There’s no time like the present
The other day I was cleaning up my computer desktop folders and I came across a speech on ‘future careers’ that I wrote for and presented to new law students at my old university four and a half years ago. I reread it with interest to see what advice my 30 year old self gave to the fresh-faced students. It was astounding to me to read it and realise that the advice was as much to myself as to them!
My main message was ‘you have time’ (I said these three words no less than six times in the speech) — in which I counselled the students to be present and enjoy the learning process as much as possible, to get involved in as many uni activities that are interesting, and not worry too much about their future work. Now I realise the significance of my words for what followed over the next four years in my own life.
I gave this speech on the cusp of a major life change. I had just found out that I was accepted to study a Masters in Geneva, Switzerland and was preparing for my big move from Sydney, Australia. After 6 years working as a lawyer at a big corporate law firm and then in house at a large media company, I felt I had persisted long enough in a profession that gave me a new perspective on life, a wealth of knowledge, a high disposable income, and amazing friends and mentors, but left me feeling like something was lacking intellectually and in terms of my contribution to society.
Essentially, I was grappling with an existential and philosophical crisis in which I loved the law, including its ethical origins, history, jurisprudence, and approach to life, but was dismayed, disheartened, and demotivated as a result of how it was practised: nasty litigation over $1 contracts, legislation drafted by government at the whim of big corporate and industry lobbying, and a public interest test stretched by political parties for election gain and a lack of good faith. I no longer believed in what I was doing and did not look forward to getting up in the morning to go to work. After reading countless books, visiting a career psychologist, a psychiatrist, another psychologist, speaking frankly with mentors, friends, and family, following brilliant influencers on social media who bombarded me with inspirational quotes and messages I needed to hear, and even going on a yoga retreat in Thailand by myself — all of which took about 18 months (for another blog post perhaps) — I was ready for my new life. You can imagine that after all of this I was feeling pretty philosophical and just about bursting to impart my newfound wisdom and understanding to these bright-eyed and unsuspecting students about what it meant to consider a life and career change at the age of 30.
As I stood before the students and reassured them that they had time, I don’t think that I was aware that my own neural pathways were taking this in and processing it for personal use. I now see that even if none of the students were listening to me, my speech was not in vain as the most important person was tuning in and taking note: me.
Fast forward 6 months later to September 2015 and I was in Geneva starting classes at the Graduate Institute. Over the next two years, I took my own word as gospel. All the guidance I gave in that speech I followed like a faithful disciple. It became a subconscious mantra. Is this what self-belief feels like?
My advice was to choose a wide range of subjects. I listened. I chose subjects that were unfamiliar, different, and intellectually stimulating in unchartered disciplinary territories of sociology, anthropology, and international history. I was thoughtful in my choice of research and enjoyed joining debates about topics that had never even entered my thought stream before — intersectional feminism, cultural appropriation, decolonisation, and international norms. I discovered new countries, innovations, and ventures— like Estonian e-residency (definitely the topic of another blog!)
My advice was to say yes to everything. I acted. I became involved in the Institute student cabaret, opening myself up to creative and musical experiences and finding my voice. I interned at a peacebuilding research centre, which led to a job that allowed me to stay in Geneva, travel to Kenya, Sweden, and New York, and to meet and work with one of my most brilliant mentors to date.
My advice was to connect with people. And how I did. I made the most amazing friends with diverse characters from all over the world, from India to Turkey, Germany, Ireland, the US, Romania, Switzerland and even the Faroe Islands :)
So what happened? I took my time. I worried less about what was to come. And in doing so opened myself up to wondrous experiences, people, places, foods, music, cultures, and ideas. By being engaged in my present and trusting the natural process of time, I created so many opportunities for myself to experience moments of awe, foster complex relationships, and navigate tricky situations. I made decisions and took risks that sometimes led to hardship and grief, other times to exhaustion and frustration, and occasionally to joy and humour, but all of the time to learning and growth.
Four and a half years have passed since I gave that speech. A period in which so much has happened that I feel tired thinking about it. But now as I start my next chapter in a new country and with a new job, I feel it necessary to repeat the advice of my 30 year old self to my now 35 year old self and to anyone else who needs to hear it right now in this moment: you have time.