The 5 stages of moving and how to navigate them

You know how they say there are 5 stages of grief? There are also 5 emotional stages to moving that vary in intensity based on the size of the move, the stage of your life and your mental state. 

It’s been just over four weeks since Alex and I left our lives in Bondi to move up to the Gold Coast. In that time, we’ve gone through some huge emotional highs and lows and have realised it’s basically the same pattern with any move. It’s a tumultuous, emotional, roller coaster and despite having been on the ride several times over, the sheer range and depth of emotion that can come with it still catches me off guard and this is from someone who’s moved A LOT.

Here’s a quick breakdown of my life of moving: 

  • Home base: Toronto, Canada | Family home and anchor for the first 27 years of my life
  • Move 1: Waterloo, Canada | Uni and my first taste of freedom and independence 
  • Move 2: Evenos, France | Au pair job #1 in the French countryside with 3 kids 
  • Move 3: Liege, Belgium | Au pair job #2 in an industrial Belgian city again with 3 kids
  • Move 4: Quebec, Canada  | Internship with the government to improve my French 
  • Move 5: Paris, France | ERASMUS International student exchange program 
  • Move 6: Windsor, Canada  | Law school and trying to find my purpose 
  • Move 7: Jaco, Costa Rica | Escape from law school to learn Spanish/teach English 
  • Move 8: Bondi, Australia | The start of a new, sunnier, life across the world 
  • Move 9: Gold Coast, Australia | Trying out a more tropical, cruisey Aussie life 

Moving takes you right out of your comfort zone and forces you to consciously build your life again. It can make you question who you are, what you want and a myriad of other things, but it is always (in my experience) 100% worth it. There’s no way to avoid the roller coaster, but knowing what to expect can make it a bit easier, so I’ve put together a step-by-step guide to the emotions of moving.

My first move was just an hour outside of Toronto for uni. Here’s me with my floor during my first week in residence.

Pre-move: Stages 1-3

Stage 1: “Omg I have some news!” (aka excitement)

You’ve committed to the decision and are feeling the rush of excitement, anticipating the change, feeling free and like the world is your oyster. You’re a bit nervous but feel proud of yourself for taking the leap and excited for a bit of adventure. You spend time daydreaming about your new life and all the cool things you’ll do, and you delight in telling everyone you know about your big plans.

Stage 2: “Ahhh, I’m going to miss you SO MUCH” (aka rose-tinted glasses)

The clock is ticking down to moving date and you start getting nostalgic and appreciative of everything in your current locale. All your friends make time for you and start saying how much they’ll miss you; you probably get more quality time with them in your last few weeks than you have for the past few months – or even years. You feel a lot of warm fuzzy feelings and have new-found appreciation for your life as it is.

Celebrating with my law school crew about a week before I left Canada for Australia.

Stage 3: “F*#%! Have I done the right thing?” (aka fear & anxiety)

The reality of actually moving kicks in and you start to wonder if you’re a bit crazy…Why can’t you just be like other people and be happy with what you have? Maybe you are running away from something? Will you ever be satisfied? Did you not try hard enough? What if you don’t like the new place/can’t find a job/can’t find somewhere to live/don’t make friends? ARE YOU MAKING THE BIGGEST MISTAKE OF YOUR LIFE?!?! 

Your thoughts run wild with worst case scenarios and you may secretly check if your ticket is refundable (true story).

19-year-old me during my au pair gig in the South of France. It was my first time going overseas by myself and I had crazy doubts before I took off!

Moving time: Stages 4-5

Stage 4: “WHAT HAVE I DONE?” (aka loneliness & displacement)

Once you actually make the move is when things get even more confusing. The roller coaster speeds up and does a few loop de loops and massive hills. You’ll feel like you’re in a limbo where your old home is no longer your home, but neither is the place you’ve moved to yet. You’ll question why you’ve put yourself through this and if it’s too late to turn right back around and resume your old life. But there’s something inside you that spurred the move and you hold onto whatever that is as your beacon. 

 One of my first days in Bondi – can you see the strained look on my face? I had just left Canada, my legal career and all my friends behind and was an anxious mess.

Stage 5: “I can’t believe I didn’t do this sooner” (aka belonging & joy)

This is where the magic begins. It may take days, weeks, months*, but eventually you’ll start having moments where you feel at home in your new surroundings. Maybe you make a great connection with someone, find a new coffee spot that you love, witness some amazing phenomenon in nature, or just have a newfound sense of calm. There’s some sort of shift where you don’t feel quite at home yet, but you feel at peace and each new positive experience builds on this sense of belonging. When you start referencing this place as “home”, you know you’re in the clear.

Just living the life in Costa Rica… too swept up in the tropical climate and latin life to spend much time on phases 1-4.

