Sydney Month 3: Spring is Coming

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These words brought a smile to my face, which was far from my expression when my doctor suggested I go on Zoloft; and nothing like the looks my co-workers had when I arrived at the office in thongs, with a smell emanating from my feet as a result of that morning’s plumbing problems.

I left my housemate with a mop in hand and feet in sewerage water as I hurried to work. But not without first returning with a fresh muffin from the cafe down the road. It wasn’t much, but it was what I could do.

When I got here 3 months ago, I didn’t feel the same way about making it through winter. I honestly thought I would crumble; break; snap – or one of the many physical depictions of mentally giving in.

It’s been a challenge. The transition from a slow island in the South Pacific to Australia’s biggest city isn’t easy – or easily explained. To many it’s all ‘just another day’, but I can’t help being put off by the overpowering cold, cement surroundings, and presence of consumerism.

So understandably, there have been many nights where I’ve been left asking myself: “Why did I come here?” But truth be told, a few months ago, there were just as many sleepless nights spent keeping company to the thought: “Why stay here?”

But as my new housemate rightfully stated:

“You can’t run.”

I feel it’s important to mention that this experience has introduced me to what share housing is really like. Previously, I’d only lived with close friends. I’ve since learned that differences are to be expected, but also traversed through honest conversation. In this instance – despite our differences in where we’ve come from and going – we discovered a rather unexpected mutual understanding. It’s that wherever you go, so will whatever you’re trying to escape.

I know the importance of properly addressing ‘issues’ rather than avoiding them. I work for a non-profit organisation that promotes positive mental health… yet I’m having trouble staying positive – and worse, staying me. Bascially, failing the advice of one of my inspirations, Robin Williams:

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. Don’t lose it.”

Though various books, I’ve been exploring the idea of life itself being comprised of many instances of dying and being born again. The one requiring the other; letting go being the only way to have our hands open to receive. I don’t feel like the person I used to be (especially at work), but I’m holding onto the belief that it’s a natural process in the same way that a snake sheds its old skin for the sake of new growth.

Vivid, but the thought gives me comfort in what I’m doing: leaving home for the second time to  ‘start again’ and hopefuly figure out myself and my place in the crazy world. Sure, it could be me that’s ‘crazy’. But that would make days founded on coffee, cigarettes, high costs of living, and long crowded commutes… normal.

Maybe it is, and maybe this just isn’t the lifestyle for me. I’ve been exploring the ideas of minimalism and other alternative ways of living. The central theme being that one is encouraged to evaluate their obligations and desires against what they truly need to be ‘happy’. (Whatever that means, it should be defined by the individual, not marketers).

Without a doubt, these are all questions that first emerged last year while I lived in Tonga – a place where people had much less, but smiled so much more. There are Ted Talks on the topic as well as blogs from people like Lauren who are living their answers. (I’ll be Skyping with her shortly!)

It does seem that whenever we leave – and wherever we go – we run the risk of finding more questions than answers. Some settle, and some keep seeking. I don’t think either is particular the wiser. There’s many ways to live this thing called life. I had no idea about most of them until I stepped off the ‘road most traveled’ for the first time in my life last year.  My remaining commitment here in Sydney is 9 months, but I have every intention of making this place my permanent home if I can. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I promised myself I would try.

Before going on medication, there’s certainly things I will try… like following the advice that I spend 40hrs a week ‘giving’.  That means doing things like eating and sleeping well; and getting enough exercise, sunlight, and social engagement. I’ve also found getting enough ‘me time’ to pursue my hobbies to be essential to my wellbeing.

These are all things that definitely make one feel better. Except, ‘feeling better’ seems to be the prerequisite for having the energy and motivation to attempt these things in the first place. It’s kind of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, so we’ll just have to see what hatches. In the mean time – as I have through every dark storm that I’ve weathered over the years – I know that I can find solace between the pages of books.

