The Truth About Starting A New Life and Leaving an Old One
On a hot summer’s day in Perth, in the swish beach suburb of Cottlesloe, I didn’t realise it but I was starting a new life and the first chapter was about to unfold. Just weeks earlier I had written a note with a list of things that I thought might have the answers to what was wrong with my life. I believed somewhere on that list was the answer to why I felt so disconnected from almost everything and why I had this intense sensation of not belonging to anything.
My dear friend Rosie came with me. She lived in a sweet little street that ran down to the beach at Cottlesloe lined with tall Norfolk pine trees. I loved her street of single story homes that finished with a bright spot of aqua blue at the end with the exquisite waters of Cottlesloe beach. We decided that a rendezvous of this proportion was better done in a place that was familiar, at least to Rosie, so we met in a pub just in front of the beach.
1. Getting Out of My Comfort Zone
Call me crazy but at 35 years of age I had made a bargain with my soul to find the right life for me. So that meant getting out of my comfort zone, getting off my well-manicured toosh and doing more than scratching the surface of life. One of the things on the list was to live in the country and that maybe living in the city was holding me back from happiness.
Rosie and I took our seat in the art deco pub, long before the renovators had moved in. It was dark and comforting in contrast to the big Aussie sunshine that lurked outside. Just across the road was the whitest sand and the bluest water I could remember seeing on a city beach. But right now, I loved the comfort of the dark, the nurturing feeling of being safe in those last minutes before my life would change forever.
We were waiting to meet a guy called ‘Doogs’, who was a friend of a friend of mine. He lived on a wheat station in the outback of Western Australia, approximately 200 kilometres from Perth. If you look at Google maps it’s the bit where the ‘green’ ran out about 180 kilometres earlier. I knew it was him when he walked through the door even though I had never previously seen a photo.
He was sweet, a shy affable manboy with sun sucked skin, long floppy blond hair and a very kind disposition. He came over to our table and we all very shyly introduced ourselves and the only one that appeared to be having a good time was my cheeky friend Rosie who thought this was the greatest lark of the century!
2. Overcoming Fear
I was scared shitless. I wanted to crawl under the table that stank of beer and hide. How was this going to work? The fashion victim girl from inner city Darlinghurst and the lad from the outback, what the hell would we talk about for the month to come? I wanted adventure and I wanted safety and right now it didn’t feel like these two things went together.
Doogs didn’t bother with a drink and we were soon outside on the lovely street with the pine trees saying goodbye. Rosie ‘handed me’ over to this stranger and we set off in his beige Land Rover to his family’s property about 30 kilometres from Kellerberin. As the neat houses of Cottlesloe passed by I decided I was officially as far out of my comfort zone as I had ever been, putting my life in someone else’s hands, though I had checked all the references over and over again and had been assured he was a good guy. This felt VERY uncomfortable. Like “monumental what the hell am I doing” uncomfortable. A part of me wanted to scream and ask to stop the car so I could get out and take me back and go back to my safe little life. But the part that wanted something better than what I already knew just stayed put.
Driving off with a stranger was just the beginning of many new, weird, scary and thrilling experiences that awaited me in the days, weeks and years to come. When you have lived in the city most of your adult life there is a feeling of safety that comes from the noise, the traffic, the proximity to other people. But in another life as a child the country was familiar to me.
The Australian outback is one of my favourite places on earth but I just hadn’t seen her for a long while. I forgot how she felt, how she looked and the feelings and emotions that she could inspire. As we left Perth behind the landscape started to change till all I could see for miles was a big, deep blue sky like an Yves Klein blue at the top that ran down to a lighter, softer version of this blue towards the horizon as though you had dropped a cup of milk into it. We had our windows down and our hair flying as we drove closer and closer to our destination. Beautiful strong gumtrees with white thick strong trunks striped of grey and other straggly looking gums that looked like they needed a little love and care stood by the roadside.
The road out here runs out of ink. So worn by the sun that asphalt is no longer black, it’s grey and as the kilometres between Perth lengthened, so does the frequency of someone passing you on the road. But you can be sure they will raise their hand in a very casual wave of acknowledgement. It was the first thing I remembered lifting my spirits as we headed to our destination.
3. Embracing Adventure
Doogs and I had come to the arrangement between a friend, that I would teach him how to use the newly installed thing called “The Internet” which had just arrived in this far flung corner of Australia and he would allow me to do tasks around the property such as feeding the chickens and doing light farm work. This was how I could take a look at a life out of the city and to thank him for his bravery and generosity in having a city girl land on his doorstep, I would leave him with the gift of knowing how to use the world wide web.
