I made the jump. They say this is the hardest part.
I completed my PhD at the end of 2015 and then took 4 months off to travel and recuperate. I knew when I finally let that enormous document slide from hands that I was going to need an extended period of dedicated chilling. So I chilled in a dedicated way in Sri Lanka in two different yoga retreats and in Zanzibar, with a gin cocktail in hand and the azure ocean lapping at my feet. I planned my time from novels to yoga sessions, to beach walks, to reading more novels, to shopping for fresh produce in local markets and shooting the breeze with old folk on street corners. It was simply splendid. I arrived back in South Africa in time to graduate and move into a new flat in Durban with my partner who’s current job allows him to be flexible in terms of location.
The plan was to give myself an additional four months to start on a new career path. I boldly set out to find that post-PhD passion and stream of sustainable income. I was supposed to be crafting a clear vision of this whilst travelling but I think the heat in Sri Lanka and Zanzibar anaesthetised my brain (which is maybe why I chose those destinations in the first place). I know I do not want to be an academic, so, it was time to make something new of myself. I refreshed my CV, sharpened my pencil and subscribed to various online job sites. I began applying with confidence that a ‘Dr’ before my name was a pretty good selling point. I mean, I got skills right? Well, it may or may not come as a surprise to you but for the most part people were exceedingly unimpressed and uninterested in my education. What they wanted to know is – experience in this field?
‘Minimum of five years work-related experience’ was the monotonous mantra of rejection.
I went through innumerable confidence destroying moments over this period of chronic renunciation. I think the lowest point was ironically the only job offer I received: I was handpicked as a ‘perfect-fit employee’ for a second hand car sales job in Pinetown outside Durban; salary minimal, perks zero, focus on commissions. I mean, for fucksake, I studied history, literature and philosophy.
Thankfully, I have worked as a yoga instructor for quite some years now, and therefore, had something to keep my sanity in check. I had a handful of private classes with clients over the week that became bejewelled highlights of human contact and affirmation. I was useful to some people, and at least I had that.
At some point during this dark void of frustration and flagellation (that loomed over every minutae of my everyday life, just like my research and dissertation had done for 4 years prior), I came to the realisation that I never wanted to fill a conventional job profile in any case. If my ‘skills’ and title were to serve me in any way it should be to enable me to not have to have a ‘9 to 5’. But, it is very difficult to think of oneself as a cog in the economy, and not employed gainfully, whilst being in a city. All around people are humming to the rhythm of dedicated, energy-sapping, dependable weekly work life. I found myself restless and unable to think clearly about what was meaningful work for me and my unique career trajectory. My contemporaries and neighbours rushed to and from the office. They were taking out home loans, accumulating debt, debris and babies. I was standing in a courtyard in Vrksasana, saying quietly, ‘Why?’
So I made the leap – mental and physical. My partner and I boxed up our shit and put it in storage. We gave mountains of stuff away. We each packed our cars with exactly what we felt we really need. And we unclasped the city-chains.
I used Airbnb to find a month to month rental agreement for a log cabin in a forest. I have no washing machine or TV, I have to drive 30minutes to drop off my recycling, and amazingly, there is an organic vegetable farm 10 minutes down the road. There is internet and my office has the most dazzlingly wall of leaves and little sunbirds. I have so much more time. I cannot emphasise this enough. I have time. No one in a city has time. It so quiet here. And the air and water I imbibe is pure. I can breathe to my own rhythm. I think about things that feel grounded and valuable to what I envision as a developing career. My partner’s work takes him travelling frequently, but we have enough of a base to be returned to. I hope to move to another little cabin with a different vista when it feels right, but I want to take this space to breathe with me.
Join me for some treehouse yoga in the Karkloof forest if you are passing through!