When I was 6 years old I decided I wanted to be a writer. Before the age of 10 I had written several short fictions, one of which made my mother cry, and several of which sparked suspicions that I might be “special,” and not in the good way—in the psychologically damaged way. Among other things, I wrote a story about a female centaur-Pegasus type creature with very large breasts that were described in minute detail; a whole “book” about Jesse Owens which I illustrated, laminated and bound myself and some short crime fiction, including a story about a girl whose little brother disappeared behind a bush when they were playing in the yard, before she found him bloodily and mysteriously murdered. Hence the suspicions that I had somehow come unhinged at some point in my small years.
Before long I developed other ambitions. I wanted to be a feminist, Gwen Stefani, a racecar driver or a commercial airline pilot. When Friends became a TV show I decided I wanted to move to New York. I wanted to be a mommy and a deep-sea diver and I wanted to go on safari in Africa. I wanted to be a teacher or a vampire slayer, and I thought if I tried hard enough I would find the secret portal to the land of Xanth. My mother’s constant encouragement made everything seem wonderfully possible to my little girl’s imagination, as she’d say things like, “nothing is impossible,” and “you just have to put your mind to it,” on a near daily basis.
In high school, my dreams changed. I saw my parents doing everything they could to keep me in this prestigious school that they really couldn’t afford, and that my baby brothers wouldn’t have the same privilege of attending, and I imposed on myself a level of guilt (that my parents never, ever forced upon me, bless their cotton socks). With this guilt, I felt like perhaps I should be doing something more than being an “artist”; I felt that I should be changing the world, somehow.
From the age of 14 the school would shepherd us, nervous, confused and pubescent as we were, into careers seminars and coerce us into making pre-emptive decisions about university. When I revealed to the principal in a private meeting that I wanted to be a writer she looked at me blankly for several seconds before bowing her head to her notepad and scratching out something with her pen, “great, so you’re going to be a lawyer. You’ll need to take the following classes…”
And so I was going to be a lawyer. The next few years crashed together like lightning; I graduated from high school with top marks and found myself in the most prestigious Australian law school doing my degree simultaneously with a second degree in Media & Communications. It was someone else’s dream come true, and the tiny violin that played for me was but a distant melody, but one that for the next 6 or 7 years would sporadically blow in on the breeze of self-pity.
I was confused. I ran away to London. I studied part time for a stint. I focused all my energies on the cinema and journalism components of my Media & Communications degree. I failed Contracts Law. I excelled in human rights subjects and, unexpectedly, Corporations Law. I became a blogger and people started to pay me to write about fashion. I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had and by the time it was all over, I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself. I took a job as a paralegal with a private practitioner and before I knew it I was advising counsel in court. I was drawing up paper work for meaningless litigations alongside taking interviews with broken families and reconciling their assets. I had never had so much purpose before; and yet I’d never felt so lost.
In terms of life decisions, mine was a lucky one. To be a lawyer, or to break out, travel and try to earn my crust writing. It’s not exactly disastrous, the consequences not necessarily devastating, but sometimes when your happiness is at stake even the most frivolous of first world problems can take on inflated importance. I was in a quandary—to continue with this career in law, the brilliant, blessed one that so few get the opportunity to partake in, the one that would bring me all the money and the stability and all the consistency I’d ever need; or should I cut loose, light out for the territory, giving up stability in exchange for a life of hand-to-mouth, of never knowing if I could afford the next meal, or next month’s rent, let alone a fancy pair of shoes or a luxurious holiday?
And there was that self-imposed guilt again—the one that told me I was squandering a very precious gift that I’d been given. Sometimes I think if we’re going to trend first world problems, it’s probably time to start incorporating first world guilt, the beast that pervades Western consciousness and makes people do things just because they have the privilege of doing them and therefore feel they should—not necessarily because they want to. I believe it’s a great source of dissatisfaction in a world where people have too much of things they don’t need and more pertinently, don’t want.
You know what decision I made—you wouldn’t be reading this if I was still in Melbourne being a lawyer and putting a deposit down on a house. I worry that maybe I’ve made the wrong decision, that spending all my savings and living on such a pittance renders it unlikely/impossible that I’ll ever have savings again. I worry it was all a big mistake and I’ll end up broken, living in poverty forever, unable to support myself financially, let alone the family I so desperately want to have. I worry that I’m not going to “make it” as a writer, that having all my eggs in this particular basket is nothing more than insanity. This is life and WE ONLY GET ONE SHOT, OMG AM I DOING IT RIGHT?
The truth is, I’ve never been happier. The things I do on a daily basis give me a sense of elation, and even though I don’t have the dollars or the job security, there’s a feeling I get in my belly every morning when I wake up for work that’s more like jelly beans than the dark foreboding I had when I was on the law trajectory. The truth is that I don’t know where I’m going to be in a year, a month, or even a day from now, and it’s really fucking scary, but it’s a feeling that I possess as much as it possesses me; and that unknowing is the best comfort I’ve ever had.