This ‘experience’ was the first thing I had put on my ‘starting my new life list’ as I was convinced it was the way I was living that was the problem – physically isolated in a one-bedroom apartment in the middle of the city, eating Thai take-away every night on my own. What I wanted was to be part of something, to feel my life mattered, to be part of a community and connected to an authentic life.
I had played ‘what if’ when I started working on my list of how to find the right life for me and so trying out living in the country seemed like a good idea. After all, I had spent my childhood in Bourke, Mudgee and Port Macquarie before moving back to the city at 16, so this felt like a good place to start.
But sheesh, I didn’t realise it was this far! By the time we arrived at the low slung weatherboard homestead I couldn’t have physically removed myself further from the life I had been living just a week ago. I wondered out here with the big skies and the gentle wheat fields that went on forever, was it just the two of us?
I had a lovely little room just like you would imagine in a homestead in the outback. Crocheted rug at the end of the bed, a wooden bed, an old wooden cupboard for my things and a little closed-in-verandah that ran around the whole house. There were objects that had been passed down from generation to generation and not a stick of Ikea to be seen.
I put my things down and went to check out the place. There was a lovely dog called Sally and we were instant friends. Doogs gave me a tour of the farm immediately around the house. There was a chicken coop with chickens, feeding them would soon be my responsibility. They had been saved from a mass grave after their use on a battery farm was up, Doogs had given them a chance at a real life. As far as you could see there was bush and the only thing that broke this image was the homestead and a couple of sheds of big oversized sheds. Doogs explained I could come with him with him to do almost anything on the farm, check the fences, harvest stuff (I think it was the wheat), fix things that were always breaking and help with the food.
4. Getting Grounded and Connected to Myself
I was jangling with nerves, excitement, coming down from a full on life in the city and I wanted to get started. What was I meant to be doing??
When you go from the heart of Darlinghurst Sydney and its collection of cool coffee bars with machines hissing and chatter downstairs, the cinema up the road and all the fabulous clothing shops on Oxford Street to outback Australia, you can wade through the stillness. Stillness becomes a thing, a three dimensional feeling I had never known before, it envelopes you as though you have wrapped a cashmere blanket around your shoulders and put on ear muffs. Minutes feel like hours, time slows, as though you have dripped treacle on everyday life activities. I didn’t know what to do with myself.
I had a life that was ‘chocker’s as we like to say in Australia. ‘Chock a block’ full of things to do but out here I felt adrift, time had a different meaning and feeling as did everything. All I had to do was feed the chickens and teach Doogs the internet.
It took me two weeks to ‘come down’ from being an over-stimulated business owner and sit on the old wooden fence at the end of the day and gaze at the sun setting over the wheat fields with a sense of awe with just a slight breeze for company. It’s a spectacle of nature that I hadn’t seen for a long while, the hues the way the reds and golds would blend together and the sun catch in the leaves of eucalyptus trees and give you one last wink just before disappearing beyond the horizon. Everything was dictated by the rhythms of nature, the rising and setting of the sun, the wind and the rain.
5. Changing My Relationship with Time
I had never given myself the gift of time before, in fact time and I’d had a curious relationship. It always felt like there was never enough of it, everything I did in life was done like it was an emergency and that if it wasn’t done in the most efficient way, the ‘time police’ would arrive with their siren to handcuff me and take me away. Time felt so precious and fleeting, the way I used it meant that I felt low level anxiety all the time. I had the sensation that I had to max it out, pack as many tasks and events into those minutes, hours and days as possible to make good use of it. I had a fear that if things weren’t done immediately they would be forgotten or I would be punished for being late, overdue, wasting time or miss out on a once in a lifetime chance.
Out here time was different. You can savour it, wallow in it, bathe in it, consider things from many different angles before you make a decision and in a funny way waste it. I have never ‘wasted time’ before but in this ‘wasting’ of time I learnt something else.
Each day I had two big tasks and everything in between that was optional. One was the chickens. The chickens and I had a curious relationship. I loved them from the moment I knew their story yet was scared out of my wits when I opened the wire chicken pen door to feed them. They could see me heading for them long before I pushed open the creaky wooden framed door and they would start chatting at the top of the voices and moving their heads in quick sudden movements towards me.
By the time I had my wheelbarrow full of chicken food they were running at me like their lives depended on it. I wanted to bravely stay and let them gather around me in some sort of earth mother chicken love but instead I emptied their feed and fled. I watched them safely from behind the wire fence as they maxed out their delight, chatting and eating, preening the feathers they had left and doing what chickens do.
When you think of a normal healthy chicken you think of those lovely chickens with red crests on their head and pretty feathers of all sorts of colours from white to caramel. A battery farm life does something else to a chicken’s body. It rubs off everything they have on their heads, necks and most of their bodies as they live their life in cages and everything they do from eating or moving is rubbing up against metal. Like all things in nature that don’t see the sun, live in fresh air or dance in the rain they shrivel instead of thrive.
