The stable, predictable path or the unknown?

Life feels like a series of forks in the road. We make decisions each day that can fundamentally change our lives. Sometimes these decisions seem small and petty at the time, and it’s only looking back later that we can see it was a massive turning point. Other times, the decision is obviously a huge one and requires a lot of thought and consideration.

Those little decisions are the ones that freak me out the most – you know, the ones like which side of the street to walk down (do you pick the street where the wall collapses and you die, or you actually get to your appointment and read about the wall collapsing on the news), which bar to have a drink at while you’re killing time (do you meet your future husband, or do you miss out completely and never meet), which flight to catch (unlucky enough to be on a plane that crashes, or do you get to your destination safely)… decisions that you have no idea if they’re going to be Hugely Significant in your life (or death), or just another mundane decision that you’ll forget about 5 minutes after the fact…

Some huge forks (that I’ve had an element of control over) have been:

  • Going on student exchange for a year in 2002 (Yr 11). I went to Japan for a year when I was 16/17. I don’t think I really made the most of the opportunity in hindsight (immature), but the act of doing it definitely changed the course of my life. Due to being out of the Australian school system for a year, I was forced to ‘repeat’ a year – I finished high school a year later than I otherwise would have, which led to a complete change in friendships and university experience…
  • The university I chose, and the Halls of Residence I chose. While my actual degree was interchangeable with that of any other old Bachelor of Arts I could have completed at a myriad of other Aussie unis, it’s the people I met in my years at Monash. I met my lifetime best friend at Halls in my first year (2005) who has had a big impact on some of my later life decisions, and my uni boyfriend (who I wrote about previously) who really did change my life for a few years there, and put me on this current path. I have no doubt I would have met some equally awesome people if I’d gone to a different uni, but I’m pretty sure life would be rather different right now.
  • Backpacking around Europe in 2009. After I graduated from my Bachelors in 2008, I was pretty aimless and had no idea what I wanted to do, career-wise. I wanted to be an author, even back then, but it was pre-KDP days and it just seemed like a rather unrealistic dream. I decided to follow in my parents’ footsteps and do a big Europe trip. Mum had done her Katmandu to London trip in the late 70’s, and Dad had partied his way around Europe and North America in 1980 and I’d grown up hearing all about how much fun they’d had. My initial plan had been to work in the UK for half my trip and then backpack around the Continent, but then thanks to the uni boyfriend, I made a bunch of money from the stock market and that was no longer necessary. I was free to just travel around and not really worry about money. The uni boyfriend and I parted ways before the trip, and I had a great time galavanting around the UK, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Prague, Amsterdam, and Belgium. I also happened to meet a cute American in a hostel in Vienna who I had a crazy whirlwind romance with over the next few months. It didn’t work out (thankfully), but I honestly don’t think I would be here where I am today without that crazy whirlwind romance and subsequent heartbreak.
  • Moving to Canada in 2010. The end of 2009 found me back home in Australia, miserable over the collapse of aforementioned whirlwind romance, and at a loss as to what to do with myself. I’d half-heartedly applied to do the Master of Teaching at Melbourne Uni for the following year and had been accepted, but I wasn’t super stoked on the idea. It just seemed like the responsible thing to do. Safe. I definitely didn’t want to go back to my insurance call-centre job, which I was still technically on leave from. I still had a nice pile of cash in my bank account that was enough to support me comfortably for a year or two. My best friend and her partner were planning to move to Canada for a year or two, and suggested I come too. It really was a decision made on a whim. I didn’t think about it very long or deeply, it just sounded like something fun to do and put off having to be a ‘real’ adult for another year. I arranged with the uni to defer my spot in the course, and off I went to Canada in March 2010.
  • The sharehouse I ended up in. By the time I arrived in Vancouver (after a couple of weeks detour in LA, Vegas, and San Franscisco), I settled into my hostel and quickly realised that I was utterly over hostels. I’d spent half of the previous year sleeping in dorms (well, not sleeping so much as lying there awake listening to the epic snorers and people who like rustling around in the bags at 4am) and I was just over it. My initial plan was to stay in the hostel for a few weeks while I got to know the city and found a place to live. The finding a place to live plan got put up to Top Priority and I started stalking ads on Craigslist like a mad woman. I knew what I was looking for – a big sharehouse with a nice mix of people, on a Skytrain line and within $400-600 a month. The first house I looked at fit all those boxes. It was a big house with two stories and 7 bedrooms, and a split between half Canadians and half foreigners, mostly all in our mid-to-late 20s. It was two blocks back from the Skytrain and there was a supermarket a few minutes walk away, and a bigger shopping mall about a 15 minute walk away. The rent was $550/month, everything included. And it was available straight away, and already had a double bed in it, score! I took it. I got lucky. My housemates were all freakin’ lovely and took the new Aussie under their wings. I had a built-in social network from the get-go which made life a lot more fun.
    Anyway. The reason why this somewhat random decision had a huge effect on my life was because I don’t think I would have met my fiance without one of those housemates…
  • Going to that particular pub at that particular time in Vancouver in April 2010. I was hanging out with the aforementioned housemates and friends at a pub in New Westminster. One of the British housemates and I decided to head Downtown to meet up with his girlfriend (another housemate) with a couple of girls we’d just met who were killing time before they had to catch a train back home to wherever they were from in rural B.C. We picked a pub next to Waterfront Station to have a drink before the girls had to catch their train and we had to meet our housemate. It was busy. There were only a few stools left at the bar. We snagged them. I sat on the edge of the group and had an empty stool next to me. A trio of boys came in after we’d only been there a few minutes and took the spot next to me. They ordered a lot of drinks and I made a smart-arse comment to one of the blokes. He laughed and we started chatting. I was vaguely aware of the two other young men behind him. The first guy disappeared off to the toilets, and one of the others snagged the stool and started talking to me. All I remember is thinking his name was a bit weird and he made me laugh a lot. I was happy and tipsy and I gave him my number when it was time to go. I wasn’t in the habit of giving strange Canadian men my number, so I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to do it that night.

