Figure out what you want out of life, because you’re the only one going to be with you for the rest of it.
— Prince Ea
‘You always do what you want to do,’ is a common statement hurled at me by my mother when I don’t want to do things her way.
Sometimes it’s because I don’t enjoy gardening or sewing, so I choose to do something else when she thinks I should be spending time out in the garden pulling up weeds or taking up my own hems instead of paying someone (more skilled) to do them for me.
At other times the issue is bigger than that and can be put down to the two of us being so different in our outlook on life, but so similar in our stubbornness and unwillingness to back down.
My father, on the other hand, always said, ‘You do what feels right for you. You are the one who will have to deal with the happiness it brings, or the consequences.’
He was so right!
Thanks to my Dad, my ‘big life decisions’ have always been about me.
I chose to go to University and study a Bachelor of Education when everyone else in my extended family went straight from Year 12 into the public service or a trade. I wanted to be a teacher. I had wanted this since I was eight years old. People said it would be a long time before I could earn money, and that a teaching position was hard to get and keep. My Dad said, ‘Go for it if that’s what you want.’ So I did.
Halfway through my degree I had the opportunity to go to Japan for a year on scholarship. Some people said I was delaying the completion of my course, it would be hard to get back into and I wouldn’t finish it and get a job. My Dad (and my Mum) said, ‘Sounds like a great opportunity. Go for it.’ So I did — it was fantastic.
Upon graduation (see, detractors, I did finish my degree) I was offered a job in Newcastle. There was a bit of turmoil in the ACT at that time and job offers were late. People said I should wait and see what happened in Canberra, why would I want to move to Newcastle? I wanted to because: a) it was an early offer and not easily come by, b) I wanted to go somewhere out of Canberra for a while and test my independence. Some people pursed their lips and looked skyward. Dad (and eventually Mum) said, ‘Do it. We’ll always be here for you.’ So I did — I moved back to Canberra two years later, but in those two years I learnt so much and loved every minute.
After a few more years teaching in Canberra, I came upon the opportunity to join the JET program and have a minimum of a year teaching English in Japan. I felt I was at a stage where I needed to experience more Japanese culture in order to improve my teaching of Japanese, so I wasn’t just teaching the superficial culture of food, clothes and Mt. Fuji. People said I was interrupting my career too soon and why would I want to go back to Japan when I’d already been and it was time I laid down roots. My Dad and Mum said, ‘Go for it, we’ll miss you, but it sounds great.’ My Principal said, ‘I can’t say no to such a wonderful opportunity. You must go, I will support your application.’ So I did … and I would have even if nobody wanted me to, because I knew I needed to do this.
Two years ago when I decided to move from full-time work to part-time, my mother said, ‘Are you sure you should be doing this?’ My husband said I should do it. My Dad, had he still been with us, would have said, Go for it if you know you can and it will make you happy. So I did — it’s been hard, but worth it.
I feel sad for people who are in a position where they are, or feel, unable to follow their dreams, or who have decisions taken out of their hands. I know there are multiple reasons for this, but I still feel for these people. And, I know I am one of the lucky ones.
Everything I have done, every decision I have made in life has been about me. What will make me happy? What will benefit my career? I would never make a decision if it impacted negatively on others, particularly my children. And I do live with momentary guilt at times: what if I go on this big trip and something happens to my grandmother, father etc. while I’m away? But the benefactors of my guilt pooh-pooh it, and that makes the decision easier.
My Dad always said, ‘Who am I to make your decisions for you? It is your life.’
And that it is.