These guys looked like they were a-hundred-and-twenty-year-old men. I loved watching them till all the food had been gobbled up. My heart was filled with happiness for these little chickens who had a whole new life of freedom out in the wide open spaces of Kellerberin and they joyfully showed it. They got to hang out everyday in a ton of space with their mates, food was looked after and they never had to fear being killed to be eaten or produce another egg. They were officially in battery farm retirement, all expenses paid for thanks to the adorable big hearted Doogs that had made this happen.
6. The Importance of Connection
My other job was mastering the 56kps modem connection to the internet in the outback and showing Doogs how to use it. The world wide web was in its infancy and had only been available in big cities for about 5 years and they were still exciting days when you opened your inbox and you had 1, 2, 3 or 5 emails. It was exciting, new and ever so International. Each day on the back verandah that was fenced in with mosquito net and gum trees outside, huddled over a small table and a computer we would connect to the rest of the planet as the 56kps modem would screech to life sending it’s signal up to the cosmos looking for a connection, we would excitedly wait and see if we ‘got on’. The excitement was real when we did. It felt like a miracle sitting out here surrounded by dirt and gumtrees and yet there we were on the web. Doogs had the same look of excitement in his eyes as the chickens did around feeding time. The web was also starting a new life for Doogs, from being physically isolated, to all of a sudden he had access to information, friends, online forums, blogs and all the things that were so revolutionary when we first hit the little grey square that said connect.
Doogs couldn’t wait to get his farm duties done so we could ‘get on’ the net. The need for connection out here was real. Connection to other humans, to life, to information, to the world.
When you live on a farm way out there, you feel part of the land. You notice the ways the trees are so majestic reaching for the sky with their branches like outstretched arms reaching for the skies. How the colours of the landscape change depending on the time of day, and how the scents of eucalyptus and dried earth fill the air instead of exhaust fumes and smog. You see the beauty of the animals, even those that had survived battery farms. To feel the rhythms of the day that work around the rising and setting of the sun is amazing and to feel the power of the weather and the light, that is never the same.
But you start to hanker for other human beings. Every time Doogs had to ‘go to town’ I volunteered to come. It didn’t matter what excuse, whether it was picking up the mail, buying more feed, going to the bank, getting the Landrover serviced or to stocking the fridge, I had my hand up. Going to the small town of Kellerberin had become as exciting as alighting in London, Paris or New York! There was a total population of 672 people, shops, banks, pubs and charity shops.
If you have ever been to outback Australia you will know the feeling of stepping into a time warp, double story fronted shops line the streets, where often there was a residence above them. They are neat, the streets are wide, you can always find a park and the buildings are those from the turn of the century. When we would drive into Kellerberin something inside of me would relax. The city girl in me would love to look at every shop, talk to anyone that dared to listen and ask questions about how this or that worked.
Inevitably we would end up at Dalgety’s. This was farm boy paradise. Dalgety’s was a stock and station agency where you could get anything for the farm. Giant tractor tires, feed for your cows, sheep or goats, seeds for your crops, fertilisers and all sorts of other bibs and bobs that one might need on a farm. But it was also like a pub with no beer, where people from outlying properties came to see each other, swap news, connect, find out the sale prices on wool and get the latest updates on what was happening in the world. It was sort of like the old fashion world wide web! I loved going to Dalgety’s, it was a wonderland of things this girl knew nothing about and the guys that worked there seemed to have plenty of time. Everybody out here seemed to be generous with time, they gave it away, savoured it, enjoyed a conversation, didn’t feel the need to rush off and get busy doing something else. People took time with you!
And then we had done everything we could think of that one could do in Kellerberin, we would head back to the farm.
7. Learning to Handle Fear
A big part of this experience scared the shit out of me! Being isolated with a man on a farm scared me. Driving 200 km across paddocks to a dinner party and my driver being half-tanked on the way home navigating the gum trees and kangaroos in the pitch black of the outback, scared me. Chickens that had been saved from a battery farm running at me at feeding time scared me. The thought of never seeing a coffee shop or smelling coffee grinding, going to town or Dalgety’s ever again scared me, and the isolation from life and people scared me!!
There were moments when I wanted to pack my bags and go home to my comfortable little life in Darlinghurst, with my comfy bed and lovely bunches of flowers and have a bowl of ‘tofu stir fry and vegetables’ hold the oil, but I didn’t. I stayed, I sat with my discomfort and the lack of control and I handled it. It was the first time in my adult life that I didn’t ‘buy’ my way out of discomfort. So often on a holiday or if I was travelling and I wasn’t having a good time or liking what was going on, I would book a ticket home to avoid the discomfort. This time I stayed and sucked up the discomfort. Probably because I couldn’t book a ticket out of there, the only way out was Doogs driving me back to the big smoke and the shame of going to Doogs and telling him I couldn’t handle it was worse than staying and handling it. So I stayed those intense moments of fear, of loneliness or awkwardness came and went. After all i was committed to starting a new life.
