The Happiest Job in America by Dana Spincola
On days that my 13 month old slept past the start of Good Morning America, I would try to get highlights of the news, weather, and overall headlines before the day became filled with…well, all the things that fill a 13 month old’s day.
One day this past March, on a morning that allowed me to do so, the last feature of the hourly news segment was, USA TODAY 2015 list of “The Happiest Jobs in America.” Without much attention to the television, I poured milk and cut fruit in anticipation for my little guy’s waking. As they began with number ten and counted down to number one, I found some of the jobs on the list interesting, but certainly not surprising. Many of the top ten included software and technology careers, a somewhat expected path in our 21st century world. Finally, with an impromptu drum roll from the anchors, the happiest job in America was reported to the nation…”school principal.” I abruptly looked up with a quizzical look, laughed a bit and was very happy to hear the news reporter feeling peacefully satisfied knowing that her children went to school each day with the building being led by a person who statistically held the happiest job in America.
I continued to mix cereal and fill sippy cups as the television dissolved into white noise in the background. Almost immediately, my cell phone began receiving text after text, and one phone call from my mom who exclaimed, “Did you know that you once had the happiest job in America?” One year ago, I, according to USA TODAY, had the happiest job in America. I was responsible for over three hundred families; almost five hundred students; a quarter million dollar budget; schedules; interviews; evaluations and observations; meetings; new guidelines for Common Core Standards; and a new teacher appraisal review. The happiest job in America…I smirked. Despite the daily headaches and often difficult, if not sensitive situations that came across a principal’s desk, it was an extremely happy and rewarding job. I was happy that I knew every student by name, could share stories about their families and know somethings about each of their academic strengths and social accomplishments over the three-year period of time we spent together. I was happy that I had a camaraderie with a staff of over sixty people, who at times (many times) did not agree with my decisions, respected my work and my position. I was happy as a principal. I was happy.
The happiest job in America was traded in for a very different kind of job filled with many emotions, happy being the least of the appropriate word choices. Happy didn’t quite express exactly how I felt in my new career. Anxious cries, unknown nap schedules, daily milestones, and a budget that now only included diapers, formula and an ever changing, yet humbling understanding of a baby’s needs. My balance of time still included a litany of tasks to be done each day, despite their differences, and trying to choose the right developmentally appropriate materials to strengthen the cognitive growth and emotional intelligence of children.
This USA TODAY poll, published March 8, 2015, begins, “What makes one career path ultimately ‘happier’ than the next is certainly subjective.” The article goes on to suggest numerous factors of happiness such as salary, flexibility, security and overall satisfaction. In the poll, “Respondents were asked to rate their job satisfaction on a scale of one to five in seven categories: person one works for, people one works with, support one receives, rewards one receives, growth opportunities available, company culture, and the way one works and handles daily tasks.”
Later that day as I read the article and description of each of the top 10 Happiest Jobs, I decided to take the poll myself comparing my former job to my present job as stay at home mom. I understand that there is subjectivity for each person and for each level of happiness, but as I read and reread the seven categories, how could I score the current “person I work for,” and the “rewards I receive,” as anything but a 5+. My son, although the best “boss” I have ever worked with in relation to overall job satisfaction, is also the most demanding. He expects productivity and on call status 24 hours a day. He does not account for my need for any sick or personal days, and expects nothing but 110% of dedication and commitment. I must also add that through the first many months, his lack of clear and consistent communication had me questioning my ability to perform my new job effectively and efficiently. Yet, as with many new jobs I have been in, there is a learning curve. Far be it from me to believe or admit to being past it, but now at sixteen months, I think I have come to a better understanding of his needs, desires and wishes…for now, until tomorrow.
Interestingly, as I consider the remaining five categories, there is a varied fluctuation between scores of my former and present job. One of the greatest differences is at the end of the day I can’t leave my worries, frustrations, difficult decisions or even accomplishments on my desk to pick up the next day. They live with me through the night. There is no, “I’ll leave that for tomorrow.” The decision making for one child is far more difficult, time consuming, and harrowing than the decisions for five hundred. The amount of worry for his safety, success and happiness is non-comparable.
My growth opportunities go from baby mom, to toddler mom, to preschool mom, to school age mom and then teenage mom, etc. Each of these will present a unique wave of responsibilities, level of understanding, patience and education. There is no calculated effectiveness rating for each before moving onto the next, and many times I reflect on whether my ineffectiveness of the present day could get me an improvement plan for the next. But no such formality exists in stay at home motherhood, and so I continue to navigate this new job in what is a very unfamiliar understanding.
Daily tasks went from a long list of “completed,” to the same items going from one day into the next, and often into new weeks. My level of productivity with handling daily tasks was quite often a 5 in the school setting. At home, to be fair to my family, I would have to score myself a 1, and that is on a good day. How did I go from highly effective prioritizer and accomplisher to, “Oh I forgot I meant to do that today. Oh well.” From a job that may have easily scored all 4s and 5s three years ago, to a job that scores a lot of 1s and 2s, I can say that I have at least made a slight improvement in many categories as the months with our little guy have moved on. That in and of itself has been an accomplishment for me!
My father’s belief in holding a job and career was to have a very strong work ethic. Work hard. He also believed you needed to wake every day and want to go to work. To be so passionate about your job that it embodied who you were as a person. Yes, I loved being a principal. It wasn’t who I was. It was what I did. I LOVE being a mom. It is what I do and who I am. I work hard. I’m learning and trying to be better. My learning curve is great on this one, greater and more difficult than I have ever experienced. How fortunate I am to say, I once statistically had the happiest job in America. How blessed I am to say that I now innately hold the happiest job in America. I love what I do.