My alternate universe

Not too long ago I ticked over a year in my current job, my first full time gig. For those that don’t know, I work at a federal government department out of an office building in Melbourne, Victoria. I started as a graduate in September 2011 and became a full employee after my twelve month anniversary. I had a path like this in mind for quite a few years, and my journey getting to this point taught me some interesting lessons.

The process of getting into a graduate program like the one I recently completed is drawn out, competitive and sometimes emotionally demanding. I spent the better part of a year after I finished university chasing such a position. First you do online applications and written responses, then aptitude tests and written assessments. These are often followed by phone interviews, city-based assessment centres, then perhaps a final assessment process in Canberra. The processes vary between departments, but they all follow a similar trajectory: it’s a long term commitment, with people being cut off the list at each stage. In the end, they are like nerd reality shows.

I had resigned myself that I would most likely be moving to Canberra if I was to be successful. From all the assessment centres I attended it was made clear to me that the chances of getting to work outside the ACT was very slim. I wasn’t particularly thrilled at the prospect but I would be doing what I wanted to do, and the idea of rebooting my life in its entirety appealed to me on some level. My entire education was spent at three institutions - my primary school, the nearby secondary school and a university. I had never once started with a blank slate; I had always carried my past with me, for better or worse. I could’ve been someone new for the first time in my life.

My first offer was from my current employer. The most extraordinary aspect of it was that they wanted me to work in Melbourne. I figured you should always take the first offer, because you can always walk away if something better came up. But with this one though, I wouldn’t have to go anywhere. I could stay at home and see how I liked it. I could still play in my bands and watch my favourite sports and hang out with my friends and family. I would always be able relocate to the ACT later if I ever felt the need.

My second offer was from the department I thought I would enjoy the most. They had been amazing during the application process, had flown candidates to Canberra for a final assessment, and were offering me a position in the exact area that I wanted. I could’ve had my finger on the pulse of the national economy and would have been working a couple of hundred metres from Parliament House. It was a brilliant offer and I turned it down immediately. The poor lady on the phone must’ve wondered what kind of noises I was making: they were the sounds of indecision. My heart sank. From that moment, my alternate life begun.

Of my fellow grad cohort, only 5 of 65 went back to their home states. Spending the first two weeks up there with them all, I saw them stress over moving and renting and relationships and families. I had bouts of survivor guilt, I won’t lie. So many of those people would have done anything to have traded positions with me. Why had I been chosen, I wondered? But just because others would’ve liked to have been in my position, that doesn’t mean it was the right choice for me. Just because other people want something badly, it doesn’t that choice is necessarily right for you too.

I realised from the start that I might regret that decision for a long time. I also knew that it was the safe option, the more boring option, the traditional Jon option. Whichever path I took, I would have my dark days and reflect on the outcome of that decision in a negative way. The best I could hope for was that it wouldn’t haunt me too much. I was always going to wonder what life would be like in my alternate universe, I just hoped I wouldn’t grow to hate my actual one.

I feel like so much of my identity is tied up in this state and in this city. It’s a privilege to step outside onto the footpath on a sunny afternoon and be in the heart of such a magnificent place, a place with which I share so many passions: sport, music, food, culture, broadcasting. And for the time being I return to the Peninsula each night. I return to the water. I return home. And this is not to mention my family and friends; just as I am honoured to live here, I am honoured to know them. I could’ve gone, and one day I still might, but it’s going to take something pretty magnificent to drag me away.

I don’t think about how Jonathan is going in that alternate world that often. I figure it’s because I’m busy enough now and am kept distracted by other things, real things. I’m glad. Life doesn’t have an undo command. Making big decisions is hard. Often, we have to make choices and live with the consequences for a really long time. We can weigh up options, make lists of pros and cons, seek advice or toss a coin, but in the end it doesn’t matter; eventually you have to pick a path. I’ll never know if I made the right decision, but at the moment I’m sleeping alright. If that changes, I suppose I’ll write something about it.