Dec 4, 2016
By Allison Yates
You Can Make Anything Meaningful in Australia
The “ultimate freedom,” as Joyce Meyer says, “is to be free from the need to impress others.” Two years after graduating from university, I stood in my white visor and apron, serving a customer a salad at an eatery in Melbourne, Australia and thought about the quote that just appeared on my Facebook newsfeed.
During those past two years, it seemed like I went on infinite plane rides and dozens of nauseating bus trips, had hundreds of empty conversations at hostels and endless attempts to try new things. as I continued to drift from city to city, I started to notice people going about their daily lives. They wore business clothes and carried groceries, and I wondered what the home they are going home to is like. Did they have kids? Would they see their friends tonight? I watched groups of friends at restaurants and lingered just long enough to fantasize about what it would be like to have a support system again. I imagined what it would like to not have to have a first conversation with everyone I met every day. To have people to call at a moment’s notice for a cup of tea or run into an old colleague or a friend from high school unexpectedly on the street. To have people remember you as that girl, the one who achieved x and succeeded in y. People who know that working at a salad bar in Melbourne isn’t my single story, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls it.
I had come to Australia three months prior on a working holiday visa to feed my insatiable desire to continue moving. I believed that by being able to go wherever I wanted (given my financial boundaries) and being able to do whatever I wanted, I was supposed to be free. Wasn’t I? So, why didn’t I feel free? Why did I feel devoid of warmth, self-conscious and insecure if this was the lifestyle I had always dreamed of? It’s as if travel and these odd jobs that I’d been doing, where I had always felt a sense of adventure, had become a never-ending chore. Like the dream where you do the same thing over and over again, having to start over again just before almost finishing the task. I’m wasn’t waking up because I didn’t want it to end yet. But it ceased to propel me forward.
While my friends from university were Peace Corps members, economic analysts and nonprofit program directors, I was on the other end of the earth feeling emptiness in doing what I thought brought me fulfillment. I confided in my friend, Justin. “It’s two years after I graduated,” I wrote him, “and I’m nowhere near where I expected myself to be by this point. I feel like I’m not doing anything.”
“You can make anything meaningful! Even making salads!” he exclaimed, as if to tell me, who cares what you’ve “achieved”- are you making others happy? Are you spreading love? His advice got me thinking about why I felt like I was trying to get across a crumbling bridge. Was it because no one was praising me for my academic achievements or a lucrative fundraising campaign?
The next morning, I vowed to change my attitude. As I took the Sandringham train and got off at Windsor Station, I took deep breaths. It doesn’t matter who I am to these people, I thought to myself, it doesn’t matter how I got here or who I am or what I’ve achieved. It matters that I create a welcoming environment for all.
I had the power to be a force of positivity in everyone’s day. Being sincere and heartfelt, I greeted each customer with a warm smile. As I put carrots, beets and extra chicken in their salads, we laughed, talked about their days and joked about the weather. One man with glasses and curly hair walked in with a bouquet of flowers. As he gushed about his wife, I learned it was their first wedding anniversary. When another woman walked in feeling stressed, I listened with a sympathetic ear.
Leaving my ego behind, I surged with the intangible compassion spreading in the room. From then on, the more people that passed through my life weren’t merely the people that I would never see again; they were the people I had the honor to come into contact with. Uplifted by the interactions with people, I felt limitless. Capable of anything. I didn’t need to impress anyone to feel neighborly love or offer an understanding perspective. There, in that space, I was unshackled.
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About the Author
Allison is a lover of quaint cafes, exploring places by foot and funny conversations. Her favorite part about traveling is seeing how entertaining humans (and other creatures) are. Read her travel anecdotes and odd observations on her blog, Naptime With Yasmine (www.naptimewithyasmine.wordpress.com).