Friday 13th March 2020. I’m loving life at my Finder desk in the middle of Sydney’s gloriously sunny, bustling city centre. Life felt surreal with blue skies outside – us Sydneysiders had only recently muttered Thank God as the bushfires were finally put out in February. Our skies had been clear for just a matter of weeks.
… Those flames burned strong for months, with no sign of remorse. Some days the smoke had seeped in through our double-glazed windows on the 11th floor. The city often became enveloped in haze, choking me as I walked to work. Black Summer battered Australia physically, mentally and financially.
That Friday a fresh kind of issue was afoot; Covid-19 was beginning to take hold in Australia. News broke that we were to be sent to ‘work from home’ for the ‘next three weeks’. 21 days felt like a lifetime at that point. Us Finder’s loved our job, our office, our crew. We didn’t wanna leave!
While I inwardly huffed at the thought of not knowing when I would see my crew again; I knew I had to look at the bigger picture. Our Founder’s were doing the right thing. I respected their decision and said ‘’See you soon’’, feeling like it was the last day of school. How would this pan out? Nobody could guess.
One foot in front of the other, I took my usual train-then-bus back home to Bondi.
Luckily for Finder – we were already working under ‘flexi-time’. If we wanted to work from home; we could. It was normal for most of the crew to take one (or two) days a week to concentrate on projects from the comfort of their sofa/ kitchen table / garden or somewhere outdoorsy with wifi. Missing that inner-city commute was good for the soul. Hitting the beach earlier on a Friday was a jackpot way to close your week off!
My first few weeks working from home became an unsettled blur. I remember worrying about ‘’my commute time from the bathroom to my desk’’. That thought crossed my mind as I looked at my phone knowing ‘’I’ve got 9 minutes to make it’’. I caught myself thinking how bizarre that commute-query was! … I found it hard to be chill about the situation. Everything was magnified.
I tried my best to make the most of my ‘’new life’’. I slipped into my WFH routine and threw myself into my work. I split my time between working from my kitchen, bedroom or balcony. I knew I was so lucky to have a balcony!
My housemate came in one day explaining he had (kindly) started to ration food for us. That was a turning point when things started to feel more real. Was there any need for that? Turned out; Yes!. Bondi is a small-seaside slice of heaven, with crammed shops mainly catering for essentials. Shelves were soon being emptied every day. You wanted something? You better hope luck was on your side! Pasta was gold-dust in our Bondi Bubble. You may have spotted the crazy scenes of Aussie’s fighting over loo-roll in Woolworths? Australia started to get out of hand pretty quick!
As things escalated around Sydney and the globe, I felt like (part of) my own little Lain’s World was caving in. Everything felt like it was shrinking, as though physical pressure was building around me, encasing me in the unknown. Leaving the house felt sketchy. Where could I go safely? Was it really that bad? Could I talk to anyone? What were the rules again?!
My housemate and I shared our apartment but rarely crossed paths, so I spent most of my time alone. Our other housemate was stuck in New Zealand. She had gone to visit her family before lockdown kicked in. I considered her lucky to be there at that point. I felt that if you needed to be anywhere; it was with family right now.
Every day I reminded myself how lucky I was to have my job, how lucky I was to have my health. None of my family or friends were ill. I counted everything I was grateful for, every night before bed, and every morning as I woke up. I spent a lot of time drumming positive thoughts into my mind and went deeper into reading and self-development training online.
As those initial three weeks turned into six; my fear of being ‘stuck’ in Sydney grew on the daily. Of course – being stranded in Sydney doesn’t sound so bad, right? But the fact was; all my six years of being away I always knew I could ‘’be home within 24hrs’’ if I needed to be. It’s part of a travel / living abroad mindset. You always know you might take a phone call in the middle of the night that needs you to be on the next flight out. Flying was my safety blanket.
The UK and Australian Government were calling all ‘non-permanent residents’ to return home on the earliest flights possible. They advised this from the beginning of Covid-19 activity in Australia. Thousands of people did as they were told. Many dropped everything and left Sydney in a frenzy, somehow managing to pay $10,000 for one-way tickets outta there. It was madness. Backpackers are a major lifeblood of Bondi – it very quickly became a ghost town.
My PR application was in process and my current visa was valid until February 2021 – I felt I was safe. As time went on, I realised I was pushing it. How could I ignore the advice of the Government?
There are various reasons (and people) involved with the truth behind why I left Sydney. But the final straw was the stark reality of less-and-less flights being available. Around that six week mark I started to monitor flights and realised I was living a risky game if I decided to stay, with no end of Covid insight.
