Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I got an internship!

I had an interview on Thursday with an organization called GenderLinks (see www.genderlinks.org.za), to be an intern. I got the position and I am very excited. This blog is not really about the organization though, I will expand on that in other blogs.

So I interviewed the Director of Gender Links, Kubi Rama, last year while I was doing my field work for my research. She is an expert in the area of gender and media and she had a lot to say in regards to my research topic (news media coverage of women's health in the realm of HIV/AIDS). While I was at the interview I met someone who used to go to Wits, Agnes, and she was the intern at the time. So I told her what great experience she was getting and that I would want to intern there as well. I did not think much of this, I was working really hard to finish my research report. I just wanted to share my enthusiasm with her about how I thought Gender Links is doing great work.

In March I got an email from Agnes, she wanted a copy of my research because she was doing some research herself on a similar topic and wanted to sort of compare notes. I sent her a copy and at the same time I asked her if there was any positions for an intern open at Gender Links. She replied gratefully for my research and said she would ask around to see if there were any openings.

I waited about two days and she told me to forward my cv to her director (she returned the favor). I sent my cv in an email the next day and a week later I got a phone call to come in for an interview, that was last Thursday. I met with the Director and the staff in a meeting and they asked me questions about my interests and passions and realized that I was a great fit for their organization and told me I could start today.

Now the point of this little story is to ask about the issue of networking. Genderlinks, I don’t think they would have told me that they have a place for an intern and it was not on their website (showing an opening for an internship) so I would not have known about this position if I didn’t know Agnes. I know that I had to be qualified and available to actually get the position, so I am not saying that’s it is ALL about who you know. It just makes me think about the importance of networking. I would like some feedback on this…

“It’s all about people. It’s about networking and being nice to people and not burning any bridges. “ ~ Mike Davidson (not related to me. I think…)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

It takes courage

I have been thinking about us Humanities students, the way we think and the way we were trained to think. In university and especially in post-grad your lecturers basically make sure that you feel you don't know anything. Having an opinion is not enough it has to be backed up with theory and with literature. If you cannot find any background material, you are not looking hard enough... They say we are supposed to be critical thinkers but really I think a large part of the academic world is paraphrasing people who have already made their mark in history. Like the big fathers of Sociology: Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx, or for Philosophy: Aristotle or John Locke. It's about applying the work of a few individuals to contemporary world issues.

Being a student is like playing it safe, sort of. You get to talk about revolutionary concepts, you get to bash the institutions and the decision-makers, and you get to do this while drinking wine and eating cheese (just think about all of the functions, conferences, and receptions). Going out there in the world is the tough part; putting these ideas into action.

Now don't misunderstand me, I think teaching and academia is one of the noblest and necessary professions in the world. Where would we be did not have that engaging professor who made us think outside the box? Nevertheless, someone has to actually do the work. Yes the research is important, but what do you do with that information? Implementation is key; we all learned that. People come up with these bright ideas for development but then when it's time to execute, things fall apart and they find out it isn't sustainable.

We have been reading intense ideas and writing about what other people wrote for so long that I think sometimes we are stuck. We don't have any original or revolutionary ideas ourselves; or do we? I met a lot of interesting people in the last four weeks. I am not talking about our presenters; I am talking about us, the interns. The intellect amongst us is inspiring and the passion is invigorating.


It takes a lot of courage to put our ideas out there and make them tangible and measurable. I am scared as hell of some of the ideas I have, because they seem so ambitious and even far-fetched. But I am more afraid of not trying them out. So let us take these ideas, go into the world of work and just do it.

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world" ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Stones, Pebbles and Sand

In the seminar about time management with Janet Askew, she gave us an illustration of a vase and she filled it with stones first, then some pebbles, then some sand. Think about prioritisation. This illustration of the vase was critical for me. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed with the stones in my life that I let the sand take up all the space in the vase—and this wastes time.

(If you have been reading my blogs then you have realised that the advice or consultation given to us in the WoW sessions I apply them to my life in general and not just to issues in the workplace.) As I discussed in my blog yesterday I am now concentrating on being an excellent person and time management and prioritisation is key to this, I believe.

