Perfectly imperfect

Life is seldom perfect…this is something that I have come to realise, often the hard way. You seem I am somewhat of a perfectionist — don’t get me wrong, this has its benefits but perfectionism (albeit in my eyes- so this could be horribly different to that of someone else who may scoff at my work) and productivity are bitter rivals. They rage against one another. This can be a problem. But I recently read the words below and it got me thinking…On a side note anyone interested in biology should read The signature of all things, by Gilbert—yes she is the very same Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote Eat, Pray, Love; which no, I have not read but if this book is anything to go by I am sure it must somewhat live up to the hype.

In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, ” You must learn how to become a deeply disciplined half-ass . It starts by forgetting about perfect . We don’t have time for perfect. In any event , perfection is unachievable.It’s a myth and a trap and a hamster wheel that will run you to death.”

….I am in a critical stage of my PhD at the moment, the time during which my research proposal is scrutinised by supervisors and thesis committee alike—i.e., a fairly stressful time. I must also now mention that family issues have not made matters any easier but such is life and I am dealing with things as best I can. My way of dealing with things involves a whole lot of thinking, more thinking and thinking about thinking. Over the last few months I identified my problem as being one of agonising over the content of my work, so much so that I end up sabotaging myself because I continuously put myself in a situation where I procrastinate. Procrastination leads to time loss and then I am left with so much to do in a relatively short amount of time— that I inevitably fall short of what I set out to achieve anyways! Frustrating? YES!! Especially because I know what my problem is but I have not yet figured out how to solve it…..As is my MO, I went to trusty google to find a solution, or at the very least a starting point. My first port of call was the wonderfully written blog of Dr Inger Mewburn, who has, for the last 5 years, written a blog called “The Thesis Whisperer”. Seriously, any graduate student should have a squiz through here! There is bound to be something that catches your eye.  The first thing that caught my eye was her post on the “Top 5 PhD emotions”  and her 2nd point (quoted below) made me stop, YES, yes that is how I feel, “I’m not crazy?”. I often feel overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy,  convincing myself that I do not know enough to be successful in my chosen field (this can have its advantages IF you then read more of the literature), that I am out of my depth and that how can I possibly expect to do this PhD justice….apparently I am not alone. Which is a comfort! Thanks to this blog and to google I now know that I suffer from what is called, “Imposter Syndrome”. Not a real syndrome in the strict definition of the word, rather just a set of “symptoms”  describe a large subset of the graduate and academic student body.

2) Fear of being ‘found out’ as fraud, not really knowing enough/being smart enough to be Phd student (@orientalhotel)

Otherwise known as ‘the imposter syndrome’ (thanks @boredpostdoc) this is apparently common in PhD students. As well as possibly being related to self esteem and perfectionism, this emotion could be the by product of the nature of PhD study itself. As the old cliche goes: “The more you know, the more you know what you don’t know”.

The question now is on how to overcome this feeling, I found the following article really helpful (I am still attempting to put all of these tips into practice!); 21 ways to overcome Imposter syndrome.

So the moral of the story?…well at least the one that I have come to—stop trying to be perfect, or to do things “perfectly”. It does not exist and in most cases you simply end up wasting your time and often not writing that piece of work you wanted anyways (humph!). Perfection does not exist kids!, yip you read that right; some people may appear to be gods among mere mortals but even they are not perfect and do not produce perfect work. The important thing is to simply try your best, and yes, your best may not always be THE best, but as long as you work hard at you that is all you can expect. From now on I am going to do my best NOT to fall into the grips of that evil entity, procrastination because I feel inadequate. Also, I will do my best to just do me 🙂 Surely that must count for something, right?

Remember:

Imperfect, is sometimes perfectly perfect the way it is.

 

Why I am a proud student today

I have been glued to every social media outlet, news agency and person on the ground (Pontsho Pilane- @Pontsho_Pilane, 702 News- @Radio702) I could get my hands on this afternoon…I may not be actively protesting but I am invested in the outcome of this issue. What has struck me the most is the unity that students have shown—their extraordinary ability to come together for a common cause. This is no small feat. While a small group of people, whether they be SASCO, ANCYL or others students (ahem, TUT) went on a rampage, burning portable toilets, breaking fences and intimidating police the MAJORITY of the other student protestors were shouting at them to cease the violence. I saw hashtags on twitter of “#noPeaceNoProtest”, and this concurrently made me sad and very proud. Sad because it reinforces the fact that the minority who resort to violence belittle the struggle of the majority. Proud because I think there is little that is greater than witnessing unity, when collectively a group upholds what they stand for. We need more of this in South Africa. We need more of the majority weeding out the diseased minority. The minority who seem to, unfortunately have louder voices because let’s face it, violence incites a response. I hold a great deal of respect today for those who were not violent, to the leaders that helped make it so and contempt for the few that tried to ruin it all.