The thought of flights being completely grounded was not something I could live with. As I write this I still have a handful of really close friends in Sydney and of course, they saw things differently and decided to ride it out. I completely respect, support (and miss!) my friends who are still there. But for me; I had to do what felt instinctively right. I knew I had to come home.
I’ve had many people question my reasons for leaving. Some have been baffled ‘but you loved Bondi so much’. Honestly – the only way you could ever understand the feeling of being alone 11,000 miles away from those you love is if you lived it. I’ll never quite get my head around it either!
How does it feel?
Since landing back into the UK in early May, I’ve lived through so many waves of emotions. Elation at being able to see loved ones face-to-face. Joy in being reunited with those I hadn’t seen for 6+ years. Worry if my job would be affected. Fear in-case I had made a mistake in leaving. Grateful for all the awesome moments I’ve shared with someone special. The emotional-rollercoaster list goes on.
Every time doubt creeps in; I remind myself I did the right thing. I always say ‘’If you’re not sure what to do; do the right thing’’. The Government(s) were telling me to leave. The flight issue was real. I don’t regret leaving but I do plan to return to Australia when able. It is impossible to make plans right now but I hope to get back at some point in 2021, all being well.
A new meaning to ‘Working from home’
My routine since being back sees me working from (my actual) home in Pembroke, West Wales. I wake at 530am for a 6am start. My meetings are held first thing, as this coincides with my Sydney team closing their day; my 6am is their 3pm. I work in the morning, then have the afternoon to myself. I run, go horse riding, spend time with my family and do ‘normal things’ like exploring local beaches I haven’t stepped foot on in 16 years.
Then I work again at night sometimes finishing around 1am depending on my meetings (my late-night is Sydney early morning).
It took a few rough weeks to shake jet-lag but I’ve been back four months now and I’ve definitely cracked it. Jet-lag is a mean business! I have no idea how celebrities handle it on tour.
What I miss
– My 6am Bondi-to-Bronte coast path runs. I go running here after work and while I am grateful to have access to so many amazing beaches in Pembrokeshire – there is no beating stepping out of your apartment to Bondi in full view.
– Acai bowls – not a thing here! If any local businesses start doing them; please let me know kids!
– My yoga studio – I found yoga a few weeks before lockdown kicked in and felt I had opened up a new way of existing. It opened my body, mind and soul to new feelings, new ways of operating. I do yoga at home now and while it definitely feels good, there is no comparison to the Power Living studio in Bondi Beach. It’s a magic place! Every session left me feeling light as a feather in the wind.
– My office and crew – I am super-blessed to be able to keep working with Finder from across the globe. I miss everyone in person, I’ll never not miss having face-to-face time with my team. I miss sitting amongst them and learning from all the chat going on around me. I often remind myself how lucky I am to still be a part of the crew from all this way-away.
I am writing my book! I’ve given myself until the end of the year to produce something I am truly happy with to pitch to agents. I’ve been researching and reading to get a feel for what I think will help me ‘find my voice’.
The thing is; I am sure I already found it – I just need to write what feels most natural to me. While I can take technical notes and style guides from others; it needs to be my story at the end of the day, or it won’t work. I have toyed with making it more of a ‘story’ but I keep coming back to relaying the true events I experienced, as that’s what I know. The creative process is a gift, I will do my best and get it done. Thank you for all your interest and support on this. Watch this space!
I am based near my family in Pembroke and will be here for the foreseeable. My Aussie visa is still in process; no idea when this will come through. It’s a waiting game but hopefully it will all work out and give me that golden ticket to travel to Sydney freely.
My Mum, Stepdad and two little sisters are living out lockdown in Singapore. Not seeing them, or knowing when we will reunite, is hard but we keep positive and always focus on the good times ahead. They have an amazing life in Singers. And most essentially; they are all together – I know they are ok.
It’s my 35th birthday next Wednesday 26th August. I am pretty sure it’s the first one I have spent at home since my 21st. I left home for Uni in 2004 and this is the first time I have been back to live since then. What a journey it’s been!
Part of me still can’t believe I am here typing this (with the typical-Welsh rain beating down outside) right now!!
I’ll post again before Wednesday with lessons, learnings and some of the best things I’ve done so far on this planet.
Of course, there is more to the snippet above – but I’ll be saving the finer details for my book! 😉
Thanks to my family for welcoming me back! Thanks to Finder for keeping my Rocket Ship dreams alive!
Thank you for reading. I hope you are keeping positive and busy as can be wherever you are.