by Marie Johnson
This is a letter to my 21 year old self, a contribution to a book “Postcards from Tomorrow”, just launched as a fundraiser for Lou’s Place, Sydney’s only daytime drop in centre for female victims of domestic violence. This book is a collection of 270 letters from women (including me!) written to their 21-year-old selves.
My message for you — my 21-year-old self — is simply this: reassurance that you are good enough. You don’t need to slow down — nor change who you are nor your outlook on life — for this is what makes you unique.
You approach life as an extraordinary adventure and always with your soul mate Allan, who you married as a teenager. You will soon be living in a backyard caravan in the western suburbs of Sydney while Allan completes his engineering degree — which he duxes, take that! — all the more remarkable because by then we have our first baby. A caravan, people say…are we poor?
You have a burning sense of social justice, an outlook seared by discrimination and attitudes. You push against the rigid rules that limit and constrain, because you experience the impact of these. You will be denied a housing loan because you are a (very young) woman — and when you do eventually get one, you and Allan will face crippling interest rates forcing you to sell your home and move. You will work in more than a dozen jobs chasing employment in whatever form, never a career plan, whatever that means. One job in a suburban bank branch, you experience an armed hold-up…twice. Years later, working in criminal intelligence, that experience builds a different perspective. You will be asked about your age. Your menstrual cycle…and not by a doctor but by the HR people.
You will be asked what your parents “did”, a power-play question to make you feel uncomfortable and you turned it right back on them. Mum was a nurse working shifts to maximise penalty rates; dad had two jobs; 5 children in a three-bedroom fibro house in the western suburbs of Sydney. Is there anything else you ask? Oh, what about my children? The children are your priority, and you let the people at the top end of town know it. These people get uncomfortable being face to face with someone who tells them the children come first. Always. You will be turned down so many times, you’ll lose count. You are told you are “different” …so many times.
But who cares? You simply side step the blockages, denials, keep moving, and quietly ignore the condescending attitudes. And here’s the thing. All the people who denied you, judged you, and who thought being “different” was a flaw — were not the one awarded an O-Visa (extraordinary skills) by the US Government. Or thought up “digital humans” for service delivery and spawned a global industry. That’s you. The tide turns.
You will come to understand that being “different” is a good thing and your journey will be shared with other amazing “different” people. One of the problems you have experienced from the beginning — as have your family and friends with disability — is that getting a job is about being assessed as meeting a standard of sameness, judged by people who don’t understand or accept difference of any type. These standards exclude difference, filter it out. And yet, those who do make a difference are “different”.
You will be inspired by many people who are different and along the way learn that you have the opportunity to inspire others with your difference. As you take on more senior roles you will not become like those that spurned your differences but instead seek to surround yourself with others who are different, and to use your experience and influence to create opportunities for them and nurture their careers and businesses.
Throughout life, family is number one and always will be. One day you will be sorely challenged when Allan undergoes emergency heart surgery, the beginning of many years of poor health and further surgeries. But together you will use what you learn from this experience to start helping heart patients one at a time.
As I wrote this to you today, we are on the brink of helping thousands, I hope even millions.
As you face each challenge on your life journey remember that they are part of what will make you learn and grow; and give you the ability to help others less fortunate because that is what you want to do now, and will always want to do.
From across the decades, my message to you, my beautiful courageous 21-year-old self, is a warm loving embrace of reassurance with Allan, our two daughters, sons-in-law and four grandsons. You are more than good enough.