But my heart also aches for the students who had worked so hard for this cause, who have spent the better part of two weeks working towards this moment only to have some of their . Wits SRC, Shaeera Kalla (@Shaeera_k), Nompendulo Mkhatshwa (@Ulo_Mkat) you are the kind of leadership that we need more of. At the start of this movement I was unsure of where I stood, over the past two weeks I have begun to realise more and more the importance of these protests. I may have been on the sideline but what I think is just as important is what I wrote about at the start of this movement (SO much more than meets the eye…Wits student protests)—the goal of eliciting thinking, of winning over the hearts and minds of those who do not know where they stand, of those whose support you need and to those who are ignorant and maybe, just maybe even changing the minds of those who were bigoted, removing their blindfolds and allowing them to see more clearly what is actually happening out there. I have witnessed acts of compassion, support and comradery. University staff, outsiders, fellow students come together to show their support, to provide food and water and even lecture to those occupying Senate House (I do not quite understand the need to change the name….). At first I felt inconvenienced, at first I was angry and disappointed. Because I did not understand, not really. I forced myself to think about the issue. To ACTUALLY think, to debate with myself. Why is it that I feel the way I feel? I tackled with these thoughts since it all started. Slowly, my opinion and mind-set has changed. These actions are not only necessary, but they are vital to South Africa moving forward.

Today I am not inconvenienced, today I am not angry, today I understand, today I support and today I happily admit I was initially wrong. I was quick to judge without stopping to think about what this actually means. I was naïve about the way in which South Africa works, how people must struggle to get their voices heard and how even after all these years of democracy we are still not living in a free and equal society. Today I look up to the leaders of these protests, and admire their foresight. These protests have not been perfect, nor have they been without the nasty consequences of fighting against the system but if my thinking has been changed, is it not conceivable that others thinking has also changed? Even if only a slight bit. Issues breed contempt when they are unspoken, when they are feared and left to fester in the dark. In the light of day and discussion they will inevitably bring hurt as they are not easy to stomach. They are not pleasant and discussion will not be all unicorns and rainbows— but at the end of the day, when these issues are given the airtime they deserve there is a sense of ease that falls over all involved. You cannot expect issues to be resolved if they are left to fester. What happened today (excluding the violence of a few and the intimidation by others) at the Union Buildings in our Nation’s Capital is a huge step forward in solving this issue. President Zuma has stated that there will be a 0% fee increase. This is a victory for the students who have fought so hard. I do not yet know the extent to which the violence that followed from the small group of protestors has soured the actions of many today, but I can say that I am proud. I am proud that something that started on Wits campuses all those days ago has made such an impact nationally. This is not the end of the problems but rather the (potential) start of brighter days ahead. Of a government that is held accountable for their actions and who no longer is allowed to conduct their business without the mass scrutiny of their actions, of people who put them into power. I say well done and keep it up.

So much more than meets the eye…Wits student protests

The last two days have seen a great deal of tension, hurtful comments, misunderstanding, mistakes (on both “sides”) and general upheaval at the University of the Witwatersrand as a proportion of students protest against the (gigantic) 10.5% increase in tuition fees for the 2016 academic year. This has forced me to do a great deal of thinking- something I think is incredibly important. To blindly follow without consolidating your viewpoint is dangerous and simply breeds the kind of behaviour we have witnessed on campus the past two days. The “us” versus “them” mentality. I find this extraordinarily damaging and in no way conducive of a peaceful solution.