Philosophy’s main task is to respond to the soul’s cry; to make sense of and thereby free ourselves from the hold of our griefs and fears.  – The Art of Living

It’s possible I might just end up passing through. But then, just like Tonga, I’ll hopefully leave with this place, and myself, being that little bit more better off.

Artificial & Anxious

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Grass can be fake, but it’s no substitute for the real thing. You definitely notice something’s off.

People can act fake. You can fool others, but certainly not yourself. There’s still going to be that ‘something’.

While I find it easy to present the image of being well-maintained and vibrant, others often find it difficult to get to the truth behind the weeds of my whimsical nature. So here’s something I hope you can grasp:

I don’t feel that great.

Today marks one month since I left. Emphasis on ‘I’. I chose this for myself, so I can’t complain. Even if I didn’t chose everything else: being overwhelmed; the homesickness; the unfamiliarity to everyone, everything; and the emotional toll that not having a place to call home for a month takes.

I don’t feel very organic either.

Not many people know what’s below the surface. I worry that piling it all on others would mean losing them. So I’m under the pile, hoping for a hand to pull me out or pass me a ‘shovel’ in the form of a solution. I’d even be grateful to be swept the remaining shards of support from some sold-out saying.

That’s because I’m willing to dig my way out.  Like a prize-winning patch, getting the grass to be greener where you stand requires work. It requires a routine. That means attending to pervasive emotions so they don’t get out of hand.

I spend my weeks working with wellbeing and mental health content. I know the tools, I know the techniques; I know I wasn’t using them.

 Emphasis on ‘wasn’t’.

Since finding somewhere I feel comfortable in calling home, I’ve taken steps to start laying a proper foundation, sprinkling the right mix of habits and hope. With patience, effort, and self-care, like a flower finding its way through the pavement, I know beauty can blossom from what appears broken.

I feel better  – especially after writing and a much-needed phone call.

Adding Colour

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The grass isn’t always greener. Sometimes there’s no grass at all.

This is my first post since moving to a completely new city.

So far its been a corrosive mixture of feelings. The most unsettling being the urge to turn my car around and head home. That’s the thing about options; as much as they help us when we fall, they can also be a hinderance when it comes to taking flight. Tony Robins said it well:

If you want to take the island, make sure to burn the boat.

I didn’t set my car on fire, but I gave myself some much needed rest after two days of solid driving – accompanied by no one but my own thoughts. For most of the way, I was going between 100 – 120km; they were racing at least twice that fast.

I didn’t exactly know why I was doing this, but I knew what I was doing. I was running.

I guess I didn’t learn from Tonga; you can run from anywhere, anything, and anyone … but yourself.

I opened the door to a standard Sydney-sized shoebox of a room. My bags barely hit the ground before the mirror caught my eye. There I was. Somehow, I expected the mirror, but not the person in it.

But I didn’t run. I stayed because I believe that somewhere out there is the person I want to be. I might find him here. Or as I did in Tonga, I’ll at least find a few more pieces of the puzzle.

I already wrote about a recent realisation regarding my parents. Likewise, so far this experience has also allowed me to see even more value in my friendships. “Thinking of you,” “Call me anytime,” and “I’m on your side,” are more than just words when you’re in a city of four million people and only know four; they’re a way forward. But making my way is still my responsibility.

In his Ted Talk, How the worst moments in our lives make us who we areAndrew Solomon speaks about “forging meaning and creating identity”. Inspired by this, I’ve found strength in my own slogan: adding colour. (Shattering several stereotypes in the process considering that I’m the straight one.)

It’s like that phrase about finding the silver lining in the clouds. I’m faced with a silver wall of concrete to which I’ve taken it upon myself to add some colour to. Our perspective and personality truly are paint brushes. So far – based on my limited experience – this city seems dull and dark, but I know things can get brighter.

However, just like when it comes to working with an actual paint palette, I understand that not every colour will work. Compromises must be made and benefits must be balanced as we walk down this tightrope that’s made of time and a temperament towards snapping at any moment. ( I just watched an episode of Louie which had an unexpected death.)

