Before my mid-thirties meltdown I was fairly successful, according to society’s standards of success. I was a Chartered Accountant and had been working in public practice for almost ten years and even though the wages started low (first year accountants often earn less than retail workers, just FYI), I’d earned my stripes and was finally doing reasonably well financially.
The work, however, was stifling. Breaking my days into six minute chargeable time blocks, avoiding eye contact with the admin staff lest a conversation should occur and encroach on my billable hours…Each day I came to work I was carving off another little piece of my soul. I was suffocating under a plethora of Key Performance Indicators and felt as though my work, therefore my life, lacked meaning.
I tried to find other work, but to no avail. I was always either overqualified or lacked experience. Adding to my woes was my existential crisis: I had no idea what sort of job I actually wanted, or what my passion and purpose was. Part of me wanted to know the answer to this question before I made the move into a new career, so I could avoid making another mistake.
I spoke to close friends who suggested maybe my life purpose was to raise my son. He’s a great kid, he’s always been an advocate for the little guy (at four years old in the Maccas playground he’d order the “big kids” to stand back so the toddlers could safely go down the slide), and he’s as funny as hell. But I wondered: wasn’t I allowed to have a purpose of my own, beyond caring for another? Was it wrong to believe I was a worthy human in my own right, full of my own spark and ready to contribute? My son has been a priority in my life from the day he was born, but I’ve always wanted to live for myself, too.
After so much fruitless searching, wanting, and thinking, I eventually became depressed. On the rare occasion I had a lunch break, I couldn’t deal with other humans and put on my headphones on so they wouldn’t talk to me. I knew I was being awful, but I was expending all my energy on just existing; I had nothing left for idle chit chat.
Outside of work hours, my brain was barely functioning at all. I recall one day, quite exhausted after work and wanting to get home, I drove up a red light with a dozen or so people crossing the road. I thought to myself, “Seriously, fuck you all. The light is red and you should not be walking!”. Slowly and very carefully I plowed through that crowd, trying to make a point that they should not be crossing and I was not going to wait for them. I received some very confused glares, and one man angrily slapped the bonnet of my car. Moments later I realised the light was red for me, not them.
Being stressed and depressed is a heavy load, and the day came when I just couldn’t carry it anymore. Nothing had changed, I’d simply had enough. I was sitting at my cubicle when I said to myself (or maybe I said it aloud?), “I release this.”
I released my concern of not knowing what other career I could possibly do; having being pigeon-holed after working in the accounting industry for so long. I released my fear about finances, since I’d become accustomed to living at the reasonable salary I worked so hard to earn. I released my fear of having wasted several years and tens of thousands of dollars at university (which I am still repaying). I released my fear of looking like an absolute idiot for not sticking with a perfectly good career, and for potentially ending up in a job role that was far less impressive according to society. I released my fear of not knowing my passion or purpose, because try as I might, I just couldn’t figure it out though thinking alone. I released my belief that it was my job to find a way out, and just gave up the fight completely.
Mere seconds after I uttered those words, my mobile phone rang. I was offered a job three days a week as a TAFE teacher, which paid almost the same amount as full-time accounting. Now, I won’t lie — this event wasn’t quite as remarkable as it first sounds. I was already working at TAFE one evening a week teaching a law class (I took law electives at university), so it’s not like I was cold-called randomly out of the phone book. The timing, however, was uncanny.
Nervously, I took the leap.
The teaching world was like breathing again. It was the littlest things that thrilled me: the freedom of conversation, the ability to learn and grow and to be real. I conversed freely to the students and to my colleagues without being governed by six-minute time blocks. I made changes and improvements to processes without worrying about how it would affect my “chargeable” time. I had morning tea breaks! I toileted without a second thought! Sure, there was some overtime. But who the hell cares when you’re an actual real life, living human being?
Yet, I knew from the start that teaching wasn’t my passion or purpose. But since I was in a much better headspace, I hardly cared. And here, in this new realm of personal freedom, of feeling whole again, I started writing in my spare time. For no other reason than for enjoyment.
Writing was a long forgotten pastime I enjoyed as a kid. I was quite lucky that my dad constantly hogged our TV, and I had to find ways to entertain myself. I’d write poetry and short stories just for fun, illustrated them and stapled my work together to make little books. I imagined myself as different people and even different objects, with my favourite short story being My Life as a Pencil. (A thrilling read: the pencil ends up in the garbage dump because he’s sharpened down to a tiny stump, but he makes friends with a broken ruler and they have one hell of a good time together.)
As an adult, my first just-for-fun article was a piece about the Kyoto Protocol which I wrote for a large but non-paying online magazine. Encouraged, I started submitting different types of writing to other places. My unpaid efforts included a column for a local magazine; the editor had seen my online blog where I blurted out my private thoughts to all who’d listen, thought it was good (or good enough), and had a space to be filled. As a side note: I actually started that blog as a personal dare to myself, because I was petrified of what other people would think. My rational mind reminded me of the Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realised how seldom they do.”
It wasn’t too long before the unpaid column progressed to some paid work with the magazine, to part time work, to full time employment. I let go of the two year teaching gig with much gratitude for the clarity it afforded me, and was paid to do what I loved most: to write and connect.
I didn’t stay in that particular writing job for too long (another story), but I’d finally stumbled upon the passion I’d previously been searching for: words, expression and connection. It came not by overthinking or stressing over it, but simply by becoming involved in life and letting go of the unhelpful belief in my own “stuckness”.
I believe that the universe has our back, but only if we allow it.