By: Thandeka Kathi
This year has taught me to keep my expectations in check. I am referring to expectations of myself and where I ought to be as a new member of the workforce, my expectations of others and their expectations of me (real or perceived).
As the first member of my family to attend an institute of higher learning, there are certain expectations that I placed upon myself, and that I felt others had of me.
This year I took a job that I probably should not have taken because I was scared of being unemployed after investing my family’s limited resources in six years of studying. Granted, the job spoke to my ideals of social justice and I was going to be working with an excellent team where I was set to learn a lot. However, as I soon learnt, there was no way I could realistically survive on that meagre salary in a big city like Johannesburg.
On the day of my departure, my brother came to me as I was packing my padkos and asked if I was sure about what I was doing. I had serious doubts but I was determined not to become “that girl” everyone in the community gossips about: the girl who attended an expensive predominantly “white” university instead of a free local Further Education and Training college, but still ended up without a job. Besides, everybody knows that no one says no to a job in this economy that has left 50% of the South African youth unemployed and with very little hope of getting a job, decent or otherwise. So, I set out to go to the city of gold — or the city of gold dust as I was about to learn.
A month into the job, reality came down on me like a ton of bricks on pay day. What I did not know was that transport was to take up to 35% of my salary and with the rest going towards rent, food and other expenses. This came as a shock to me. The university I attended was in a small town and we walked everywhere. Having to take four taxis to and from work daily was not only a hindrance to my shrinking income, but meant that I spent most of my time travelling and hardly had any time for socialising.
Most of my friends had graduated before me, because my degree was five years and I also did an honours degree. Some were originally from Johannesburg and others had moved up to Johannesburg for work. My moving up to Johannesburg meant that we would finally spend quality time together. Social media and instant messaging cannot replace one-on-one human contact. I imagined catching up over drinks after work like the characters in Sex and the City.
In hindsight, this was an unrealistic expectation on my part. I was lucky if I saw my friends once a month because everyone was extremely busy. Going out was also very expensive especially for a girl who was already spending 35% of her salary on transport alone. I was working but I still called home to ask for money at the end of the month; a night out with friends in Rosebank mall after work turned out to be a dream.
Needless to say, I spent most of my time in Johannesburg alone, watching series and reading books. It was a very difficult time in my life. I was extremely homesick, lonely and broke.
I do not like to dwell in ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ but had I known then what I know now, I would have done a few things differently.
I do not regret taking the job because I learned a lot. But for the salary I was earning, I should have sought a similar job in a smaller town. As a newcomer to the city, I could have met new people through volunteering or by becoming a member of a church or walking club; anything to get out of the house. Human beings are relational creatures and too much solitude is not a good thing.
All in all, I am older and wiser and have learned to lower the ridiculous expectations I had placed on myself and others. It is important to have these conversations about early-career disappointments so that those who come after us are able to make more informed choices, or at the very least to have measured expectations that won’t lead to depressive moments.
Hopefully, within a few years, I will be able to discover the joys of big city living and have those night outs with friends where we toast to being young and fabulous in Johannesburg!
*Thandeka Kathi is a cool, calm and collected LLB graduate. She is a fanatic Arsenal Football Club supporter, who dreams of saving the world one bad hair day at a time.