Written by: Phindile Le Bris Sithole-Spong
.For millions of people around the world, the next couple of years will not be easy. With lots of countries recording high unemployment rates. It can feel like the bad news just keep coming. Which is why for our first interview I had the honor of chatting to my good friend Thandiwe Ngubeni about the debilitating effects of unemployment. And how she found peace and strength in the unknown. Whilst Thandiwe’s journey is unique. We can all learn something from her. Whether it’s her ability to pivot or the ability to try something new. What ever the case. I hope this interview inspires you and reminds you that you are not alone.
Phindile Le Bris Sithole-Spong: First off, happy happy new year. And cheers to surviving 2020. Let’s get right into it. You and I have spoken before but it was mainly about your successes and the many hats you wear. But very few people know about the work that went into and continues to go into getting to where you are. It’s easy to assume that you had quite a linear path to success. But that’s not the case is it? Let’s start off with your studies. For our readers talk me through your journey?
Thandiwe Ngubeni: My journey was in no way linear. I started by going on a gap year after high school in hopes of figuring out what I wanted to study the following year and where. For someone like me who has many skills and passions that are monetizable. It was difficult for me to settle on a course of action for my tertiary studies. However, towards the end of my gap year, I discovered my talents in communication. And decided on this for my enrollment at the University of Cape town (UCT). Only to find they didn’t offer it at undergraduate level. I would have to do three years of other subjects in order to qualify for postgraduate in order to study what I actually desired.
Fast track 3 years and I could not stomach my undergraduate program anymore. I felt defeated, weak, less-than, alone in my feelings and experience. The classic signs on a broken self-esteem and a vortex of negative, dark thoughts… Telling my mom that I wanted to change from UCT to UNISA was one of the scariest moments for me. Because I was so swallowed by my feelings, depression and anxiety that I felt she would be disappointed in me. And I thought she would start questioning what she’d done wrong. I was also worried that she would think I wasn’t trying hard enough. And yet, I got the complete opposite response. She could see how unhappy and drained I was, and so we worked on me transferring over to UNISA.
Phindile Le Bris Sithole-Spong: Given the challenges you faced whilst studying would it not have been easier to give up and why didn’t you? What kept you going?
Thandiwe Ngubeni: My mother’s support in my decision was a stepping stone to feeling like everything was going to be ok at some point. The love, advice and support from good friends and extended family also assisted me in seeing what was capable. Don’t get me wrong, it was not a smooth-sailing-fairy-lit-line to graduation…
I took 6 months off not once but twice. Yup, I took a whole year off. I was so lost, confused and defeated because I felt that my friends were so far ahead of me with their degrees, 2nd degrees, and budding careers. I started feeling like I was being left behind. This feeling was strange to me because, I already know I’m someone who swims against the grain which then shouldn’t rattle my cage as to what others are doing. But the social fabric of South Africa has a formula that has us feel like we have to reach certain milestones by certain stages in life. The accepted and normal path is yo go to school, university, get a job, have a family etc.
Moving to a distant-learning institution with a problematic administrative department, was quite the adjustment. I learnt a lot of patience and organisational skills from my time there because I had to learn what the best times, people, and departments to go to in order to miss the chaos that inevitably comes with leaving things to the last minute. So, instead of blaming the institution, I just started working the system.Something, that really stuck to me in the darkest of times were my mom and family friend’s words of, “All in your own time” and “Get it done, it will open doors to what you really want later”. These words are really what kept me going coupled with my vision boards that I would look at and reflect on EVERY SINGLE DAY!
PLSS: I feel like as a person with a non traditional career path myself it can get overwhelming and even difficult to find peace when self doubt and negative self talk are always holding you back. How do you deal with that?
TN: This is a tricky one because, I don’t think any of us fully get over this unless we are enlightened Gurus. However, I find that as intentional as I was with thinking my negative thoughts. I could channel that energy into consciously being present and positive. That isn’t to say suppress any sad or negative feelings. Rather, channelling into positivity is to sit with the feelings to understand and redirect rather than run away from the issue through suppression. Because that stuff will come up whether it’s 2 weeks, 4 years, or a decade from now.
PLSS: Part of why we decided to do this interview is because of something that happened on New Year’s Eve. And afterwards you shared with me the hardships you have been through as an unemployed young person. I realized with South Africa having one of the highest unemployment rates in the world and the devastating effects of COVID-19 many people are in that boat now. And how hard it can be to pull yourself out of it.
TN: As I mentioned before, my journey has been anything but traditional or easy. And now I find myself moving through spaces and places I never thought I would. I would also suggest upskilling. If you are at home or have access to a place with wifi, get online and join a free/paid short course. It won’t add to university credits in the traditional sense, but it will add more knowledge to your craft.
I know, it feels like there is no hope now, however, there is indeed a light at the end of tunnel and when you get to the place where you do see things from the outside in, it’s easier to redirect into a direction that is more helpful than harmful to you.
PLSS: With so many friends and loved ones out of jobs due to COVID-19, it can feel like a never ending battle to convince them that they are worthy and that unemployment does not mean they are not good enough. How did you get to that point where you focused on what you had and could do versus what you couldn’t?
TN: At this stage in my life, I am less gripped by these feelings and thoughts because I have seriously started paying attention to my successes no matter how big/small. I do gratitude journals and I meditate when I remember to. This felt weird at first and silly, to be honest. But once I let my guard down and consistently worked on these aspects, a natural shift towards the positive mindset occurred. I found myself able to see my issues or hurts from an emotionally-objective space. Because I am able to sit with myself and assess the ugly, the painful and the down-right-shitty! It takes time. And like anything new introduced to the human form, it feels like haaaard work at first. But as you progress it evolves into second nature. And you feel more sure of your decisions and actions. Which makes you highly effective in whatever you do (trust, this is coming from an original sceptic in this).
PLSS: When one is dealing with unemployment it can feel like a long and never ending road. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. What advice would you give to anyone faced with unemployment right now?
TN: I would suggest starting small and gently. Maybe start meditating morning and evening for 5mins and working your way up from there. If you miss a day or feel like you’re not “succeeding at it” (ego brain). Be gentle and kind to yourself, there will be many times and days. But try to remember that even the one practice in a week or month is one more than the last time and that is progress!
PLSS: A question I like to ask all our interviewees is what does sled evolution mean to you? And how do you make sure you are constantly growing and evolving?
TN: Maya Angelou summed it up perfectly, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Life will throw curveballs; we are all ever-changing and so we will never know everything at any given moment. Meaning we will trip up and mess up because we do not know better yet. But, when you do, don’t act like you don’t. Implement that new knowledge in to your actions.
Furthermore, if you are constantly evaluating yourself and following the paths that resonate most with you, this for me is evolution as well.