And on the topic of walking, I’m a short distance from work, but far from comfortable in a house that has parts hardly standing. I’m paying little in rent, but not enjoying spending all my time in my room. I got the things I wanted, but it’s clear that they’re just not working for me overall. So I’m going to change my circumstances like an artist choosing colours. I can’t be certain of how my decision to move will affect my ‘bigger picture’… but hopefully my next post will be looking a lot better.

Halfway and Half-hearted

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Yesterday morning I faced a similar sight:  two open suitcases and a bare room. I felt a similar feeling: excitement stirred with far too many dashes of doubt. This is happening; I’m closing one chapter and turning to nothing but blank pages.

All of a sudden at the half-way point in my journey, I have a thought at 1.09 am:

“Turn around, go home.”

It’s amusing how certainty gives the illusion of comfort. I left home in order to seek out more ideal conditions, but nothing can dilute the odour of uncertainty that drifts with any daring decision. That stench surrounded me in the middle of the night. It gets us all at different times and in different scenarios, but it’s always felt as fear –  fear of the unknown. 

It’s also elaborated in sayings such as, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”

Well, here’s what I do know: I held by breath through the night and woke to the fresh air of possibility and this beautiful view. There’s also now something on the first page. Something that I wrote; not my imagination.

What stinks in your life?  

My Crossroad: Moving State

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The Crossroads of Should and Must – Elle Luna

It’s amusing how the most unexpected and usual scenarios can play themselves out for a second time.

I recently went camping for the weekend to spend a night under the stars, but only to find myself lost… in thought. I was preoccupied with the possibility of how my life may change based on the news I was awaiting. Last time it was whether I got accepted into the volunteer program that sent me to Tonga for the year; this time it was a potential job offer in another state.

Once again, I returned to get the good news, but also to be left with the weight of a gigantic decision to make.

Just like Tonga was a country that I never saw myself visiting, Sydney is a city I never saw myself living in.  I even wrote a post about how I didn’t enjoy my last experience there…

But there is a key difference this time: why I’m going.

I have the opportunity to work for an organisation that focuses specifically on promoting mental health and preventing youth suicide. It’s an opportunity to better lives and to make a ‘difference’ – pretty much the kind of difference that I intended this blog to make by reaching out to the kid I once was: sitting alone in my room starting at the wall for hours; lost, numb and unwilling to fully participate in life. It’s the opportunity to save someone from making the mistake that I’m lucky I never made. It’s an unfortunate reality, but many people do – which is why what this organisation does is so important.

But the question remained: how important is it that I do it?

I spoke to everyone – from my friends and family, to passing strangers and even shop clerks. I also spent one hour going through a pros-and-cons list with my psychologist. No one could give me a definite answer. This advice from a friend illuminated my biggest concern:

“When it comes to making such big decisions, make sure you’re running to something, not just running from something.”

Not that I regret my decision – but I will admit, my decision to go to Tonga was definitely motivated by the latter. I enjoy the feeling of escaping; I think I always will. But I also desire to grow; I hope I always will. As I’ve been slowly sinking back into old habits and mindsets since returning, leaving my ‘comfort zone’ may strangely enough, be the only way to save myself.

Sink or swim.

Just as pressure forges diamonds, it’s said that it makes the best in us shine. I hope it does because, apart from the job, at this stage, I’ve got nothing else of value waiting for me. I believed going to Tonga would allow me to reinvent myself – which it did. But it also left the process largely incomplete. Which is why I’m hoping another change of scenery will allow me to discover the rest of my missing pieces.