My mind is always running; sometimes I can’t sleep because I am always thinking about…so many things. I can be this way with projects as well. I don’t know how to say no and I have so many interests. This leads to me having a lot to do at the same time because I take so much on my plate. Being in South Africa has helped me do away with this characteristic of stretching myself beyond limitations. I am away from family and friends (people I can’t say no to) and I am here on my own able to think and do for myself. I also realised in university that being involved in too many activities can actually take away from excelling in the critical things.


Back to Askew’s illustration:
Ø The vase – symbolises - time

Ø The stones - symbolise the major things, the essential goals and roles of our lives. For me, I have three big stones
o My spiritual growth
o Family and loved ones
o My career aspirations or what I have to offer to this world- my passion

Ø The pebbles – symbolise other big things/activities in our lives but those that are secondary to the stones. This middle category is difficult for me. I tend to make a lot of things major in my life- putting them into the stone category. Even though I only listed the three, trust me, it’s probably not like that in reality. I need to reflect on this more because I think there are pebbles in my life that is taking time away from my stones.

Ø The sand- symbolises all of the left over issues/activities that are not critical to sustaining my life or my three stones but are fun and frivolous and actually help me to cope with the major things. This one is easy…
o Shopping/fashion
o Reading books/magazines
o Dining out
o Traveling
o Music/singing/dancing
o Watching movies

Askew states that we should prioritise our life based on the three categories; making room for all, but obviously not in equal amounts. That's why she put the stones into the vase first. It’s about being clear of what takes precedence over other things, and about being completely aware of what our major purpose in life is. This is tough for me; I don’t know what my major goal in life is. Right now all I can write is that I want to be excellent in all of my stone categories.

I spoke to my father the other day (he gets wiser as he gets older—or maybe I am just a better listener the older I get). He could sense that I was feeling a little anxious about my life right now. Normally I am in such control of things-- being a student it is fairly easy to manage your life. Looking for a job—it’s a different story. He told me that I am at a milestone right now and I should relax and let things progressively work out. He isn't suggesting that I be lazy and do only the sand activities, on the contrary, he urges me not to be stressed if I am not in my dream career by the end of next week.

But the most crucial thing he said to me was that I should not let my stones conflict with one another. He didn’t say it in this way but what he was saying is that I should not allow my role as daughter, sister and friend conflict with my career aspirations. He knows that being here from my family is tough and sometimes I think I should go back home. There is a reason I am in South Africa and I have to stick to it until I think I have accomplished whatever it is. He also said that I should not let love (my partner) distract my purpose as an individual. Lastly he said that my spiritual journey takes precedence over all, and if I keep that focus then it will be easier to manage the other stones.


"Don't be a time manager, be a priority manager. Cut your major goals into bite-sized pieces. Each small priority or requirement on the way to ultimate goal become a mini goal in itself" ~ Denis Waitley

Perfection doesn't exist.

I was born in April, well barely, my birthday is the last day of this month, the 30th, and I will be 24. April is always a tough month for me, it’s like my new years. I start reflecting on my life and I can be very tough on myself. I start to feel like I haven’t done enough…there is a lot I want to do with my life. I am somewhat of a perfectionist. Sometimes I am so bothered if I am not perfect that I will quit. I was someone who was in every activity growing up- dance, piano, track, singing… I have a lot of talents but I haven’t mastered any of them. I think that’s what bugs me. I want to be a master at something in my life.

