Life Work Vs. Career - Why Knowing Your Path at 18 is Unrealistic
In 2010 I was studying Year 12. My biggest interests were napping, going out to the pub and 18th's, and being in love. Cooking was great too. School wasn’t the worst, mostly because I had a great group of friends and a few really good teachers. Back then, study meant constant back pain and anti-inflammatory abuse, it meant time away from my friends and boyfriend, it induced ‘cabin fever’ and anxiety. We were all in the same boat I’m sure, except perhaps those who never coped with schoolwork at any year level – you know the ones, the kids who were told they were ‘aggressive’, ‘troubled’ or ‘hyperactive’ because they didn’t fit the rigid system; creative, energetic square pegs forced into an ugly round hole. At any rate, we were all asked on an almost daily basis – “what do you want to do when you finish school?”.
Excuse my expression, but how the fuck should I know? How does a sheltered, anxious, hormone-fueled, social-loving teenager have the maturity or foresight to choose a lifelong career path? At the time, we whispered among ourselves how pressured we felt and how confusing the concept was, but it wasn’t an openly discussed issue. We were offered careers counselling, brief work experience and lots of study support to achieve high ATAR scores - to lose ourselves an opportunity to get into a good course would be catastrophic or, even worse, disappointing. If we couldn’t master a 2,500 word essay or complex algebra, we were basically stuffed. On the plus side, there was scope for creative outlets and downtime through LOTE, sport, Psychology, Outdoor Education, etc. In addition, we were part of the first generation that escaped necessity as a motive for choosing a job – we had choice.
Being a regular Physio patient and a fan of human biology, I picked Physiotherapy as my path and achieve the necessary score to get in (my first preference). I didn’t feel I was ready for Uni life and had no money, so I took a gap year like most of my friends. That year is now just a blur of mental health issues. Fast forward to 2017 – I had a degree and full time job in Physio, lived in Geelong with my partner, still saw my friends regularly and discovered some mind-blowing hobbies. I had also worked out that the 8-4.30 grind was not working. At all. My closest friend had already worked out two years prior that Physio wasn’t her calling and, against the advice of so many older folk, went back to Uni (and is still studying now) with a large HECS debt and no regrets. She had the balls to make a move and it didn’t go unnoticed. So many friends were saying how they too weren’t sure if they could do the same job for the rest of their days, some even admitting they just went to Uni because it was just what you did. My change wasn’t immediate – I had to get past the guilt of “if everyone did what they truly loved, we wouldn’t have cleaners and garbos”. I felt guilty then, and still do, that Generation Y had so much opportunity, choice and abundance compared to our parents and grandparents, yet we complained. I also knew had to make a living. I am asked so often how and why I quit full time work in 2017, so, without offering advice or telling you what to do, here’s what I did.
STEP ONE – WORST CASE SCENARIO
The risk of failure is scary if you have a lot to lose. I had to see what life would look like if I stopped full time and things didn’t work out. Things like having enough savings for a couple of months of unemployment, having a conversation with my partner about what support he could provide if times got desperate, deciding what types of jobs I would feel OK doing and what was out of the question, keeping good relationships with employers if I wanted to go back again, adjusting my spending/lifestyle to save money more easily, keeping up social contacts in case my mental health took a beating in the process. I also set myself roughly 12 months to ‘have a play’ and try things before getting settled into a pattern that earns money for our long-term goals so I don’t end up floating around forever.
STEP TWO – LEARN THE BASICS BEFORE RESIGNING
I’ll admit this is hard if you don’t know what you enjoy outside work – not everyone has a hobby or ‘passion’. For me, I just decided that my favourite things were plants (namely veggies), time outside/exercise, genuinely healthy food and socialising. The education part came later as my confidence grew and my long-term goals evolved. I started spending every minute before and after work in the garden, at the nursery, at the beach, with friends and, later, on my yoga mat. I started fermenting – James introduced me to Kombucha and it was love at first SCOBY. I enrolled in a Horticulture course (that turned out to be a flop, online study isn’t suited to my hands-on learning preference, but no harm done!) I got really into my website and Instagram as an education resource for sustainability. I researched zero waste tips, environmental veganism and regenerative agriculture.