Currently, I dislike the uncertainty I have in my life. I’d definitely prefer to be ‘normal’ with a secure job, wife, house, and baby; but I deeply desire to be different, too. Or better put: myself. My employment experience so far has also proven that I’d be better off with some congruency between who I am and what I do. Just as Elle Luna asks in her ‘must read’  book, The Crossroads of Should and Must:

“What if who we are and what we do become one and the same? What if our work is so thoroughly autobiographical that we can’t parse the product from the person? In this place, job descriptions and titles no longer make sense; we no longer go to work, we are the work.”

It’s a question worth asking; but we are not always given or guaranteed an answer, to which Luna also states:

“To choose Must is to say yes to a journey without a road map or guarantees.”

So I can’t say that taking the job is specifically the best decision… but I do feel it’s certainly a step in the right direction. And that’s enough for me to choose Must.

PS

* Great Ted Talk by David Brooks discussing the desire to live for more than just our work.

Uncertainty Isn’t Always Ugly

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I took the above photo on January 1st. I was on holidays at the time and enjoying the feelings of wonder and excitement that comes with not knowing what tomorrow holds.

Sure, to see the sunrise on any day is a gift, but it doesn’t always feel that way. 

Lately, it feels like I’m slowly being wrapped up in my old ways: grudgingly going along through the motions of applying for jobs, doing interviews, and crossing my fingers. That was certainly the pattern before I went overseas.

But this time, something is different.

The same question that once caused distress, now dares me to dream.

Anything could be next! 

I never saw myself having the adventure I had – but I did. Likewise, a friend who felt trapped in a similar way – grudgingly working discount-retail jobs in the city district – is now on a solar farm in the rural area of another state… You really do never know.

But I do know, that personally, uncertainty has always been undesirable. And I think I also know why. I realised that sometimes the reason we don’t focus on the better outcomes is because we’re not comfortable betting on ourselves. I wasn’t. Which is why I played it safe up until the point of leaving my comfort zone completely.

Now that I’ve lived in another country and culture, I feel capable in pursuing opportunities in the distance – should they be in another country or state. Things could get worse, but they could get also get better in ways that I never imagined. It’s a gamble.

Sure, every day is a roll of the dice, but it doesn’t always feel that way.

As someone who’s on their second round, I’ll just say: have more faith in yourself and you’ll have more fun in the game.

Constricted by my Career

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“Is this it”

I remember as I sat outside on my lunch breaking during my first full time job  and struggling to find an answer. This chapter of my ‘adult life’ had only just started to unfold so I knew I was limited by my experience,  but I wanted to believe that the  past few years of school and university, was for something more than that this. I accept responsibility now, and understand the  consequences of a ‘going with the flow’ mentality with little attention given to the future beyond the belief that ‘it will workout’. That’s exactly what I believed while studying,  assuming I only needed to focus on graduating and that would also lead to a job which would lead to me being content and happy. Things would be fine.

I was wrong on both assumptions. Getting a job took months, which in my youth, naivety, and current emotional state, I was not prepared for.  The rejections piled up, and given that I was still coming to terms with a recent break up, I mistakenly took getting dumped and struggling to find work as indicators of my self-worth. Things that I now know are just a part of life’s expected trials, no different to learning to walk and falling in the process. At the time however, I found myself progressively lying awake at night with a rapid heartbeat, holding conversations was hard, I felt a sense of panic in public, my mouth was always dry and getting out of bed was like running an obstacle course. On an inner level things were worse. Google told me what I didn’t want to hear, the funny, outgoing, motivated person that I was known as, was apparently ‘depressed’. A long visit to my family Dr improved my perspective on things. I had just encountered a ‘rut’, regardless how deep i was,  my feelings were situational, thus had the chance to improve. Two years later, sure, it feels like I have gone from rut to rut, but I’ll continue with the story.

When I did eventually get a job, I could tell very early on that things were not going to be just fine. The company was full of people who were happy in their roles, but I discovered how I felt about something I had never done or given much thought to before, spending 8 hours in front a computer, repeating several of the  same tasks and having the repetitive superficial conversations with customers. Of course initially, it was great to have a weekly wage, learn new skills and take on a new challenge. That was until I had learned how to do the tasks with minimal attention and the only challenge I had  was  from the hands of the clock that seduced my attention on an almost second to second basis.

