“If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it. If you don't ask, the answer is always no. If you don't step forward, you are always in the same place." -Nora Roberts. This is something I had to learn on my way to becoming a female academic. Fear of the unknown can often lead to two very different outcomes, either you can decide to not attempt because of fear of failure or you can leap, knock you head once or twice, trip over a few things and stumble across the finish line with stars in your eyes glistening with excitement. My journey entails a bit of both.
Once I completed my studies, I was still unsure of what I was supposed to do with my life. What I did know was that I was 26 years old, newly married with a completed master's degree in public administration. Life was good but the uncertainty of not knowing what direction I was to take in my career was daunting. I started thinking about what impact I would like to make with my life, what mattered to me most and who and what impacted my life in the most meaningful way. I then identified people who really left their mark in my life and often it was people who took on the role of mentorship investing their time and effort in bringing out the best in me. What stood out to me was their faith in my ability, the kindness in their tone, the understanding and in essence the way I felt when I left them, and I realized that was what I wanted to duplicate in my life.
The road leading up to me becoming an academic has not been a smooth one. At the age of 21 after completing my undergraduate degree, one of my professors recruited me to work as an intern at the School of Public Leadership and because we had a compulsory internship to do for my Honours Degree, I agreed. Once I had completed my honours degree, I was awarded a merit bursary to do my Masters degree and decided to continue studying. At this stage, I was no longer an intern but started a new responsibility as the Coordinator in Municipal Minimum Competency Levels Training Programme. I absolutely loved it but after a few years I needed change and searched for something that would make a bigger impact and give me the much needed job satisfaction I so deeply craved. I spent years trying to find “myself" going on several courses, teaching myself various skills and at one stage even convinced myself I should've gone to makeup school but not once did I consider academia.
As a young South African woman whose lecturers did not necessarily represent who I was, what I look like, talk like, or have similar life experiences I found it incredibly hard to relate. In my mind, in order to be an academic, you needed to have a very specific personality with very specific interests which was all great but definitely wasn't me. One day this all changed for me I attended a class of one of my female colleagues and I was in awe, she was so relatable to me, and I thought wow what an inspiration! She remained true to who she was, conveyed the information in a manner that stimulated enthusiasm and excitement and best of all, she represented who and what I was.
One day I remember waking up and could not think of anything else but that I aspired to be what I experienced the day before. I experienced excitement I had never experienced before with regards to direction in a career path. Hallelujah, at the ripe age of 32 years old it finally happened. Direction, oh and what a wonderful thing it was to have. Now I just needed to put in the work to make this my reality. I started paying closer attention to styles of teaching, research in the field and paid much closer attention to when people spoke about what was happening in the public sector and the like. I now knew what I wanted to do with my life and there was just no stopping me to get it. I then asked my director if I may attend the training courses on research, public speaking and writing because now that I have decided that I was going to be an academic I had to equip myself to become the best damn academic I could be.
The day finally came where there was a job opening for a “Junior Lecturer" in my department and to my surprise over 200 applications. Once again, I did research on possible interview questions, tapped into experiences of older academics, learned some new technological skills and applied for the job. I got shortlisted and went to the first round of interviews, I had to do a presentation which followed on a set of questions from whomever wanted to know something, similar to classroom style lecture. The second part of my interview included a panel from academics from all over the University including the Dean of our faculty. To my delight, after about 3 weeks of waiting I was informed that I got the job and my journey of becoming an academic was finally a reality.
Last week I celebrated my 1 year anniversary of being an academic and it is indeed everything I dreamed it would be. I am not saying it is always easy, because most of the time it's not, but even the hard times I welcome because I have never been this challenged, uncomfortable and at the same time excited before in my life and I realized this is what growth feels like. I am slowly becoming what I dreamed of and the impact I try and aim for is becoming my reality. Seeing the students' faces' light up when something finally makes sense or stimulating creative thoughts and ideas is something I cannot even explain. All I can say is dreams can come true, sometimes however you must fall and bump your head a few times to get there but one thing is for sure in the very wise words of Dory in the movie Finding Nemo, “just keep swimming" and you will get there.