta-game and rise or die trying. The answer to "Why Aren't You Happy Yet?" (5) is that the happiness I can imagine achieving someday is a myth. But I am in many ways contented or pacified. That, I can accept as progress.