    Eight years later, and we’re still together. I stayed in Canada for an extra 3 years to find out if this easy, stable, exciting relationship with this awesome guy was worth fighting for. It definitely is. He followed me back home to Australia where we’ve now been for over 4 years. Our crossing paths was so random. I’m grateful that we did. It would have been so easy to miss each other and never have met. I don’t believe in soul mates or anything, and I’m pretty sure I would have landed in another relationship or two or three if I hadn’t met him, but… I’m glad we found each other. We compliment each other extremely well and being with him is just easy… in a good way. We’re a team and we have each other’s back. I kinda feel like I had to go through those more difficult and shitty relationships to fully appreciate what I have with him.

  • Being lonely and drunk and replying to Platonic Friends Craigslist ads. I met a few lovely girls that way, but only one of them affected my life in a big way. Things were going great with Keenan, we’d moved in together, but most of my friends now lived a good 1-2 hour bus ride away from me. I’d been in Canada for about a year at that point, and my funds were starting to run low. I’d decided to stay in Canada, but I was facing the reality that I couldn’t afford it and would need to go home to Australia if I didn’t get a job soon. I’d applied for hundreds of positions, but wasn’t getting any bites. I’d had a hard look at my finances and made the difficult decision to go home if I still hadn’t landed anything within the next month. Keenan obviously didn’t want me to leave and said he’d support me, but he was only making something ridiculously low like $14/hr at the time and it just wasn’t feasible.
    I met a funny Irish woman and had a grizzle about how difficult I was finding job hunting. I couldn’t even get a look in at a $10/hr supermarket job. What was wrong with me? She commiserated, and then a few days later sent me an email offering me a temporary job at her software company as a junior tech writer. I couldn’t believe it! I was saved! And it paid $20/hr, so I was pretty stoked at my good fortune. I ended up working there for the rest of my time in Canada. Replying to that ad and agreeing to meet up was a random choice that turned out pretty damn well for me. I got a job that I enjoyed, and I got to stay in Canada with the best guy I’ve ever met.

Anyway, this is my really long-winded way of saying I was faced with one of these choices again. An obvious one, not a random one like the choice of pub or drunkenly replying to craigslist ads.

I was booked to teach at a school for the first three weeks of term. The original teacher had got another job and quit just before school went back for the year. I was there to fill in while they found a permanent replacement. In week 3 the school did their interviews and hired someone to take over, so I said bye to the kids and handed it all over and went back to day-to-day CRT work. But something about the teacher they’d selected wasn’t quite right for whatever reason and they decided that she wouldn’t do after all. They re-advertised and the head of department found me a few times and heavily encouraged me to apply for the job and said that I was almost guaranteed to get the job if I put my name in the ring. The kids loved me (not entirely sure why), and had been complaining about the new teacher and how they wanted me back. A lot. Had kids constantly coming up to me in the yard and begging me to come back.

I’ll admit, it was good for the old ego.

It was a full-time, ongoing position. The things teachers dream of. Ongoing! And it was a relatively easy load.

If I actually wanted to be a career teacher I would have leapt at the opportunity.

I seriously did consider it. Financially, it would make a lot of sense. I’d be easily able to pay off all my debts and save up a nice chunk of money.

Keenan and I talked it over multiple times over the weekend. He asked me if I thought I’d still be able to write five books this year if I took the job. I seriously doubted that I’d even be able to write one. Whenever I’m teaching full-time, I become so consumed by all the extra work and preparation and I’m utterly exhausted each night and I can barely manage to write a word of fiction.

We talked about our goals for the next few years. We worried that me taking this job would end with us stuck in a safe rut. Just one more year, one more year. Tied to a safe income and before we knew it we’d be in our forties and miserable.

My new book has done better than I expected. It made a bit over $900 last month, and I’m already at $650 for the first ten days of March. Over a thousand dollars this month doesn’t seem so crazy all of a sudden.

Perhaps if the new book had only sold a handful of copies then I would have taken the job. But with it doing relatively well, we can see the possibilities.

I felt like I had a choice – chase this author dream. It might work out amazingly, it might all fizzle out. Or take the safe path and take the full-time teaching job and put the author dream on the back-burner.

I’m lucky enough that I have an extremely supportive partner, and that we’re in the position where I don’t need to be bringing in $67k+ a year. We can get by comfortably on Keenan’s wage and the ~$30k I bring in from CRT work. I’m lucky enough that I can do a flexible job like CRT work which pays $50/hr and I have some control over how much and when I work.

Maybe I will look back on this decision and regret it.

The sensible thing to do would take the job. Save up a deposit for a house. Buy a house. Have a baby.

But that’s not the path we want. Publishing has the potential to make a hell of a lot more than I ever could teaching. Or it might never take off. I have no way of knowing. But if I look back on my life when I’m old, I know I would regret not trying.

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