Work-life balance is a precarious tightrope to walk. Compared to most of my friends, however, my tip-toed path in achieving it has operated in reverse.
After reading far too much sociology theory in my early twenties and having an atrocious first experience with full-time work, I quickly privileged how I wanted my life to look over pretty much every other expectation. It has been a strange experience. I’v never needed Centrelink payments, but work was always peripheral. Part-time hours on a low-skill, hourly rate. I played in bands, hosted karaoke nights, wore tight shirts for promotional gigs and wrote for street press. All of these afforded me a rich social life and access to free alcohol. When you have a busy life burrowing into every corner of your city, scavenging in corners for new things, the pursuit of career seems unimportant. It also meant I did not have a strong enough drive to scrimp and save so I could head overseas for an extended period in my twenties (which still lives as my one regret).
This thirst for the experiential, which I considered the ultimate in self-care, began with my first degree, a double major in Creative Writing and Literature which I chose knowing full well it would not deliver me to a stable income. Unfortunately, when operating outside of the status quo I found that to succeed in that which you love you need to show an internal discipline and a reliance on self-belief that is very difficult to summon without a culture around you that encourages that path. You can only write so many haphazard punk songs that receive a luke-warm reception before you start to question the value of living as a half-assed poly-math. Please don’t immediately jump to my defence with cries of “follow your dreams” or “the journey is more important than the destination”. I certainly do not regret the way I got to where I am today. Nevertheless, I was 31 years old when I realised that there was something out there for me that I could slowly build and be proud of. A pursuit both my loved ones and I could fully comprehend together.
That need should not be underestimated.
I understand that I am part of a society that celebrates the single-minded. With the Olympics recently drawing to a close I was reminded by all forms of media of how testing the edges of such a drive is celebrated. I assume that I cannot escape that influence. However, when I turned 27 that influence began to speak to me. I wished to support myself as a creative but my desires shot off in too many directions for them to be of much use to anyone else aside from myself. I even began to recognise how the multiple directions within a particular pursuit were sabotaging my progress. Not a lot of call for a poet/lyricist/journalist in Australia. Even worse chance if none of those facets had been worked at long enough to be mastered on their own. I was surrounded by social workers and other helping professionals due to my first degree and thought a psychology degree would be the deep end into which I would properly dive.
Also on The Big Smoke
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It turned out that there are a bunch of 18-year-olds smarter than I and more driven. I did well at University on the second try but my concentration was still as tangential as ever. I achieved good marks but not great marks and eventually took what is now considered the back door into the psychology profession. Fortunately for any client of mine reading this or any potential psych student, what one of the greatest skills a psychologist needs, which is both research-proven and felt clinically, is a capacity to build rapport. This capacity is not taught in University and for a number of reasons it is an entirely natural talent for me. This means I am now in private practice, letting my desire for varied pursuits live out in the marketing, article writing, presentations, report writing and face to face counselling activities that keep me more than financially comfortable.
I could make far more money than I do. I choose not to, and while I often broadcast my fear during fluctuations in my business, I stay the course. This is because this job has allowed the self-care that I treasure. That self-care means going to see a great band play mid-week, every week if I can. It means I’ll sleep in some days and work into the evening on others. I’ll surf regularly and post gorgeous photos of Tamarama Beach on Thursday mid-morning. I do it partly because teasing is fun and partly because I want people to come out and play. I recently tempted my 9-5er brother to come and meet me for a couple of hours during the day. He was sold, and now brings his board to work. Now I understand that my position comes from privilege. I may have been poor, but I could get help from my parents, and I had been taught the value of work and was well-educated.
I was able to sacrifice a secure future and use the talents I had in small quantities to trade for amazing experiences.
This letter is not a dismissal of those who are stranded due to social disadvantages that I will probably never feel or really understand. This is a letter from a friend who is in a place who knows that you have to sometimes ask for something different. That request, when living in a system that is hostile to you, is that you still trust that a friend will want to look after your child so they can see you as a single parent have two hours in a coffee shop reading your book. It is trusting that you can give up a weekly alcohol binge so you can go back and study for a new career. The current system, in this country at least, relies partly on our actual necessity, but also on learned or perceived necessities and fears. Sacrificing those things is always hard, but it is always worth it. I want you to risk relying on the community around you rather than feeling isolated and cut off from looking after yourself.
Remember that the need for self-care is like thirst. By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already painfully dehydrated.