There’s no set timeline to these stages and you’ll probably run through them multiple times and go back and forth between them. Just know that it’s normal to go through the highs and lows and feel a range of emotions – and that those emotions aren’t YOU. It doesn’t mean you’ve made the wrong choice, it just means you’re human! Emotions are the most tricky, fickle thing, it’s always best to take a mental step back from them, take a deep breath in and not make any decisions in the heat of the feeling. With any move I always remind myself: “What’s the worst that could happen?” You’ll either find a new home that you love, or you’ll learn to appreciate your old home more and have no regrets or what if’s because you gave something new a shot. 

Carpe diem guys – xx Tory 

* After very extensive research, we’ve found the magic amount of time you need to give any move before you can make a decision about its success is three months. It’s enough time to feel all the emotions a few times around, settle in, make friends and get your bearings. You’re still on the rollercoaster for the first three months and no decisions should be made until you finally get off! 

 


6 keys to living a long and happy life: Lessons from my 98 year old grandma

Baka & Deka on their travels

Today is the 10 year anniversary of my grandma’s passing. Baka was born in 1911 in Yugoslavia. She was married young, spent summers travelling to the mediterranean, had her first and only child (my mother) at age 40, moved to Sweden in the 60s to avoid political conflicts and then moved to Canada in the early 90s to live with us as a full-time grandparent.

She didn’t speak English, she couldn’t drive a car, she never had a job, but she was the Aussie definition of a “Legend” and she inspired everyone she met.

These are the lessons I learned from her about how to live a long, healthy and joyous life. And how to be a well and truly beloved human being.

1. Stay curious

I firmly believe that the reason Baka lived so long, with so much youthful abundance was because she needed to know. She read the Serbian and Canadian newspapers, she read books, she watched the news, she listened to the radio, she sat in her tufted leather chair by the front window and made sure to watch the daily school bus pick ups and drop offs (well past our own school days). She loved meeting our friends, boyfriends, neighbours…and calling up her friends in Serbia to tell them all the gossip. If we were eating something different that she’d never seen (nachos, Chinese food, etc.) she’d always want “just a little bit” to try. She didn’t go to university, I’m not sure if she even finished high school, but she was always learning and always willing to explore something new. She would have LOVED snapchat filters. Curiosity was the spark that kept her flame burning bright.

2. Stay playful

Despite not speaking English and not really leaving the house beyond the garden (I don’t know if she ever actually went out on her own without someone with her), she was beloved by all the neighbourhood kids and our school friends. Everyone who met Baka was instantly charmed. She always had this smile like we were all going to get up to some mischief and a twinkle in her eye that made you feel like you were in on an amazing secret. She was funny, somehow, without needing to speak the same language. She didn’t take life too seriously, she loved to tease and she was always ready to laugh. She basically became the neighbourhood’s grandma. Everyone loved Baka.

3. Never stop moving

I don’t think she ever owned a pair of running shoes, let alone workout gear (hah!), but she was someone who never stopped moving. When I read about Blue Zones (the people who have lived the longest), one of the key indicators is constant natural movement every 20 minutes. Subconscious habitual movement. She would spend the day cleaning the house, cooking, sweeping leaves, trying to clear snowy pathways or move the garbage bins out (to the point where my parents worried people would think they were forcing her to perform heavy labour haha), but she needed to be up, moving around and busy. I think this constant movement is what led her to be so mobile right up until the day she passed away. It kept her quality of life so high for so long.

4. Be physically affectionate

I will never forget what it feels like to hug and be hugged by Baka. The feeling of holding her hand. Or sitting on her lap…even when I was a grown woman and she had become shorter than me she would say “I’m tough, just sit!”. What we couldn’t always communicate to each other through her broken English and my 20 words of Serbian didn’t matter when she was such a solid, physical presence in my life. No matter what was going on, the power of a hug from her could fill me with all the calm and grounding I needed. It made me understand and realise the importance of touch.

5. Have faith, have rituals

Baka was religious…but not. She was the kind of religious you would also be if you were born in 1911. She would go to church on special occasions and she would cross herself when something was important. She had various rituals for various events: lighting candles, baking amazing sweet bread with a lucky coin inside (whoever got the piece with the coin would have good fortune), and fasting every Friday (no meat or dairy). She loved to tell fortunes with playing cards, and flipping over Turkish coffee cups to see your fortune. She had her things; we didn’t always know why or what was going on (although we wish we’d paid more attention now), but they brought some structure and grounding, a greater sense of purpose outside of our day-to-day lives.

6. Don’t worry, be happy

And finally, she was calm. She was steady. She was there for us always, holding space. Her room was a haven from whatever was going on in our worlds. If we were really upset she would give us a hug, entertain it for a few moments, but then smile and find a way to make things light. Sometimes that would be a trigger…“Baka!”, when all you wanted to do was wallow in your misery, but her lightness was contagious and you couldn’t help but feel like…well, maybe it wasn’t such a big deal after all. If you were in her orbit, things were always going to be ok.

