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To choose

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

I'm sitting for my Maths exam. I'm trying to remember the formula to a parabola. Sweat drips down my face. I look to the person on my right for a hint - no - for the reassurance that they're struggling too.

I wake up and it's 10AM on a Saturday morning. I am 26, not 16. My partner rolls over to ask me what's wrong. I say, "nothing - just a dream I had."

It has been 10 years since I left home - or rather, that I had been forced to leave home by my own mother. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that I have lived a longer life than 10 years. I finished high school. I sat for that god forsaken Maths exam which still, to this day, gives me nightmares. I went to university and graduated with Honours. I found a comfortable office job for 3.5 years. I wrote poems and performed them. I was the lead actor in a play. I wrote plays. I still write for a living. I've lost friends. I've made life-long friends. I've travelled. I've broken my heart countless times. I'm still here. And while I'm still here, I keep wondering why - why keep going?

So a month and a half ago, I quit my job and un-enrolled from my PhD program. I walked away from a nice 6-figure salary and the prestige of becoming a "doctor" (of research).

At the beginning, the story I was telling myself and others was that I was sick of my unfulfilling job and wanted to do more for the environment. And those things are still true. I just now realise there's a bigger reason. I'm started to re-evaluate my choices and seeing these choices for what they are: the freedom to live the life I want, on my terms.

When my Mom kicked me out, I was only gone a week before she asked me to return home. She was sorry. I said I didn't want to go back. I saw the opportunity to start fresh. To choose the life I wanted. And I don't regret the brave decision I made as a teenager then. I've made a lot of mistakes, but that's not one of them.

I suppose quitting my job, and essentially undoing the last 7.5 years of work, is the biggest thing I've done since then. I'm extremely unsettled and confused. I'm learning things about myself I never knew before. I thought I knew myself so well but it turns out I'm a stranger to my own life. As a child of migrants, I'm supposed to go to uni. I'm supposed to work a nice corporate job. I'm supposed to buy a house and have investments. I'm supposed to live my parents' dream of a better life. How could I just throw that away? But I did. I did because I realised that my parents' wanted me to have a better life and have choices that they didn't. I'm re-writing success in my own image and that means being brave enough to do something completely different - to start again.

I had tied so much of my identity to my work and my struggle, I don't even recognise myself most days. I struggle telling people I'm a gardener like I'm ashamed. Perhaps I am.

I say, "I recently had a career change and now I'm a gardener."

So then they ask, "what did you do before?"

"I worked as a writer for telecommunications companies."

I'm afraid people will think I am uneducated or unsuccessful or a failure. I know no-one thinks that. But I think that about myself. Because I don't know how to talk about myself anymore.

I wanted to re-define myself by things I do for joy. But I also realised the difficulty of that is that I haven't been driven by enjoyment or pleasure. I have been driven by survival, insecurity, and fear. I tried defining myself by the people love, and while I know I have a wonderful support network and community, I haven't had the chance to really be there for my loved ones.

I always said I wanted to spend more time with my friends. I told myself my work hours and my job was in the way. Now that that's gone - I'm the only barrier to communication and connection. Do I even know what it means to really connect anymore?

I always said I would write more if I had the mental and emotional space that I gave to work instead. So what's holding me back from finishing my poetry manuscript or writing a play?

I always said I would find time to heal and rest. To find joy that isn't connected to some form of income. But god, I hate sitting still. I'm still trying to find the next project to throw myself into.

Don't get me wrong - I absolutely love being a gardener. I love being outside, even in the rain. But the lesson I'm seeing is that it wasn't my job or my unbridled pursuit of success and financial freedom that was the problem. My why for as long as I can remember was to keep running from the pain. Why? Because suicide. Because the only other choice is not existing at all.

I am choosing to be outside breathing cleaner air. I chose gardening because it made me happy. Because it forces me to be present. To be patient. To be kind - to myself and others. It's given me the dignity of a hard day's work. It's a chose to start again. I wonder this seed will become.

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