August 24, 2015

The Dumbest Thing I’ve Ever Done, or the Most Inspired.

"New York City," Andrés Nieto Porras, Flickr

Many think that New York is the greatest city on earth. I agree.

In less than 30 days I will be moving there. This is a long-held dream of mine.

The fact that I’m doing it now, at nearly 50, and leaving a happy, successful life in Australia to chase this dream means I sometimes wonder if I’ve left my run a bit late.

Is this the dumbest thing I’ve ever done, or perhaps the most inspired?

For some reason I’m a little embarrassed to admit to following my dream—maybe because the idea has become such a cliché. It seems like we’re always being exhorted to chuck in our apparently ordinary existence to chase our deepest yearnings. There seems to be a never-ending self-help chorus urging us on to greater risks.

But is it that simple? Should we just identify our burning desires, no matter what the cost and do it? Is that the key to fulfilment?

After many years of wrestling with this, I’ve given in and decided to tackle the only item that matters to me on my bucket list.

So I’m moving to New York.

And here’s my bottom line: if I don’t do this, what’s my plan B? What plan do I have that matches the challenge and the excitement of plan A?

My alternative—to stay with the life I currently have—is also wonderful, but not quite as captivating. A friend once said to me “don’t you want to know what you’re capable of?” And I do.

After years of sometimes feeling a deep emptiness, confusion and despair at the paths I’d chosen, I’m finally thriving as a freelancer. While my income is not what it was, I’m expecting that to change.

So, at the age of 49 and nine months I’m leaving my partner, friends, sister, healthy ageing parents and dogs to move from Sydney, New South Wales to New York, New York.

This has meant selling my house to free the funds to start a new life, uprooting a new career that is barely off the ground and moving to a city at the other end of the earth, where I hardly know a soul. Obviously this has the potential to be financially and emotionally devastating. So I can’t pretend that I don’t find it daunting, at times.

But central to my decision is an idea that I just can’t erase: what is the point of my existence if I don’t do what I desperately want?

Should I continue to ignore my deepest desire? After grappling with what can seem like the inherent selfishness of my plan, I’ve come to realize that risking everything for that one idea is reason enough. End of story.

The dream began when I was a teenager. My fantasy was to live in Soho or Chelsea, hang out with people who resembled Lou Reed, Patty Smith and Nico, and live creatively—writing and taking photographs. It wasn’t a career plan as such, yet I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

But somewhere between covering court for a country newspaper and door-stopping politicians on the streets of Melbourne, Sydney and Darwin, that dream was lost—I had thought, forever.

It’s not as if I didn’t like aspects of being a journalist. I believed what I was doing was core to a thriving democracy. I liked writing and I was endlessly curious. But somehow the system in which I worked, the profound lack of impact my stories were having, despite the endless exposure of injustice, left me feeling empty.

So I moved into talk radio, producing some of Australian radio’s biggest names. Then I became a senior executive in a big media organization. It was both a privilege and a challenge to do this work.

But ultimately where it left me can be summed up by this one, to me, terrifying thought as I trudged into work one day: “What have I become?”

That’s the exact phrase that echoed balefully in my heart. I was hardly doing bad work, but I felt impotent, unenthusiastic—dead inside. Pretty soon after that I quit.

Then began years of searching—for the right job, right organisation, right something.

Eventually this search began to gain traction. I realized I wanted to make pictures. I became a photographer and began to specialize in portraiture. I began working as a freelance photo-journalist and then the biggest surprise of all, the meditation practice that had helped facilitate the massive changes I was experiencing, led me to pursue a career teaching meditation.

Now I do both. And the next step is to do take these endeavours to New York City.

So while the new Soho is probably Williamsburg and the people I’d choose to hang out with are more likely to be the new creatives—the digital, artistic and social change entrepreneurs—I’m hoping a fresh, exciting existence with plenty of meaning awaits.

Not perfection.

Not Nirvana.

But that’s partly the point: I can’t escape life’s challenges but if I can do what we love, where I’d love to do it, that’s a dream I want to chase.


Relephant read:

Daydream Believer: 5 Steps for Living Up to Our True Potential.


Author: Jo Jarvis

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

Image: Andrés Nieto Porras/ Flickr

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