And some other Baka wisdom I will never forget…

  • Always pull down the back of your shirt/cover your lower back or you’ll get sick!
  • Always have a switch/stick/something from the backyard to threaten a smack with (and be ready to say “I’m going to hit you with this!” but never carry through)
  • Always keep sweets in your drawer to give to your loved ones, be it a tin of mints or a few days old timbit in tupperware.
  • The best show on television is Murder She Wrote….oh Jessica! Honourable mentions to her other favourite As Time Goes By (she loved Dame Judi).

Volim te Baka, moje sunce 🌞

– Alex xx


Tnfld Podcast | Ep05: Helen, from big dreams and horses to the man with the golden glints

Or listen via iTunes 

Hometown / Sutherland Shire, Sydney, Australia
Currently resides / Braidwood, New South Wales, Australia
Job / Owner and Instructor at The Saddle Camp

A little bit about…

Helen is an incredible woman with a lifelong love for horses that she’s turned into a successful business, The Saddle Camp. Despite growing up in the biggest city in Australia, she knew from a young age that she wanted to own a horse riding farm and did everything she could to follow her heart and see that dream through. She’s an entrepreneur, a mother, a wife, an environmentalist, a teacher and a million other things wrapped into one. Helen’s story is one of epic romance, following your inner voice, pursuing your passions and creating the life you want to live. And she was kind enough to let us camp out on her land while we were getting ready to launch Tnfld, so she’ll forever be a part of our story too.  

Helen’s advice for living life Tnfld
  • Just start small. If you go all in, not everything works out right at the get go. It’s good if you start in small doses and you can work it out as you go.
  • Don’t doubt where you are because you’re where you’re meant to be right now.  
  • Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you feel alive because the world needs more people who feel alive. (one of her fav quotes from Howard Thurman)
Our favourite quotes
  • “Staying in Sydney was never an option. I know myself, I’ve known myself for a very long time. And I have been in that situation. And it’s like being a robot, even though I knew I was working towards something. It was keeping your head down and your bottom up, keep ploughing through because you hope there’s something better on the other side. It just wasn’t on the cards for me and I understand it’s like that for a lot of other people too.”
  • “They (horses) are so wise and they put up with so much. The fact that you can have such a big animal focused on you and happy to follow – I point my finger and they’re like ‘happy, no problem’. It’s just amazing to have that kind of connection with such a beautiful animal. I love their calmness and their wisdom and their focus.”
  • “The whole town (Braidwood) is just the greatest community I could imagine; you can be as sociable or as reclusive as you like, whenever you like, nobody’s offended. Everyone walks their own track; they’ve all got their own passions. Everybody’s very accepting and will step in to help you at the drop of a hat, but you don’t have to speak to them for several months.”
  • “Just looking around. Sometimes you just glimpse up and go…Oh. My. Goodness this is amazing, this is just so beautiful. I’m so lucky. I’m very, very lucky.”

 

Helen was lovely enough to send us some written answers to our questions, so come back for more after you take a listen to the podcast!

What do you do for work?

I teach horse riding at Saddlecamp. I run fun horse riding camps for girls through the holidays and weekends, and teach horse riding after school and to tiny tots in school hours.

What was your life like before Saddlecamp?

I was working full time in North Sydney in the travel industry and studying Travel & Tourism Business Management 3 nights a week at TAFE, near Central Station. I’d go to the gym or play touch football the other 2 nights, go clubbing after TAFE on Friday nights, and dance til dawn. And on Sundays I’d work at Darkes Forest Riding Ranch taking out trail rides. I’d been dreaming of owning my own horse riding farm since I was 9. I was 21 when I gave up my full time job to start my business with party ponies, carriage rides and riding lessons. That was 21 years ago.

How would you describe your life now and what’s the difference between your current life and your old life?

Now I work from home. My office is straight outside my bedroom door and looks out through the Tack Room Glass Doors to the horses and paddocks and bush outside. I’ve got 6 amazing horses that I work with each day, a beautiful property with loads of relaxed wildlife, really lovely guests that stay and amazing girls that I get to teach riding to. And I have 3 wonderful little sons and a great husband. Before I took the leap of starting my own business I was frustrated but very focussed. I knew where I wanted to be, but had to wait until all my pieces were in the right place before I could “jump off that cliff”.

What does your average day look like?

I start at 6 with breakfast at the computer checking emails and typing up the running sheet for the day and aim to finish up my work by 9.30 and in bed for 10 pm. 7 days a week.

It’s just been the last 12 months that it’s been so nasty. Because of the drought, the cost of feed went up, and my local riders were affected too and bookings fell. By August I had to let the last of my Managers go to keep within my prime costs – so I’ve been teaching riding and caring for the horses, running the office with bookings and book-keeping, cleaning and making beds in the Clubhouse and Tiny Houses Accommodation, and cooking and serving in the Café.

I’ve got checklists for all 3 roles and through the school term, I give myself an hour at each role before switching to the next one. On a good day I can get 3 x 3 hour cycles in before I start teaching riding after school – then I cook dinner and grind through the kids’ homework, and clean up.