As I was reading the O magazine (2006, April) (Oprah's magazine-- check out http://www.oprah.com/) for this month, I realized that it was all about aspiring to be excellent in whatever we do. One of the quotes used in the magazine is "strive for excellence, not perfection" ~ H. Jackson Brown Jr., author. The article that spoke to me the most in O is “The Pleasure of not being perfect” by Roger Housden (see http://www.anthologiesonline.com/collections_by_roger_housden.htm). He talks about the “results-driven culture” of ours (this is a global culture). You haven’t succeeded until you are able to quantify your results in money, in stocks, in real estate, in published articles, the perfect family (spouse, two kids and a pet)—the list goes on. Also we are always trying to improve ourselves, always. But he says something interesting “Ultimately, working on yourself –trying to change the basic programme—doesn’t rally work, because limitation, imperfection, is built into our genetic code…perfection was never meant to be part of the human experience” (p.101, 142). So what’s the point if we don’t try to be perfect? Well, it’s about the idiosyncrasies, the nuances that make us all different and unique. What does perfect mean anyway; whose definition do we use?

I think that perfection = the absence of failure. This issue of failure (probably my biggest fear), is a part of life but it’s all about perspective. It was Thomas Edison (inventor of the light bulb) who, after many trials said “I haven’t failed. I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Each failure or mistake is an opportunity to learn. Confucius (Chinese philosopher) states "our greatest glory is not in never failing and falling, but in rising every time we fail and fall"-- it's about personal development and working harder. Not to be perfect--but to excel.

As I embark my 24th year on this earth in two weeks, I want to have an attitude and perspective of excellence. As my other blog states you cannot plan for the ups and downs in life but you can plan an attitude towards the rollercoaster of life—a positive, enthusiastic and realistic one. Perfection just isn’t realistic.

There are so many roles that we fulfil as human beings---daughter, sister, friend, woman...someday wife and mother. My mother is an excellent person-- she's excellent at every task, from the most mundane to the most exciting or taxing. I used to think she was perfect, but that's not true---perfection doesn't exist. Also one of the most inspiring traits is that being around her you also want to be a great person--she encourages excellence in everyone she meets.

"Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralising" ~ Harriet Braiker

Monday, April 10, 2006

Brain freeze

I have been thinking about what to blog as we approach the end of this programme but my head is empty right now. There are a lot of things that I heard during these last four weeks that makes a lot of sense. However, as much as people were talking about the practical side of the world of work, I often felt like I was in a class and that we were going through the theory about the "world of work." As guess until I get out there, it will be all theory anyway.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Locus of control

This morning, Janet Askew, a consultant with a wonderful laugh, came to talk with us in the WOW programme about time management. Ok, I am naturally a procrastinator and a free spirit (the artist in me) but at the same time I like to have a plan (the part of me that loves math and science). Sounds contradictory right? There are things that I like to plan and there are other things that I leave to exciting spontaneity. (Falling in love is the best when it just happens or when it is a surprise. You ever talked to someone who said they are planning to fall in love in the next six months? I have and they are hardly successful.)

My education, on the other hand, was never left to chance; I have been very determined from a young age and had a good idea of where I would go to school and what I would do. At the same time I try to be flexible because as Janet Askew stated, "you cannot plan for everything" and "you cannot manage time, you can only manage what you do in the time you have." I did not plan to do my master's in South Africa my first year in university, I was actually going to go to Law School, but plans change. I am now on a different and exciting journey that does not include law school (at least in the near future).

Planning, nevertheless, is essential to being professional, effective and efficient. It’s about the “locus of control” as Askew put it. If you have an “internal locus of control” this means that you are in control of the situation and you plan for the unexpected. So if you have a meeting Monday morning, you leave extra early because you know Monday morning traffic is always a little more hectic than usual. If you have an “external locus of control” you are always in ‘victim mode,” if something does not go as planned, it is never your fault and you are always pointing the finger. So if you are late for the meeting on Monday, you may tell the person who was waiting for you that traffic was chaotic and you don’t understand it, people can’t drive etc.

It’s about taking responsibility for the outcome of the situation. The fundamental difference between us and robots is the fact that we can make choices; we have a decision-making capacity in our brains that allows us to see the situation and make a decision from the numerous choices we have. This leads to knowing the goal. Askew says this is critical because if you start out not knowing where you are going then you could end up somewhere you don’t want to be. Sometimes I really don’t know where I want to be but I guess it’s about making that decision, taking the time out to reflect and not being a robot and being decisive.

