Lindiwe Mazibuko: So long, and thanks for all the fish

2014-05-18 15:00

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The decision to take a break from my political career just as it was gaining momentum was a counterintuitive one.

The prevailing thinking tends to be that if you are a “rising star” in an organisation, you are in an advantageous position that should not be put at risk under any circumstances.

While there is logic in this thinking, the speed of my rise in politics was a factor that drove me to consider taking time out this year.

My political journey in the DA has been fast-moving ever since I joined the party’s ranks seven years ago as a parliamentary researcher.

As a growing, modern and increasingly diverse political party, the DA is an organisation that offers a number of exciting opportunities for the advancement of young leaders.

When considering the opportunities available to me, my motivation has always been to ensure I pursue only those in which I can make a compelling alternative offer, or add value in my new role.

But being passionate about one’s vocation isn’t only about the opportunities you take up?–?it is also about knowing when it is right to turn down some opportunities.

Good leadership is about knowing yourself and your capabilities and being willing to walk away from a promotion or advancement that is simply not right for you.

Reflection is also important in any career?–?particularly in the public service. All leaders should take time for introspection.

When I did just that towards the end of my first term as the DA’s parliamentary leader, I considered the speed and trajectory of my progression through the ranks of the party and whether this might be a good time for me to take a hiatus from politics.

I have a personal vision, aligned with the fundamental vision and principles of the DA, to form part of the first opposition government that will lead our country in a direction that truly fulfils its potential.

I believe that enriching my knowledge and reflecting on my experiences thus far will enable me to better fulfil this ambition.

Given the complexities of a decision like this, I understood the importance of having close friends, colleagues and loved ones in whom I could confide.

This is my first piece of advice for anybody considering taking a mid-career hiatus to study abroad: discuss your options with as many trusted people as you can. Include those who are prepared to argue that it might be a bad idea to leave.

The more views there are on the table, the better able you will be to make a decision.

Talk to a mentor or colleague at work about your career goals and whether taking a study break will benefit you. Discuss your options with friends and family. Contact a financial adviser and talk through how a sabbatical might affect your financial commitments at home.

And if you know or are aware of someone who has taken a study break or attended a university you are considering applying to, reach out to them and take their advice. This is not a decision you can make without talking it through?–?its impact and consequences may be far reaching.

My second piece of advice might seem to contradict the first, but it does not:?investigate your options early and apply for a place at your preferred institution as soon as possible. Make sure you choose an environment that will test your abilities.

World-class universities are extremely oversubscribed and competition is fierce. This can make the process of applying an intimidating one.

Women can be particularly susceptible to the notion that we are “not good enough” to take up a place at a renowned international university. There are many social cues that discourage us from seeking personal and professional advancement.

Let the admissions officers decide if you are good enough. Only once you know what your options are can you make an informed decision about your future.

My last and most important piece of advice is this: after all the enquiries, consultations and applications?–?once you have been accepted to your institution of choice and it is clear you will have the means to pursue an academic hiatus?–?remember that the final decision about whether to go is yours and yours alone.

Only you can decide whether this positive disruption of your life and your career is worthwhile.

If you make the decision to take a break, you may encounter negative feedback from some and bemusement from others who believe you are taking a very big risk.

You are taking a risk but in the end, only you can calculate whether it is worth taking for your personal growth and development. Do not entertain those who project their own interpretations on to why you are taking an academic sabbatical.

Hopefully, the vast majority of feedback will be from those who encourage and support your decision and wish you well in your endeavours?–?this has been my experience.

After that, all that remains is to pack up, embark on this great adventure and look forward to coming back home enriched by your experiences abroad and ready to take on greater challenges in your field.

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