There were two key events that helped me pick the right time to leave – I used my annual leave to attend a Permaculture Design Certificate in Nimbin, NSW, which was the BEST fun and use of leave EVER. It helped me hone my values, upskill and form ideas. I also went to a Biodynamic Farming Intro Course and met a farmer who just happened to be looking for someone to maintain a small patch on his property (exactly what I was looking for, hello Universe). Together with Kirsty, an Occupational Therapist in a similar boat to me, we’ve been mentored in BD vegetable farming for almost a year. I can’t thank Darren enough for what he has allowed us to learn, do and eat!
STEP THREE – GO WITH YOUR GUT
Every bloody time. It never fails. Since I started doing what feels right, I feel fucking free. You can’t please everyone and you won’t. My partner is good a reminding me of this point. I often struggle to balance this and definitely feel like people in my life miss out sometimes, but I’m trying hard all the time. I’ve especially used this step when applying, or not applying, for jobs. It took a second interview to get my fulltime gig in Geelong, but every other job has been off the cuff, on a whim and immediately successful (yes there’s an element of luck and privilege in there, for sure). I don’t apply for places that make me feel uneasy or anxious, I don’t apply half-heartedly, and I look to see that my honesty and trust is reflected back to me by my employer. So far, so good..!
It’s now July, 2018. Work fluctuates, every day is different, and I’m rarely bored. I work about the equivalent of part-time between three jobs, run workshops at random dates either myself or with my partner in crime Meg, and visit the veggie patch about twice a week (in the cooler months). I buy half the produce I used to because we grow so much, and sell excess to cover costs of seedlings and fuel etc. I do casual Physio work about once a week and it’s much more enjoyable now that I do less! I also do this to keep my registration and skills as I might return to it one day. I have time to exercise almost every day, meditate and/or get on the yoga mat, and rest when my back needs it. Admittedly, winter screws with my mental health and recent months, enhanced by another back injury, have been hard (that’s another story altogether). Right now my spiritual life is growing alongside amazing female relationships and I’m riding the high!
Eight months down, a few to go, and I’m still not sure... So far my intuition has taken me in awesome directions, so I plan to combine that with an underlying push to work more hours in order to save for our combined goals (land in this part of the world doesn’t come cheap!) My original savings are still in my account, mostly untouched. I’m about to start a really exciting job that is so aligned with my future goals it’s crazy – watch and wait. I’m heading to New Zealand in October to help a friend plan sustainable management of a large farm (and help out for calving season), another one of those off-the-cuff, just-feels-right things! Overseas travel is definitely on the cards for 2019.
I don’t regret choosing Physiotherapy. I don’t regret going to Uni for four years. I had the time of my life living on res and spending every day with some of my favourite humans on Earth. I have such a good knowledge base about health and the human body because of it; everyone should study anatomy! I do regret the opportunities missed to learn the important skills, the ones that have a huge impact in ‘adulthood’ (I still don’t know what that word really means). I regret not sitting down with my Dad and learning about Tax, buying shares and superannuation fees. I regret not listening properly to my Mum when she tried to teach me how amazing plants are. I regret spending endless stressful, self-deprecating hours at tutoring for maths that, to this day, I have never used. I regret spending so much time indoors, sitting in pain, instead of getting outdoors to reduce stress and reliance on medication. I regret giving so much of a shit about what other people thought of me. I regret that the education system is so greatly flawed and has probably set us all back a few years in creative, social and personal development. In the end, we were all doing the best we knew how to do. I don’t know what the solution is, except that questioning the norm and embracing change are essential components. Pressure is not one.
I don’t identify with the person I was at high school – we are two different people, the present version far less grumpy and far more open-minded than the past. Thank god, how boring it would be to stay the same forever!
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