Nostalgia Blurs My Memory

At least once a week, I think of leaving my job and starting over. I hear stories of people who decided their office jobs weren’t serving them any more and made that change without having anything new planned a lot. I hear stories about people developing something on the side, and then leaving whatever terrible thing they were doing to pursue that. You can’t look through Facebook, read a travel website, or scroll through Instagram without seeing another person who’s “following their dreams”, “living their best life” or making it as a travel blogger/influencer/social media something or other.

I’m deeply envious of these people and I think about doing this a lot. I also remember back to when I was a student at University, working in retail, and I start to idealize it. I worked for Telstra, through dodgy resellers, for two years. In that time I was yelled at, ripped off by my bosses, threatened with cameras from A Current Affair – not by someone who actually worked for A Current Affair by the way, just some random guy who thought they’d tell his story if he approached them – and called arrogant, a bitch, awful.

That two years of dealing with the public’s problems in Grafton and on the Gold Coast turned into another four years of the same, but at Vodafone in Sydney. The trends continued there too. I was blamed for phones with shattered screens, phones with water damage, phones that didn’t connect to the internet, phones that dropped their calls, phones that were too big, phones that were too small, and was yelled at more times than I care to remember.

A man told me that in 20 years he was sure if he came back into the store I would still be working there – I so badly wanted to tell him that he wouldn’t be able to come into the store then, because he would be dead – and a woman screamed at me for telling her to wait a minute before I could serve her. She later came back, brought me a juice, and apologized. A woman shamed me for having my top shirt buttons undone, even though I was wearing a singlet underneath, and another woman asked me if I had my period when I said I wasn’t feeling well.

I had to balance my shifts there with internships and other low-paying part time jobs I’d taken, and I was perpetually broke. I was tired and stressed out about what was going to happen if my boss decided he hated me and didn’t want to give me any more shifts. I had to balance all of that with University – amateur journalist and retail worker by day, student by night – and try to pass the course I’d signed up to pay a lot of money for.

And even with all that, I look back on that time and miss it. Even though I lived on bread, vegemite, sausages, lentil bolognese (a recipe I still use if I’m trying to save money) and cheap wine. I put it to anyone who hasn’t struggled with money at any time in their lives to try to feed themselves with $30 a week. I did it, and surprisingly wasn’t crazy overweight from just eating bread, sausages, and pasta. I also highly recommend drinking $5 bottles of white wine to get drunk before you go out. Doing so will give you the worst hangover of your life – at least you won’t feel like eating the next day so you can save some money – and it may also turn you off white wine forever.

Even though I was so broke I knew which ATMs – shout out to the NAB ATM down in Haymarket, and the Commbank ATM in Bondi Beach – would let me overdraw my account when I ran out of money. I remember that adrenaline running through my body, my heart pounding as I listened for the whir of the cash wheel to tell me if I was going to be able to eat that week or not.

Even though I stole $50 from a wallet I found on the street because I was so desperate for money. I was congratulated and clapped when I ran into the woman it belonged to at the police station, knowing full well she would know what I’d done and hate me when she counted her cash.

Even though I couldn’t afford to go out for dinner, concerts, events as often as I would have liked. Even though I couldn’t afford to go on holidays, weekends away, or to fill up my car with petrol sometimes. Even though I had to sneak alcohol into clubs, drink bottles of cheap wine before I went out, or rely on the kindness of strangers to get drunk with my friends. Or walk home at 3am because I couldn’t afford a taxi.

Now, I make a lot of money. I can take Ubers or taxis. I can go overseas. I can buy things for my apartment, have food delivered, drink top shelf liquor. Experience New York the way it should be experienced, without limits.
And with all the comfort my job gives me, I find myself nostalgic for that time. I think about how I used to be able to sleep in before my class. How I used to be able to stay up until 3am reading and writing. How I used to be able to walk out of work and not think about it anymore, even when someone had yelled at me for a problem I didn’t cause.

I didn’t have to argue with clients, justify my opinions and ideas, and feel left out in meetings; surrounded by people who are more passionate than I am. I didn’t have to check my email on days off. I didn’t have to pretend to care about something that I was only doing to pay my bills.

I’m nostalgic for that time because I didn’t feel the pressure of getting older or the “should” factor. I was hard on myself back then, of course, but I’m a Virgo and a perfectionist so I suspect that even if I win some kind of Pulitzer Prize I’ll be hating on myself for not doing it sooner, or thinking I should have moved that comma on page two before I published it. It was more acceptable as a 24 year old student to not be sure about what was next, than it is to be almost 30 and considering starting over. I know that even considering this highlights me as a huge fucking millennial cliché.

“Oh, poor little millennial. Isn’t satisfied with life. Isn’t satisfied with a stable job and a pay check. Typical spoilt snowflake.”

To anyone who thinks that, especially if you’re of an older generation, I’d like to tell you right now to fuck off. This is the world I live in. A world where the opportunities seem endless. A world where you can live basically anywhere and make a living. A world where we’re faced with uncertainty every single day, a world where we make more decisions before we even leave the house than you would have made in a whole day 20 years ago.

It isn’t the case for us that the job you get at 20 is the job you keep until you can retire at 65. It isn’t the case for us that the most common path is to find a partner, marry them, buy a house, and have children. We have more choices and, subsequently, more uncertainty. Questioning your job and path is not unique but it’s different now to 30 years ago, when the path you’d chosen at 25 was probably going to be the one you stayed on forever.

Why are my feelings of dissatisfaction, of nostalgia for poverty and University, so deep now? It’s a combination of exhaustion – from pretending I care when I don’t – and the pressure that comes from turning 30. I thought I would be satisfied making money and living in my favorite city, and everything that goes along with it, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m living a lie. This isn’t impostor syndrome – it’s not that I don’t think I’m good at what I do – it’s that pretending to care about a job and an industry that exists purely to invade people’s privacy to get data about them, and then uses that data to try to sell them a product they don’t particularly want or need is really starting to get to me.

I’ve written before about my search for something more meaningful, more personally satisfying, and my uncertainty about what that is. The uncertainty is still there, but the push towards the idea is getting stronger. The longer I’m forced to sit in meetings and discuss ways to tell a consumer to buy something stupid, the stronger this will get.

I can only hope that as I approach 30, the solution will become clear. I know I’m not the only one who feels this dissatisfaction, the need for something more meaningful, especially as I get closer to 30. I just hope I’m not the only one who wants to talk about it, explore it, and listen to that feeling instead of pushing it away.

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Justine McNamara

I'm an Australian living in New York. I work in marketing but I write about music, New York, and my own personal experiences.

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