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Blooming with Success

by Elizabeth Cronin 4 months ago in happiness · updated 4 months ago

One Woman’s Search for Happiness with Flowery Details

You’ve carefully narrowed down your selections. You’ve laid them all out on the table. Which one will look the best? Which one will last the longest? Which one will bring you the most joy? How do you begin? Designing your life the way you want it is like designing a bouquet of flowers. Once you’ve made your choices, they all blend together to create something that is beautiful, though ultimately fleeting.

I used to think that flowers were only for special occasions. They were something I would look forward to on birthdays, Valentine’s Day, and anniversaries. They were something I would pass by in the supermarket and think to myself, “Those are pretty but so expensive. Do I actually need them?”

For most of my life, I focused only on the things that I thought I needed. My college was a safe choice - not too far from home. My car was a safe choice - low mileage, good on gas. I became a teacher, which seemed like a safe choice for a career. This year, I decided not to play it safe. I decided to take a risk.

My husband and I started house hunting in January 2021. We have been together for ten years and renting for seven. We didn’t touch any of the money we got for our wedding. We safely deposited checks from every birthday and Christmas card. We had dinner and a movie at home instead of out. We vacationed in cabins in Vermont rather than all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. We did all this so that we could one day own a house of our own to raise a family. This year, we found the house that we wanted. However, there was one tiny problem. The house was in New Hampshire, and I was teaching in Boston.

I had three months left of the school year, and I was spending 15 hours a week in my car. Those were 15 hours I could have been sleeping, doing yoga, painting, or playing my guitar. Instead, after my 2-hour ride home, I would pretend to watch The Crown while scrolling through Instagram, envying celebrities whose lives appear to be so glamorous and carefree. I had the thing that I wanted, but I wasn’t happy. My commute was crushing my spirit. I dreaded going to work every day, and my students could tell how miserable I was. I was deeply depressed but didn’t realize it until teacher appreciation week.

Some administrators paid for professional massages for the teachers at work, while others administrators covered classes so that the teachers could have a free period. At my school, they announced Thursday afternoon that there would be a special breakfast, courtesy of the administration. Friday morning, I arrived to work after sitting in traffic for an hour and a half. I went down to the teachers’ room, and the breakfast I was promised was one remaining McDonald’s hash brown that was cold and stuck to the bag. I took my so-called breakfast up to my classroom, peeled away the wrapper, and burst into tears. “This is my life now,” I thought. “I am the cold, lonely potato that nobody wants.” Even in my darkest moments, I can still appreciate a metaphor.

That Monday, I decided to stay home. When you’re crying about a hashbrown at work, it’s a pretty good indicator that you need a mental health day. I laid in bed and struggled to find the motivation to do anything, but then I remembered that we had no food in the house. I made my grocery list and went to Trader Joe’s. I bought everything on my list and was about to check out, but my gaze turned towards the flower section. I pulled my cart over and stared at them for what felt like hours. It was as if the flowers had hypnotized me. “You know you want us, Molly,” they called to me. I listened to the flowery voices. I picked up the hydrangeas and the sunflowers, my two favorites. Then I grabbed some purple mums, baby’s breath, pink roses, and eucalyptus. Before I knew it, I had filled an entire bucket with at least ten bouquets of assorted flowers, and I needed every single one.

I brought home the flowers and laid them all out on the dining room table. I got out every vase and mason jar I could find and filled them with water. I cut open the plastic, untied the elastic bands, and began snipping away at end after end. Before I knew it, there were stems, leaves, and drops of water everywhere, but I didn’t mind. All beautiful things start with a mess.

I picked up a flower, carefully placed it in a vase, and took it out over and over again, trying to find the perfect arrangement for each individual flower. The whole process must have taken at least an hour, but I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t thinking about time. I wasn’t thinking about anything.

I’m not the type of person who meditates. I’m the type of person who panics about things that are completely irrational and out of my control. I had never experienced “peace of mind” nor believed it was humanly possible. However, when I looked down at my messy dining room table, I didn’t think about work once. Work no longer mattered. All that mattered was the size, color, and arrangement of the flowers in front of me.

