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.

Jack/Jill of all trades, master of none. The modern-day dilemma.

I have been reading a book called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, written by Yuval Noah Harari. As the title suggests, the author paints a picture of typical human behaviour, skill, and intelligence through time. During the period in which humans were both predator and prey, an individual would have had to possess an incredible amount of knowledge and skill to survive. For example, they would have needed to know when and where the predators would hunt, what food was safe to eat, which medicines could be used to treat different ailments, and have a strong understanding of climate, this was a period in which humans were highly intelligent, a requirement for survival.

By comparison, the modern-day man or woman is very different. We do not need to have a strong all-round understanding of every aspect of life. Rather, our survival depends more on being an expert in the area of specialisation that we choose. In modern times, we could equate our occupation as a form of survival. Almost every high paying job advertisement requires a level of specialisation and field-related experience.

A ‘Jack/Jill of all trades, master of none’ is somewhat of a dilemma in modern day life. This person is a generalist rather than a specialist, a competent individual but no expert. But how does an individual become a specialist?

Traditional high school education systems are tailored for the mass population and provide a broad understanding of wide-ranging subjects. Little specialisation takes place in a group of 30 people who are spoon fed the repetitive content. For those who are successful, this may provide the opportunity to enter university or technical institutions where skills and true expertise come later and are hard earned. In essence, the educational systems are gearing up individuals with the skills necessary for specialisation, foremost – the ability to learn how to learn.

Those who eventually specialise find in themselves the tools to facilitate their own specialisation. Hard work, determination, patience, and genuine curiosity are some of the many tools and qualities needed. In modern day life, careers and job opportunities are also extremely dynamic, changing rapidly, those who succeed can adapt and grow accordingly.

The shortened version, put simply ‘a Jack/Jill of all trades’ without the ‘master of none’ part is often seen as a compliment for a person who is good at problem solving and has a strong foundation of knowledge. You may be thinking, I am probably a Jack/Jill, perhaps that makes you a master in your own right. A master of integration, as those in the past needed to be in order to survive.

In a world in which an individual with one strong skill can create an unimaginable amount of success and wealth, the understanding of your own true ability and skill become more important. All fingers point towards yourself, you need to look inward to become a true master.