Its easier in the holidays and on weekends because I have other young girls working that can take over the regular tasks like feeding & caring for the horses, and my sons don’t have homework. I teach from 8.30 to 4, then the students put the horses away while I cook dinner, bake for the Cafe and clean. Then I take them out for a swim at the river or on a spotlighting tour in the ute. Feed them hot chocolates and popcorn, and put a movie on for them and fall in bed.

It’s not sustainable – but I couldn’t think how else to get through the crisis. I sent a letter to the Business Enterprise Centre in December to ask if they could see a better solution, and a rep spent 2 days going through everything here – my procedures, financials, and testing results, my business plan and said if I could just hold it together until 29 January when everyone goes back to school, I could take 2 weeks off to recover, and going forward cut out 2 days of after-school riding, and get a tutor to help with the boys homework. I’ve had 5 days off teaching riding now, and I’ve nearly caught up on my paperwork. But I’m feeling much better, and think this is a great plan for the next 12 months. My riders have been very understanding, and my sons love the tutor.

What are the small things you do on a day-to-day basis to bring you into the present and bring joy?

I look around. It’s much easier now that everything’s green after the rain and things are growing. I downloaded the Inature app this week, because I’m seeing grasses I’ve never seen before, and I’m so thrilled that there’s growth again in the paddocks. I spend a quiet moment with a horse. They ground me, and I always feel so blessed that they’re happy to spend time with me too. They’re looking so much happier now too that there’s grass! When they’re not with me their heads are down grazing, and it’s a happy herd. That fills me with joy. And I hug my family a lot too. I tell them how great they are, and thank them for their help.

Who do you surround yourself with? Who do you have in your inner circle?

My inner circle is very small right now! Rob, my husband, is generally all I need to download everything onto and set me back on track. But I’ve got a really fantastic community and amazing neighbours who are all very passionate about their own “callings”, and always ready to lend a hand or offer advice – or just to talk about their own exciting projects so I can escape my own head for a bit. But whenever I’m doing my manual jobs I listen to a podcast. I think of them as friends in my inner circle too.

How would you describe the vibe in your life?

I’m always thinking about the vibe in my life! I love being positive and enthusiastic, but I’m a bit sensitive and little things can bring me down. So I avoid the news, sad movies and books. And if I’m having trouble getting out of my head I’ve got plenty of podcasts to bring me back up again. Tnfld is now 1 of them.

Do you have any health hacks? 

Luckily my work is pretty healthy. I’m outside a lot – running, walking, jumping and swimming at the river with the riders. And we have easy access to lots of great organic produce from our neighbours and our own garden, and bush tucker when we’re out on trail. It’s great to see a lot of the children really into healthy food choices too – the school system has done an amazing job these last few years. We always have our water bottles close by too. The last few months I’ve eaten way too much sugar to keep me going, but now that things are quietening down I can be much more thoughtful about what I eat.

How have you grown the most in the last few years?

I learnt how to make a profit! I thought it would happen organically, but all our profit would go straight into infrastructure for the business. A few years ago, I realized I’d forgotten about our GST quarterly payment and spent it on an undercover tie up area for the horses. My husband had found roof trusses at his dad’s and said he could make it that week. So I was a bit rushed and not thinking clearly. I’d just turned 40 and when I realized my mistake I wondered for the first time if my dream was just stupid and I should get a real job and stop risking my family’s home.

Instead of asking God for help, I started asking Siri. I asked her if it was time to let the dream go, and she came up with lots of great inspiring stories, one about a lady having to eat caterpillars to survive but it was totally worth it because she got through to making her dream a reality. I thought my life wasn’t that bad yet, so I started asking questions about how to make more profit, and she found me a book called “Profit First” by Mike Michalowicz. I live by his system now, and have 14 bank accounts, and every week I make my 5% Profit Payment into a savings account. We’re using it to build our house, and should be in by this time next year.

What are your biggest challenges right now? 

Climate change. I’m using Alan Savoury’s Holistic Management to manage the paddocks. I’m trying to give them as much resilience as I can from these weather swings. Each paddock is getting a 90 day recovery period. I’m trying to keep mulch over the bare patches. And I’m playing around with “cocktail paddocks”, throwing out different varieties of seeds just hoping that something will grow with whatever change of weather we get.

I’m trying to keep the wildlife safe, with troughs that the wallabies and possums can safely drink from. Rob and I went for a walk on New Year’s Eve and found the dam’s edge littered with hundreds of dead froglets. They still had tails so it means their lungs hadn’t developed enough for them to get out of the water. Further up the hill, there were loads of dead worms on the bare soil and above that it looked like someone had tipped chemicals in big patches across the grass. It was salt that had washed out of the hill in a big flush of rain and killed all the grass, frogs and worms. The only thing I can do is get as much vegetation growing on the bare ground before it happens again.

I’m keeping the horses slightly overfed so they can cope with the crazy hot days and swings to cold snaps. These last school holidays we had a few problems with heat stroke – 1 girl collapsed and we rushed her to hospital, and others were vomiting. So I’m making everyone put electrolyte tablets in their drink bottles, and telling everyone the danger signs to look out for so we can keep each other safe. And really forcing everyone to keep eating so there’s something in their tummies. On those really hot days we changed our program so we started with the horses at 6 am, put them away in the hottest part of the day, and rode again at 6 at night.

