“I saw my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted.”
– Jack Kerouac
The first time I left home, I was seven years old. I was so mad. I have no idea what I was mad at, but my god, it was shocking. I made a Vegemite sandwich, packed my favourite yellowed teddy bear in my Space Jam backpack, took one last wistful look at the rest of my toys, and I was gone.
I made it less than a block.
My initial attempt at escape might have failed, but it certainly wasn’t the last; I guess you could say that, from an early age, I wanted out. I longed for prepubescent ideals of adventure, for seeing a world I did not yet know. I loved to read stories about fantastical lands and the yawning vastness of space. I was drawn to archetypes where the lone wolf embarks on a dangerous, thrilling journey, with great reward at the end.
As I got older and gradually gained more of an understanding of the world and its processes, my interest turned from fantasy to real stories, and I found myself poring over history books and biographies. Extraordinary humans were what fascinated me, and throughout my teens I longed to join the list of visionaries that observed and documented our existence through art, music, and the written word. I was drawn to stories of real people whose creations and lives seemed almost mythical, the likes of Ian Curtis, Jack Kerouac,Vincent Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo. I wanted their passion, their grace, their love affairs with the world in which we’re so lucky to exist.
I wanted their passion, their grace, their love affairs with the world in which we’re so lucky to exist.
At age 18 I made my first leap. I moved to the UK for a year to work in a boarding school and travel around Europe. Honestly, I was mostly doing it to get out of the impending doom of making a decision about university, but I couldn’t help but be tickled by the notion of leaving my friends and family for an entire year to go somewhere I’d never been before.
Those 12 months abroad were the most important of my life. When you’re forced out of your comfort zone, you learn who you are and what you want. It’s inevitable, because you’re automatically taken away from a life that was built for you by familiarity. You’re in control, completely, of your decisions and your development.
I returned from England with new goals. Living abroad showed me that writing really was the clearest form of observation I could muster, and I wanted to hone that skill. I enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and spent the next four years growing as a writer, as an observer, and as a traveller.
I had never really been student who excelled; I was one of those kids who always seemed distracted. I usually skipped classes that seemed irrelevant to my interests and at one point almost got expelled. But once I decided to go to university, I decided I would do what I wanted. That was the first big lesson I learnt. Do what you fucking want, if you fucking can.
That was the first big lesson I learnt. Do what you fucking want, if you fucking can.
I decided to study writing and international relations because I wanted to be a better writer, and I wanted to understand the way the world worked. I wanted it for myself, not for a degree. And what I learned from choosing to follow my interests and my curiosity was that I was actually really good at school. I got high distinctions and, for the first time in my life, I got 100% on an exam. All I wanted was to learn. I followed my passion, and I was rewarded for it.
But the most important thing that I did during university was travel. I spent 6 months on a student exchange program to New York, a place I had only visited a handful of times with family and friends. A little drastic to move over there perhaps, but hey, that was the enticement. I lived in a tiny apartment in the East Village with artists and scientists – all professional, creative thinkers. Being around these people, I witnessed a kind of adulthood I had not thought possible.
I thought creativity died when you started working full-time, because I genuinely didn’t know about creative jobs that didn’t involve some form of vagrancy. And I never really knew what I wanted to “be when I grow up.” I just wanted to be creative.
But I was a competitive kid by nature, always wanting to be the best, fastest, strongest. Living amongst these rogue non-conformists, these dreamchasers, I felt inspired to follow the creative game, and consulted other writing majors once I returned to Australia. It didn’t take long for me to settle on a career.
…I was a competitive kid by nature, always wanting to be the best, fastest, strongest.
Once I spent a little time researching what it was, copywriting just made sense. I was good at reading people to assess what they wanted, and I was good at writing. All of a sudden, advertising just seemed so natural, so perfect, that it was almost impossible that I hadn’t thought of it before now.
Settling on that career path, I realised pretty quickly that the small Australian town that I hailed from wouldn’t hold many opportunities for me, and I had to think bigger. New York was still fresh in my mind, and I knew it was home to the headquarters of so many advertising agencies and start-up companies.
So, on what seemed like a whim, I decided to take another leap, more permanent than any step I’d taken before. This was my first decision outside of school.
And holy shit, was I terrified.
My two previous moves abroad had been nothing but pure excitement. I don’t think I had any nerves. But this time, I had nervous breakdowns on a weekly basis. They became so common that I began to treat them like part of my daily schedule. I’d get up at 8am, work for 9 hours, get home, have dinner, cry for an hour, go to the gym, sleep, rinse, and repeat.
But what was different this time? Why was I more terrified than excited, when I knew in my heart this is what I was meant to do? I knew at 23 what to do with my life; wasn’t that a lucky streak?
It didn’t take long to figure it out: I had no backup plan. I didn’t have anything waiting for me. I was moving, probably permanently, out of my hometown. No restrictions; nothing but pure opportunity.
But that’s life, right? So many people flip the fuck out when confronted by what they really want, and the power to do something about it is something not everyone can cope with. Freedom is as suffocating as it is, well, freeing.
Freedom is as suffocating as it is, well, freeing.
My biggest moments of fear came from the realisation that this was, in fact, quite a huge risk. I just sort of decided one day to pack my things and leave the country, to try a career I’d never even knew existed until eight months prior. Leaving my hometown and the comfort of my conformity (and my dog) and moving to one of the biggest and most cutthroat cities in the world was seemingly insane.
But at the end of every day, when the anxiety rose and the urge to give up and join the public service or make coffees was more present than ever, I reminded myself that this is truly what I wanted to do. I knew it, deep down, despite my lack of experience and money. I knew that if I didn’t do this, I’d end up bitter and full of remorse.
So I did it. I packed my bags, and I moved to New York City with no place to live, no job, and, despite a year of savings, nowhere near enough money.
It was terrifying. And it was exhilarating. But I found a job. Doing what I like, too. And let me tell you, I’m having the time of my life. And I’m here, and I’m trying. Coming here took more guts than I ever thought I had. Whatever happens, I’ll always have that.
Photo credit: All images by Elly Freer.