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The Potential for Happiness

Written By: Brittany Bagnato

If you met me a couple of years ago, you may have thought I was meeting my potential. I was a homeowner, had two degrees, and worked my way up the finance ladder. Go me! Right? Maybe. I was proud of my accomplishments and my dedication. And I was appreciative of those who provided support along the way. But I was also miserable.

Some may say that my recollection is distorted and that I interacted well with my colleagues, friends, and family. Or that I am being a privileged, whiny millennial. Or some other comment that supposedly negates my proclamation of misery. I was grateful for many aspects of my life: home, education, employment, and relationships. My basic needs were met, and then some. But that didn’t change the feeling that I was stuck.

I was Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

Every week felt the same. And I started to realize that my life didn’t hold enough joy. Sure, there were moments of joy. But moments of joy aren’t enough to sustain you. They aren’t enough to build the life you deserve. I wasn’t present for the people in my life that mattered, at least not in the way I wanted to be. My mom would come over, and I barely had the energy to carry on a conversation with her. I’d be somewhere with a few friends and have a tightness in my chest. Was I burned out from work? Depressed? Anxious? All of the above? Probably. In any case, I had enough sense to know that something needed to change.

Cue the dogs. I had contemplated adopting a second dog for a while. My Copper (aka my OG) seemed bored. Hesitant about how she would react and aware of the long-term commitment with adopting, I applied to foster. I figured Copper could have buddies, and if she didn’t like one of them, it would be temporary until they would go to their forever home. Plus it would get me back into volunteering, which had fallen by the wayside. To date, 21 dogs have entered my home through Paws Across Pittsburgh, and each one of them has taught me a bit more about dogs and a bit more about myself. 

Along the way, I had to acknowledge that my professional life was draining me more than I had previously admitted. Fortunately, the stars aligned; there was a restructuring at work that naturally made the future a lot less complicated. My last day with my previous employer was March 1, 2023. 

Today, I feel like a different person. Maybe I was this person the whole time, but I didn’t prioritize her. I was too worried about a forecast or budget that was wrong the moment it was submitted, too annoyed by corporate shenanigans, and too stressed by the pace of change. I say this not to bash my former employer or the finance field. It has been amazing to form so many connections over the years and to work for managers that I’ve genuinely valued. The takeaway, friends, is that I realized my life was out of alignment.

In March 2023—and to this day—I was relieved to be starting over even without a fully formed idea of the future. Perhaps some potential employers will view this pause (the horrid career gap) and decide I’m not cut out to work for them. Well, they’re likely doing me a favor and saving me from potentially working somewhere that I’m not seen as a person first and a colleague second. I was on a path that was detrimental to my health and well-being, and I permitted myself to re-evaluate and reconstruct my professional life. A life that didn’t have to align with a full-time finance career just because of my education, or because the salary was lucrative, or because it was what was expected. 

Am I saying I’ll never work in finance again? In corporate again? Absolutely not. I’m saying the specific life I was living wasn’t serving me.

It’s empowering to permit yourself to contemplate a career pivot, entertain the idea of multiple income streams, and/or accept a new level of compensation. I realize not everyone has the same financial flexibility. 

But you have more flexibility than you realize. Challenge your assumptions. Question purchases. Buy secondhand. The list goes on. But, I digress . . . I’m still figuring out the composition of my professional life (and let’s be honest - my personal life too). But I’m excited by the idea of continuing this journey of self-discovery. There’s a quote from Dolly Parton that continues to pop into my head more frequently: “Find out who you are, and do it on purpose.” Well, Dolly, I’m not sure that the standard “9 to 5” is for me.

I’m happy to be where I am. I’m proud too. I’ve lost count of how many people have told me, “You seem lighter” or “You’re smiling a lot more.” I am lighter. I am lighter from losing the weight of a burden I didn’t acknowledge I was carrying. I’m lighter because I was able to take time to breathe, to reset, to spend time with those I love, and to try new things. I’m lighter because, in both my personal and professional endeavors, I am allowing myself to start over. I’m lighter because I let go of a life I thought equaled success but in reality wasn’t for me. At least not anymore. At least not in that same way. I’ve removed some of the draining aspects of my life and replaced them with joy. My paycheck looks very different right now. I expect that to evolve as my journey continues. Yet I find that it’s easier to live on less financially when I no longer need to obtain my dopamine via the “add to cart” button.

My advice? Go try new things - they may spark a light in you. Perhaps you go ax-throwing and abhor it. Cool, don’t go again. Perhaps you try a new recipe, and it leads to a love of baking. Do you have to open a bakery and abandon your current career path?  Nope. What if you want to open a bakery? Ok, pursue that idea further. We tell children all the time, “Just try it. You might like it!  If you don’t like it, you don’t have to continue with it.” Am I crazy? Have we, as adults, lost our appetite for new experiences? For calculated risks? We love movies where the protagonist rejects what no longer serves them and builds a life that does. Why do we judge others for doing the same? Oh, well, “life isn’t a movie.” No shit, Sherlock. Thank you for that astute observation. 

We often cheer for the person we don’t know for taking steps towards joy, but we judge others in our lives (family, friends, colleagues) for making decisions—about their own lives, mind you—that don't fit with what we view as their full potential or as a successful path. For example, I might be confused if a friend decides tomorrow that they no longer want to be an attorney. I may ask them if they want to discuss that decision with me for their clarity and peace of mind. But it’s not my job to tell them how to live their life. It’s my responsibility to support what’s best for them. Might that include very real conversations about money or other logistical aspects of a career change? Yep. What if they “wasted” years of schooling (and money) on an education that will no longer align with their career? Is there such a thing as a wasted education? I spent a decade in direct application of my bachelor’s degree. The degree, combined with my work experience, will not go to waste. If anything, it offers me a solid foundation for future endeavors.

You can be successful in facets of your life and yet still feel unfulfilled. What brings joy and fulfillment for one person may be different for another. Permit yourself to take a new direction. Just because you’ve spent 10 or 20 years in a field (or in a relationship) doesn’t mean you need to stay there. Maybe you love where “there” is. If you do, I’m happy for you. But if, at the end of the day, you spent all your energy . . . and there’s not enough left for your children, your partner, or anyone else that matters to you . . . death and taxes. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Just death and taxes.


Meet the Author

Brittany Bagnato

Brittany Bagnato is a Pittsburgh-based dog mom and mental health enthusiast. She fosters through Paws Across Pittsburgh and manages their LinkedIn page.  Brittany spent 10+ years working in finance and is actively reconstructing her professional life. Ideally, she will craft a professional life that includes various components: fractional/part-time business support, dogs, mental health advocacy, and writing.


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