All the girls staying, and their parents, know our bush fire plan. And now that we’ve gone through a few blackouts we’ve got the generator set up so we can keep the fridges going. I had 13 people to feed in a blackout that went for 18 hours. I think we rocked getting through that one! The girls said it was their best camp ever… I’ve noticed when everything’s going wrong, our riders seem to enjoy it much more. Everyone gets involved in planning to get through the crisis, and being part of the solution.

What have you learnt about yourself in the past few years and have you surprised yourself in any way?

I’ve learnt that the better my questions the more helpful answers I get. And everyone’s happy to give answers.

How have you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone? 

I’m scared of the dark and of being alone, and when I moved onto my property 15 years ago I was alone and had no electricity or running water – for about 14 months. I took in a stray dog to keep me company, and I had my horses outside. And I spent a LOT of time socializing – with friends in town, working and joining committees. At the time I was also giving Ghost Story Tours around Braidwood in my horse drawn Carriage on Saturday nights. I was fine while I had my passengers with me, but putting away the carriage and horse and getting back home at night would terrify me.

It only started because I was giving rides around town like restaurant transfers and historic tours, and a really nice man said “Helen, its summer now, but what are you going to do in Winter when no-one wants to be out in the cold”, and I said I’d tell ghost stories. And he said “Really? Because this is what happened to me…” And all these people told me the most amazing experiences they’d had in the different houses and landmarks around town. I guess the end result is I met so many amazing people that still make time for me today, I’ve got some great stories to tell, and I made it through to where I really want to be.

What are your core values?

Live and let live… Do my best to care for my horses, my family and my riders. Horses come first but everyone here knows that.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

To start a Girls Only Sleepover Horse Riding Camp where everything is pink, fluff and sparkles. I thank that man every day.

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give someone else?

Howard Thurman’s “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” And start small!

What’s the motto you currently live by?

Luck favours the mind that is prepared.

What part of your life are you focusing on now?

At the moment, just getting my head together. Things have changed – I think this drought might be our new normal. If I can’t afford a permanent staff, how can I still live my dream without losing my mind. I’m pretty sure there’s a way, but this year’s focus is on working it out. There’s a lot of maths and research to do.

When do you feel most free?

Cantering bareback through paddocks on my favourite horse. But I often feel free when I look around me. I don’t need to stop – just look around and say a quiet thank you.

What’s next in your adventure?

I’m dying to sit down and make QR Codes for our bush walks. I’ve got fantastic videos of an Aboriginal Elder walking around Saddle Camp talking about the Bush Food growing here, and the different types of vegetation and how it was used by his ancestors, and the stories that go with them. I’ve also got some ghost stories about the area, and the white settlement history. And with our grant for “Corridors for Biodiversity and Carbon Farming” I’ve got some great information about the wildlife and their habitat and scats and tracks to look out for from the ecologists who visit. I’d love to have the kids ride horses or walk along with their phones and scan the code and see Noel telling them about what they’re looking at. And I’d really love to serve more Australian Native food in our Café.

Inspired by Helen? Check out The Saddle Camp on social…

Insta | @saddle_camp

Facebook | @saddlecamp

Helen’s Favourites

Podcasts

Books


Chasing purpose pt1: Why I decided to go to law school

As a first generation Canadian kid in Toronto, I grew up with my parents, the education system and society instilling in me the idea that being a ‘professional’ was the ultimate goal. I always had an underlying belief that if I didn’t become a doctor, a lawyer or an accountant I wouldn’t truly be successful or respected. This was hardwired into my brain from a young age and I don’t think I was alone in that, considering how many of my grade school friends are now doctors.

When I was applying for uni, I decided that science (and therefore medicine) was not for me and waved goodbye to my future as a doctor, prompting my mother to ask me why I had given up my dream of being a plastic reconstructive surgeon (based on one presentation I did in careers class in Grade 10). I actually just wanted to study English; I loved writing and languages, but it seemed too risky to get a general arts degree and I panicked at the last minute, opting for business to keep my options open.

Unsurprisingly, I hated business and was questioning all of my life choices within the first month of uni. But I stuck with it because I didn’t want to be a quitter and I still had that fear at the back of my mind that an arts degree wouldn’t be enough. I was pretty miserable throughout uni because I hated most of my business classes and couldn’t see what the end goal really was. But I made it through to graduation by packing in my love of languages where I could – I used all my electives for English, French and Spanish classes and managed to get work and study experience in french-speaking places. 

I felt very lost all through uni. Ever since I’d given up on the doctor front, my parents had been pushing the accountant and/or lawyer route. And it wasn’t just my parents. I remember having a conversation in the last year of uni with one of my closest friends from high school (and another classic overachiever). He had gotten early acceptance into med school and was already in his first year. I was telling him how lost I was and he told me I couldn’t waste my potential – if I wasn’t going to do medicine then I should at least be a lawyer. It seemed like everyone else knew what they wanted to do; like they were on a sure stead path and I was just floating around. 

