Some months ago I wrote about signing up for a mentoring programme at work. I’m now rolling along with my mentor and one of the tasks she has given me is “to get back your Australian self.”
This has perplexed me and raised lots of questions. What is my Australian self? What is my British self? Can’t I just be myself without a nationality? And is my Australian self or my British self the more authentic me? I have lived in the UK for pretty much half my life, and just about all my “grown up” life. So how do I identify who I am?
What does an Australian character look like anyway?
Most people will picture a typical Aussie as something like Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee – a laconic hat-wearing bushman.
Photo by Jake Heinemann on Pexels.com
But that’s hardly typical in a country where 90% of the population lives in urban centres.
Maybe the true Australian character – rural or city dweller – is resilient and optimistic, as proposed by Russell in this story. Resilient – able to cope with harsh climactic conditions and the every present threat of death by … well … almost anything. (Here are just a few everyday things that could kill you in Australia). And optimistic? Yes, I think is a defining Australian trait. Am I an optimist? Yes I am, despite so many years of UK life trying to beat it out of me.
There is also Google to help me find out about the Australian character: This Queensland college website offers some guidance – that we’re laid back with a sense of humour. From what I’ve discussed with my mentor, I don’t think being laid back and cracking jokes in meetings is what she had in mind.
Of course my time in the UK has changed me, and even if I moved back to Australia tomorrow, my Australian self would not be the same one I left with 20+ years ago. I am older, I have 20+ more years of life experience behind me.
So how has my time in the UK affected the person I was? Well I had some terrible bosses (And some good bosses too!) who impacted my confidence and belief in myself. Therefore, before, I must have been more confident.
I had some stretches of being quite poor in my early days in the UK. I was never super wealthy in Australia, but I never had to think much about money. I worked two jobs a lot of the time but I did that here too. However back there I didn’t have to bite my tongue about how someone behaved because they were letting me stay in their house on the cheap. I let my friend continue in a relationship with a complete arse of a man (boy, really) because I was relying on his generosity to let me stay with them at a time I was pretty much flat broke.
Friends – back in Australia I had a kind of posse of friends. People I could rely on, drop by, hang out with. In the UK, it took me time to make friends, but then I lost most of them as they moved back home or I moved to another city. (I lived in at least 7 different places in my first few years here, there was a lot of moving.) So my UK self is more isolated than my Australian self. I had to get along by myself for quite a while. But I also was in situations where I had to ingratiate myself quickly, like at work.
Yes, six years of short term contracting and temping meant I became adept at pulling on whatever face it took to get by in that situation. So I became less authentic. But more adaptable. But having been settled at one job for the past 18 years and one address for the past 16 years, I have gathered friends again now (and a husband too).
I was independent minded back in Australia – friends thought I was weird for going to the movies alone. And over here, I travelled alone in the early years. I am trying to do that again now. It’s not that I don’t like travelling with my husband, but it’s also nice to get away on my own for a little while now and again, to be my own person, and buy handicrafts that I like without taking someone else’s opinion into consideration.
And I will admit, that feels a little weird sometimes.
At the end of that analysis, what have we found?
I’m older. Yes that changes things. It probably means I’m less likely to tolerate crap than I was when I was younger.
That means I am getting more authentic, or at least getting back my authentic after years of keeping it hidden in an attempt to fit in somewhere.
I’m in a relationship now (married, actually. Is that more than “In a relationship?) That means I have to consider someone else in life decisions. But I don’t want to do that all the time so I like to have some independent time to myself. And I value that. The poor times (as referred to above) were tough because I had to make all the decisions for myself all the time without anyone to share the burden. But I got through that and I survived that and while they might not always have been my happiest times, they were authentic if nothing else.
My Australian self? I think she’s a lot like my British self. She’s younger than me, and maybe more independent and confident. But im catching up with her. She’s the real deal. And so is my British self. We are all the authentic me.