One of my biggest fears is not having my life go according to plan, or at least ending up with a future that does not correspond with the blood, sweat, and tears that I put into the years leading up to it. This is especially true for my career journey, which is quite funny because when I was younger, I never really had a set plan of what I wanted to be and the things I would need to get me there. In fact, it is only recently I started to find my way around this “career” thing and started establishing career objectives, and strategizing on how I will achieve these goals.
Like any other young and naïve teenager, I had this elaborate idea in my head of how my storyline would go – I would complete my undergraduate degree at WITS, get an apartment with a friend in Sandton because I would be able to afford it with my decent salary (this is my first job fresh out of varsity by the way), work my way up through the company I was employed at, complete my postgraduate degree somewhere in between, hold a managerial position by the age of 26, put down a deposit for my multi-million rand dream car, get the big promotion to director of my department by the age of 30, buy my dream house, and start a family. Funny right?
Well luckily for me, I was able to bag the degree at WITS, get an apartment with my friend (unfortunately not in Sandton, but you could see the iconic skyscraper glass and chrome buildings from our apartment… close enough!), and complete my postgraduate studies. However, it did not happen as seamlessly as I make it sound, and that ‘fresh out of varsity’ decent paying job never happened. Instead, an unexpected gap year (or rather a much-needed hiatus) was taken, and the horror that is COVID-19 hit in the first semester of completing my postgraduate diploma at the Wits Business School in 2020, fundamentally transforming life as we knew it.
The pandemic had an impact on us all, whether it was the trauma from the loss of loved ones or the spontaneity of turning your living room into an office but for me, the biggest impact was the shift from traditional employment to embracing the new world of work. Reading my storyline, it is easy to pin-point that I wish to follow the traditional career path characterised by a high salary, big office, and an impressive title – accompanied by flexibility, a generous vacation package, rich training programs, commitment to social responsibility, and independence. However, through the mentorship sessions with my mentor and the reality that the death of permanent employment is nearing, I realised that I need to edit my storyline and fast!
Being the perfectionist that I am, it is very difficult for me to let go of this fixed idea of my life that I have mapped out. The thought of not having a fixed salary every month makes me just as nervous as having to rule out the possibility of holding that executive position that I dream of. I think that it is important to highlight the fact that the concept of the traditional career path is something that has been engraved in us for many years. In fact, talks of traveling the world and discovering what life has to offer as a potential line of work would have you kicked out of the house from the word go. But I cannot ignore the freedom and independence that is found in following an unconventional career path.
My mentor recommended Ted Talk’s Daily podcast, specifically the ‘“Squiggly” careers and the end of the traditional path’ episode as inspiration for writing this article and it really forced me to put things into perspective. Hosts Sarah Ellis and Helen Tupper, talk about how the famous career ladder limits learning and opportunity – the ladder only goes in one direction, and you can only take one step at a time. Moreover, progression is purely defined by promotion which essentially means we miss out on all the other opportunities around us because we have our eyes on the top of that ladder only. Being a free spirit at heart who values continuous learning and development opportunities within the workplace, their message strongly resonated with me.
The idea of committing myself to this linear way of life where the only opportunities I must avail myself to are ones that will guarantee my career advancement does not sound ideal to me. After doing some serious self-introspection, I realise that the fact that I have a storyline is limiting in itself. How could I possibly know what my future will pan out like? Do not get me wrong, I do believe in setting goals and having a clear vision for your life but people change and they evolve, and by allowing your dreams and aspirations to control your destiny, you are essentially hindering your evolution.
So, to the people out there who share my dilemma, here is something that my friend, Tholithemba Mazibuko told which really stuck with me: “it’s important to honour the fact that because life isn’t predictable, a future that doesn’t correspond to your plans could be even better than the future you were trying to plan for.”
Pati Kwakwa is a Bachelor of Arts undergraduate and Business Management postgraduate who currently serves as the Research and Content Development Assistant Freelancer at Matoyana.