This situation has troubled me deeply and occupied all of my attention since it began. This protest has divided the campus, and students and staff have been forced to pigeon-hole themselves into one of two boxes. This is where things get hairy. Boxes are a dangerous thing. We have been given one of two boxes in which to jump…the first is a very sturdy box, good, strong walls and space to hold plenty- let’s call this the “pro” box. The other box is patched together, it is a little old and fraying and needs lots of duct tape- let’s call this the “nay” box. The pro box is filled with people who are actively involved in the protests while the nay box is populated by those who do not actively protest. Now you are probably asking—which is the “correct” box? The one that is strong and sturdy? the pro box or rather the box that has looked better. I think neither are “correct” and when I say “correct” I refer to the notion of holding only one viewpoint…but people are not so simple. We are complex, multi-faceted individuals and quite capable of holding two conflicting ideals simultaneously. What I mean by this is that while all those who are actively protesting believe in what they are doing, there is a portion of the community in that box who have taken things too far- violence, intimidation and the destruction of property. Is that not holding two ideals? While on the one hand they are raging against the system that is failing them, the system that will incidentally exclude some of them from attending Wits in 2016 as they cannot afford the steep fee increases—there are others, members of the pro box, who do not agree with this violence, merely the base ideals that formed the box in the first place. Now there is the nay box, It is weaker as the population within its confines are not nearly so united on their similarities. There are some in this box that throw around unnecessary, hurtful and demeaning comments. Those who will never know the struggles of those whom the pro box fights for. I would argue that these people have not thought deeply about the situation. They are naive and display one-dimensional thinking. These bigoted nays are as bad as the violent pros….they are who cause the most trouble. The more logical pros and nays are who need to enter into a discussion. These are the people that are capable of coming to an understanding. The problem is that the violent nays and pros have louder voices, they control the tempo of the interaction and they inadvertently affect their more rational counterparts in each box. A violent pro can transform a logical nay into a less humane version and vice versa. Human nature is where this demonstration fails. It fails to take into account that people are inherently different and that these differences therefore necessitate a variety of approaches. The same way as not all people learn the same way, not all people respond in the same way to public displays of disagreement. There has been rampant assumption that these calmer nays are all “privileged”, that they do not care to get involved, and that they do not stand firm with their fellow students who are actively protesting. This is why the nay box is weak. This is why boxes are a problem and why they always have been. Why the “us” versus “them” mentality is short-sighted and ultimately pointless. You see these people likely empathise with those who are striking, many of them also potentially at risk of exclusion but the difference is that they do not believe in this type of protest. Many of these nays likely battle with the idea that there must be a better way to go about this strike, that there is a more amicable outcome to be had by not bringing the campus to a standstill. Realistically though is there an alternative? Do the powers at be listen if you do not shout, if you do not become violent? South Africa has a history of protesting to bring about change, heck the world has a history of protesting to bring about change. It is never pretty, it is never entirely innocent (recall those violent pros) and it is never nice to witness. But is there another way? Would the powers that be listen to logical debate, have they listened o logical debate? I can not know and we will probably never know. Life is influenced by those who can shout loudly, those who inconvenience the progenitors. I wish for a protest that would discard violence, intimidation and destruction and rather for one that instead fosters communication, that promotes understanding. Violent messages are heard, but I do not know that they are held for as long as a less violent message would be. A message that calls on human sympathy, a message that tugs at one’s heart strings, one that sings true with the plight of those from whence it originates.

Have I been inconvenienced by these protests? Yes. have I been made to feel unsafe? Yes. Have I been the recipient of violence?….Yes. Has someone truly asked me where I stand…..NO.

Assumptions— evil little things if you ask me. They cause chaos where there might not have been any.

Respect one another’s differences, understand that people perceive the world around them differently and instead of forcing your opinion on them enter into a discussion where you are willing to LISTEN and to change. Be malleable in your ideals. Afterall how do you know that the idea upon which you first arrive is the best one?

I hope that there will be an end to the violence and intimidation. We are capable of all getting along. We are human and humans after all have conquered the planet not because of our intelligence but because of our unique ability to cooperate. Lets invest a little more into fostering that in these times.

Lessons from a 25 year old proto-adult (AKA a graduate student)

Today has inspired a great deal of thinking on my part…where I have come from (particularly the last 2/3 years of my life), my mistakes, my triumphs and most importantly the things that I have learnt along the way. I am far (super far ,like really, really far) from perfect but then again that begs the question…is anyone perfect? Life is one long learning experience, which in my opinion is the beauty of it. We are all continually growing and developing, and with this growth comes experience and perspective. Perspective is the key word here. Think back on your 5-year-younger self…or even your 1-year-younger self, there are probably many of us that would run out of fingers counting the number of things over which we’d kick/slap ourselves. I think perspective makes us wise, in the most personal sense of the word. It helps you learn more about yourself and the things you are good at and those you should probably think twice about.