8. The individual has the power to change the world
Doogs gave me inspiration that has stayed with me till today. That one act of rescuing those chickens when they were worn out and no longer of use to the battery farm, stayed with me forever. Doogs made a choice to give those chickens a new life and he was the first person to show me that we have the power to change things, big and small. It’s us that get to choose to say YES and our YES can make a difference. The choice Doogs made showed me that we have power in every choice we make in life, we are not powerless and that if we choose what’s in our hearts and what moves us we can make a difference.
When it was time to go, I could hardly stop the flow of tears, the emotions of having the chance to feel the Australian outback in my soul, to experience profound kindness from a stranger and to have had the courage to do something that scared me. At the same time as being scared out of my brain, I was fascinated. This weird experience had kicked open a door inside of me that I didn’t know was there. It let a little light in and each day a whole new bunch of inspiration and beauty was poured into my soul. After a lifetime of doing things the same way all of a sudden nothing was the same. Life had handed me an invitation to experience it differently.
9. Magic is in the Doing – Action inspires growth
That one month moved the pieces of my internal puzzle around so greatly that I was no longer the same girl. What I realised sitting on the fence just watching the sun set over the wheat fields, letting time and stillness seep into my soul was that life is one big adventure and I wanted to be part of it. Trying something I had a hunch about was a gift and I would be forever grateful to Doogs for being part of this crazy life experiment.
Did saying YES to working on an outback station work out? Did I ride off into the sunset and marry the farmer? No. But that isn’t the point. I was curious about something and went and checked it out. I met a great human in circumstances I never would have had the chance to be in. The result was growth; growth on the inside, pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone and letting go of a little more judgement about the way things should be done. It was learning a new way to look at the world and being up close to those poor chickens that wonderful Doogs had rescued from a battery farm, which led me to never eat an egg ever again that wasn’t free range.
Susan Jeffers explains in Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, “Every time you encounter something that forces you to “handle it,” your self-esteem is raised considerably. You learn to trust that you will survive, no matter what happens. And in this way your fears are diminished immeasurably.”
Somewhere in the Australian outback I started to learn to ‘handle things.’ Looking back they were the first building blocks of my self-esteem. Getting out of the noise of the city and my head and having time to feel what was right for me. Allowing those feelings to lead me at least to what was next. As we drove back to the city
On the drive back to Perth it was funny to feel the difference in the girl that had driven here a month ago. I loved the Landrover and its accumulation of dirt, dust and bills and felt very much at home driving around the country with Doogs. I loved that there was no air-conditioning and that you had to talk at the top of your voice to be heard over the noise of the engine and tires turning on the road.
I loved the creamy white of the gum trees that stretched on forever and the kangaroos that elegantly jumped around the land. But most of all, I loved how I felt inside, the feeling of pride, lightness, joy, calm, peace and excitement for what was next. I loved that I had the gift of time after a lifetime of working and making every moment count.
When you stop the mental gymnastics you start to feel things instead of trying to control things and somehow I felt faith that the next steps would unfold as they needed to.
I didn’t have an outcome so to speak, but I learnt there is ‘magic in the doing’, it’s only where you go to that place you thought you wanted to be, stand in it, sleep in it, breath the air, see the colours, eat the food do you get the information that you can never get just staying in your head and dreaming about it. Doing is where the magic unfolds. You get information, is this a ‘yes’, ‘no’ ‘maybe’ or a piece to the puzzle.
I had another piece of the story. I had another clue to the puzzle of life, what I liked, who I am and it inspired me to embrace adventure and keep on going.
Sending you love and light,
PS: If you are starting over or interested in change your life, you might enjoy my Reawaken Your lust for life Workbook you can download Here
Carla, this is so beautiful. I absolutely love your story and how you stepped into the unknown to see what was on the other side out of curiosity and longing for something more. x
Hey Kathy, thanks for your note and glad my story resonated with you. The unknown is a strange place and if we look at it as the beginning of adventure and teach ourselves to be ok with not knowing the full story, then we open ourselves up to options that we may not have logically thought of. Enjoy your journey. x
What a beautiful and motivating story, Carla. A lovely reminder to keep “taking action” and kicking open the internal doors. Greetings from Strasbourg, France which is part of my journey.
HI Caroline, thanks for your note. Yes, it’s not always obvious at the outset that taking action will lead to something. So happy you are on your journey and when I look back at that story that was more than 20 years ago I too feel like its a million small steps. But each small action has lead to something else. Thanks for your insights. Carla