My undergrad graduation in Canada – all smiles (and internal panic).

When I finished uni, my only goal was to get a job; any job that would get me started so I could eventually work my way up the corporate ladder and be successful. My main motivation was to escape the disappointment of my parents and the embarrassment of being unemployed for too long out of uni. I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do and applied for anything and everything. As soon as I moved back home, my mom started not so subtly trying to convince me that I was meant to be a lawyer and offered to pay for an LSAT prep course. I figured why not keep my options open? I hadn’t even started one career and was already looking into another. So while I was applying for jobs, I was also heading to an LSAT course a couple times a week. I actually enjoyed it; it basically felt like doing puzzles/brainteasers and it also helped that I had a cute tutor and a girl from my soccer team just so happened to be in the same class too.

A few months after graduation, after dozens of applications and several interviews, I landed myself a job working as a marketing assistant at a paper company where I was the youngest employees by a good 10 years. It was a lovely place with great people, but I was basically living the real-life version of The Office and couldn’t imagine staying for more than a year. There were people who had worked there 10, 20, even 40 years (in the factory) which seemed unfathomable to me. By the time I started that job, I’d finished the LSAT course and was cramming in studying before the exam on my commute to and from work. The LSAT seemed like an escape route from the endless suburban office life I saw as my future.

I was 22 and living at home with my parents, trying to fit into the corporate world Monday to Friday and heading out with my friends every weekend, testing out what ‘adult life’ felt like. Whenever I met new people, one of the first questions anyone would ask was ‘What do you do?’ and to be honest I was a bit embarrassed to answer. I didn’t feel like what I was doing was impressive enough or showed how ‘smart’ I was. I felt like people were judging me based on my profession, assigning a certain value to me and placing me in a specific box once they confirmed what I did. It made me feel really uncomfortable and I always wanted to qualify my answer with more context about who I REALLY WAS. But I didn’t actually know how to do that. Did my job really define who I was as a person? Was I a marketeer? It didn’t feel right, but what kind of person did I want to be and what kind of job did I need to have to be that?

Law school started looking more and more appealing, but I hadn’t really considered the reality of it. Was I ready to quit my marketing career after less than a year, start studying all over again, and go into significant debt? The only lawyers I knew were my friends’ parents and the lovely couple that I babysat for, and the one thing they all had in common was that I barely saw any of them because all they did was work. But being a lawyer seemed exciting! I’d be using my brain more, helping people, working on fascinating cases, making a difference, etc. I was talking myself into it because I didn’t like the life I was in and I couldn’t see another alternative. I remember Alex asking me if it was really what I wanted to do; I think she was scared to push it but she knew I was making the decision more out of fear than desire. But I steamrolled ahead.

Escaping office life and getting a taste of freedom in Santorini.

I set myself a deadline to tell my boss when I came back from a family vacation to Greece. That vacation sealed the deal for me. It was an epic adventure and made me feel alive again, something I hadn’t felt since my last stint abroad. I knew law school was not going to be a Greek vacation, but it would be something NEW. Honestly, I was so sad coming back from that holiday that when people at work asked me how it was I almost started crying because I couldn’t believe I was back in an office. I know that sounds very melodramatic and privileged, but it just made me realise how unhappy I was with my life. I felt like I was wasting away, 20 going on 40, resigned to office life and a mortgage already. Did people work so hard all year just for one week of vacation? What motivated them? I just didn’t get it. 

It almost felt like I was living in the Truman Show and I had been fed this narrative by everyone around me that all you had to do was be a good kid, get good grades, go to a good uni and get a job and then you’d live happily ever after. I’d been building up to that version of success my entire life without really questioning it because it was just the accepted path for everyone I knew. But when I got to the end of that road, I just felt empty and confused. Law school felt like a do-over, my chance to pick the right career that would lead to fulfilment, or at the very least delay the inevitable. Adulthood was not the promised land that I’d worked so hard to get to.

When I finally told my boss I was going to law school, I burst into tears. I felt guilty, like I had hidden some deep dark secret but I also felt a huge sense of relief. It was like I had hit the emergency escape button on ‘real life’, I didn’t care how much debt I would be going into (everyone does it right?) or properly consider the fact that I didn’t know any happy lawyers. At the time I could only see two options – work or school. School was my comfort zone and I was ready to head back into its warm embrace.

Stay tuned for pt2 and the realities of law school, coming soon! 

Written by Tory


How sunshine and salt water changed my life

I never realised how much the weather and nature affected me until I moved to Australia – land of sunshine and 10,000 beaches. I always tell people that I feel like my base level of happiness is so much higher in Australia and I think that at least 80% of that is because of the amazing weather and the fact that I can be outside by the ocean every single day of the year. I’ve always been happier when the weather is nicer, but I thought that most people were in the same boat and it was just something you had to deal with. I’d joke about having SAD (seasonal affective disorder), but never really paid serious attention to how my surroundings were actually affecting me.

