well… here we are. It’s 26/03/08, 5.14pm, I’m in my sister’s apartment in Melbourne, it’s a cold rainy afternoon outside and this is my last day as a Melburnite. At 7am tomorrow, the boys and I start a three-day drive to Brisbane via Narrandera, Dubbo Narrabri and Goondiwindi.
So as I gaze out over Melbourne’s dark skyline, I think it’s time to reflect on my almost-exactly twenty years in Melbourne…. a kind of private catharsis to help deal with the grab-bag of emotions I’m feeling as I depart.
I arrived in Melbourne sometime in January 1988. I was 17 and two months old. I came from a small country town, public school education, grew up so far below the poverty line that we could just see it with a telescope. I had all of my possessions with me – an Ibanez-ripoff “Flying V” guitar, a suitcase of clothes, and about $200 saved up from picking & packing eggplant over summer on my girlfriend Miranda’s father’s farm. I had finished Year 12 only a month earlier, graduated in the top quarter percentile in Queensland for that year (a TE score of 925) and deferred my course of marine biology at James Cook University to take a year out to explore what a big city looked like. I had never even been to Brisbane, outside of the occasional school orchestra trip, let alone a metropolis like Melbourne, so I was completely unaware what was in store for me.
My first flat was shared with two other people (Miranda’s brother Michael, 15 years old with a scholarship to the Tony Bartuccio Dance School, and one of his slightly-older female classmates) in Punt Road, South Yarra. My earliest memories involve wondering where one buys clothes hangars from and thinking the local 7-11 was a supermarket. I did my grocery shopping from there for a few weeks until I learned differently.
After a couple of weeks in Melbourne I realized I needed to get a job but I had NO IDEA how you did such a thing. Someone, somewhere, told me to get the Wednesday edition of The Age. I did that and started scanning through 50 pages of “EXPERIENCE REQUIRED” or “TERTIARY EDUCATION REQUIRED”. I persisted and finally scored a part-time job working evenings at a tele-sales center, trying to raise money for charity and stuff like that. I don’t remember how much it paid but it can’t have been much – I remember my food budget only allowed me to buy one bucket of KFC and a loaf of bread each week – that had to last me the entire week. I remember once being down to my last couple of dollars and eating a cheeseburger on Swanston Street very, VERY slowly, trying to make each mouthful last as long as possible, because I knew that burger was going to be the only meal I was having for a couple of days.
After a few weeks doing that, I somehow landed a full-time day job at the ANZ Bank, 35 Elizabeth St, in the settlements department. It was an entry level clerical job paying $12,000 pa. Moving paper from that tray to this tray, stamping it, putting in an envelope, answering the phone and pretending like I understood what the person on the other end was talking about. The only thing I remember is that my mother had always taught me that being enthusiastic was a key to success – that must have worked, because after three months at the ANZ I was head-hunted by one of my clients, CITIBANK. They said I had such a good attitude whenever they rang me that they wanted me on their team.
I vividly remember my interview at their offices at 35 Collins Street. The CEO of the group that was hiring me was Richard Simmons (not that one, the other one) and his 2IC was Rocky. I remember looking out over the Melbourne skyline at night for the first time and they asked me if I intended to stay in Melbourne or if I intended going back to Queensland. I lied and told them I loved Melbourne and intended to stay. In truth, I felt completely lost and was planning on going back to QLD and university as soon as possible. But they fell for my story and offered me the position. I remember my salary with them was $17,000. I loved that job. A small team, feisty people, who seemed good at their job (my version of WEST WING), and the CEO, Richard, was fair, funny, a nice guy. And they liked to drink – a LOT. I ended up drinking a lot there too. Lunchtimes, after work – they had a bar fridge in the office that was always stocked and Richard was happy to put his card down at the bar in the evenings. None of them seemed to have a family to go home to, so we would drink late most nights – on the company dime.
After a year of this, I decided I had a drinking problem. My dad George was an alcoholic and when I ended up having a series of blackouts, I realized I might have a problem as well. So I joined AA at age 18 and didn’t have another drink for 12 years. After a couple of months in AA, I realized it was going to be hard working at Citibank and not drinking, so I quit that job and started temping. Then I got a job at a building company, worked for a friend of mine, doing the accounts. They fired me. So I temped for a while at Ford Credit, chasing defaulted car loans, that kind of thing. Awful, awful work. Still earning shitty money.
Then I got it into my head that I needed to get a job in sales if I was going to make real money and get some control over my situation. I guess by this point, I’d been in Melbourne a few years and have given up on the idea of going back to Uni. Even though the money was shitty, it was still better than earning nothing. And I still didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career. So I got my first sales job in about 1993, working for a financial services company, selling “wealth management” packages. Well, trying to sell them. I sucked at it. But I got a car allowance, a mobile phone, I made a little more money, and I worked to my own schedule. I could not be in the office all day, out at meetings, and I loved the new sense of freedom.
After about a year there, that company closed down, and I got a job as a sales rep, sorry, “Business Development Manager” for a video production company, which was fun for a while, and another bump in salary came with it. I think by this stage I was about 24 and on a base of $40k. I did that for a couple of years until they fired me as well. But somehow I always had a talent for landing on my feet. No matter what happened, I always ended up in a better job making more money than I did before. Around this time (about 1995), I discovered the internet and bought my first PC.Â My first month on dial-up (28.8k) cost me $600, but I was hooked, so I decided I needed to get a job that would allow me to surf for free. And I did – at Ozemail. Again, I got a pay rise, I was 26, surfing the net for a living. My job was actually in sales but, again, I sucked at it.
After a couple of years there, somehow, I managed to get a job at Microsoft. And that changed my life. Six years at Microsoft, then I left and started TPN. These days, at 37, I feel like I’m just starting to get a handle on what I want to do with my life and how to get there. I feel like I’m in a very privileged position.Â I haven’t had a job for four years and 9 months (not that I’m counting). I spend my days doing something I not only love but feel is important and meaningful (at least to me). I hang out with the people I want to hang out with and do what I want to do. Every day. I do what I want to do. Nobody can tell me anything. I say what I want, i do what I want. That – to me – is freedom.
So – what have I learned in my 20 years in Melbourne?
1. It doesn’t matter where you start from – Australia is a land of opportunity for those who want to take it. Anyone – regardless of background or education or intelligence – can start their own company and spend their days doing something they enjoy. There is no reason I can think of to do something you don’t want to do.
2. Melbourne is a great city. I’ve been to a few great cities in the last decade – Rome, London, Paris, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, LA, Florence – and while I love them all, and would easily live in any of them for a few years – Melbourne compares pretty well to all of them. It doesn’t have the same art collection or the same talent or the same buzz that some of those places have, but it makes up for it in many ways. It’s safe, it’s friendly, it’s multicultural, it’s funky. I love Melbourne.
3.Â The best piece of advice I received in the last 20 years was this – you are what you read. Invest 10% of your income into your brain for the rest of your life.
4. Second best piece of advice – goals are there to inspire you to become the person you would need to be to achieve them.
5. Third best piece of advice – the questions you ask yourself determine your reality. Learn to ask yourself the right kinds of questions. I’m reading The Four Hour Work Week at the moment and Tim Ferris has some great questions. If you could only work two hours a day for the rest of your life, what would you spend it doing?
So that’s it Melbourne. As I said on Twitter earlier today:
PEOPLE OF MELBOURNE! I am finished with your city. You may have it back.
I’m off to ravish Brisbane.