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Intentional Happiness: My Journey From Salaried Manager to Hourly Dog Trainer

Intentional Happiness: My Journey From Salaried Manager to Hourly Dog Trainer

By Shayna Baggatts-Porter

My palms started to sweat and tears involuntarily flowed from my eyes. I jumped out of bed, trying to understand what was happening.

Around 11:30 on a Sunday night in April, I had gotten into bed and started to mentally prepare a list of tasks for work the next morning.

Like every other night, I thought about the meetings I had to schedule, the check-ins I needed to have with the people I managed, and the data I planned to input.

While ingraining this list in my mind, I started to hyperventilate.

After a few minutes, I realized that I was having a panic attack. I sat on my bedroom floor attempting to calm myself down. This had gone on for about ten minutes when the second realization hit:

This panic attack was caused by thinking about my job.

I finally relaxed, brushed it off, and tried to go back to sleep. But after tossing another two hours, I emailed to my supervisor asking to take the next day off. I told her I just needed a mental health day.

On Monday, I stayed at home and replayed the night before over and over in my brain.

I scolded myself for having such a melodramatic reaction to workplace stress. I figured after a day of relaxation, I would be over it. But Monday night told me a different story.

Again, I struggled to fall asleep until the early morning hours. I just felt so anxious. I figured I needed to take this a little more seriously so I decided to stay home again. I ended up taking three days off.

Most of that time was spent drinking coffee on my porch and watching my dog play. I rarely looked at my phone. I had not told anyone what was going on, so there were not many calls or texts about my mental state to avoid.

I sat in mostly silent reflection for three days.


I was 27 years old and had been working at the same education non-profit organization for just under five years.

I worked 50+ hour weeks but I was managing people just a few years younger than myself and was making enough money to pay my bills and loans, help my family members when necessary, support my Goodwill addiction, and raise a dog with food allergies.

The next step in this career would have been a promotion in two months time.

I️ was stable, comfortable, and overwhelmingly unhappy.

Stress at my job had been building up for quite some time but I was always told that just comes with the territory. Work was supposed to be hard and fun was to happen when I got home and on the weekends.<<<<<<<<<<<<< ave worked for me. However, the nature of my job did not allow me to leave work at work. I often found myself at my office on weekends and answering phone calls and emails during dinner. My work never stopped.

Now, I loved the work I did. I was able to work with students all over the city and help direct and guide young adults all while gaining more management experience in my late twenties than could fit on my resume.

Somewhere along the way, though, I lost sight of the line between my work life and my personal life and felt like I was consumed by my job at every moment.

That Sunday night, my body finally showed me what my mind had been suppressing for five years.<<<<<<<<<<<<< n my porch, sipping coffee, watching my dog chew on a toy, feelings of complete calm and contentment rushed over me. I became more present in that moment than I had been in years. It hit me: sitting here, immersed in uninterrupted thought, I felt a level of happiness that I had not known in ages.<<< last time I had had coffee at home, not in a travel mug? When was the last time I had played with my dog under no time constraint? When was the last time I had sat on my porch in the sunlight without a laptop? When was the last time things so small, seemingly insignificant, made my entire body feel happy? In that moment, I knew I had to make a change. But how? Do I take more vacation days? Well, no. I wanted to take an actual vacation. Do I just half-ass it? I could never. I am a diving-in-head-first-and-never-coming-up-for-air type of lad. I wanted to feel that feeling, happiness I think it was, more often. I wanted to be intentional about my happiness. And to do that, I would have to leave my workaholic lifestyle behind. // My decision had been made; I was going to quit my job at the beginning of summer. I felt at peace with this but next came figuring what I was going to do next. I started applying to other nonprofits and startups and going on any interview I could to get the practice. I had not interviewed for a new job in years. After each interview, though, I left feeling uneasy.

I️ was not excited about any of the jobs for which I was interviewing. I started to worry that I would not find a position that made me happy.

