Mum first talked to me about this during my first year at university in Dunedin. I was living on a student allowance of $220 a week. I flatted with four other students in a run-down villa opposite the house from the movie Scarfies and paid $50 a week for my room. I paid another $30 a week for food and bills, which left me with $140 a week for everything else. I had a crapped out van but I chose to walk most of the time, and I wasn’t much of a drinker, but sometimes there’d be a very lean few days before pay day, and sometimes things felt pretty grim.
Anyone who’s experienced a Dunedin winter will know that they’re pretty trying, and the standard of housing is also quite poor. Double glazing and central heating don’t really exist – if they do, they’re the exception rather than the norm and won’t be found in any student flat that I know of. It’s not uncommon to see doors and windows left open on the coldest of days, as it’s colder inside these dwellings than it is outside, and that’s saying something. I remember one day when the low was -3 °C, and the high was 3 °C. That’s fine if you live in a warm comfortable house, but when you live in a draughty old place with little or no insulation where the curtains move in the breeze even when the windows are closed, well that’s a bit rough don’t you think?
So I was talking to my Mum about how hard done by I was feeling. I’d just walked home from uni on a particularly cold evening and couldn’t help but look around at all the other people with their nice warm clothes, and their nice fancy cars, and imagining them going home to their nice warm houses and their delicious dinners. The staple in our flat was ‘shit on rice’ which consisted of rice (obviously), some vegetables, and maybe some meat if we were lucky – not bad really considering we had a weekly food budget of $80.
So here’s where Mum told me that I needed to turn my thought process around and stop allowing myself to feel victimised.
Feeling like a victim is a state of mind. No one can make you feel like a victim without your permission; it’s your choice. Just like no one can give you happiness, nor can they take it away from you. True happiness comes from within.
So if I was to turn this around and try to put a positive spin on my situation, it would go something like this: I’m incredibly fortunate to even have the opportunity to attend a university. There are a lot of people out there who haven’t had the chance at a primary or secondary education, let alone a tertiary one. The student allowance I was receiving was covering all of my basic expenses and was a government grant that I didn’t have to pay back. Plus I’d paid my fees that year with money my Grandma had given me. And as far as all those other people go, well I have no way of knowing how hard they’ve had to work in order to get to where they are now. I have no idea about what kind of sacrifices they’ve had to make. I really have no right to stand here and say ‘poor me, why haven’t I got what they’ve got’.
Lately, I’ve allowed myself to feel like a victim again. Fast forward my life 10 years and I’ve studied my brains out, travelled a bit, had my epiphany, studied some more, moved house about 10 billion times and come back to the neck of the woods that I grew up in.
It’s finding fulfilling work that’s been a challenge for me lately. I have so many skills, and loads of qualifications, why doesn’t the perfect job come and present itself to me on a silver platter? And therein lies the flaw in my logic. First of all I need to be really clear about what it is I actually want. What is my idea of fulfilling work? What does it look like? What does it feel like? How does it make me feel? How does it make others feel? What’s my motivation to do it? Once I can answer all these questions then the path to getting me there will become clearer and clearer.
Again, instead of focusing on all the negatives – why is it so hard for me, why don’t I have what the next person has… I need to concentrate on what I do have: my brain, my body, my health, my education, all of my life experiences, supportive friends and family, a beautiful place to live… I have a lot. If it was just about money I could’ve moved to a city and gotten a job using my university degrees. But I don’t want to live in a city, and having a lot of money isn’t really that high on my list of priorities.
I can generate an income in a small town doing something that I love. It may not be easy, but the success will be that much sweeter knowing that I’ve done it all off my own back. I can and I will, just you watch me!