As a kid, I grew up with a lot of responsibilities. I always felt intimidated standing in line to do the family banking. At nine, I was booking up groceries at the corner store. Times were tough in a single-parent household. The eldest of three children I played the second parent on-and-off well into my teens.
My father drummed into our heads, “Get a trade!” learn another language, keep abreast of world issues to read the market. Life skills to keep us educated and employed. I watched my mother and father work back-breaking jobs and long hours. Deeply affected by this I asked my father: “Is this it?”, I was only 22. What I meant was, “Is this all there is to life?” Get an education, work a job with people we can’t stand. Only to self-medicate and do it all over again. I never did get an answer to my question. At the time, I didn’t know this question represented my soul, rejecting the notion of ‘making a living.’ I eventually joined the status quo. A diligent worker I adopted my parents’ hardworking ethic and wore it proudly. That was all I knew.
Over 20 years, I built a fortress of financial freedom and security. I climbed the corporate ladder as far as I could until workplace bullying intervened. My name and reputation were tarnished overnight. All those years I played by the rules. First in the office, and the last to leave, going above what was required because this was the culture.
After I mustered the courage to take my bullying case to the Equal Opportunity Commission with disappointing results, I dragged my feet for another four years in the same toxic environment. Perhaps, you could say I suffered from Stockholm Syndrome. I held onto the lie, which told me I didn’t have an option. Everything I had slaved for, like a carpet, was ripped from under me.
I eventually left the Public Service. I had had enough. And this is where the magic began. I no longer had nothing to lose.
I made one of the bravest decisions in my life. I took a gap year. Naively, I always viewed a gap year as a luxury only affluent kids indulged in ‘to find themselves’. A period of tomfoolery, while the rest of us had better things to do — like work.
What I discovered was I grew up with ideologies that did not align with my purpose. My gap year was essential for my evolution — it saved me. It gave me time to listen to my inner desires, free from stress, work and other distractions — a moment to be me. On my sabbatical, I dared to daydream. I created a vision board, and I listed all the things that would facilitate my happiness: less work, more creativity, passion, travel and connection.
I swapped KPIs, a high-income salary and no time, for a chance to do things differently. Throwing out old doctrines passed down to me from childhood and establishing new ones. The status quo prides itself on colouring in between the lines. I think when we are prepared to be rebellious, we would surprise ourselves for the better.
I am now working part-time and have more opportunities to be impactful. My peers are on the same frequency. I am joyful. I consume less, being more mindful of the products and services I purchase. The way I manage my finances is intentional. Projects I considered a pipe dream, are achievable.
I did ask myself why I didn’t do this sooner. I guess hitting rock bottom speeds up the process. But is that necessary? Isn’t self-care about checking in with ourselves before it reaches that point?
For so long, I beat to the sound of everybody else’s drum. Now I’m moving to the rhythm of my beat, and I never felt better.
Sasha Sarago is the Editor and Founder of Ascension — Australia’s first digital lifestyle platform for women of colour.