What did you want to become when you were younger?
I remember how I ached to be a character in every fairy tale I’d ever read. I would imagine myself as Han’s Christian Andersen’s ‘Thumbelina’, Charles Perrault’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’, Dorothy from L. Frank Baum’s ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ and of course, The Grimm Brothers’ ‘Rapunzel’ or at least one of the dwarfs from Snow White (who are, in my opinion, more colorful than the main character herself).
It was only after my dreams had been shattered by some cynical old fart who took it upon himself to educate me on the implausibility of my imaginings, that I made the decision to settle for being a writer instead. That way, not only would I be able to create my own characters and watch them develop a life of their own, I would be guaranteed a sanctum from the challenges of everyday life. My animated imagination would remain intact. Now, imagine how naive I sounded when I relayed this to my mother.
Fast-forward a few years later, where having childish ambitions was and still is fiercely discouraged, especially in middle-class Soweto. I can still recall, vividly so, the disappointment on my mother’s face when I came back from school one day and told her I wanted to become a writer; and that I would study Journalism after matriculating. She had expected me to study accounting, or economics at the very least. Even my peers disapproved. The remarks I got varied from, “I’m not disputing the fact that you’re a good writer. But it’s virtually impossible to make a decent living out of it in this country”, to “You watch too many movies” (which, loosely translated, means, “The whites have managed to brainwash you in the worst possible way.”).
But being the tenacious teenager that I was, the skepticism only proved to be the necessary fuel to my fire, and I was even more adamant to realize my dream. The only support I received at the time came from my English teacher; who not only suggested I study Journalism, but that I get into the habit of reading and writing anything every day – which wasn’t a difficult task considering that my mother had laid the foundation when she encouraged me to read from an early age.
It wasn’t until I was 21 years old, finding it increasingly difficult to find and secure any job despite having a qualification that I began to regret my decision. Dreams were suddenly eclipsed by the need for survival. If I wasn’t rejected for being overqualified, it was because I lacked the necessary experience to land a job. The hardest part about it was running back to my mother feeling like a failure; having to ask her for money to buy toiletries or R12 airtime.
There were moments where she could barely conceal her irritation with me, and I waited for her to tell me “I told you so”; but she never did. I can’t tell you how often I said to myself, “Fuck it. I give up.” There were days where I felt so useless that I wanted to end my life because things just weren’t working out the way I assumed they would. I was unemployed and broke with nothing to hold on to but a “dream”.
Granted my life has improved substantially since then, and I am able to live my dream of writing while pursuing other endeavors, but I think it sucks how we’re forced to sacrifice a purpose we develop from childhood because the concept of bills that need to be paid is much more real and present.
As we approach the New Year, I implore you to pursue that goal that you’ve always wanted to accomplish. You don’t have to quit your current job and sell all your possessions (that’s a bit extreme for my liking in any case). All I’m saying is that you owe it to your younger self to do something that actually makes you feel whole, and not just in a material sense.
And when you do, I hope you experience a kind of happiness that you’ve never experienced before.