Several months ago, I was getting myself really worked up wondering whether to accept a full-time-ish job or continue going along with erratic, exciting freelance work.
Then, I was just a couple of months out of my full-time AVID volunteering position, had successfully found a couple of small contracts writing website stories for a UN agency, and was pitching freelance articles with enthusiasm and occasional luck.
I’d been approached by the person departing the comms volunteer role at Plan International about applying to replace her. I applied, but wasn’t really expecting to get it.
So when I was offered the role I immediately consulted the friends I take my regular Tuesday-morning early beach walks with.
Should I say yes, which is an effective no to freelancing, or should I say no, which is a big vote for full-time freelance, was my question.
I was so worried, omg. Five years out of uni I still don’t know what I want to do for my job; every career option thus seems great and, critically, possible. Which terrifies me.
I’m a person who likes knowing what’s coming next. I like certainty, order, schedules–few things thrill me as much as making plans or ticking halfway down a neat square to-do list. But recently, as I’ve been self-reflecting, I’ve begun to realise that my desire to plan actually represents a fear of living in the moment; discomfort with what’s happening right now. I’m not being organised–I’m being afraid.
My walking friend Solange had a pretty quick reply to my job dilemma. “They both sound great,” she said, brightly. I was surprised by her reaction–wise, confident and inquisitive, she seemed the kind of person who would encourage me to do the thing that felt scarier and more fulfilling, not the thing that felt safer.
“I can see why you’d want to do each one,” she told me, as I verbally fretted my way through a list of pros and cons. “It seems like there’s no wrong decision.”
There are no wrong decisions.
I said yes to the job at Plan International and am having such a great time I’ve just extended my contract beyond its agreed December end date. But next year I’ll be just two days a week, to give me time to do freelance work, too.
You might know that my boyfriend, Felix, won a scholarship to study in Australia and will be heading to Melbourne early next year. I’ll follow him, soon but not immediately–I don’t feel ready to leave Timor-Leste just yet, and I’m excited for us to each have a few months in the others’ country without the crutch of being with a person who knows the place well–which means he and I have a few months apart ahead of us. That starts in late December, when I head home to Perth for Christmas.
Recently, I’ve been snappy and short with Felix; frustrated at him for not making time for extravagant dates and cooking nights; for not wanting to take big long trips away to squeeze out every last desperate drop of time we have together in Timor-Leste. Last weekend, we went to Maubara for a quick overnight trip–a trip he promised me so long as I didn’t heap meaning onto it.
“Don’t put pressure on it, ok?” he asked me. “Just enjoy it.”
Temporarily rebuffed and sulky, I soon got the message–don’t set skyscraper expectations and be mad when they’re not met–and we had a really beautiful weekend away.
That sanguine time has paradoxically made me doubly worried about accidentally forgetting to enjoy my last few weeks together with Felix–it’s so nice when I don’t think about it, but I can never turn my thoughts down. I’m scared of four months without him, and I’m frittering away the time we do have together by trying to control every last minute–thinking that will help me conquer the fear.
Which, of course, it won’t.
As this year rolls on, I’ve become slowly aware of the fact that I spend a lot of my time resisting. Thrashing around manically padding upstream instead of flipping onto my back and gently floating with the current; with how things are going at this point in time.
At work yesterday, I had a really fun, busy day, preparing templates and making brochures and proof-reading a terms of reference for a videographer and making Facebook posts and helping a colleague with an Australian visa application and I just felt so quietly contented–which made me reflect on how high my standards are for satisfaction and how twisted-up I get myself trying to avoid being chill with what it is.
“I just don’t want to spend my days scheduling Facebook posts for a shiny corporate INGO,” I complained to a friend months back, when I was debating whether to take the full-time job or to stick with freelancing–something I’m only now just realising turned on how I saw and valued the work of each role, not necessarily on the daily tasks of each.
NGO comms was boring, puffy, dutiful, an add-on required by some paunchy donor in a different country, I thought–not the real work, the gritty, gratifying, aggrandising work of capital-D Development.
Whereas freelance writing was a craft–something that could enable me to be a relentless, gasping, gonzo journalist desperately seeking the truth and heroically lifting the voices of the marginalised (wow, I am so important and brave). Being inside it, not just writing a cheery three-line Facebook post seeking comments and wow reacts about it after the fact.
But now, I see that for what it is: snobby, elitist and unhelpful. Not only because comms can be and is a vital part of ‘capital-D Development’–just yesterday Felix showed me the Facebook Messenger chat bot UN Women helped develop, to allow people to be counselled through reporting sexual harassment, amazing–but because who cares about the poncy ideals I hold about what Proper writing, Proper work is? Why have I deigned myself to decide, and to subsequently pity anyone who works in a role I consider less-than?
I’m embarrassed to admit how long it’s taken me to realise that I do this and to realise how ignorant, elitist and patronising it is–both my self-styled role as gatekeeper of Good Jobs, and the criticism I level at myself for enjoying a relatively slow, relatively easy, not-the-International-Criminal-Court kind-of job.
There are no wrong decisions. If you enjoy your job a little, that’s a great job. If you do one small thing to help or be helped by a colleague, that’s a great job. If you can see advantages in two different choices, they’re both great jobs.
Why am I trying to heap meaning onto everything? Why am I not just cruising by, letting this current take me where it does? Why does everything have to be something?
Plans, control, trying to live in the moment. Float with the current instead of thrashing around. Giving myself permission to enjoy a gentle day; a gentle life. Stepping down from haughty ideals and remembering to enjoy it.
This photo is from that beautiful slow long weekend away in Maubara.
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