image credit: stephbarcenas.com
as a child, i was the textbook “little professor”. i spent a hell of a lot of my free time reading, and as i got a bit older, passing on that knowledge to my younger sister. we spent weeks of one summer with a “school” set up in the back shed, though we were intermittently forced out by the combination to 35ºC temperatures and a structure made entirely of metal (hello sauna!). i later started a library out of my own book collection, and bullied my family into borrowing them. it didn’t last long.
i didn’t play well with other children; not in the ‘disruptive’, ‘selfish’ or ‘bossy’ sense, but because when other children tried to play with me, i’d go and play somewhere else on my own. other children’s games were incomprehensible and idiotic – why would i want to be involved? when friends came over to play after school, i was at a loss as to what came next. i knew i couldn’t just read while they sat there, but what what on earth did other kids do for fun?
as a teen, i was constantly praised by adults for my maturity, so – people pleaser that i was – i did everything i could to live up to the label. i started investing at 18. my wardrobe acquired a shelf full of lever arch folders with tax documents, medical records, vehicle registration papers and university correspondence, mimicking the ones in my parents’ study. i never smoked or did drugs, and the only time i drank without parental supervision (half a bottle of lemon ruski at a friend’s place), i was only a few months shy of the legal age. to my 17 year old palate, it tasted like bad lemon squash. i gifted the rest to a friend intent on getting herself hammered. (possibly not so mature on my part, but arguably pragmatic – she would drink to passing out whether she had my bottle or not, and at least this way an opened drink wasn’t wasted.)
as a young adult, i tried to follow the ‘correct’ path to success. i joined a large company and did my time at the bottom of the corporate ladder. i continued investing. i made Big Plans, the kind where you work yourself to the bone in your 20s and retire by 35. i ignored the mounting stress – both self-inflicted and work-inflicted – until eventually i collapsed. quit my job. travelled. came back broke. made some bad decisions (which turned out to be valuable lessons). worked a contract job, saved, travelled again. rinse and repeat till my late 20s.
i realised i was living my life in reverse. or living out the years i’d missed when i was younger.
at 27 i moved to japan, went to language school, and lived in a dorm where (somewhat surprisingly) i wasn’t the oldest student. i drank too much on friday nights, made a fool of myself more than once, became the centre of a will-they-won’t-they saga (won’t, it turned out), and essentially played out the sort of coming of age scenarios you see in american college movies, only a decade later than expected.
meanwhile, on social media, my high school and uni friends were buying houses, moving up the corporate ladder, getting engaged, getting married, having kids. i started to panic. i’d turned my back on the traditional path, but had that been a mistake? i was falling behind my peers in hitting these important milestones.
back in sydney and heading for 30, i tried to fit in, tried dating again, tried buying into the corporate mindset. but the work had no meaning, made me frustrated, made me restless. the men – all late 20s to mid-30s – wanted to ‘settle down’ and do all those things i appeared to have been missing out on: marriage, kids, picket fence. i sat with the idea, meditated on it, journalled about it. it never felt right. perhaps it was just that these people weren’t ‘the right person’, but eventually it occurred to me that the urge for these things only came to me when i was scrolling through facebook. as soon as i logged off, the feeling dissipated. there was no burning desire for a partner and kids, no urgency to find a place of my own. it was fomo. it was the primitive mind, the latent social animal, urging me to conform; to follow the safe, expected path. and that clearly wasn’t for me. not right now, at least.
and so it was back on the road again, this time to london for a 15 month sabbatical of sorts. my pie in the sky dreams of meeting fellow writers, musicians, and artistic folk hasn’t necessarily panned out the way it did in my (admittedly idealistic) daydreams, but it’s opened me up to new experiences, new opportunities for growth, and unexpected moments of self discovery. the urge to nest hits me occasionally, but ‘not in this place’ follows closely on its heels.
i might be lagging behind my peers. i might never find a partner, start a family, buy a home. or it might happen little by little, inch by inch, sneaking up on me before i realise. or all at once, in one of those fantastic, pinch-yourself, when-did-this-become-my-life moments.
however it happens, i’m at peace with it. i’m living on my own terms, and my own timetable. that’s pretty damned empowering.