Friday, April 27, 2018

Happy 24th Birthday South Africa

I was entering my first, post-university, full-time job just after I turned 24. I was working and studying. It was a very challenging year. The first six months of my job, I had to balance irritating my boss by asking too many questions, with not knowing how to proceed. The big difference between the work world and university, is that the problems you are solving are often new. There isn't a textbook to work your way through. I used to console myself when I was studying something I didn't understand with the fact that I wasn't pushing the boundaries of human thought. Someone had done this before. Lots of people had done this before. I just had to wrestle with the ideas until they sunk in.

Before and after work, I was still in that world. I was doing professional exams which didn't have tutorials or lessons. Just a fat stack of information to work through, and then practice exams at the end. That suited me perfectly. I am a very slow learner. I am not one of those people who are quick on the uptake and full of confidence. I would get to the office early, and put an hour of study in before the day started. Then do another hour in the evening. I topped that up on the weekends. Chip. Chip. Chip. The wall of confusion would fall... I just had to push on. I am very stubborn... pushing on is something I knew how to do. Just do the time.

At work, I was still basically learning where the toilet was. The only thing I knew I was good at, was arranging 'Tea at Ten'. Going around to all the desks to convince people to take a brief break. Tea solves everything. It took time to get into the rhythm of sitting at a desk, working away at problems with the balancing act of 'wrestling with it yourself' vs 'asking for help'. Despite being full of ideas out of university, it was a lesson that the real world and books are very different.

Free South Africa turns 24 today. It is also chipping away at problems. Its leaders are also balancing looking at Best Practice around the world, with wrestling with the problems internally. Balancing problems that have been solved, with problems that are local to the area. Problems that are new. Balancing wanting to appear confident to impress people, with the deep confusion that is unavoidable if you want to understand anything deeply. Where questions are more valuable than answers.

The key is not to panic when problems seem insurmountable. Breathe. Drink tea. Then go back to your desk, and do the work. 

Happy 24th Birthday South Africa!

Previous Messages
Happy 21st (2015), Happy 22nd (2016), Happy 23rd (2017)

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