I thought back to the three days I spent on my porch and picked apart the circumstances: the two most significant pieces were time and my dog.

I had enough time to wake up, make coffee, sit down and drink it. I wanted to make sure I had that opportunity more often so I needed to find a job that allowed that. And then there was Quimby.

Quimby is my American Pit Bull Terrier puppy. She came into my life at just a few weeks old at the beginning of February. Quimby is my first dog.

My mother was terrified of dogs, and most other animals, when I was growing up so I was never allowed a pet, other than my turtle, of which she was also afraid. So, when the opportunity presented itself to bring a puppy into my home, I jumped at the chance.

Very quickly, I discovered how little I knew about dogs. Within twenty minutes of Quimby being home, I was in tears wondering if I had made a huge mistake.

She pooped on my hardwood floors as soon as we walked in the house, she crawled under the coffee table and knocked vases over, and she nipped my pants and ankles with her razor sharp puppy teeth.

I had no clue what to do. After a few hours, she started to get sleepy, climbed into my lap, nuzzled her face into my arm, and started snoring.

It was then I decided to learn everything I could to make sure I could keep her in my life.

I scoured the internet daily for training information and started working with Quimby as soon as I could. With short training sessions every day, Quimby and I learned to communicate with each other. Quimby picked everything up pretty quickly and I found so much joy in watching her grow. I constantly looked forward to training sessions with her.

Friends and family members would compliment Quimby’s behavior. People were astounded at how well-behaved she was for such a young pup. When I walked Quimby, strangers would ask if I was a dog trainer.And one day, on one of our walks, my neighbor stopped me and said she was going to send her dog over to me for training.

And it clicked. I should be a dog trainer!

This revelation brought me loads of excitement. I daydreamed about all the possibilities that could come from venturing into a new career like this one. Maybe I could even start my own business. Then I could drink all the coffee on all the porches I wanted.

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I starting searching for jobs and came across a dog training apprenticeship where all of my expenses would be covered if I trained with the company for one year. This seemed like a sweet deal so I applied.

I received a call the next day for a casual phone interview and was brought in for an official interview the next afternoon.

I was offered the job on the spot.

It was all happening and so quickly, but I knew I had to take the leap at that moment or I never would.

I️ accepted the job, but next came the hard part: telling my friends and family I was leaving my stable and promising management career to work as an hourly-paid dog trainer.

There was encouragement and there was pushback. Most people said that they were proud of me and called me brave for making such a risky decision. Some said they admired me and could not make that kind of move for themselves. The encouragement and praise made me feel like I could handle this.

And then there were the less encouraging reactions that, quite honestly, gave me pause.

Some people pointed out the very real issue of money. How was I supposed to continue to live the same lifestyle making a third of my salary at that time?

There were people who told me to keep the job, take the promotion, half-ass my way through work, and find happiness on the weekends. A lot of these concerns from my friends and family made sense.

The thing that got me through a lot of the criticism was that I knew I had planned.

When I decided I wanted to leave my position, I started saving money. I did not up and quit without first finding another position, even though I wanted to quite often.

I️ reminded myself every day that I was the only one who knew what my happiness looked like. I did not think eating out and thrifting hauls were worth the panic attacks.

Sometimes we fall out of love with the things we thought would be our always, and that is okay. We can then fall in love with other things, and that can sometimes be even better.

So, how did it all turn out?

I am currently a dog trainer. My usual work shift is 12:00-8:00pm which leaves me enough time to make coffee, and even breakfast, walk my dog, shower, and maybe watch an episode of Steven Universe before work.

When I leave work, I actually leave work. And when I get home, I feel like I can have a personal life again. I think the best part of all of this is finally understanding the things that make me truly happy.

No longer am I attempting to replicate what happiness should be with nights out and Netflix binges. Being intentional about my happiness will always be a priority for me. I am much happier now than I have been in a long time and I try to remember to thank myself for that every day.

I️ have learned to create my happy spaces on purpose. And hanging out with dogs five days a week only adds to that!

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