Waking Up

So that while paralyzed in thought

I will always have an alibi

Just another excuse to hesitate

Delaying true progress with passivity

Paralyzed – As I Lay Dying

The past year has been one of great change for me, and yet not enough change. It’s been the first year where I’ve felt like I’ve started, started, to take an active role in shaping my life rather than just letting things happen to me. 

I turned 28 yesterday. I did wonder if we should perhaps round our ages to the closest birthday – wouldn’t it be more accurate for me to tell people I was 28 for the six months preceding my birthday, and six months after, until I flipped over to the point where my next birthday was closer than my last one? 

Anyway. Waking up. This last year I’ve allowed myself to think things that I wouldn’t have thought before. I’ve known for a long time that I don’t want the “normal” path through life of a suburban home, kids running around in the backyard, and putting on a buttoned shirt for my day job. I have been graced by utmost fortune in finding a life partner who doesn’t want these things either.

Let’s briefly review the most notable things that happened to this random internet stranger over the past year:

Firstly, I moved interstate, out of my own suburban home with a backyard and into renting an apartment with my partner. I’ve since gotten targeted ads on Instagram encouraging me to “escape the rent trap” and give myself back over to the mortgage hellhole. Let me be clear: I love living in an apartment. There’s no lawn to mow or weeds to pull, there’s no plants to water, no retaining walls or infernal bark chips or black tarp or pavers or paving liners. If I want nature, I can walk five minutes to the nearby lake and make googly eyes at all the adorable ducklings waddling around (I do this frequently). My suburban home is still sitting there in a different state, being rented out, giving someone else the same flexibility that we have now: if we get tired of the place in a year, we can go somewhere else. Freedom. 

Secondly, I switched from working for a company of 500+ people where I was doing projects for defence and coal miners, to a startup where I’m one of 3 full-time employees. I’m contributing positively to the climate change disaster by building renewable energy storage systems instead of taking money from the soulless husks who are actively dooming the whole damn world. The fact that I was able to find a job like this in Australia of all places is something I’m incredibly grateful for. 

It’s not enough, though. I don’t mean this in a greedy sense, but my career is something that I’m still very much figuring out, and is going to be my main focus for the year to come. I’ve opened my eyes, but I haven’t yet sat up or gotten out of bed. I’m so, so grateful that I’m not still asleep, letting myself be steered without taking part in the steering.

Thirdly, I dyed my hair blue. This seems minor compared to the previous two items, but it is the first time I have expressed myself through my personal appearance, and I love how I look with it. It’s another thing that my previous self and circumstances would not have allowed, and I hope to keep pushing the envelope on those things. Maybe a piercing next?

Fourthly, I started a second degree. This one will lead to no career progression or upskilling, but I hope to glean a sliver of wisdom from it. I’m studying philosophy. This represents a couple of things: one, that I’m allowing myself to study something just because I’m interested in it, and two, that I’ve sufficiently come to terms with my loss of faith from a few years ago that I’m ready to venture into vaguely related areas again. I’m only doing it part time since I’m working at the same time, but that’s plenty. So far my studies have focused on ancient philosophy, since it serves as a grounding for most of what came after, but we’ve also covered basic concepts of social justice and applied it to modern day problems of immigration, wealth distribution, and climate change. I’ve also spent a fair bit of time on critical thinking skills, and analysing written and visual arguments to extract their rational core. This last in particular I have loved. 

Fifthly, I’ve started working with a professional life coach. I hope to use this to accelerate the waking up process and get to the point of taking charge of my life quicker, but I need to be wary of outsourcing my progress to my life coach and using her as a crutch. I doubt that will happen, but it’s noteworthy.

Sixthly (is that a word?), I’ve taken up the new hobbies of competitive axe throwing and sailing. Neither of these things are things I ever thought I’d do, but there you go. Axe throwing is just a plain bit of fun and makes you feel like a viking, while yacht racing/general sailing is a gesture towards my increasing desire for freedom in all aspects of life. Contrary to what you might think, you can get sailing experience for free/very cheap, at least here in WA. Owning a boat is expensive, but sailing itself is not.

Seventhly(!), in the very last days of the previous year, my partner and I sat down and crunched a bunch of numbers regarding our finances. Yes, boring, I know, but the results indicate that in 20-25 years… we could stop working if we wanted to. This is of course barring any disasters that occur, but the thought that I could be free by my late forties or early fifties is… well, it’s something. It’s a timeframe. I’m not going to say it’s comforting. Whether by design or emergent property, it seems that you need at minimum a couple decades of solid income and solid investment to accomplish something like this in modern day capitalism, provided you’re not starting with vast sums of money, which we aren’t. The trick now becomes not to squander away or sacrifice the next two decades, because that end date may never come, but to live a varied and full life, and strike a balance between investing in our future, spending to live it up now, and using our money to improve the world.

In between all this, my search for purpose continues. By practically all accounts it’s been an incredible year in retrospect. I’m on vacation until next week, and I’ve noticed that every year, being buried under the tumult of work along with all the activities described above means that it is a lot harder to actually reflect and plan ahead. So I thought I’d write this while my head is above the water, so that I can look back and appreciate all the progress I’ve made.

A key reflection point for me actually occurred on NYE, where we were all doing a few of those shitty personality quizzes for fun. One of the questions was “Which of these do you find most important?”. There were four options, but the two I remember were “knowledge” and “freedom”. I remember these because in the past, maybe even up to a year ago, I would have instantly chosen knowledge. Intelligence and knowledge were unquestionably the most valuable traits to me. This time, however, I chose freedom and was happy with my choice. I’ve undergone a fundamental shift of perspective over the past twelve months, and I’ve finally given myself permission to do so.

What is it that the child has to teach?

The child naively believes that everything should be fair and everyone should be honest, that only good should prevail, that everybody should have what they want and there should be no pain or sadness.

The child believes the world should be perfect and is outraged to discover it is not.

And the child is right.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Optional addendum: a note about the pandemic

For those of us in the first world, the whole pandemic situation has been seemingly unprecedented. The counting death tolls, the daily drama, the lockdowns, the incredible vaccine development speed… we’ve all reacted like this has never happened before, and maybe it hasn’t, not on this scale. But remember that while the first world may have had its first share of this sort of situation in centuries, people in third world countries continue to struggle with the likes of malaria and ebola. Even the freaking bubonic plague is still kicking around. We’ve had the Siddharta Gautama experience of shock at seeing a sick man, a corpse, for the first time. Our poorer neighbours have to live with terrible sickness daily and worse besides, and have done even when we were healthy.

And that’s all I’ll say about that.

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