discomfort zone

Regardless of how educated or qualified they may be, working holiday makers are often left with little choice but to take on a relatively thankless, low-paying job, be it fruit-picking, waiting tables, washing dishes, cleaning hostels or WWOOFing.

But as with anything in life, there’s always a glass-half-full option.

A lot of travel paraphernalia encourages you to ‘step out of comfort zone’, usually by bungee jumping, climbing something or eating an exotic animal. There aren’t too many motivational posters or high-energy videos highlighting the thrill that accompanies taking on a low-paying, menial job for which you feel unsuited and over-qualified. But perhaps there should be.

I think back to my own experience on a work visa in England, having just completed a degree in cinema studies in Melbourne. After years of analysing cinematic conventions, I somehow found myself in the London winter, cleaning up construction sites. It was dirty, repetitive, back-breaking, and often degrading work. And it was cold. There wasn’t a day that I didn’t ask myself “What the hell am I doing?”

But I wouldn’t change it for anything. Yes, it was unsatisfying, but it wasn’t unrewarding. It was a genuine cultural experience. I spent time in another world: a world of illegal labourers, eccentric sparkies, wise-cracking chippies, arrogant site managers and lax OH&S laws. It was a world with its own codes, conventions, routines, and scams. And it was a world far removed from the eastern suburbs of Melbourne and anything I could call my “comfort zone”.

One positive of Working Holiday visa restrictions is that it can lead you into areas that you wouldn’t normally venture on your own volition.

For most, holiday work is just a means to an end anyway. It’s rarely part of a specialist career path. As such, it’s the perfect opportunity to try something different; something you may not be comfortable with.

The beauty of work that you may not be passionate about, or qualified in, is that it’s easier to walk away if it’s not working out. In this respect, you actually have more freedom and more control than for a job in which you’re emotionally and professionally invested.

Studies have highlighted all the benefits of stepping outside your comfort zone in the workforce. It builds resilience to difficult situations in other areas of life, it can uncover previously hidden talents (and weaknesses) and it can also force you to develop creative thinking. Not to mention the incredible sense of relief when it’s all over.

And heck, you’re in another part of the world – if you humiliate yourself, fail or get fired, who’s going to know?

So arriving in Australia with a degree in forensic psychology and then being faced with job pages offering fruit-picking, shelf-stacking or hole-digging may not necessarily be the end of the world.  It could just be an entree to another one. Embrace it.

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