Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wish/Want | On Missing Out

I'm going to take a break from the scheduled feel-good talk that is so prevalent in the blogosphere and talk about reality for a minute. Not because I want to crush your dreams, or tell you that they aren't possible. But because sometimes you (and I) need a dose of reality.

Have you ever wanted something so bad that you'd do anything to get it? I've been there, and you know what, I didn't get it. I could say it was for the best, and things happen for a reason, but to be honest, I'm still not sure that is true. Some things in life aren't for the taking, and sometimes you don't get what you want.

Back when I lived in London, there seemed to be a whole new world before me. I thought that I could waltz into one of the largest cities in the world, with no experience and land on my feet. And while there were many new opportunities and experiences, competition is fierce. It's expected that people starting out in the film and graphics industries work as an intern (read: unpaid). Sadly, my parents forgot to water the money tree they received when I was born, and working for free was not in the realm of possibility for me. So I got a job. Not a graphic design job mind you. I got a job selling t-shirts. It involved standing in the doorway of a store to deter thieves from ripping whole racks of clothing to sell. It involved folding 100's of t-shirts every day. It involved smiling to rude customers. I tried to upsell shitty accessories and shivered in the doorway of that shop in my t-shirt with a silly slogan on the front. All for around £4 per hour. Not exactly the glitz and glamour of an exciting new design career. To put it into perspective, my monthly wage (working 6 days a week) was LESS than the homeless man that I befriended who sold the Big Issue.

After months of t-shirt slaving, I started to pick up the odd freelance design job here and there. C was gaining interest, connections and momentum in his career as well. Things were getting better. Despite the hard working conditions, we had a great circle of friends with similar interests. The opportunity for success in creative fields is so much greater than in Australia. It was a land of opportunity for our chosen fields. As you already know, I love to travel, and London is a fantastic base and much more conducive to travel than Australia ever can be. It just seemed right and I felt at home for the first time in my life. I was finally at home.

We returned to Sydney for family reasons. Somehow I landed a pretty good design job while we were in transit between London and Sydney. I figured I would work for a little bit, get some decent experience and return to London with better odds at employment in my field. My working holiday visa expired and since I had a Bachelor's degree, I planned on applying for a Highly Skilled Migrant visa. I found out that this visa relies on a complex points system and while education and age were in my favour, my earnings were not. I missed qualifying by one point. The only way to raise my points was to earn more. But pay-rises usually come with time, and that was one thing I didn't have. So I did what seemed logical. I worked more. I worked like you wouldn't believe. I took on double shifts, so I would do one job Monday to Friday 9-5 and then I would also work weekends and 3 nights a week until midnight or 2am. I did this for an entire year. It almost killed me. But I was reaching my target. C took on a (horrible) corporate job, to gain his visa in a 'desired' industry (they don't need more musicians in London, go figure). The unhappiness, stress and despair of this situation took it's toll on both of us.

We were one month off breaking the income threshold and gaining our visas when the financial crisis hit London bad. To try and secure their economy, they tightened immigration laws. My Bachelor degree was no longer enough, I needed a Masters degree. It was impossible. I couldn't keep working like that (to keep my income up) and study for a Masters Degree. I didn't even want a Masters degree. It broke me. I made a few last-ditch efforts to get sponsorship but it was hopeless. A company had to prove that nobody in the UK could do the job first, then nobody in the EU. If there were no suitable candidates, then they could sponsor a worker. Graphic Designers are a dime-a-dozen and I was at a loose end.

I accepted my fate and decided that I couldn't ever consider living in the UK again. I grew bitter toward people who could, but didn't want to. I was angry at my parents for not applying for me to have German passport when I was a child (when I was able to get one). There were so many paths that led to a broken down bridge. So many "too late" moments. It still hurts that I couldn't fulfil that dream. It was not through lack of determination or hard work.

I learned something valuable from that experience though. Swimming against the current is exhausting. Sometimes you need to come up for air and make a decision if it's worthwhile. What are you hoping to get out of this goal or dream? Is there another way to achieve it? Are you doing it the hard way? Should it be this hard, is it a lost cause? I'm still sad that I never made it back to London. I can't say that it was 'for a good reason' or that anything 'special' has come out of me not going back. I have new dreams now, a different direction that my life might take, and perhaps it will have all been worth it one day.

While I can get caught up in the 'follow your dreams' talk just as much as the next person, I think we need to realise that not everything is possible, or right for you. I do believe that hard work and determination will take you far. But sometimes you need a healthy dose of luck thrown in too.

I'll leave you with this thought. I do believe that your dreams are possible - but be flexible with them. If you have a rigid plan on how things will be, it allows no room for magic and chance, and you will miss something along the way. Be prepared to work hard, your dream is unlikely to show up in the form of instant gratification.

I encourage you to talk about your failures or wrong turns. It can be completely overwhelming to hear only the success stories. It generates an expectation that things should be easy, or if you want it bad enough, you will have it instantly. I think you will find that most successful people have stories of failure. Life takes unexpected turns and you may reach a different outcome to what you expect. Embrace this and don't you ever give up. Sometimes the lesson is in the journey.


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