Growing up in Toronto, my family lived in a an area that was modelled after an English village so our neighbourhood had lots of huge trees and grassy lawns. It felt a bit like living in a park and i’d spend countless afternoons roaming around with my sister and our neighbours. When I moved away from home for uni, I lived in a smallish suburban town in Canada and my world consisted of maybe a 1km concrete radius around campus. The only places I really went were home, uni, gym, bar; building to building. It was winter at least 5 out of 8 months of the school year and even when the weather was nice, I barely remember there being any trees or grass on campus. Every November like clockwork as the days got shorter, greyer and colder, I’d find myself slipping into a dark place mentally. I think back then I wrote it off as early 20s angst – being unsure of my studies, what I should do with my life etc. But when I think about my environment and lifestyle at the time it all kind of makes sense.

After City2Surf – 14k run from the city to Bondi (and by far the furthest I’ve ever run in my life)

I don’t think I consciously realised that I was missing that connection with nature but I did start going for runs. I can’t remember how or exactly when I decided to start running. I’d always liked track and field i.e. short distance sprints, but I’d never been any sort of distance runner – I was the kid in middle school who would join the cross country team for approximately 2 weeks every year and then quit. I thought my newfound will to run was motivated by a desire to keep fit but I think it was probably more my body screaming for some fresh air and what little nature I could find.

My first running route was just a simple rectangle around campus, but since then I’ve sought out a running route in every single place I’ve lived. When I was working as an au pair after my first year of uni,  I went for nightly runs with the family dog through the winding roads past vineyards in the south of France and then through the city streets in Liege. During my internship in Quebec City I ran around the uni campus at Laval where I was staying. As an ERASMUS student in Paris I’d run by the Canal St. Martin, or walk across the city to explore new parks. During law school in Windsor I’d run along the Canadian side of the Detroit river at least a few times a week. Some of these runs were even in the middle of winter (rugged up in gloves, hat and my warmest hoodie)!

During my last summer at law school I lived in Costa Rica for 3 months teaching English, learning Spanish and doing some translation work for a law firm. My life in Costa was lived at least 75% outside; I basically lived on the beach and it awakened something inside me. When I landed back in Toronto and drove through the suburbs with my dad, I knew I would never be able to look at city life the same way. My first few days back I felt so antsy and realised how much of my life in Canada I lived inside and essentially immobile.

I’d never realised how important the outdoors were to me until that point, but I still had a year of law school to finish and after that 10 months of articling to officially become a lawyer. I slowly acclimatised back to my Canadian life (with lots of struggles) but I was never quite the same. After living (more like surviving) through a winter that was consistently -20 and left me feeling desperately claustrophobic, I finally made the decision to join Alex in the land down under. Lots more to that story but that’s for another time.

Sunrise sesh before work in Bondi

Basically, once I moved to Australia, it became so obvious how much weather and nature impact me. Mainly because it’s SO BEAUTIFUL here 90% of the time that when it’s not, I immediately notice the difference in my mood. The sky in Australia is the bluest blue you’ve ever seen. The ocean literally sparkles and is so clear you feel like you could drink the water. Flowers and plants bloom with abandon everywhere. I can go outside all year round comfortably, touch my feet to the the earth, the sand, the ocean. It sounds so simple and it is, but it makes such a big difference in my quality of life to be able to be in nature every day.

I still work in the CBD and live a ‘city’ life for the most part Monday to Friday. But living in Bondi means every weekend feels like a vacation and in the summer I can get in beach time before and after work. I have so many moments by myself outside where I’m just genuinely happy to be alive and I feel like that was something that was really rare for me before.

All I know is that any time I dive into the ocean or touch my bare feet to the grass, I can’t help but smile and feel like a kid again.

Written by Tory


What are your conditionings?

A family friend told me a story years ago that I’ve never forgotten:

One year she went to both her company’s Christmas parties, one was in Toronto and one was in Vancouver. In both places she was asked “What do you do?” and both times she responded the same way “I’m in marketing”.

In Toronto this started conversations about projects, teams, roles, etc., but in Vancouver when she started talking more about her job they would interrupt her with, “No, what do you ‘do’ do…like snowboard/ski/etc.?”. 

Same party, different cultural perspective. This story stuck with me, but it wasn’t until I went to Costa Rica for the first time that I experienced it for myself.

There was no way I was spending Christmas at home. View from my bedroom (December 2012, Toronto)

I was 28 when my life turned upside down. I needed an escape from the turmoil, and Tory being the good sister that she is, said there was no way we could spend Christmas at home. We looked for cheap, last-minute flights to anywhere hot and Costa Rica was the winner.

We left the freezing, dark, wet, concrete metropolitan that was Toronto and arrived in Jaco: a touristy beach town that’s also a sunshine on crack, lush,  tropical, living, breathing surf and reggae heaven.