Unable to disguise my true character like someone trick-a-treating in casual clothes, my lack of enthusiasm was evident. A self funded holiday, promotion and a drastic salary increase definitely added a bit of bounce in my steps when I would come through the doors ‘just on time’ each morning, but surly, it didn’t last as it only forced my attention to the future. What was in the future was another promotion and more money and the responsibility to watching someone do my job,  these were all things that didn’t particularly excite me.  This is when I made the decision to go after what I wanted (then). With an increased sense of comfort with the working world, I felt confident to seek out a job more directly in line with my studied field rather than settling for the first somewhat related  job I was offered.

And I did exactly that, with far less difficulty than i encountered in my  previous experience finding work. In fact , I got it through a co-worker who I had become close to at my previous job. This is when I really started to realise how connected the world is, and that events never do occur in pure isolation.  My previous role suddenly had a new sense of  value and meaning, without it and the people I had met, I never would have obtained my new job which at the time I did honestly believe ‘would be it’.

The sacrifices were huge. Substantially much less pay, over 1.5hrs commuting each day, $60 spent in fuel a week, $70 spent in tolls. But I knew I had been given a chance, and was desperate to prove to myself and others, I can work hard. I realised the only opinion that truly counts, and counted, was my own. I did struggle initially and even went as far as thinking I wouldn’t last a few months. This fear was more so perpetuated by my fear of the unknown than anything else in the actual reality of the role. Eventually I received a promotion, recognition, moved out of home for the first time in my life but once again found myself overcome with a feeling of stagnation.  The way the company and industry was, there wasn’t anything visible in the horizon. My predecessors  had all left after the 1 year mark which I was nearing. The words of my boss to ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing” were far from encouraging when I raised this issue.

In this job, I didn’t have a cubical, I had an office, which helped as unfortunately being a sole department, there was little to no social interaction except for with the others in my role at the companies other locations. What made it worse was the prisoner mentality amongst us, there were constant whispers about how bad the conditions where and who was planning to get out and when. This time alone however, did give me time to think, to meditate and really hear what my heart was trying to say. I had job,  I could pay the bills, do many of the things I can’t do now, so in retrospect I should have been more grateful, but it was clear, I would be happier and needed something of interest ,passion and with greater future possibilities.

Like a dream had come true I found it. In an industry I loved (fitness), 5 minutes from home, and with significantly more money. But one month later I found myself in the park at lunch, with tears in my eyes and a feeling of overwhelming dread that things were far from what I expected. There was little to no responsibility in my role, or a challenge from the work, my ideas to improve things kept causing conflicts with a boss who was more concerned enforcing the law that her opinion was always correct. A change from the large nation wide companies I had worked for before, I now only had 3 co-workers who were excluding me from their social circle despite my ongoing attempts to interact with them. Where I did receive praise, it was for lying and deceiving customers into purchases and I never felt I was living true to myself. On top of the conflicts with my boss, I was just worried that there was not enough work to justify my position in the first place in such a small company. Once again the disguise wasn’t worn well but this time I was unfairly and rudely confronted about it. After a few sleepless nights about why my working life was going so far from my original plan, I realised that more than an area of interest, to be fulfilled from your job you need to be challenged, be learning, feel the future has potential, and be able to contribute and coincide peacefully with those who you work with. It seemed like the different jobs I had, each had a piece of this puzzle, but a one job was yet to present all these attributes together to form the perfect picture of my ideal working situation I have envisioned in my mind.

These thoughts drastically changed changed from being a late night realisation to a daily driving purpose. For making a comment about the irony of my boss’s criticisms, I was deemed unsuccessful on my probation for an ‘inability to communicate’.  If there was an emotion that expressed feeling equally glad and sad at the same time, then I was feeling it. The only thing I was in fact sad about, was that the job paid the bills and now that would be slightly difficult. This alone proved that what happened was the premature birth of an inevitably ugly situation.