When I finished, I had made six floral arrangements, and I placed them on every table, coffee table, and nightstand in my house. Every room I entered, I was greeted with a reminder that no matter how overwhelming life can be, it can be turned into something beautiful.

Flowers turned my house into a home. They took a dark time and made it brighter.

However, after a few days, nature took its course. As the flowers wilted, so did I. The negative thoughts returned. My anxiety was keeping me awake. I was weeping while simultaneously stuffing my face with chocolate frosted donuts on my drive home.

I went back to Trader Joe’s and bought more flowers to arrange and consequently discovered that flowers were no longer something I wanted but something I needed deeply for my sanity. They significantly enhanced my mood and put me in my happy place. However, my happiness was transitory. I needed a long-term solution.

I needed water. Water keeps plants healthy. If they don’t have enough water, they die. What was the missing ingredient that kept me from flourishing? What was I thirsty for?

I had a husband who loves me, supports me, makes me laugh, and cooks me breakfast. I finally had a house I could decorate and make my own. I had a good job that paid well. I had my family and friends who couldn’t be happier for me, but I couldn’t be happy with myself, and I didn’t know why.

To get to that answer, I first had to figure out why arranging the flowers made me feel so satisfied. Maybe the answer was the thing that was missing from my life.

At first, I thought it was creativity that I was missing. With my commute, I didn’t have the time to do any of the creative things I loved to do. But when I am painting or crafting, I didn’t get the same feeling I got from arranging flowers. I couldn’t pinpoint what the feeling was until it came to me as I was stuck in traffic for two and a half hours on a Friday afternoon after a hellish day at work.

All I wanted to do was go home, have a glass of wine, and fall asleep by 8:30. However, on that particular Friday, there were not one, not two, but three car accidents on my route home. All other routes would take just as long, if not longer. I had no choice but to wait in my car until the traffic cleared, and I pulled into my driveway. There was no way to avoid it. I was stuck. That was when I realized that the feeling of being stuck is the feeling I hate the most. It’s how I feel when I get my hair cut too short and how I felt at my job.

I decided at 18 years old that I wanted to be a teacher. I had an amazing student teaching experience and believed that teaching was not just a job but my calling. However, when I found my first job teaching at a charter school, it was a miserable, traumatic experience. I had to get out of there, so I quit and took the first job I was offered. For a little while, I thought I could work in this school forever, but then the pandemic happened, things got really hard, and I started to doubt myself as a teacher. I was so disappointed with myself that the one thing I was qualified for, the thing I thought was my identity, might be the thing stopping me from finding my happiness. I felt lost, unprepared, and stuck. I didn’t have any options. I didn’t have any choice but to keep working through the pain.

That’s when it hit me. It’s not the creativity that draws me towards the flowers. It’s the choice. I can choose which flowers I want and which ones I don’t. I can choose how I want to arrange them. I can choose where I want to put them. That’s what was missing from my life - the courage to choose.

I decided that the only way to get unstuck was to make the ultimate choice. I had to choose between my job and my happiness, and for the first time, I chose my happiness. I wrote a letter of resignation, gave it to my boss, and an enormous weight was lifted from my shoulders. It was the water I needed to come back to life.

When I quit, I didn’t have any prospects. I didn’t even know if I still wanted to teach. All I knew was that the next job offer I got, I would take it because I wanted it, not because I needed it.

It’s my summer vacation, and I still don’t know what I’m doing in the fall, but that’s okay. Maybe I’ll find another teaching job that I love. Maybe I’ll go back to school. Maybe I’ll get a job at Trader Joe’s, and I can use my employee discount to buy all the flowers I want. Wherever I go, I may stay there for a year; I may stay there for 30 years. The choice is all mine.

At this point, all the flowers are on the table. It’s my job to turn the mess into something beautiful. I know it won’t last forever, but this time I am going to enjoy it while it lasts.

happiness

Elizabeth Cronin

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Elizabeth Cronin
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