When I got my VCE results nearly a hundred years ago (in 2000), I had two goals: to be imminently drunk and to do something that would become “real work.” As the eldest child of college graduates and extraordinary achievements, there was no question in my mind of doing something silly like “something I loved” or “following my dream.”
I wanted to be a writer. Of course I did; I had been writing about my feelings since I was little and English was the only subject that gave me anything close to academic pleasure. But writing was, as far as I knew, bogus work. A good way to spend every month scrounging for coins between the sofa cushions to put food on the table.
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That’s a reasonable assessment, by the way. Writers in Australia earn on average just $18,200 a year from their writing, which is far below the poverty line.
So, I enrolled instead in a business/arts dual degree, and while I was on the verge of flunking out, I became a web developer. I wasn’t a great or even a good web developer, but it meant I could get a reliable job in a government department and get paid more often than ever. For almost 15 years I have been developing web. I hated it.
I was in my 30s when I was able to follow my dream. The first time I wrote words for money I thought I was dying of happiness but it took much longer to consider it a real job. People would ask me what I did for a living (after being asked, being Melbourne, what school I went to) and I’d reply ‘writer’, then qualify my answer by explaining the nature of writing and my past life as a web developer. Being a writer seemed like an excuse to never fully evolve into an adult human being. It still does, a little.
This year my youngest finished VCE and those feelings have come to a head. They have always been artists. Their early art included such masterpieces as “the poop and the fairy” and hundreds of My Little Pony characters. Over the years I have watched in amazement as they practiced, experimented and perfected their style, creating commissions to earn money to buy a better graphics tablet or print a fanzine. They were about 11 when they told me they dreamed of becoming artists. Like, how I work.
Capitalism will likely last a few more decades as we slowly boil to death in our ozone prison
My instinct was to gently press a fallback plan. How about being an artist on the weekends but a psychologist during the week? How about an accountant drawing portraits of clients to send with their BAS? I already have a fake job; I can’t afford to support your fake work too!
But as I watched their craft develop, I realized two things: first, that they’re really good at it; and second, fuck it.
Both of my children were part of the Covid class, finishing school in 2021 and 2022. They are those kids who had to learn complex math and create spectacular works of art while pulling data from a parent’s hotspot because five people were connected to home internet, if they were lucky enough to have it. In our house, it was sort of learning the method: studying US politics and the spread of disease as society threatens to collapse around them. It feels, without hyperbole, like trying to start a career at the end of the world.
And so I realized that I wanted my son to be an artist.
Why not follow your dream through the apocalypse? What’s the worst that can happen: you won’t be able to retire? Will your electricity cost more than a car? Will you lose your paintings when the warm sea envelops your house? Welcome to literally any iteration of your future. Being a middle manager in a bank won’t change anything.
Obviously this comes from a position of extraordinary fortune. Capitalism will likely last a few more decades as we slowly boil to death in our ozone prison. But this impending reality put me squarely on Team Dream-Following if possible.
Every year hundreds of people write an article about how their Atar ultimately meant nothing. Changing careers is common, even expected. High school students are criticized by well-meaning adults who remind them that what happens now doesn’t matter, there are so many paths, they don’t have to decide everything right now. I’m thinking even further than that. Your Atar doesn’t matter because climate change and deep recession are great equalizers.
Are VCE students reading Guardian Australia columnists in middle age? I do not know. But if you’re out there, heart pounding for the text message Monday will bring, let me say this: I hope the end of the world is your time to shine.