Stop, take a breath and celebrate your achievements

If you think about it, people are achieving all time the time. They are just not always achieving ‘what they set their minds to’. This is so me! Go on and do this, then that, achieve! Achieve! Achieve! That is all I ever think. How about taking a second to just celebrate what I have already achieved? My greatest weakness is the inability to celebrate. When I obtained my honours degree, acing my mini-dissertation which has inspired my forthcoming journal paper, I could not celebrate. It felt like a very small achievement. I thought to myself, almost everyone has an honours degree these days, probably with a distinction too. I felt I needed to achieve more before I could pop a Champagne cork, pat myself at the back and celebrate.

I went on to register for my Master of Arts shortly after that. Get this, I aced my dissertation with a distinction. I do not want to give the impression that I cruised through the whole process, I would be lying. It was never a smooth ride. I spent sleepless nights in my supervisor’s office and the days in the library. I had moments of self-doubt, and emotional breakdowns. When I finally got my results that I had worked so hard towards, I still felt somewhat unfulfilled. I had the same feeling I got when I obtain my Honours. And I still could not celebrate.

My inability to celebrate has to do with my inability to acknowledge myself as a hard-working, persevering and determined student. Before I even graduated with my MA I got myself a job as a part-time lecturer at a university. Exciting, right? Given the state of the economy in the country currently, I should be celebrating, but oh boy, I am thinking about a permanent post. I keep telling myself that maybe my 5th journal paper, a PhD, NFR rating and a permanent job will be fulfilling and worth a celebration. Chances are when I do get all these, I will have my sights on something more. Perhaps, a professorship and being a head of a division or department at university perhaps.

The truth is I know for a fact I have achieved so much. However, because of the pictures I have created in my mind of what success is, I am unable to celebrate my actual milestone successes. Now I wonder, is that all there is to life? Is this an academic’s whole life? I can literally feel all the other aspects of my life suffering because of my inability to celebrate my successes which fuels the need to do more, cutting off the rest of my life. To do more in just one aspect – professional growth, while all the other aspects are suffering. Our lives are made up of bits and pieces, building blocks and these needs a proper balance.

I hope I do not become unfulfilled and depressed with a PhD, a permanent academic job and NRF rating. Really! I need to stop, take a deep breath, look where I came from and give myself a pat on the shoulders and, yes, a round of applause and perhaps even whisper into my own ears that, I am, as the urban youth would say “GOAT”- Greatest of All Time.

Post-submission question marks

Question mark made of puzzle pieces | A big question mark ma… | Flickr

A few months ago, and upon submitting my PhD thesis in anthropology, I started hunting for jobs. More accurately, I took a breather before I actually sat down in front of my laptop again with that intention. Letting go of my thesis before taking that step had been an entire process in itself. It meant breaking up with an entire period of being engulfed in writing, living and breathing my subject.

Finding work is not an easy task in these times, as anyone might be able to imagine. Even without Corona – how does one figure out what to do after their postgraduate degree? What am I actually qualified to do and what is it that I want to do? I found myself staring at my screen that was, for the first time in months, not cluttered with open taps and documents, and watched the cursor hovering over an open Google page. It quickly became clear that it was crucial to finally grapple with these questions in order to figure out which platforms would be useful. One may think that I had had plenty of time to figure this out. I’m in my early 30s and have studied in my field for quite some time now. There is often the assumption that starting a postdoc is a decision to commit to academia – for better or worse, until… but does it have to be? – I asked myself. Especially at this juncture, I was harbouring ambiguous feelings about academia, its brand of competitiveness and politics of knowledge production. If ever the was a time to question the assumption of academia and I being an item, it was now. I also had to ponder whether I would be staying on in South Africa. I have been here for 10 years, but am still on a study visa, which makes it difficult to find work. And if I decided to go elsewhere, where would that be, and would my partner be able to find work there?

So what might I do outside of academia? This is by no means an obvious question to answer. Throughout my studies, I remember being repeatedly told that you can do ‘pretty much anything’ with an anthropology degree. This means that anthropologists could be desirable in all kinds of projects that involve a qualitative evaluation of human behaviour in a certain context. But what exactly are these and how do I find them? My previous work in research had sort of just ‘happened’ after replying to an email circulated at the department. Admittedly, I felt a little lost and left alone, especially given the lockdown situation and with campus and its career facilities not being physically accessible. And for an email, my questions seemed too broad and yet too discipline-specific to be directed that way.

After a lot of unfocused googling for keywords like ‘anthropology jobs’ and ‘researcher’, I gravitated towards looking at postdoc positions. At least they would answer the ‘where’ question for me. Also, I love doing extended fieldwork and enjoy analysing and writing. So it could not be that wrong of a choice, I mused. Besides, how sure is anyone ever about what they really want? There seem to be many and, at the same time, very few choices online. Or few that are a good fit and that may be an actual possibility with ongoing global immobilities. Currently, I am still in the process of combing the internet with this somewhat narrower approach but am much more enthusiastic about it. I will keep you in the loop about how it goes.