It all begins with the first Hollywood film that makes a lasting impression on you…
For me it was the 70’s cult hit musical Grease, which at age five won my heart. The epic tale of shy girl Sandy proving her love for heart throb Danny by transforming herself into a sexy rock n’ roll girl…
I learned that if you want to get the guy (which of course you did), you had to be the smartest and coolest chick in school, wear the coolest clothes, have the coolest car. Then you’d get your happily ever after and drive off into the sunset…
And once you had your childhood sweetheart, it was off to university, then marriage, kids, a career and a beautiful home – you’re living the great Australian dream…
These benchmarks of a life to be proud of are reinforced through most of our childhood with fairy tales, Barbie Dolls and Disney princess movies (well, before Elsa came along).
And then at school, you are told you must be the best in your class, get good grades, be academic so you can go to university and get a job to make enough money so you can buy a house, have a fancy car and have children of your own so you can keep the whole ruse going…
Our friends, parents, grandparents, religious upbringing and school teachers tell us that the only path to follow is one of the masses. Whilst television soapies, glitzy commercials, catalogues of beautiful people and teen magazines let us know that we are only worthy of positive attention when we follow the trends they set out for us.
And when you finally reach the point where you have a job that pays the bills, you slip into the corporate world, doing what has always been done, because have to fit in, you want to belong, and you wouldn’t dare question the authority of your boss…
For the first 30 years of our lives, everyone is so busy telling us what we have to do and who we have be that we hardly ever stop to think about what we really want for ourselves.
We push down free-spirited impulses, become dependent on middle-class incomes, rack up credit card bills and huge ongoing living expenses so that we can create the illusion that we have it all together. That we are successful. That we are somebody…
But at age 30 it all starts to come tumbling down.
Not seen as a kid anymore, you suddenly have to start acting like an adult and take responsibility for the life you have built.
You’ve been out on your own for a while, without Mum and Dad there to approve everything, and you’ve been making big arse decisions about your life based on the dreams of someone else.
And suddenly, everything starts to feel like it’s wrong. You start to question everything you’ve ever been told about how life is supposed to work.
Finally, at the age of 30, you have a chance to stop the madness and begin to question all of it. You have the chance to reflect on all the ‘rules’ you have been following your whole life and realise it’s time for you to forge your own path. And you still have enough of your youthful yutzpa and motivation to not be a lost cause, to not be a ‘serious person’, to not yet suffer from a case of the ‘defeated adult disease’…
At the age of 30, your Mum will forgive you for not doing what she told you to do, because she finally understands that the most important thing is that you are happy.
But this is when you realise that everything you have been working for your whole life is not what you really want… that you are far from happy. And now you have to make a choice.
You can either follow the known path, numb your discontent with more belongings and hope that ‘defeated adult disease’ is not hereditary.
Or you can choose something different…
I had this realisation at age 30.
Turning 3-0 was no big deal for me, I still felt like I was in my twenties really and I was happy enough I guess. But in the months leading into my 31st birthday, I kinda freaked out. I wasn’t a kid anymore, I was on the final stretch toward 40 and I was not on a path I was happy with. I really had to start taking life stuff seriously!
I hated my job and I was struggling to even know what I wanted from life anymore. I started to question everything. I stopped wanting to have children. I stopped wanting a big apartment on the beach. I stopped wanting to succeed at work. I stopped wanting to be the perfect wife. I stopped wanting any kind of luxury.
And I seriously just wanted to be me.
But I didn’t know what that even was anymore.
The feeling of discontent and longing for freedom absorbed my every thought and I was desperate to do something about it. I quit my job and started a fashion business supported by my husband, and within twelve months we were close to divorce.
Moving out, I now had all the freedom in the world. But I had no idea what to do with it… I had nothing. No job, no money, no husband, very little possessions, and all the walls were caving in around me. Everything I’d ever believed suddenly seemed so wrong… I had a complete emotional breakdown.
I realised that the conflict of wanting to be who I am was not one of changing the external circumstances of my life, although this was exactly what I had done… Instead at the fundamental root of it all, I saw that there was a serious conflict in my internal beliefs about life.
I was so aware that I had believed that success was only defined by my achievements and my possessions. I had believed that who I am was defined by what I DO. I had believed that my worthiness was defined by my ability to be someone. And I had believed that freedom would only come if I left it all behind…
Many of my friends blindly followed the path expected of them throughout their twenties and didn’t realise that they had alternatives in their thirties. As their forties approach they are prisoners to unhappy marriages, multiple children, million dollar mortgages, high paying corporate jobs, and garages full of stuff that they’ll never use again. The freedom they expected to achieve by working really hard and following the rules is at least another 30 years away. They had followed the path of their parents.
But I am so glad that I realised early on in my journey that I didn’t really want any of that. And that the decision was mine to make. I could have the life that I wanted, and not the safe one that other people wanted for me. I had discovered that freedom wasn’t something you received as a reward for conforming with the masses. It was a birthright, and it was available at any time. It was simply a matter of changing perspective.
Because freedom was really just a state of mind.
Within eight months I moved back in with my husband. We closed the fashion business down. Through lots of introspection and heart-to-hearts, we decided we didn’t want to live a life of conformity with the masses. And we started working on discovering what we did really want.
Eight years later, in March 2016, we sold everything and moved to Bali for at least a year. Having both received redundancies from corporate jobs a few years ago, we had spent the time creating micro businesses and freelance income which would allow us to travel. Technically, we have nothing worth any real value now (but an amazing record collection in storage under a friends house). So by all normal measures at the end of my thirties, I have not reached any level of apparent outward success.
I am on the lowest income of my working days, but my life feels richer than ever before with life experiences. I have no serious career to speak of, but I am freer than ever to explore my interests in shifting our consumer culture and to refine skills as a writer. I am a huge failure in so many meanings of the word, but I feel so much more successful at pursuing my life dreams.
And in realising that the rules we have been following are not really rules at all, I’ve been able to face the fear of disappointing those nearest and dearest to my heart.
And yes, my Mum is still talking to me.
Written by Stacey Brown
Stacey Brown is a freespirited gypsy who yearns for a day when people will stop buying shit they don’t need.
Living on a tropical island, far from the safety of home, Stacey finds freedom
in the simple life. With a brain full of things to say, her main outlet is getting
words on a page. A lifelong ‘student’ of modern philosophy and anything to
satisfy her curiosity, she enjoys the challenge of making people stop and think. With an insatiable appetite for the old, the unusual and the unique, her main passions are vintage fashion, sustainable living and writing.
On any given night you can find Stacey restyling secondhand clothes, working on her first book, or kicking her husband’s arse in Gin Rummy.