I remember getting to Grade 8 and feeling like a tiny ant compared to the staff and older students. I remember getting to my first year of university and feeling very small and insignificant compared to the lecturers and senior students. And I know that since finishing my undergrad I’ve felt like a tiny speck compared to the grown ups in the working world.
But I also remember being in Grade 12 and feeling like I could get anything done at the school. I remember getting the assistant lecturer position and feeling like I had access to the whole university. And now I feel like I’ve gotten roots in the working world.
There are many situations where a group of people will have significantly less power in their environment. This could be because of age or work experience…. but it can also be along race, gender or sexual orientation lines as well as other imbalances caused by the past.
When you’re in a position of power, whether as a Grade 12 student, a lecturer or someone higher up in a work environment, you can leverage your position to help those with less power. This might be as simple as introducing them to the right people or advocating for them when necessary.
The same applies to situations of historical imbalance.
It’s easy to say “there’s nothing I can do about the past.”
“My brilliance is best unfiltered, so take me as I am or don’t take me at all”
– Mo Malele
Today’s Friday shoutout goes to Mo Malele, one of the main people that motivated me to pursue my own path. Mo is one of the most exhilarating, creative and inspiring people I have ever had the fortune of interacting with. During our post grad accounting degree she made the leap to follow her dream, which catalyzed me into doing the same.
Side note: the motto used in our accounting degree by the lecturers was “#StayWithTheHerd”…. this didn’t sit well with Mo and Me. So our motto became #DeviateFromTheHerd
Mo has just started a blog for her writing and other creative pursuits. She also performs spoken word poetry and is soon to record an album. Oh, and she’s a Director Of Marketing And Business Development at BSK Marketing and was previously at P&G.
I’ve always struggled with letting go of things. I cried for a few days when leaving my university residence in 2012. I was really upset when my mom sold her car. And throwing away things that hold memories is always really difficult for me.
Today I tried to alter this experience, with some advice from my therapist. Instead of attaching memories to items (“cathecting” in her words), I tried to keep in mind that all these memories are within me.
And so is all the knowledge. And all the feelings.
It made packing up my old apartment so much easier. I was able to let go of so much, and was happy to do so
One big achievement was throwing away all my university notes. Although they were useful at the time, they serve no purpose now. And most of them were printed by the departments. So I filled up two massive bin bags and took it all for recycling.
I know from experience that nostalgia can be really heavy sometimes. And scary too. But it helps to remember that all of these memories are carried inside us. So it’s okay to let the physical things go.
Image is the view of all my notes inside the paper recycling bin. The bin was empty before I started offloading my stuff
The first time I saw Professor Phakeng was at an event on social cohesion, hosted by the Poverty and Inequality Initiative (PII). I knew little about her before the event, but after seeing her speak I knew that she was a game changer, and that she was a role model to me.
Throughout the event she spoke up and challenged ideas, bringing an intellectual rigor, relevance and confidence that I had never seen in a talk like that. Her insights were profound and I remember being left with so much to think about.
Since then I’ve been following her on Twitter, and seen how engaged and connected she is with students and people from all over the country.
And when it was announced that she was in the running to be our new Vice-Chancellor, I was so so incredibly excited.
I was even more excited when it was confirmed.
So, briefly, let me tell you why Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng (Kgethi) is one of my role models
Reason 1: Connected and on the ground
The thing that I probably admire most about Kgethi is that she is incredibly connected to students at UCT and around the country. She engages with people both online (usually Twitter) and in person, where she’s always happy to stop and chat to someone that says hi.
This quality is so unique for a leader in her position, but there should be more leaders that do this. The reason is that being close to the ground helps a leader understand the people they are serving and make better decisions as a result.
By doing this, she is able to respond to the needs of students as well as inspire them, which is phenomenal.
Below are two recent tweets from her. Notice that she wasn’t tagged in the first one, but because she follows the students she is able to respond to them.
Tweet number 2:
Reason 2: Making Education Fashionable #BeltSwag
In December 2017, before she was VC, Kgethi started a hashtag that trended across South Africa and the continent. The hashtag was #BeltSwag, with the idea that students should post their graduation pictures to both recognise them and inspire others. And also, to make education fashionable.
The original tweet is embedded below, followed by a tweet by one of my former students, Glenda, at her graduation with her mom. Glenda’s tweet went viral 🙂
I’ve never seen anything like the #BeltSwag tag, where an academic started a nationwide trend. And it still gets used to this day.
As a lecturer, this is exactly the type of inspiration I love to see for the students.
Reason 3: Communicating
Kgethi communicates to UCT students and staff to the best of her ability. She sends emails that contain detailed information to update us on the activities that are going on at the university. This includes a recent one where she acknowledged and apologised on the university’s behalf for skeletons that were obtained unethically by the university in the mid 1900s.
Beyond this, she constantly uses her platforms to promote scholarships and opportunities to a wide community. An example of this is the tweet below about funding that is available at UCT.
Her transparency and communication is exactly what a leader should have, and it’s just another reason that she is a phenomenal role model.
Reason 4: Fierce Resolve
Finally, I admire the fierce resolve and commitment that Kgethi shows to the causes she believes in. For example, she has pledged to donate 10% of her salary to fund UCT students, as she believes in making education accessible. And, in order to save money at the university, she cancelled the inauguration ceremony planned for her, which would have cost around R1million.
Kgethi is an incredible leader. She is connected to the students, continues to inspire them, communicates effectively and shows incredibly commitment in all that she does.
She is one of my role models. And I hope that I can continue to learn from her leadership.
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
Vincent Van Gogh
Today I opened a piece of work that I’ve been attempting to complete for a while. The shear enormity of it terrified me. There was so much to do. And so much I wanted to perfect.
For a moment I almost closed my laptop. I was overwhelmed.
And then I noticed the quote of the day on my Momentum page. The one that is listed at the top of this blog.
It fitted so perfected. A moment of serendipity.
I looked up the original quote, which van Gogh wrote in a letter to his brother. It reads:
For the great doesn’t happen through impulse alone, and is a succession of little things that are brought together.What is drawing? How does one get there? It’s working one’s way through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do. How can one get through that wall? — since hammering on it doesn’t help at all. In my view, one must undermine the wall and grind through it slowly and patiently. And behold, how can one remain dedicated to such a task without allowing oneself to be lured from it or distracted, unless one reflects and organizes one’s life according to principles? And it’s the same with other things as it is with artistic matters. And the great isn’t something accidental; it must be willed
Vincent Van Gogh (https://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/12/14/impulse/)
And so that’s what I did today. I focused on the grind. Slowly. Patiently. Through the iron wall.
I’ll get there. And it won’t be accidental. It will be willed into greatness.
Image is from Cape Point, taken on the little adventure this past weekend