Is there a time in life when you can pretty much take any road and see where it takes you? What about the world of work? Do I need to be clear of why I am taking a certain job or internship? I would say yes. Even if the answer is simply “experience.” I need to be clear of what my objective is. Planning seems to be essentially about thinking things through. Now that I think about it, my stance on letting love come to you is a plan actually. It’s saying to not walk around with a list and a time frame; I’m saying to plan to allow it to come when it comes. Does that make sense?

By now it is evident that I love quotes. These are quotes that I think sum up the concept of planning with an internal locus of control:
-“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’ plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much. ~ Jim Rohn
-“Four steps to achievement: Plan purposefully. Prepare prayerfully. Proceed positively. Pursue persistently.”~ William A. Ward
-“The ability to be flexible and the ability to plan effectively are not mutually exclusive, in fact they go hand in hand.” ~ Rochelle Renere Davidson
-“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Thinking Global

I think of myself as a global citizen. I have always been a foreigner; growing up Jamaican in America and now Jamaican-American in South Africa. When I would go back to Jamaica every year, I would be happy and there would be a strong sense of identification with the land and the people but it would never feel like home. Home for me is where the heart is and I need to decide what my heart needs.

The issue of thinking global is not about me deciding where to reside but in terms of my career, I need to think about the impact I can have not just locally, or regionally but globally. Kuseni Dlamini, from Richards Bay Coal Terminal,in his discussion on Monday, stated that globalisation has a major impact on our daily lives, whether we acknowledge it or not. Think about Coca-cola, Nike, MTV, Microsoft … (those were off the top of my head); all these multinational corporations finding their way into our lives. What about issues that are uniting the world? For instance, the fight against HIV/AIDS, poverty, wars (Iraq).

There are issues about globalisation that make the phenomenon very unnerving and invasive. Dlamini talked about “America-phobia” and increasingly “China-phobia.” There are perceptions that these countries, or the multinational corporations in these countries, have fair (or rather free) play in developing and undeveloped markets and societies. Think about the China’s textile industry or the States entertainment industry (Hollywood or MTV) and their existence and impact throughout the world. Depending on who you talk to globalisation is either “progressive” or “dangerous.” Check out this website:
www.globalisationguide.org

I have to think about how globalization can work for me. As I previously stated, I have a philosophy that I am a global citizen, my passion for social justice and human rights run across borders and regions. My multicultural background has definitely facilitated this thinking. My interest in the empowerment of women is a global issue. Young women in our global community are generally less educated and have less access to information and this affects our health (think HIV and sexual reproduction rights). This is a global cause. I cannot solely think about women in the city I grew up. I need to connect the issues of women in Kingston (Jamaica), Philadelphia (USA), and Soweto (South Africa) etc; creating a global network. There are many of these networks mobilizing women across the globe (see
http://pers-www.wlv.ac.uk/~le1810/action.htm), and I want to add to the strength of these networks.

“As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world”
~Virginia Woolf

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Blogging about blogging

Throughout this week I have been getting into this blogging thing. I have been finding things to write about and I jot ideas down in my notebook or in a file in my head titled "things to blog about." I have to admit, at first I wasn't that into blogging. It isn't that I don't like to reflect or write about my thoughts. I write in journals, I have been writing them since I was 10 years old, and I keep all of them. It's really great to go back and read those old diaries to see how much and how little I have changed since I was 10. (Many times I wish I could go back. But, growing up is inevitable and it is fun.)

So I get the journaling thing, but for some reason, typing in this little white box about the WOW programme hasn't been a creative lift. The sessions this week have given me more to write about then previous sessions though. I am not sure why. I don't think that the presenters have been greater or more enthusiatic, probably I am more open to writing about this experience from my voice than I previously was. I am not completely there yet--but I am opening up little by little. Being that next week is the end of the programme--well it's a pity that it didn't happen sooner. In the next few days I will blog a lot I think. I already have "blogs in waiting" (blogs I have started and am yet to finish).

