I am writing this blog post in a lovely café in Dublin. It is a Friday afternoon. There is nowhere else I should be at this moment. How did I get here? Let’s find out…
Symptoms I’ve been bothered with in the last few years that my doctors potentially attributed to stress:
Reduced attention span
Recurring sore throat
Post-viral bronchial hypersensitivity
... and hypochondria
Things that have made me stressed at various times in the last few years:
Money worries (twenty years of…)
Being too bored
Being too busy
Being both at the same time
Feeling like an underachiever
Not knowing what I want to do when I grow up (except be a writer which hasn’t really worked out…)
These circumstances were, to put it mildly, unsustainable, so I decided to make a positive step towards change. If this post starts to read like a self-help book; good, that’s what I want. I read one of those things for the first time recently and it was the absolute worst kind of tosh. I can do better. I think only people who are unsuccessful should write them anyway, that’s much more fun.
I was having no luck with the conventional method of looking for a new job (let alone any enjoyable or rewarding employment). By ‘no luck’ I mean literally no response at all to dozens of applications over several years, and certainly no interviews. On the day I went to collect my Masters certificate I did the sensible thing graduates should so and I spoke to a careers advisor. I was something of an unknown quantity: in my mid-thirties, working in publishing, minor advertising experience, DJing and event hosting on the side as a poorly-paid but successful labour of love, but ultimately craving to make my living as a writer. The advisor was honest. ‘I don’t know much about this whole world you’re in, really,’ he admitted, referring to the ‘jack of all trades’ banter I had given him. ‘But it strikes me that hosting the launch party for an international festival should probably be on the first page of your CV and not under ‘Other achievements’.
In the end I came away from the meeting with two important ideas in my head:
1. I should have a skills-based CV, not a regular employment CV. (I’d never heard of a skills-based CV before).
2. I should stop looking for a job, and start looking for work.
The idea of freelancing presented itself, and there followed a series of happy and fortunately-timed events that brought the possibility closer to reality:
I finished paying for my MA.
I finished paying for my BA (fourteen years after graduation).
I moved in with my partner after living alone for six years.
My bank loan was due its annual holiday.
My partner gave up freelancing and took a full-time position worthy of his talents.
Crucially though, the fear of whether I could make a go of life as a freelancer was outweighed by the stress of carrying on as I was. We had already booked to spend Christmas in Melbourne. Figuring there was no better way to book-end a big life change than by going to the other side of the world, I gave notice on the job that I had said yes to in April 2001, and packed my suitcase.