Days come and days go, but some dates stick in your head forever. April 28th, 2010 is one such date – the day that I arrived in South Africa in 2010, with plans to stay until the end of the year.
Well, that didn’t go according to plan.
The week in which my five year anniversary fell had two public holidays in it, the Monday and the Friday. As a result, very few people were working that week. Almost everyone in Joburg was either on leave or at half capacity (or less), so it seemed like a great time to take a little break of my own. I, of course, hopped on a plane to Cape Town.
What is prettier than autumn in general is autumn in particular, in a place I love dearly. I was not staying in Cape Town, but in Somerset West, a place I am coming to know quite well. Something about that beach I have always loved; and maybe it’s luck or maybe it’s fate that I’ve made such close friendships with some of the people from Ballistix CrossFit over the years. They always made me feel at home; sometimes more so than in my home gym.
I suppose your impression of a place is influenced quite a bit by the company you keep. This may be one reason that I love the energy of Joburg. Every day you live of course, but ideally you also enjoy what you are doing and who you are doing it with, and maybe even accomplish something along the way.
What a fantastic holiday I had! I did have to have a 2 hour videoconference on the public holiday Monday – no rest for the wicked, as they say, but it was great fun anyway. Yeah I find core networks and vendor analysis quite interesting, but I’m not a normal person by any means.
I also had a great catch up with Rudolph, who ran Skyrove’s technical department and is now kicking ass and taking names in an environment where he has capital and trust and respect (I was only ever able to give him two of the three). He was nice enough to call me the most dangerous woman in telecoms, a moniker which at first I demurred and then I realised if there were a vote I might well be right up there if for the reason of my multiple hats alone. Give me a few years though.
He asked me what exactly I was doing. As with my arrival on these shores five years ago, I’m not arrogant enough to say that I know exactly what I’m doing and where I’m going. I have, and have for some time, had a very clear vision of a role I want to play. But the exact way the dice will be rolled is not exactly clear. It doesn’t matter though; the direction and destination is the important thing, not the exact road taken to get there.
What a great road I am on, though! I wonder at it all the time.
Back to what a great trip! So many great memories; one of those weeks where on the one side time seemed to stand still, and on the other, everything went far too quickly. Waking up at stupid o-clock to go train. Walking the dogs. Cooking with Candice and her sister. Alternating hang power cleans & behind the neck push jerks. Going to Ooskus for what is surely some of the best fish & chips on the planet (3 times…). Watching rugby & movies while updating spreadsheets & powerpoint decks. Driving to Hermanus with a big group to watch a CrossFit competition and have lunch. William going off about how stupid guinea fowl look.
An especially great experience was when Ryan took a bunch of the crew from Ballistix out to the dam to row in real boats. After three years of St Paul’s this was my first time in a real boat! Was quite fun, but wow, hard to get a whole bunch of people moving their bodies with any sort of consistency.
On the exact anniversary, Richard and I went to Franschhoek for a lunch and walk around town. Quite nice to see the autumn leaves in town, and the comfortable silence on what is really a country drive. Such a difference between this and my first visit there. Makes sense I guess. A lot can happen in five years. A lot can happen in five months. A lot can happen in five minutes, even.
Often, I have a lot to say and it’s hard to shut me up. Other times, I’m more than content just to be quiet. Sometimes I’m shy. Sometimes I’m a force to be reckoned with.
I may say what I think, but I rarely say how I feel.
Five years on, I do have regrets. I regret poor decisions. This is sad to say, but I regret a number of occasions where I trusted some other people too much. I regret not accomplishing as much as I would have liked. I regret not making some people more accountable. I even regret not telling some people off who really deserved it. It’s ok though. Karma’s a bitch, and not necessarily in the ways you expect, either.
I regret not finding a magician earlier to fix this shoulder injury (when it is fixed, never again will I take bulletproof shoulders for granted!). I regret not getting an Oly coach earlier.
I regret the hours I spent, the money I spent, the heartache I spent, for people and things less dedicated than I was. Or that I later figured out were set up to fail.
“Everything in life, it’s your fault,” someone once said to me. Not entirely true; sometimes shit things happen to good people, even to the best people. But the sentiment is largely accurate. All the things I regret are mostly of my own doing, same as my life prior. For not standing up for myself properly, for being too loyal, for ignoring evidence that didn’t fit my glass half full view of the world.
