Tread Your Own Path
Did you know that this tree, growing out of an island rock, is over 200 years old? This tree is treading its own path, this tree reminds me of my mum. My mum is my hero. She's a great inspiration to me. When times are tough and I need strength, I think of her. When I get scared about what the future might hold or when I doubt myself, I think of her. I took this photo on Christmas Island, the island where she grew up, an isolated island, just 135 m2 in size, 2,600 km North West of Perth and 500 km South of Indonesia. When mum was growing up, the only way on and off the island, for both people and supplies was by boat.
Being an Asian family, living in a post WWII era, salaries were low. It meant making do with what you had. Families had to grow what food they could and make it stretch as far as possible. My mum's family, like a lot of other families, kept their own chickens for eggs, and eating the bird was a luxury, enjoyed only a few times a year. Despite all this, my grandmother was notorious for finding a way to feed any hungry mouths who would come to the house. She was a master at cooking on the fly and rustling up simple, wholesome meals with very little, at the drop of a hat. I guess that's where my mum gets it from.
My mum was always independent, moving out of home when she started work. When she was only 19, her family left the island and moved to China, a place my Indonesian grandmother had never been, and my mother never saw her parents again. They spoke, but not often, and she always sent them money. This was a time before international calls and travel were affordable to working class people. My mum could have gone with her family, but she chose to stay, all by herself. She wanted to create a better life, and she saw that for herself in Australia. A few years later, Mum moved to Melbourne, the big smoke. Years later, she moved with my dad and settled in Perth.
My mum has had some very special people in her life, including my adopted nana, who we're visiting in Melbourne this week, but she didn't have her own mum around to support her when she became a mother herself, or when she lost my sister to brain cancer, or when she and my dad got divorced, or when she lost her soul mate to a brain tumour. She always made sure I was loved and looked after. She provided a wonderful life and even though we didn't have much, I never felt like I missed out. My mum taught me the value of hard work, to appreciate the simple things in life and to trust in yourself to make the decisions that work for you: to live your own life, not someone else's. To tread your own path.
I only wish I had learnt and appreciated these lessons sooner. In stark contrast to my mum, I have spent much of my life doing what others want, or what I think they think, is right for me. Whether it be my parents, my childhood bully, my ex husband, my narcissistic boss, complete strangers, people that I thought opinions mattered, but really didn't. I have plenty of regrets, things I've done or said that I knew in my heart wasn't the right for me, for any number of reasons: because I wasn't strong enough to say no; because I felt bad; because someone else said it was ok; I guess it really doesn't matter. Now that I'm in my mid-30s, I've finally come to realise that no one knows what's right for you, better than you. It's still concept that's relatively new for me, a definite work in progress, but better late than never.
This past year has been tough for me. Not long after my 34th birthday last year, I made the decision to resign from my role as a senior executive in the public service. A role that I'd taken on around the time my marriage broke down. It served as a great distraction and it was a role that I shaped. I put my blood, sweat and tears into being a "successful" senior executive. I was earning a good salary, I was one of the youngest senior executives in the WA public sector and a female at that, I had an office, a PA, a car, I enjoyed the challenge. I had it good, or so people tell me. I just needed to hang in there for the next 30 years, that's how it works, right?
But at what cost? I was working long hours and my mind was switched on 24/7. I carried two phones everywhere I went and I would constantly check my work phone, just in case some sort of "emergency" required my attention. I would have meetings or be talking to people all day and then bring home my papers to read or approve at night, or over the weekend. There were many days I ate next to nothing, there were days I needed to go to the toilet at 9am but didn't until 2pm. There were many nights I was the only person left in the office, long after the cleaners had been and gone. I didn't have the time, nor the energy, to see any of the people that mattered to me. Nor did I have any time to look after me.
And then there was my boss. On top of the actual work, I spent upwards of 50% of my day massaging his ego. It was a game of control, I was his little project. He would call me in to his office for "mentoring" sessions and we would the spend the next two hours talking about how he was going to "fix" me. It was an exhausting mixture of confusion, the threat of failure and reminding him of how "good" he was. Even when you think there's nothing wrong with you, it's only a matter of time before you don't know what to think.
I was completely burnt out. I caught a bug that was going around and ended up with a chest infection and eye infection and a bad case of laryngitis. Some months before a patch of hair on the back of my head, around the size of a 20c piece, had fallen out completely. I'm talking bald, smooth as a baby's bottom bald. My body was telling me enough was enough. My boss was telling me "You're just telling yourself your tired, stop telling yourself you're tired.". We started having conversations about whether I was cut out for the job. And so I decided, not that I wasn't cut out for the job, but that I didn't want to do this any more. There was a fundamental difference, I was consciously objecting to the situation. I was taking back control of my life.
The weeks and months immediately after I transitioned to a position with less responsibility were the hardest. My mind and my body were catching up with years of stress and anxiety. I struggled with whether I had made the right decision. My body struggled to stay awake. I napped, a lot. I spent most of my day curled up on the couch with my cat in a mixture of tears and exhaustion. My doctor ran a full hormone panel and diagnosed me with adrenal fatigue (more on this and my continuing recovery in future blog posts). My body had been propping me up with adrenal for so long, it just couldn't do it any more. I used up the many hours of sick leave I had earned over the years to take time off. I went back to work briefly on a part-time basis but the stress of being back in the same environment was taking a toll and so I took my long service leave. I began concentrating on my recovery. Resting when I needed to. Spending time with people that mattered. Focusing on projects, like this blog, that provide me with a creative outlet. Then, when a restructure at work presented the opportunity to take a voluntary severance, I jumped at it, with both hands.
Fast forward to this past week. A new frontier. I'm officially a free agent. Forging my own way forward. Master and creator of my own destiny. Just quietly, I'm shitting my pants but hey, why the hell not?! I officially registered The Cheeky Project Perth Pty. Ltd., along with the chocolate business, Cheeky Cacao. There is still plenty of work to do but focusing on something for me has really helped nourish my soul. I'm finally doing something for myself, something that ignites a passion in me. I'm far from fully recovered, but I'm streets ahead of where I was, no thanks to Mr J, who has just been amazing. He has taught me to listen to my body and he believes in me, even when I don't. I'm finally treading my own path, and I can't wait to see what new adventures are in store.