Writing by Aideen Gallagher // illustration by Nea Valdivia
“I haven’t bothered looking into internships yet”, I admit, slightly too self-assured. “I’ve decided I’m moving to Melbourne instead.”
Squeezing beneath the café’s remaining thin strips of shade, I have maximised my surface area by sprawling across the bench, legs intertwined with my maybe-boyfriend. A retrospectively toxic ordeal, our short-lived calamity was a weird mix of summertime-spare-time, anxious attachment styles, and, embarrassingly, my credulity for love.
“Classic,” he erupted, “seems like everyone’s plan.”
Silently stirring my collapsed paper straw and sipping melted coffee water, I wordlessly contemplate what fresh career ideas I have beyond living interstate.
While initially doubtless, my ambition for a legal career had gone cold. Slowly, I’d started to sense an uncertainty creeping upward like a embarrassing, inconvenient perversion I preferred to repress. Until, panicked (and probably procrastinating) I’d catch myself reading ‘alternative jobs for a law degree’ on Wikihow at 12:30am, usually under the nervous white light of the law library (or, as it was sometimes referred, the Lawbry).
Recently fixated with attachment styles, I worried I had a commitment phobia, career edition, and hoped this pendulum swing was a sign of radical self-awareness rather than useless career panic.
I am very privileged to have ever felt strained by choice. At age eighteen, I had a far softer grasp on who I was and felt overwhelmed by the sudden appearance of paths leading to various possible versions. At this point, it was easier to mimic others in my admittedly sheltered, elitist environment, veering sharply between incompatible plans.
Like chaotic menu item changes while ordering at a restaurant, I remember nervously blurting to a career councellor in year 12 I was considering physio over marine biology. Normally, I’d hate ordering ‘plates to share’, but I would make an exception for personal life direction.
Uncreatively, we collectively aspired toward a very narrow set of professions, excited by how they sounded on a LinkedIn profile. In an insecure bid to evidence my worth, I decided I wanted what was considered a ‘competitive degree’. My personal, more private aspirations felt fanciful, impractical, and even slightly embarrassing.
Twenty-four months after my situationship coffee date, I’m discussing the merits of a blue versus green PowerPoint icon at 9pm under high-lumen office lights, craving on a deeper level to use another part of my brain. Maybe it’s the feeling of weeks slipping away like a foggy summer nap, or some grey matter in my brain that is now fully formed, but at 25 i’ve started to develop a clearer picture of my ambition – one which is not so deeply intertwined with external values and opinion.
Perhaps I needn’t feel so embarrassed by my feminine urge for an ‘impractical’ job, a creative career, and potentially I ought to consider trying, even briefly, to pursue something I’d love.
At 25, new goals look like allusive underwater pebbles flickering like a $75,000 earring in the waters of Bora Bora, sinking beneath my kicking toes. When I dive, I have no idea what way to go. The water blurs my vision, I ugly-cry, graceless and blind.
I have an online interview in 40 minutes. It’s been almost two years since I graduated law and about two months since an unexpectedly noxious workplace led me to quit management consulting.
Wearing my fancy off-white collared shirt and a pair of baggy blue jeans, I roll my yoga mat out on the carpet. My mind feels like a childcare centre. In an effort to settle my trembling hands while embracing a mid-twenties yoga fixation, I lay down and practice belly breathing. Outside, I hear crickets, a wadowadong’s suburban coo, and a lawnmower.
These sounds remind me of a memory from summer. Pressing my face into flywire, I’d watch my mum hang up the washing. She disappears behind a stark white bed sheet and sun rays explore momentarily from its rolling surface, blurring my vision. This is a memory from school holidays, a place that exists without time, dictated instead by the heat of the midday red bricks and the chiming of evening mosquitos. Perched in the doorframe, I stare longingly at a playful Galah hanging by a single toe from an enormous eucalyptus whose leaves drop coolly on freshly folded towels.
Eyes open and I’m back on my yoga mat. How much do I owe that eight-year-old kid with her face smushed into flywire? Who did she want to be?
She was told repeatedly: ‘you can be anything!’ Is this motivational mantra an exaggeration I’ve decided to unfortunately take too seriously? Unconcerned with logistics and spoiled with potential, childhood is unburdened by the onus that requires you to choose and then fearlessly own that choice. At age eight, it was acceptable to jump between several career ideas simultaneously (marine biologist and physiotherapist, for example, a compatible match).
Occasionally freezing with indecision, I think of a statement from Simone De Beauvoir:
“I am awfully greedy; I want everything from life. I want to be a woman and to be a man, to have many friends and to have loneliness, to work much and write good books, to travel and enjoy myself, to be selfish and to be unselfish.”
Admittedly, I do want everything – the corporate glamour, the powerful pantsuit, the long lunch paid for on a company card, but also to come home by dinner, to work alone in a small studio, to think creatively with lots of time to read good books. I want to try it all, just to check and see. However, since this is impractical, I fear picking incorrectly.
Then, after all this time spent wondering what job I should have, what about the type of life I should lead? Should I even work full-time? Maybe my fantasy for fulfilling employment is an accidental subscription to the by-gone Girl Boss era whereby our romanticisation of the ‘dream job’ and ‘hustle culture’ was arguably incognito capitalism wringing the work-life balance slowly from us.
Why not live on an Island in Indonesia for a year or two? Right now? Or in my thirties? Or will that be too late? Too late by what standards? The standards of those who have determined I should be settling down to have kids in my thirties? Do I want kids? Should I save for a house?
So as not to sound as though I’m withering away in self-pity at the crotch of Sylvia Plath’s fig tree, I’m resolving to be a realistic optimist. Restraining myself from purchasing a kitsch phone case that reads, ‘What if I fall? / Oh but my darling, What if you fly?’, I want to embrace the bravery I’ve witnessed from the people a decade out of high school that seemed to fearlessly and independently give their niche a go.
Finally, I open my Zoom call and awkwardly draw flowers in a notepad while waiting for the Host to ‘let me in’. Maybe I’ll fail, or land someplace entirely else. Besides, the dream job ideal is probably dead. However, I’m determined not to end up a disillusioned creative, never bothering to try, or angry at the world for not giving a shit.
My mid-twenties aren’t too late, neither are my thirties or forties. To say so is to be uncreative, too practical, which is exactly what led me to this mini crisis in the first place. For now, failing at something I have the courage to choose will surely lead to more restful sleep than fearing the attempt.