Hope won’t fix a shoulder problem any more than it will magically motivate the unmotivated, or get people to look at things in new ways or change their behaviour.
As they say it’s darkest before the dawn; you do need hope to help you through the tough times.
Not all of my life has been wonderful, and I’ve made some mistakes, sure. By most objective standards, I am indeed incredibly lucky. Luck does follow me, from the people I meet to avoiding by a split second having a tree branch fall on my head and knock me out in cross country (this happened while running alone many years ago when I was a teenager). I do believe good things will happen to me, and I’ve learned to be happy with what I have, while still wanting more.
It’s good from time to time to focus on the bad that comes with the good. Life is a journey, sure. I guess the important thing is that we learn from it, and not let fear or doubt get too much in our way.
I’m also realising just exactly how uncertain it is. About some things (living in South Africa and doing CrossFit, for example) there are no doubts in my mind. Something happened; some switch flicked in my mind and life afterwards was completely different. About other things, there is less certainty.
But there is a remarkable peace in understanding and accepting the parts of your life about which you do have no doubts. The day that CrossFit changed from becoming a thing I did to a core part of how I lived my life, I am not sure. The exact day I realised South Africa was home and not just a place I lived, I am not sure.
There are a few things I regret doing but mostly it is true that I regret more the things I did not do, or say; or when I accepted the status quo when that was actually wrong. I can’t commit to ‘no regrets’ because I’ll always miss things, have 20/20 hindsight, and be afraid of certain things.
Looking into the next five years, I remain hesitant to predict too much. But I can hope for the best, and hope that the happiness and progress that I have right now will continue or even accelerate.
It is true that five years ago I couldn’t do a pullup or a 50kg clean let alone a 50kg snatch or a muscle up. I knew nothing of backhaul, point to multipoint, a telecommunications regulator, data science-driven personalisation, or the macro market forces at play in both fixed and mobile telecommunications. I remember when these telcos were just nameless, faceless brands. Now some are friends.
For all that’s gone wrong these last five years, they have indeed brought me to where I am today. I’m stronger, faster, smarter, more creative, more innovative, and better connected than I was five years ago. I’m also, and especially recently, much happier.
I am most proud of how I’ve changed not so much as a professional, but as a person these last few years. Yes I still shrink from confrontation (unless it’s really required!), and yes I have major problems with public failures. Self-confidence issues I suppose.
Where I have grown is with my level of comfort in leadership, my confidence in being able to see paths and opportunities that others miss, and my general confidence in myself. One of the phenomena that I used to describe to others, which they could not understand, is that when I first got to South Africa from Boston everything seemed more real. Lights were brighter, sounds were sharper; and I felt more alive. The first year or two when I would go back I would retreat inside myself, almost like a turtle in its shell. The first trip in particular it took me nearly a week to come back to ‘South African normal.’
Funny how you can’t see that you’re in a cage of your own making until you break out from it.
Well, whatever. There are so many things that make South Africa its own special place. Everything from braais and biltong to Eskom and Telkom. I love the bad with the good, and my biggest problem at the moment is that my heart is torn between two places. At least the two are a 2-hour plane ride from each other. It could be a hell of a lot worse.
I do miss my family a lot though, and certain things of America and New England at certain times of year. Why I reminisce about the snow and slush and lines at Dunkin Donuts I do not know. Pumpkins and Patriots and lobster I can understand.
On the flip side, I have met some of the most amazing people here. And the deeper I get, the happier I get. Not just getting deep for the sake of getting deep, or getting into a rut. I’m finally getting to the point where my connections, expertise, and friendships are all bearing fruit. Sometimes it seems things take longer than they should, but then looking back you realise it really couldn’t have gone any other way.
A few weeks back when I landed in Johannesburg from Harare, I had a very distinct sense that I was home. Not a foreign land in which I live, but home. Perhaps because if I get back to South Africa from Europe or North America it feels different and the contrast from Africa or a new city was so extreme. Whatever it was, it wasn’t something I had felt before.
The reversed seasons were weird for a few years but this is now normal. The landscape, the accents, the types of plants, the cultural references, the traffic lights in Joburg that are sometimes out as often as they are working. Ironically, sometimes the traffic moves better that way.
Well, whatever, for all the bad and the good, my home it does seem to be. Onwards and upwards then, to whatever the next five years brings my way. Wouldn’t have predicted where I am now five years ago, so if the only constant is change, I’m ok with that too.