So no longer was I sitting in a office thinking about where ‘this was going’, and worrying the next year would only be the same as the current. Being unemployed, I was doing that from the comfort of my room, until now where I have been appointed a job in Tonga for a year.  Had it been raised as a possibility anytime between the last few paragraphs, I would have found the idea irrational and too farfetched to consider seriously . But I’ve learned that life is farfetched itself. I don’t want to devalue my ‘career’ so far, its taught me I do value adventure, the opportunity to offer my opinion, and the challenge that comes with feeling like you’re progressing and learning at a reasonable rate of course.  I learned I also find fulfillment in honestly helping others and fostering relationships, rather than fueling the growth of a corporation that offers me insultingly low remuneration and conditions in return. I’m have learned I’m not lazy but rather a person of passion, this is a gift and a curse, but it is me.  Overall my career experience hasn’t been the best, but its given me a deeper knowledge and understanding of myself . Where I once only thought about paying bills, going to the gym and buying a few things here and there,  I have found an even stronger source of motivation  to wake me up each morning to go to work.

I understand everyone is unique in their weaknesses, goals, strengths, desires, motivations. But this is my story. I definitely have regrets and accept blame where it is due. That is the nature of action and consequences. The only thing I can do now is to avoid making those mistakes again and be true to person I have discovered and become through this experience. It’s a rule of thumb with endless applications from careers to relationships.

I have also debated with the belief that these ‘constraints’ are self caused. Maybe I just haven’t adjusted to the fact that this is how life is and unless I have the ambition and ability to be extraordinary, the consequence is an ordinary life. I could even be in denial and  I simply don’t want to work and am justifying this fact in increasingly creative ways. After all, I’ve seen friends around me have great success and enjoyment in their roles and the companies they work for. Regardless if its my bad luck or my bad attitude,   I’ve thought my future through, got a goal in mind, and have put in the hard work to get as far as I have come to secure a new role. The future will reveal if I do free myself from these constraints or tighten them on myself.

Risks at Twenty Six

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Well I’m at twenty six. In the fashion of a great tale, I came home after a weekend away to find the news my quest for a job was now over. Not only was it over, it was ended by the opportunity to do something that never crossed my mind before. Work overseas in a position that enables me to help a country and its residents develop. The weight of the reality of the situation then came down on me. I would lose the great place i was staying, miss my friends, risk financial security, potential relationships, safety, the known, the familiar, my comfort zone.

The protests of my family didn’t help, but I know I see value in this experience where they only see a price of $0 income earned. I see a chance to experience a new culture, to help others, challenge myself beyond what I thought I was capable off, and experience freedom from the constraints of the last few years. Wearing a tie, sitting at my desk looking out the window, not feeling challenged or inspired in my role and wishing my time was going towards accomplishing something I could be proud of rather than paying for the expenses that require me to work, to buy the things I need/want.

The last few months have been challenging as they are, have only grown my desire for this period of my life to end with a fitting conclusion that sees all this hard work and grit, worth something.

I spent the night bouncing back and forth and work up to realise that no matter what decisions we make in life, we are always at the loss of something else so the right path may never be as clear as we expect. My fear about the situation was simply that , fear of the unknown rather than of the risk I knew about.

Deep down I know the way my life is going, I need a change, growth and more so,  a chance to make a change. I kept myself open to all possibilities and right on my birthday this is what was presented to me. I can’t help but feel every rejection letter, every close interview led to this point.

Is there a reward in this risk?

“The search for security is actually an attachment to certainty, to the known, and the known is the prison of our past conditioning. Freedom from our past lies in the wisdom of uncertainty. Without uncertainty, life is just a repetition of outworn memories. There is no evolution in that, and when there is no evolution, there is stagnation, entropy, and decay.” – Deepak Chopra

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.”

Paulo Coelho