Calle Bohio, aka Sunshine on crack

If that wasn’t enough to jolt us out of our former pale, city-dwelling selves, there was so much more to come (but I’ll save that for another time and post…).

One of the things I noticed right away was that when I talked to someone new no one would ask me:  “What do you do?”, which is what I was so used to back home. Instead, the questions were along the lines of:

Questions
  • Where are you from?
  • How long are you here for?
  • Where else are you going/have you been?
  • Do you surf?
My answers
  • Toronto
  • One week
  • Home/nowhere
  • Not yet

This shook me up. I was so used to relying on my job as the main way to identify myself (even if I didn’t really believe it) that when it was taken away as an option I felt like my current situation did not and could not describe who I was. I wanted to say, “But really…I’m interesting! I’m exciting! I’m so much more than this! And…I LOVE TO SURF!”.

But I couldn’t. I wasn’t. And I didn’t know how to surf, even though I’d desperately wanted to learn my whole life.

Why was I so triggered by this? It’s easy to see why in hindsight. I was confronted with the fact that I was not living my life the way that I wanted and that most of my choices up to that point had been based on what was expected of me and the society in which I grew up. I was 28 and on paper I found myself boring.

I realised that the things that were important where I grew up were not universally important.

The deprogramming begins (Jaco beach, December 2012)

My inner life was and had always been rich (in anxiety hah, amongst other things), but my outer life was not a reflection of the true me. This realisation shocked me to my core and set about a series of big changes (hello Saturn Return).

I realised that the things that were important where I grew up were not universally important. That if I went somewhere different, a different set of values and rules applied. And that in all of these instances, none of them had to apply to me. In the end, what mattered was what I held true for myself.

I was deep, deep down in a well of conditioning and I had just seen my first hint of light. What’s followed since has been a series of lightbulb moments where I’ve realised that there are a lot more of these assumptions living in my mind.

Here is a base list of assumptions I’d been conditioned with:

1.

Doing well in your school/job is the key to success. Success = fulfillment

I was taught that being the best at everything was the only way forward (tiger parents, before the term existed). Growing up, I was never allowed to step back and examine if the thing I was about to work tirelessly towards was what I actually wanted, needed and if it was even worth it. This caused many periods of depression in my life, where I blindly followed paths of “success” (new school programs, job offers, etc.) with the faith that once I achieved these things happiness would follow. It didn’t (surprise!) and once accomplished I would feel so much loss, disillusion and despair, often asking “What’s the point?”. I never thought about the journey, only about the final outcome and that outcome never lived up to the hype.

2.

Being with someone is the key to happiness

I dealt with frequent bouts of depression and existential crises from a very young age. Anytime I was in one of these periods my dad would always counter it with “You just need to meet someone and then you’ll be happy”. Then I did meet someone and was in a relationship for my entire 20s. And I WAS happy…for a time. It was a balm to my achy soul, but eventually the same ‘demons’, came back. Love is happiness – so much happiness, but unless you’re solid in yourself it can also be used as a distraction of sorts. We seem to often use our relationships, not to mention our responsibilities (mortgage, kids, etc.) as an excuse to not take those scary steps forward that let us grow. Relationships (even friendships) are one of the big excuses we use to stay stagnant.

3.

That’s just life / There are some things you just have to do

This kind of acceptance has its place, but it’s often used to brush over things that make you unhappy and that should be addressed. Once upon a time I was told that pretty much everyone has to work 9 to 5 (I grew up in Toronto) and that you have to be born rich or win the lottery to experience a different fate. Already, in the last five years especially, we’ve seen how not true that is (as I sit from a cafe in Canggu, Bali, with money in the bank writing this post). This statement is almost the basis of this whole site hah, so I can’t really cover it all in one bullet point!

4.

You can’t have everything

Said to many who dared to dream big! But really, what is “everything”? It can mean very different things depending on who you ask. And if it’s different for each person, then maybe you, YES YOU, can have your version of “everything”. My mother’s version of everything is dependent on winning the lottery, which has always made her “everything” very difficult to achieve. My version of everything (the truncated version) involves living by the beach and having a good work/life balance…something I’ve already cultivated and work at everyday to improve.

These conditions are pretty prevalent where I come from. I’m still trawling through them, one by one and actually get so excited now when I uncover a new one. Each time this happens the world gets a little lighter and I feel a piece of my freedom, a piece of myself, come back to me.

Do any of these resonate with you? What are your conditionings?

***Update: I just went to see a talk with Sarah Wilson the other day and had a chat with her after. We were mid convo when she asked “What do you do?”. For a moment I blanked…I couldn’t actually remember! I’ve been doing so much creatively the past year that I feel represents me, but none of it is in my main paid work. When the words came to me I realised that there was a huge disconnect between what I’ve been doing with the majority of my time and who I am now. What I do for the most part at the moment does not represent who I am. I had a lightening bolt realisation that  I need to bring the two closer together. So onwards and upwards! Very excited to start figuring this out.

Tory and the sunset (Jaco Beach, December 2012)

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Written by Alex

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