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Edition 392 – Staying The Course

It’s early Sunday morning and I’ve popped in for my first coffee of the day. As usual, I’m in pole position – first customer in the door. It’s rained overnight and whilst the air is cool, it’s not as cold as it has been.

Over my coffee order, I chat with Lucy. I’ve known her for a while now and we talk about how her Uni degree in Nursing is coming along. She’s two years into her three year degree and, if she decides she wants to move into Medicine, it’s another four or five years on top of that. That’s the best part of a decade. Moving out of home is not an option as with the cost of living in Sydney, combined with unpaid placements in the hospital system throughout her degree, it’s simply not doable.

As we talk about the journey, I reflect on my own. Two years of full time University, followed by three years finishing my degree part time, then another three years to complete the CPA programme. Eight years all told.

Somewhat rhetorically, Lucy asks “is it worth it?”. Without hesitation, I reply “absolutely”. “I wouldn’t be where I am today, doing what I’m doing, if I’d not put in that investment all those years ago.”

I then took Lucy for a short journey down memory lane. Back in 1986, I arrived in Sydney on the McCafferty’s bus out of Coolangatta with $300 in the bank. My last four years of schooling on the Gold Coast were all focussed on returning to Sydney, where we’d lived until Mum & Dad had the idea that selling up and moving to Queensland was going to make their lives happier. It didn’t and they separated three years later.

Upon my return to Sydney, some old family friends, the Baxters, kindly allowed me to set up camp in their spare bedroom for a couple of weeks whilst I figured things out. First up, a part time job in the delicatessen at Grace Bros in Chatswood. Next, I found a share house in Willoughby, which lasted two months before the couple that I was sharing with decided they were moving on. It was then, on the Uni notice board, I found out about Pam in Artarmon.

Pam was mid 50’s, a divorcee with adult children and two pugs, Chudley and Pandora, who lived inside the flat. I must have impressed at the interview, as Pam offered me her spare room for $50 per week. I was earning $105 at the time. Pam’s flat was across the road from the train station, which was 20 minutes into the City for Uni and one stop from work.

I was fortunate to work with some lovely old ladies at Grace Bros. I say old, yet, I’m sure, they were the age I am now, back then. Margaret, Cecille and Mary were all so very kind to this young, thin, pimply faced 18 year old. Occasionally, Cecille would say to me, “duck out the back and spend a minute in the cold room”. Cecille’s message was code for “go and grab a couple of slices of ham and have a quick, sneaky snack”. That’s how thin I was!

Pay day was Thursdays and the only “treat”, if you call it that, was on Wednesday nights, during the half time break in one of our Law classes, I’d duck off to McDonald’s around the corner and grab a box of their little cookies. They were 30 cents – that’s often, all I had left at the end of the week.

At the end of ‘87, I was struggling. One of the subjects was blowing my mind, so I dropped it. Financially, it was becoming more difficult so, just prior to exams, I started my first full time job. When they offered a salary of $18K, I almost fell off the chair.

I failed two subjects that year, which meant I hadn’t met my quota for the number of subjects I had to pass to remain a full time student. So, I was placed on probation by UTS, which is code for, get yourself together or we’re locking the doors. So, I did, and they didn’t.

In that first year of full time work, I put on 10kg, simply because, for the first time, I had the money to eat properly. I bought some nice clothes, saved some money and was on my way in my career.

We all have a journey. We all have a story to tell. At times, in the midst of our every day busy-ness, we forget the path we’ve trodden, the dead-ends we’ve turned down and the times that were truly difficult. “Is it worth it?” Absolutely.