I was having a chat last week with one of my colleagues and she revealed that she had never been to Paris. Something fell away in me immediately. Paris is one of my favourite cities in the world, and the thought that a middle-aged woman had never been there seemed terribly wrong. As our conversation revealed, she has been no further than Thailand, and once to Hawaii.
I’m aware that in many ways I’ve had a privileged life. I’ve travelled much further, and much more widely, than the average person. It’s been one of the great joys of my life. Even so, in my milieu, or, if you like, my class, most are pretty good travellers. Among my friends and fellow-travellers I know of no-one, for example, who has not been to Paris. Again, we’re probably a privileged group too.
Now this is not about Paris, nor indeed travel. What was a passing conversation devolved in the days after into a reflection on expectations.
For many years I sailed along with a standard set of expectations, many of them part and parcel – a job lot if you will – of my demographic and upbringing. I was born into an upwardly mobile family. My father was ambitious and assertive. I went to a private school, came home to a nice meal on the table every night, a colour TV in the family room (the first in the street), a reasonable standard of family holidays (though all within Australia), and a general air of confidence, expectation, and yes, ultimately, entitlement.
You carry that sense of entitlement as you go out into the world as an adult. I did, certainly, and the truth of it is that for the next 25 years there was no reason not to, more or less. My career flourished in its own way, and took me in different and interesting directions, as I desired. I travelled. I acquired wealth in a way, a home property first, then an investment property, as well as shares and a variety of other investments. I had money in my pocket as well as in the bank. I lived well. I spent money on good food and big nights out, a nice wardrobe, a good car, a houseful of fine furniture as well as the odd luxurious incidental. The only thing lacking was the relationship I fully expected, but I had a lot of fun regardless trying.
I was, and remain, a white, educated, progressive and liberal-minded male of middle to upper middle class background. I’m well read, and socially and intellectually engaged. I sip lattes, worry about the state of the world and agitate for change. I’m a type, and regardless of circumstances not a type that will change now.
It’s old news now that I have little, if anything of that now. The days of entitlement are over. It’s a huge struggle. I’ve crashed down to earth with a bang.
My circumstances have drastically changed, but the sense of entitlement is slower to shift. I don’t really want to shift even with the new world order. I keep believing, keep telling myself, that those days will come again. I don’t think it is wrong to do that. It’s certainly possible, and whatever I had back then to make it so I have still, and perhaps more – I have a steely determination now, and a resolve that comes from knowing how truly frail such a life is.
Still, mental adjustments have been required. I may still have champagne tastes, but my budget extends no further than boiled lollies bought at the $2 shop.
In recent times that adjustment – or re-assessment – has become more real. I’m working again, and in a role I could never have anticipated 5 years ago. I’m coping fine, but feel a bit a fish out of water, and seem one too it appears. My colleagues are lovely, but they’re different to me, with different lives, different expectations, and with a sense of entitlement very different from what I knew. They live in different places, places I never ventured to, and see things differently to what I do. I’m corporate, or used to be, and spent most of my working life working in or around Collins St. Now I’m working on an industrial estate, a high vis vest in my bottom drawer.
At the same time I’m searching for somewhere to live, but with far less money in my account than before, and with an income a fraction of what it was in my heyday. I’m out every weekend, and often after work during the week. I’ve seen some dreadful places, for ridiculous prices. I’ve applied now for about ten different properties, without result. It’s a tedious and soul crushing.
I’ve become aware of something. All those months struggling day-to-day I never really thought this was my ‘condition’. It was an extended and dreadful aberration. I was in the midst of a calamity that would at some day end, at which time, I believed, I would surmount it. It wasn’t me. I could tell myself that this wasn’t my life. It will pass.
But then you begin earning an income of sorts and it becomes ‘your life’ of sorts, if only temporarily. The scant excuse of calamitous times no longer applies. It becomes real and pressing.
Here I am then. I look at places to live and wonder how people can live like this, knowing full well they do. There are thousands and thousands of people who earn as much as I do now, and even less, and have done their whole life. They get by on this, managing without expectation of anything more. This is life. This is real life for them, but new to me. It’s eye opening, and a little disturbing.
I’ve been lucky. I have to adjust. That’s just the way it is. I can dream, and even anticipate a time when I’ll move beyond it. I expect that will happen, when I don’t know. I expect one day to fly higher, and perhaps even very high again one day, and I’m lucky I have that opportunity. For now I have to abbreviate and compromise my expectations. My sense of entitlement revised, my view of the world expanded and given texture.
These are not bad things, but they’re not necessarily easy things. In ways I’m glad of it – I don’t like living in ignorance, even if I have to come by the knowledge the hard way. Maybe it will make me a better man.
There’s another question in it though? Will I surpass it? Will I ever get back to some part of the life I had before?
Will I get to Paris again before I die? That’s my aim now, the proof of my rehabilitation some distant day.