I’m in Sydney, and I’m inspired. Not by the obvious – the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, the beaches. I’m inspired by something altogether more impressive – the attitude of my 21 year old son James. He is based here, and we have the pleasure of sharing a twin room in my hotel whilst I work for a client up the road. (The feel of a clean freshly ironed sheet and soft pillow is bringing him untold joy, he tells me.)
He has been working and travelling in Australia for the last 18 months. He came here to find himself, and to pick himself up after an annus horribilis back home which saw him at his lowest point. He travelled to Sydney alone with a catering qualification, some cash and a set of chef knives, and has since found a way of funding himself to keep himself fed and watered as well as make trips to see the Grand Prix in Melbourne, see Uluru at dawn, dive the Barrier Reef and sky dive over Sydney.
It hasn’t been easy – far from it. He started off by working in a restaurant in Darling Harbour, where they bang out 500 fish meals per sitting without blinking. 12 hour shifts, relentless pace, constant screaming and pressure from the formidable head chef. Then head home across town to a cramped, hot and noisy apartment, cook yourself a bag of $1 rice and 60 cent tomato sauce, fall into bed and try and sleep before the next gruelling shift. Try doing that 6 days a week half way around the world from your loved ones.
He kept going. Then decided that it was time to explore something else. So tried his hand at selling. Not just any old selling. The hardest sort – the one that involves wearing out actual shoe leather, tramping the suburbs of Sydney knocking on doors in temperatures of up to 40 degrees. No salary, commission only. If you fail, you go hungry. Not only that, but what he is selling is quite complex: swapping people’s energy tariffs and tying them into contracts with a range of discount options. James is not that good with numbers. He found it hard. I was with him at the time he started last year:
First day – NIL, Second day – NIL, (KEEP GOING), Third day – 3, Fourth day – 8.
Having got on top of it and made some very decent money, the rules changed. They changed the procedure, making it far more complex and requiring a call centre to finalise the deal. 50% of his sales slip through the cracks at this final stage. The competition have caught up, so people are being tied into contracts before he gets there. His earnings are slipping away, and yet he has so much he wants to do before he gets home in October: get back to New Zealand, do some more diving, explore the outback.
Yesterday he spent 6 hours in the hot afternoon tramping the streets, and made one sale. $80 for 6 hours’ work. Came back to the hotel ravenous, thirsty, hot and frustrated. He has just headed off today to try a new part of town, determined to come back with 5 sales. He had to borrow $10 to pay for his train ticket (today is pay day). KEEP GOING.
Something in me is screaming “HELP HIM OUT!” For goodness’ sake lend him some money so he can relocate to another city (he knows Sydney better than most locals) where the pickings are easier, rents are lower and he can afford not to earn for the first few weeks whilst he finds his feet. But I know that if I do so I will be denying him something very important: the satisfaction of coming back home after 2 years and saying “I did it.” He is learning so much from this, and forging for himself such resilience and positive attitude, it would be wrong to weaken on his behalf. I am finding it so hard as a parent to leave the challenge squarely with him, but I know I have to do it. Helping him out now would make me feel better, at his expense, and I have to hold myself back.
But that won’t stop me from buying him an extra beer tonight if he makes those 5 sales!
I’m grateful to Christian Mihai’s Blog which inspired this line of thinking for me this week.