I’ve begun pursuing creative writing again and in some roundabout, traumatizing way I have some crummy work experiences to thank. It began with the desperate need for a career or job change – a desire for a slower pace to start activating self-care and to plan a much healthier work/life balance.
As I wrote this first draft I was sitting on my exercise bike in the kitchen, overseeing the cooking and running different writing ideas through my head. Needless to say, dinner started to burn in the frying pan, my butt hurt because I was sitting in a weird position, and a sentence I was working on made little sense. So scrap the attempt at multitasking and overloading myself. See that’s my thing. I’m a “yesser.” I struggle to say “no,” especially when I’m really passionate about an idea, a cause, or a mission.
In my sexual health role I did a lot of project management and education with young Aboriginal women. I was so passionate about this work, which ultimately left me burnt out and quite frankly furious at our country’s failures to make amends for the messed up things they did and still do to the local communities. Not only was I professionally responsible for the work I did but I was also culturally and personally responsible to those in the local communities. I’m a Dharruk girl by birth and my Dad’s family come originally from Beaudesert, where the Mununjali people have lived in Queensland for thousands of years. It’s a complex situation where a displacement to culture and Country niggles at me and is something I’m forever rectifying as a part of my identity formation. A job like this comes with added layers.
Additionally working for a non-Aboriginal charity NGO felt like walking a tightrope with white policy/systems/Euro-cultural understandings on one side and Aboriginal cultural understandings/strengths-based relationship building on the other. One health worker put it perfectly and said – “White policy doesn’t suit Aboriginal reality.” There’s not even a “but” or “if” in there. I was in this awkward position where it felt like box ticking and not meaningful with a lot of scurrying around to meet KPIs and deadlines at whatever cost to our relationships with communities. At times I felt what I was doing was spot on but mostly it left me feeling like a full-blown sell-out. I was constantly questioning my identity, my purpose and my role in all this how to make Aboriginal Australia better. Actually – no. How can we make non-Aboriginal Australia better, more inclusive and accepting of its first nations peoples and then more understanding of this country’s shocking history? I’ve heard I’m not the only one of my generation who faces this internal dilemma.
My role as an Aboriginal person in my workplace became one of tokenism. Anything “Aboriginal” was handed to me and I was asked to look over things, an easy option, even if it meant providing feedback on something I wasn’t an expert in or had much knowledge of. There was an obvious desperate need for on-going, adequate cultural competency training in my workplace and in broader society. For myself, it additionally began to feel like a charity NGO using neo-liberal business models to justify decisions that they made and I just couldn’t align my own ethos with something like that. By the time our project deadlines were due we had met our targets. Every. Single. KPI.
I was told that this was the first time my department had achieved this since they received funding to do “Aboriginal specific” projects. I was gobsmacked. In some way, I felt they had played me.
But it’s a pat on the back moment? Sure it was. But I still had a sour taste in my mouth. I was done. I was spent. All the grinding, traveling, financial, emotional, cultural straining had literally swept me up in an ocean of high and then very low confidence, and then it spat me out like a washed up shipwreck. No workplace is perfect and my expectations were set high. I’m of that generation that wants to get in and do the best they can and seeks perfection in everything they do. So I was bound to hit a wall at some point.
When I was feeling pretty bummed about my career prospects I applied to do an online English teaching degree and changed jobs. It provided light at the other end of a very murky tunnel. Again I treated my creative writing as an afterthought. Then the most cliché “follow your dreams” moment happened. I was in the shower literally contemplating life and asking myself what I truly wanted to do. And of course, I pictured myself at my laptop typing away.
Then it clicked. Or rather popped like a pleasant soap sudd to the head.
Put writing first – dummy!
And that’s what I began to do. I deferred university, and then later “resigned” from it altogether deciding to pursue writing instead. I promised myself and within budget to work locally. I have set myself manageable writing goals to continue working on my skills and ideas through practicing, courses and networking. I know those things aren’t possible for everyone but it’s what works for me at the moment and I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time.
So in a strange way, I actually owe those previous job “challenges” a sly thank you…
Author: Dayle Fogarty
Link to social media: Instagram @dayleaf_writing