For a while now my blog has only been about ‘professional’ things in my life: links and presentations related to education, current research and that kind of stuff. But in the beginning I had always intended to combine my ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ in the same place. I like to read about other people’s lives, not just their ‘work’. What do they think about children? spirituality? where do they go when they are scared? That stuff interests me much more than the stuff they publish. And so I think that documenting my own thoughts, beliefs, doubts, realisations and anxieties – that stuff is probably as central to my work as any academic argument that resonates with me. And all these things affect what I spend my time on. And I suppose that’s what life is; what we spend our time on.
So this is an attempt to try and bring back some of the personal into my largely ‘professionalised’ blog. I think one of the reasons why it morphed into a more work-life-only space was that I was thinking too much about who was reading my blog and whether deeply personal reflections were appropriate. So I’ve resolved that question by deciding that basically the only sustainable approach for me is to be able to bring all of who I am to whatever I’m doing. That means I can’t ring-fence my work and not talk about politics or social justice at the dinner table. It is a pet-peeve (read: serious fucking irritation) when people at dinner say things like “Can we move onto talking about something less intense?” FFS. This is when I take two deep breaths and usually make eye-contact with a close friend with a deadpan expression that broadly means “Why are we here?” or (more frequently) “Why did we invite this person to dinner?” Now, don’t get me wrong. I love banter and humor or lols as much as the next person, but when small-talk dominates the discussion I genuinely feel like I am wasting my whole life. I kid you not, some people can spend 45 minutes talking about whether one should put the fire-lighters on top of the charcoal or underneath the charcoal. I die.
Anyways, that’s all just a sidebar to say that I can’t dichotomise work and play easily. And I am actively moving in the other direction. I’ve been mulling over some life things for a while and thought I’d create a listicle (who doesn’t love a good listicle!). Some realisations or thoughts or rants or text on the page:
(1) I want to live my life more deliberately. I agree that sounds super corny and cheap but it’s in relation to a quote from Paul Kalanithi’s book:
“If the unexamined life was not worth living, was the unlived life worth examining?”
I’ve explained the whole realisation in a lot more detail here. But the essence is that we typically regret the things we didn’t do rather than those we did (duh!) and that doubt and fear kill many more dreams than failure or rejection do.
(2) I want to work with people I enjoy spending time with.
I’ve decided that I will make a conscious effort to find myself in situations where I get to work with people whose company I enjoy. I think I landed with my bum in the butter work-wise in that I get to do that pretty much every day. The people I work with at RESEP are such lovely mensches. And more recently I have started my own team of people at the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Endowment with our Funda Wande project (website imminent!). Essentially a multi-media course to teach Foundation Phase teachers how to teach reading. I get so much energy and inspiration from the people I work with and I want to find ways of making sure that we find time to laugh and joke even when things are tight and deadlines are looming. More on this in the future…
(3) There are lots of people talking-about-the-work and very few people doing-the-work. On the surface these two types of people look quite similar and play in similar spaces but in reality there is a huge chasm between the two. Cutting ribbons, giving talks, writing op-eds, making policies – essentially speaking about what needs to be done – are people I increasingly have less and less time for. This is not to say that just because people are ‘in the trenches’ that what they are doing is more important or more honorable or whatever. It’s more about whether or not people are actually tackling a particularly vexing issue or not. There is a big difference (which I am realising daily!) between saying “We need to develop benchmarks in African languages” and realising “This involves a lot of work, will cost a lot of money but it’s not something we can get around. For whatever reason no one is actually doing this. OK let’s get to work.” On this particular issue of benchmarks in African languages HERE is our first stab at this (paper to follow soon!).
(4) You have to create your own excitement. I think this is probably my biggest realisation and one that I keep coming back to. I have a tendency to fall into an external locus of control (“The belief that events in one’s life, whether good or bad, are caused by uncontrollable factors such as the environment, other people, or a higher power“). My knee-jerk reaction when things aren’t great in life is that this is because someone else has not done something they should have. lol. One of my favourite lines is “Just do your job.” Needless to say I loved the memes that were generated when Kim Davis (a county clerk in Kentucky) didn’t to do her job and defied the US Supreme Court in refusing to register gay marriages. It spawned a whole series of protests and memes with the hashtag #doyourjob and the like. Two of my favourites:
Anyways that’s a roundabout way of saying that I often find reasons outside of me, essentially, as to why things aren’t going well. And therefore the solution is that those things outside of me need to change before I can be happy again. This is obviously a really shitty life strategy. One of the perennial issues is excitement. Energy. Enthusiasm. Drive. Doing lots of work is easy when the fires are burning and the drive is there in full flow. The problem is when it goes, as it does. What do I do when I don’t actually want to jump out of bed and prepare for a presentation or write or read or talk or do anything that involves me getting out of bed? Sometimes I go to the beach for 2 days and do nothing but lie in the sun and listen to music. This is an extremely effective tonic. I usually get very bored of that and super excited about something I was working on and jump back into work. But what happens when that doesn’t work (or it’s winter!)? I’m still figuring this one out but I think the answer lies somewhere in the neighborhood of things like agency and being able to talk yourself out of moods or ruts, taking actions that you know will help (organise a dinner, see your therapist, encourage friends, do something you haven’t done before etc.), reflect. Be an adult. lol.
(5) The urgent and the important – make sure you find time for important stuff not just urgent stuff. This is a very new realisation. I think it dawned on me that I was mortgaging people for short-term deadlines. I know I am late to this party but I’m realising that deadlines never disappear they are only ever replaced by other deadlines. Maybe losing the joy of work is the canary in the cage. The first big warning sign that you need to take a step back and re-evaluate what’s happening in your life. And maybe that’s what this is; realising that I like the people in my life. I like the work I do. I like the country I live in. Life is good and I shouldn’t forget it. And no flurry of deadlines or seemingly urgent things should mess with that. That’s me for now.
I thoroughly enjoyed the personalized nature of this blog. Your authentic self just shone through. Also so many lol’s that I felt I could converse with post blog on. xx
Good morning Nic
I read your blog this morning and was somewhat surprised with all the ‘f….” words. For someone so eloquent and rarely at a loss for words, could we dispense with the loss of vocabulary and the ungrammatical fillers please?
Thanks Sihle – I’m glad you enjoyed it. And thanks Valma for writing a comment with your thoughts about how I should write in my blog. I’ve made a decision to include some personal posts where I write what I like, how I like. Without worrying if others will think it a ‘loss of vocabulary’ or ‘ungrammatical fillers.’ I know what register I am writing in when I write which is why you won’t see this kind of informal style reflected in my academic writing or even in most of my articles for the popular press. Before writing this blog post it crossed my mind that some people might be offended by it and have a lower opinion of me afterwards, and that’s OK. I made the decision to make my blog a reflection of both my personal and professional life and not to allow the opinions of others censor what I write or how I write it.