Celebration of Unlearning

By Jan Tanaka

I’m leaving my job.
It is a great job with excellent benefits and healthy wages, so maybe it seems crazy to quit, but I have my reasons. I told everyone that I am leaving because of the stress, because I am trying to have a baby and need a calmer lifestyle. And while that is true, there is more to the story than I was letting on.

I am leaving because I am not happy.
I have been allowing this job to consume me; there is no extra time for the things that bring me joy; like networking, speaking and writing. But “I’m not happy” does not feel, to me, like an acceptable reason to quit an amazing job. I learned long ago—I was maybe 5 or 6 years old—that my joy and my desires are not a priority. I had asked my grandmother if I could have some chocolate milk, and I wanted to drink it out of a baby bottle. Not because I was a baby, but because it was fun. Because it brought me joy. Because I simply wanted to.

My parents did not approve.
They shamed me for my desire to drink chocolate milk from a baby bottle. They yelled and criticized me. It did not stop me from drinking from the bottle, however. I continued to do so, but secretly, hiding it under the bed or beneath the covers when they came by. It was clear to me that the things that made me happy were not to be flaunted, not to be enjoyed out in the open, but kept under wraps and hidden away.

This lesson has colored my life even through adulthood.
Keeping my joys and desires private became a matter of survival and this privacy meant that I grew up fiercely independent. It wasn’t until about 18 years ago when a friend of mine said, “You have to let people love you,” that I realized how much I had been missing … and how much I had been holding back. This revelation came at a time when I was moving, stressed and overwhelmed and refusing help. I was trying to do it all on my own.

But I was not only keeping joy from myself—I was also keeping it from others.
It brings people joy to help someone else! There is a sense of purpose that fills us when we are allowed to offer assistance and support. We feel honored when someone is vulnerable enough with us to say, “I cannot do this alone.” My desperate independence was a lose-lose mentality, and I was finally able to see that in all its deep-seated glory.

So I began to embody a new lesson: that joy shown is joy shared.
As I slowly and deliberately unlearned my independence, I realized that true, genuine joy has no boundaries. You cannot truly, fully, deliciously enjoy something if you are ashamed of it and if you feel you must keep it hidden. Neither can you manifest your greatest desires if you feel the need to keep them under wraps. Like a seed, they require room to breathe and they will not grow in darkness, but only in the light.

So yes, I am leaving my job because of my plans to conceive a child.
But I am also leaving because I am chasing after my joy. I am returning to a wonderful company that I used to work for and a position that I love. I will have a schedule and a space that allows me the time to pursue my passions. And I know that when I am happy and fulfilled in this way, I will be able to bring so much more good into the lives of those around me, and into the world as a whole.

Why does it matter so much where you find your joy?
Maybe you love dancing in the rain, and your neighbors think you are ridiculous. Maybe you are happiest living in a van, always on the road, and your family thinks you are nuts. Or maybe you enjoy a bottle filled with chocolate milk from time to time, because it brings you a sense of peace and comfort. Who cares? What matters is that you claim it! What matters is that you are happy! Maybe you will even inspire someone to claim their own joy in the process.

And one day, when I have a child of my own, this is the lesson I will share with them, and this is the example I will live for them: that happiness, in and of itself, is a valid answer to any question.

For more of Jan’s story, check out her contribution in the international best-selling book: “The Art of Unlearning: Conscious Choices for Empowered Living.”