By WENDY SQUIRES
The Dalai Llama started it but it was the dog walker that sealed the deal. Without either, I doubt I would be writing this story. And if I was, I can guarantee it would not be with the glass half full mindset I find a constant companion these days.
You see, I am broke. Not cup in hand on the sidewalk broke but far from flushed. I have little job security. I am not married, nor do I have kids. I’m could lose 10 kilos, and then some and am closer to menopause than puberty – and I still get pimples.
But you know what? I have never been happier or more content in my entire life. And that’s saying something, considering I have battled a biological depression for most of it.
And no, I am not on drugs, nor have I become born again, a sea org or given up sugar/dairy/gluten/air or whatever else is in enlightenment fashion today.
The adjustment I have made has not been a easy one and I realise that, for many, it’s an impossibility, and before I go on I need to extend my respect and empathy to all who find themselves in that predicament.
But the big shift for me can come down to a simple explanation – I have started living my life the way I want to. Not that I wasn’t before, I was, and it’s been for the majority a rockin’ good ride. It’s just that the ride I was on was on no longer fun. It made me dizzy, it was relentless and I wanted to stand on solid ground again.
It realised my Libran scales could never be level with a life balance of five days work and two play and something had to shift. I realised the more I earned the more I spent, yet I still never had enough. I learnt by giving up what I thought I wanted in life, I discovered what I actually need. And it’s not a lot.
But back to the dog walker. Her name is Juliet and I have to say that there is something about that woman. When I was working full time I would look forward to her arrival to pick up my dog with mixed feelings.
First, her sunny smile was always present and always welcome. I would even enjoy the way she giggled and made light of my last minute scramble to find the car keys/wallet/research folder/lipstick/missing shoe or whatever else it was that was sending my blood pressure through the roof du jour.
But I also felt she had an inner calm about her that made me jealous. I didn’t just want to see her, I wanted to be her.
Then, one day as I was stuck in traffic to reach a job I no longer enjoyed, I remember looking in my rear vision mirror and seeing Juliet rejoicing in watching my dog Iggy greet his homies panting and wagging in excitement in the back of her beat up old car.
As the sea faded from my view, I realised it grew closer for Juliet, as she headed to the beach with her happy cargo. There, I knew, she would spend hours being paid to do what I love most in life, tossing a ball to my little man and his furry friends in the sunshine by the ocean.
On this particular day, this realisation hit me so hard I felt winded. Tears rose and a dark cloud descended. Something had to change. Whatever it was it would be scary and unsettling. It could even turn out to be a disaster. But I wouldn’t know until I tried.
And so, within weeks, I told Juliet one morning her services would no longer be required. She was beside herself with happiness for me. It was then she revealed that prior to walking dogs, she had been a model and corporate high flyer. She had a university education and a family that expected her to use it. But like me, she never found fulfilment in 9 to 5. And like me, she decided to downscale her lifestyle in an effort to find freedom.
I hope I’m not being too egotistical in saying I think I have a Juliet smile these days. I know I look at my friends still running on the treadmill to get ahead and not noticing they are getting nowhere and it saddens me.
I sigh inwardly when couples who have struggled to have children and finally succeed tell me they are ramping up their earning efforts to ensure the mortgage is paid off and they can retire in 20 rather than 30 years; so private school fees are manageable, as is an overseas trip every year, if they can get the time off.
I want to tell them that maybe the kids would be happier in a smaller home and public school with regular holidays to a caravan park, not to mention parents who are present, calm and happy. Then again, it’s not my business. Or my life. We all have choices.
Again, I can be selfish in this regard, to take a back seat and enjoy the view rather than master the controls. I have no dependents. I have no regrets. I have climbed the golden staircase of career success, only to find on each occasion I didn’t enjoyed the view. That box has been well and truly ticked.
My new way of living has meant I’ve had to give up other dreams, however. I probably won’t afford a house by the beach now but I rationalise I can always still put my towel down in front of someone else’s.
I might not have a garden big enough to grow veges as I had hoped, but I can share in a community plot. I may not be able to afford designer clothes, but I can take the time to sort old ones a few hours a week for the Salvos (which, I have to say, has given me more pleasure than any Prada handbag I’ve ever owned).
There is no pot of gold waiting at the end of my rainbow, just a sprinkling of shiny coins along the way. And that’s enough for me. I just have to appreciate every cent that drops and stop wishing for a gust of notes to follow.
Which brings me back to that beautiful soul the Dalai Lama, and something I sent to my friends after deciding suddenly to move to Melbourne and freelance.
It was the answer to the question, what surprised him most about humanity. “Man,” he answered. “Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
Wendy Squires has been a journalist for more than 20 years, starting work at News Ltd as a cadet journalist before moving to New York to work as a freelance writer. She has edited Cleo and Australian Style magazines as well as holding senior positions on Elle, Mode, Who Weekly, Madison and the Australian Women’s Weekly, where is currently associate editor. She has released a novel, The Boys’ Club, based on her brief experience as a television publicist.
Have you ever confused what you wanted and what you needed from life?