Today, after many a month wait (for examiners to review my dissertation and uhm other “hassles”) I have officially submitted my dissertation and in the eyes of the university possess an MSc. Printing that document today (and fighting with the machine because it was being temperamental and maddeningly slow) and checking each page I came across the acknowledgements. Two things struck me- first: I was reminded of my favourite quote which sits proudly at the top of the page and second: some might be surprised by those who I acknowledged in it. You see life is complex, and along the way we lose people to change, change our relationships with some and develop stronger relationships with others. I do not regret a single one of these connections as each has influenced my life and in some way that I may not comprehend, turned me into the person I am today. I quite like the current me…

Lesson 1: Make mistakes and make them often. Weird huh? but how else will you learn? despite the difficulties I have gone through I would not wish them changed. Remember that key word? Yes, perspective 🙂

Lesson 2: Be yourself, unapologetically so (unless you know, you are a douchebag then try to work on that)

Lesson 3: Do something that you can do today, today, not tomorrow

Lesson 4: Be thrifty! (No one likes a leech- and after all who likes to be broke) AKA when you feel like a millionaire after that bi-yearly grant claim do not have spending habits that reflect that, as those other five months will be less than fun.

Lesson 5: Have fun! and don’t be serious all the time (Heard of work hard, play hard?). Let your hair down, dance like a fool and build up a collection of embarrassing (i.e. epic) stories.

Lesson 6: Accept that not everyone will like you (shock, yes not everyone will want to be around you, and that’s ok- there are others who will-find them!)

Lesson 7: Linked to L6- develop a thick skin (the hypothetical or emotional, not callusy kind). Everyone has bad days and sometimes that mean thing someone said/wrote is not how they actually feel.

Lesson 8: Keep your emotions/feelings in check (but don’t be a rock- refer to the conditions in L2)

Lesson 9: Always have dreams or goals and never think they are too big (unless you want to be a superhero, then Lesson 10 is for you)

Lesson 10: Be realistic about what you can and cannot do (i.e. do not overextend yourself but set little goals, achieve them step by step). As much as you want to have it all done now you cannot , BUT great things can arise from continuous accumulation of teeny-tiny steps.

Lesson 11: Learn about yourself! Yes odd as this may sound I think most people have not given themselves the time to explore what makes them tick. If this means seeing a psychologist to help you along then do that! (unfortunate stigma aside).

Lesson 12: Linked to L11- spend time with yourself and enjoy it! , only then can you truly appreciate the intricacies of amazing friendships.

Lesson 13: i.e. lesson 11.1- learn to love yourself

Lesson 14: Appreciate the small things- admire the leaves of the tree swaying in the wind, the birds chirping, the warmth of the sun (whatever floats your boat).

Lesson 15: learn to accept change and that not everything will always stay the same. Move on, continue growing and embrace it with open arms.

Lesson 16: Find those people who are special to you and who you will always treasure 🙂 but remember L6 and L8.

Lesson 17: Hold on to positive memories but don’t forget the negative ones. Sound similar? I don’t think so- What I mean is that you should cherish all the good memories and learn from the bad.

Lesson 18: Do not hold grudges (as easy as this is to do- and I am likely a slight hypocrite as I write this haha but continually learning remember, a work in progress).

Lesson 19: Remember to work on your obsession with even numbers and multiples and write a random “lesson” just to fill up the space to get to 20. Ah yes, an even number- perfection.

Lesson 20: “Have courage and be kind”

Lesson 20 means a lot to me, and if you are up on your recent disney movies you may recognise it. Ten points to those who guess it correctly….Yes it is from the Cinderella (and may or may not be that quote I referred to earlier). Ok before you go judging me (maybe I partially judge my own movie taste) think about the quote. It pretty much covers all aspects of life, the ultimate path to being the elusive perfect human. If all you take away from reading this let it be that. Always remember to be kind, you never know what someone else is going though or perhaps how they perceive or experience it. Be understanding. Finally have the courage to be yourself, to go after what you want and to heal from that which hurts us or that which we have to overcome.

