The Happiness Compass Points South



If you’ve followed my personal migration story, you know that I moved abroad exactly four years ago today. Dissatisfied with previous jobs and their lack of opportunity, coupled with the desire for the children to have a more worldly life experience, we moved to Australia.

I started my life’s journey gradually, and subconsciously from my birthplace of upstate New York. I had a brief stint from age eight to eleven, living in Colorado with my single mother. My maternal grandmother started ailing with what we believe was Alzheimer’s and several other health issues, so we moved back to New York to be closer to her. I finished out half a year of sixth grade, and stayed with my Aunt for a while (over Gramma’s place) in a two-story house in Utica, New York. There’s something about Utica, and the extended 315 area code that is a part of the blueprint of who you become.

I’d be remiss if I skip over my childhood in Utica. It’s not the same place anymore from when I grew up there in the seventies. My recollection of my time in Utica, through the lens of a child, was that there were a lot of different cultures somehow seamlessly integrating into the fabric of daily life. My family, proudly Irish with never a mention of our French Canadian/Scottish ancestry, lived next door to Rocco “Rocky” and Marion Paniccia (their love for us “grandkids” knew no bounds). We were always invited over for Italian feasts complete with Sambuca and Limoncello, and in summertime, Rocky would bring out a fiberglass pool for us to splash around in while he sang songs to us like “Pistol Packing Mama”; these lyrics stay with me 40+ years later:

“Lay that pistol down, babe
Lay that pistol down
Pistol packing mama
Lay that pistol down”

Or we played Rocky’s Jarts game in the backyard field that was Utica College property while the waft of lilacs filled the air. We were diagonal from the Spanish-speaking Basualdos, of whom their daughter, I was best friends with in elementary school. The dinner table there consisted of heaps of spicy food, Spanish words I didn’t understand, and jokes about artichokes and how they could kill you if you “choked” on one of the leaves. And the Zogbys, the Lebanese family a couple doors down, where I played Donkey Kong for the first time in their basement. Reconnecting via Facebook with these last two families has been amazing. In elementary school, I had friends that were Polish, Persian, Greek, and African-American, and well, we just didn’t care about that stuff. Other than the yummy food and experiences we had when visiting each other, we were all just friends.

These remain my memories, even after moving to complete middle school and high school an hour away from Utica. Maybe if I stayed in Utica, my path would be different. But an hour away in a small town, I was itching to get as far away as possible once I could. So I did. I chose SUNY Plattsburgh to go to college.

I enjoyed my time in Plattsburgh, but after a chance at a broadcasting internship failed, I decided to join the real world and get any job, which led me to Lake Placid.

Let me preface, my experience in Lake Placid was amazing for a recent college graduate. I skied, biked, hiked, or ran everywhere, had zero obligations, and hung out with Olympians. I played all day, every day, and wondered in the beauty of the majestic Adirondacks. I held jobs like working in a pizza shop, a jewellery and watch shop, I was a Top 40 DJ, barista at the best bagel place, bicycle/ski shop salesperson, and my coup de grace, I went on the road selling birdhouses! All told, the birdhouse gig was the best paying experience of them all and allowed me to travel six months out of the year. Until it ended. Then I had to get super serious about my next move, playtime was over.

I decided then to head South, as my parents had done years earlier, and where there was a lot of job growth. I packed up my cat and dog and headed down to Raleigh, North Carolina in a huge U-Haul truck with what little I had. I rode the public bus daily, to an advertising sales gig for a local entertainment newspaper, then graduated to sales for data storage company NetApp. I enjoyed the single girl tech-life, complete with the purchase of my first brand new Mercedes, tickets to all sporting and concert events, lush travel, and the ability to buy my own house.

After that, I worked for a digital presentation and marketing company, where I’m sure I’ve enjoyed working with the people more than the actual company or job itself. I made my mark there with my client portfolio and then the client hired me. After almost eight years of pharmaceutical marketing complete with massive layoffs year upon year, and bureaucracy, something had to finally give. So it was without hesitation I put my hand up to be let go during the latest round of layoffs.

This decision coincided shortly after my former spouse’s acceptance of a lucrative position in Australia; an opportunity he would never have had for his age and stage in his career in the U.S.. This also served as an excellent opportunity to raise our two small girls in a different culture and as part of our five year plan, gain citizenship for us all to expand our opportunities.

The job opportunities for an American, even in Australia with permanent residency have been few, at least those that match my skills coming from a bigger pond. However, the beauty of Australia is the “fair go” attitude, where everyone can just go for it and give it a shot. So that’s what I did, and extended my genealogy services business and started a clothing business where I could work from home and have flexible hours, to remain the nurturer of the family. Little did I realise that it would become so much more. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to lift and be lifted by incredible women across Australia. These women have become my tribe.

Australia has become my country. And in several a reflective moment, my surroundings and experiences here transport me back to the 315 of my youth. My neighbours are Filipino, Armenian, Vietnamese, Maltese, and Greek now (with a sprinkling of Aussies and Americans), and all just trying to do good work, and be happy.

Since I’ve adopted this country or it’s adopted me (still working through my application for citizenship), I’ve realised that following an internal compass leads to happiness in all ways; work and life. Coming to Australia hopeful for worldly opportunities, and starting a business to see where it led, ignited new passions, and brought new friends who I didn’t know I would come to rely so heavily upon as I battled breast cancer, a marriage breakdown, and a child custody battle. And while fighting so hard for what I believed in, and for my health, I even allowed a small opening to the chance of finding love, and I did.

Following that internal compass means facing challenges head on too, and remaining steadfast to what fulfils you. And for me apparently, the happiness compass was always pointing South.