Sibongile Mafu

Not all of us can take a gap year

2012-09-06 07:25

I’ve done everything by the book. I passed matric with acceptable marks. I went to university, and more importantly, I graduated. I found a 9 to 5. I am not a problem child and my parents are reasonably proud of my accomplishments and what I have managed to do with my life so far.

Pressure to perform

There has always been this will to fight to make your folks proud, particularly amongst black people. There is this dogged determination to do better than our parents did so that we can eventually reward them for the sacrifices they had to make when they raised us. A lot of young black people fully recognise the sheer amount of effort it took to raise us in difficult circumstances, so our parents deserve payback from our side.

All of this pressure we put on ourselves, whether conscious or unconscious, means a lot of studying and getting employed in the shortest time possible. You cannot be wasting your time taking gap years and teaching English in faraway lands. You go to school. You finish school. You work. And you do not dare stray from the plan.

I’ve had many conversations with my fellow 20-something friends and I find that ambition is something we loosely define as that stubborn search for economic prosperity and independence. And maybe happiness. Independence in this regard means both the ability to look after yourself as well as others. True success is measured and valued by how the rewards can be shared. Shared with THAT uncle, or THAT cousin you never speak to except at funerals and THAT aunt always looking for a kiss on the mouth or a loan.

All I want...

All I want for myself is a comfortable life where I don’t have to suffer and struggle like my parents did. This goal, more often than not, means I had to choose to take the safe and stable path in life. This is the path where failure and playing around is not an option. When I was in university, I would look around at many of my peers who could afford to fail. They were able to fail first year repeatedly and could afford to come back and try again the following year. This is, of course, a luxury that not many people have, and moving off course is unimaginable.

There is a plan and you stick to the plan. You’re given three or four years to do your degree, finish in that allotted time so that you can be employable and unburden your parents. There’s very little time to pause and assess what you truly want from life. In this frantic quest to get that qualification, equip ourselves with all these wonderful skills, how many young people can proudly proclaim that they haven’t cornered themselves into doing what they don’t want to do?

Sure, this is the time to make your mistakes, study the wrong degree, hate your job, because in all of this, you still have that gold dust called time on your side, time to correct it all and eventually find contentment. I have a group of friends who, like me, did the right things. They matriculated, got the degree, made their parents proud, but they did one thing differently. They decided to travel straight after they obtained their qualifications, and in their own words: “do odd jobs and see how it goes.”

It takes courage

But this was not part of the plan! How can they deviate? For a year now they have been drifters, their 9 to 5 is seeing the world.

They showed me that it is okay to feel your way through this part of life. Check that fear at the door, my dear! The plan is: there is no plan.

It does take a tremendous amount of courage to burn the blueprint of how many think your life should go and do it your way. You may starve for a while along the way, maybe find yourself knocking on a friend’s door to ask for a couch to sleep on and even end up living at home for a bit, but perhaps the rewards of giving yourself a chance to figure it all out are far greater than the feeling of getting your first salary.

Before brushing up that CV, spell-checking it the point where even Professor Jonathan Jansen would hire you, rather brush off the dust on that passport.

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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