Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Who are you? What do you do?

So many of us define ourselves and others by what we do. You know, "I'm a plumber, painter, lawyer... [insert other profession here]". Up until a year ago I was a public servant, a policy officer, but I kind of hit a wall. Partly it was having been in Canberra for seven years. I remember when I first moved there people said to me "Once you've lived in Canberra seven years you never leave." I laughed at the time, thinking there was no way I was going to be in Canberra that long. So when I got to the seven year mark last March, I started to ask myself "Is this it?" "Is this how I want the rest of my life to be?"

I knew I didn't want to live in Canberra the rest of my life. This isn't a Canberra bagging session, don't worry, I just knew it wasn't my type of place. So I determined that I would move back to Melbourne within twelve months. Knowing that I couldn't do the same sort of job in Melbourne made me question my job too, and my career direction, and before I knew it I decided that the career I was pursuing - policy and international development - just didn't interest me anymore. I was over it. It sounds callous, and I know these are very worthy, as well as interesting, jobs. But I was getting burnt out by Canberra politicking and by having the same development arguments (what works? Does anything work? Why?) that I'd had for ten years or so. I wanted to spread my wings a bit more, and explore other aspects of myself that might lead to a more fulfilling job.

I knew I wanted to try something more creative, aesthetically, but what? After musing for a few months, I chose textile design. I applied for a course, was accepted, and started only a few months later. Suddenly I was a poor student again, living with my parents in my old family home, buying clothes in op shops and working longer and longer hours on my homework.  I missed my apartment, my weekends, that sense of knowing and being confident about my work. And mostly I wondered why I was flogging myself in a course that I wasn't even sure I wanted to be doing. I realised after talking to several very clever people that I hadn't given myself a lot of time to pick a new career, to really work out what I wanted to do.

So for the next chapter of my adventure, I've decided to take some time off. I'm going to India to do a bit of soul searching... a la Eat Pray Love. It is exciting, and most people I talk to are envious of me having this opportunity.

But it's also scary. I've known what I wanted to do for so long, that being in this limbo state is disconcerting. Now when people ask me what I do, I don't know what to say, apart from giving them a shortened version of the above and ending with an uncertain "…so I guess I'll just have to see how I go." As much as we grumble about our jobs, they give us a sense of our place in the world, and of the contribution we make. Take that away and we are a whole lot of ideas, saddled with lots of furniture and probably too many pieces of clothing.

Who knows where this chapter will take me? Most days I feel quite zen about it. I'm willing to wait for a while and see what happens.

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