I have made mistakes, I have hurt, I have cried, I have felt hopeless and defeated, I have felt lonely and unappreciated and I have felt useless, BUT I have also felt wonder, I have felt loved and cared for, I have felt awe, I have felt accomplished , I have felt excited and inspired and I have experienced infectious happiness. Basically I am human, I am alive and I am always growing.

The power of words

This video is quite spectacular! and addresses a very important point. Words have power, the power to build and the power to destroy. BUT they can also be meaningless…

Consider your words and the power they hold. Sometimes we fail to say the things we want to, the things we need to, to the people we care about. Sometimes the lack of words has greater impact than words themselves. Do you sometimes not say what you think just to keep the peace? because what you need to say is not what someone “wants” to hear? Do you speak false words, words without meaning, ghost words- echoed from behind a mask? A mask that portrays what people expect to see and not always what really is…

A few kind words is all it takes to make someone else’s day 🙂

Happiness…the reason for living?

During the course of the last few days a few experiences have made me think a lot about life and relationships in general. My first instinct now was to create a joke and in some way detract from this very serious kind of post. Because, let’s face it, we like to read things that make us smile, or brighten our day in some small way, perhaps even in a way that is lost on the next person. We often avoid the “deeper” things or trivialise them because for some reason being “deep” is often looked down upon. I think we avoid expressing some of our deeper contemplations because we are insecure about them, maybe we fear them, perhaps we even think that revealing these parts of ourselves open us up to attack. Now I do not mean physical attack but these are things that some people do not really talk about, we all think about them right? (questions if he is normal).

BUT, what I like to read is something that makes me stop, think and take stock of how I view the world. So here goes 🙂

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Wilderness destinations you have to visit!

I have always suffered from a fairly serious case of wanderlust. Although as of yet I have not had the opportunity to formally pursue many of these cravings… As a result I have taken up living vicariously through others until such time as I can go on adventures of my own (uhm meant to be read as when I develop the ability to grow money!). Don’t get me wrong, I have been incredibly lucky growing up with parents who exposed me to many beautiful places all around South Africa (Thank you Mom and Dad!), wanderlustbut I have always had this urge to see more. Experience the majestic wild of some far off country, be it the rainforests of Papua New Guinea ,Equatorial Africa, or Tasmania. Where you are enveloped by the forest and all around you are ancient trees and wilderness which for the most part is virtually untouched by mankind. That to me is a thrilling thought! Yes these rainforests are usually occupied by a multitude of critters of the spidery and slithering kind- who are often quite dangerous, BUT lets not dwell on those aspects haha. I imagine staring up at the canopy above me, the light creeping in creating shadows wherever I look. I imagine the humidity lapping at my skin and the sounds of the forest orchestra all around, the hum of insects the basetrack.  I smell the damp leaf litter and hear the leaves crack and twigs snap softly under my weight. I imagine the luscious air free of pollution and also staring out across the carpet of green. Trees the units of this puzzle! What I would give to sit and watch the sun rise and the forest wake up, to see the clouds drift gently across the horizon, gently blanketing the canopy. I can picture the stream gurgling by, softly caressing the rocks as the water flows determinedly -imperfectly perfect pebbles evidence of eons of weathering.

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A great discovery!

For the past few hours I have been completely absorbed listening to This American Life! A friend posted a link to it and while I will be honest and say that I have never heard of it before I am very much impressed by both the quality and content of each story!

strongly believe that listening to this kind of thing is extremely important! not only because it makes you more aware of what is going on in the world around you but instead of just being exposed to the information it actually provokes some thinking and thus some interaction with what you are hearing. A skill which most people seem to lack in modern times. In science the ability to take in information and process it into something useable is critical.

Plus- it is a great thing to keep you occupied while doing some mundane task such as data analysis or data compilation!

Give it a listen, you will not regret it!

I suggest starting with: The incredible rarity of changing your mind

Wesley 🙂

Why do we love sunsets/sunrises?

Is it just me or are sunsets and sunrises two of the most beautiful natural phenomena? Together they occur twice daily (unless you are at the poles during certain seasons), and no matter where you are , whether it be in a big city, at the seaside, your favourite bush location or simply sitting in your living room at home you are able to experience this wonderful time of day.

But just why do we enjoy them so much? I have often thought about this and I have my reasons, but perhaps you can share some of yours in the comments below? I would very much enjoy reading them.

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