I can’t lie – showing up is hard. Most quotes to do with success have the same thread running throughout – to achieve your goals, being consistent is the best thing you can do. This applies across the board, regardless of what field you’re in. As a postgraduate researcher, this is the lesson that heavily underpins the degrees we pursue. Getting your Masters or PhD has less to do with whether you are the smartest in the room and far more to do with whether you embody the characteristics of perseverance, diligence and consistency in finishing what needs to be done (among other attributes). It seems pretty straightforward, right? Except anyone who is a researcher will tell you that it is never a linear journey, but the little progress that you make every day could look like this:

In my vlog, I only show the aesthetic parts of what makes up a day in my life.

Although I take everyone through my typical day as a postgrad researcher, there are still some ups and downs. Sometimes, I wake up at 8 am, and other times I wake up at 11 am (depending on my sleeping schedule). Some days I do my entire morning routine, and other days just brushing my teeth and moisturizing is all I can muster.

The full breakfast or fruit and coffee on the go.

Productive writing session or procrastination station.

Feelings of joy or feelings of being overwhelmed and frustrated.

Viewing the ‘bad’ days as an indicator of where we will end up only sets us up for failure, as there is nothing inherently wrong with them. It is part of our inch-by-inch work to strive towards the future. But on a larger scale, there are still some challenges. A quantitative research article by Boone, Vander Elst, Vandenbroeck and Godderis (2022) cites a high workload, work-life interference, continuous publication pressure and job insecurity as the main reasons young researchers reach burnout quickly. Although the study was conducted in Finland, within our context in South Africa, I can say through anecdotal experience that young researchers are struggling to find balance with the demands and pressure of being in academia, on top of other socio-economic related issues that pertain to being a young person in Africa. What will it take for things to change?

On the one hand, pursuing postgraduate studies is a highly privileged position. Yet, on the other hand, there are unique challenges prevalent in academia that rely on overworking young researchers. But unfortunately, this article alone cannot posit the solutions to these more significant structural problems. A beautiful tweet from 2016 by singer Mitski captures my everyday approach to research life:

Being radical in choosing to rest amongst the productivity-industrial complex is essential and part of why it is necessary to be vigilant in protecting one’s peace of mind. This is especially true when trying to carve out a somewhat impossible nexus between progressive politics and wanting a successful career.  The prolific black feminist writer audre lorde said in her essay Uses of Anger in Sister Outsider:

“…change is not just about a simple switch of positions or temporary lessening of tensions, nor the ability to smile or feel good… (it is) a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives.”

The visceral humility required to show up authentically in our everyday lives requires us to remove the ego in our everyday decisions. As I enter the second year of my PhD, I choose to remember the value of choosing radical peace amongst the chaos of academia.

While in the pursuit of excellence, we deserve joy.

3 thoughts on “The Visceral Humility of Showing Up

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