Why someone like me is in SA

The other day someone asked me what I am doing in South Africa. This question comes up at least 3 times week, so I thought it would be useful o put it on my blog. My first reason is because I am in a serious relationship with my gorgeous partner Tatenda, who loves being in Africa. My second reason is that I see many opportunities in South Africa for someone like me who sees the world the way I do. I see the world as a global community. The developmental and cosmopolitan characteristics of South Africa are very appealing to someone like me. Who is someone like me?

I am what they call a "Jamaican-American." Many people ask me why do people in America say they are "African-American" or "Chinese-American," why don't they just say they are American? Well a short answer to this is that America is made up of foreigners. The only indigenous people there are "Native Americans" or I think the politically correct term these days are "American-Indians." Everyone else came by a large or small boat and for us recent migrants-- an airplane. My parents migrated in the late 70s right after my older brother was born and a few years before my younger brother and I were born. Growing up with sort of a dual identity -Jamaican and American - I saw the world in various ways. When I would go to Jamaica every year for 2-3 months during school holiday I would hear how America is taking over the world and is the new imperialist. Then when I would go back to Philadelphia (the city where I grew up) people would ask me if Jamaicans use cars and if I have a monkey for a pet (very familiar to what they would ask Africans). I realized at a young age that the world is full of people looking at the same things differently--it's all about perspective. I also realised that we really don’t know much about one another. One of the philosophies I hold is, difficult as it may be, understanding each other is not impossible… it just takes communication. When I went to university, while my father was encouraging to be an engineer or a medical practitioner (professions with obvious usefulness), I have always been interested in Communications. I think it goes back to my 1st grade (I was age 6) teacher telling my parents that I may have to repeat the grade because I wasn't "developing as fast as the other students." What she was saying was that I talked differently to the other children, I had a twang. Like many children who grow up bilingual, at home mommy and daddy talk in their tongue and then you go to school you are in a foreign situation and you have to speak something else.

I didn't repeat 1st grade, because my parents refused. My accent was not hindering my development; it just made it a bit difficult for the American teachers to understand. Jamaicans speak "patois" (pronounced pa-twa). It's basically broken English with a bit of French, Spanish and African languages mixed together. Anyway, communicating has always been an interest to me. I love to watch how people interact and talk with each other, and I like to examine the similarities and differences between and within cultures. During my first year of university, I took a Sociology course, and all I could say to myself was, "this stuff makes so much sense." So I decided to get two degrees in Communication and Sociology and that leads me to South Africa. I did a study abroad programme during undergrad in 2002 dealing with human rights. That programme had 80 students from all over the world and it basically changed my life (this was also the time I met Tatenda). I decided South Africa is interesting and exciting- and I kept coming back. After I graduated in 2004, I came here to do my Masters in Development Studies at Wits (an interdisciplinary degree that can combine all of my interests).

Finally this brings me up to date to the World of Work programme. As much as I am learning a lot about what the world out there entails, I am having the most fun getting to know my colleagues- they are from all over Africa (I am the only non-African) with vast knowledge and passion to go out there and make a difference. You can meet them at our team blog:
www.witstrainees.blogspot.com

Someone like me believes that having multiple perceptions of the world we live in is vital and considering the ideas of others is critical.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I am always selling something...

I have never really been afraid of talking in front of people-especially if it's an informal setting. The only time I am nervous though is in a formal or academic environment and if I am unprepared or not passionate about what I am saying. The last presentation I gave was two weeks ago at the Wits Graduate School for a conference hosted by the Language School. I was presenting a shorter version to my research report I submitted in February this year.

Now I am passionate about what my research was on: news media's coverage of women's health in the realm of HIV/AIDS and broadly about media's imperative function in (social and human) development. Still during the writing process (editing and revising) this enthusiasm was almost drained out. Presenting the paper helped me realise why I chose to write on the topic in the first place. I genuinely believed in what I was saying and qualified my ideas with my own research, background studies and literature.

That experience told me that passion is so vital to being persuasive and to be an effective presenter. Nevertheless without being thoroughly prepared (knowing the topic and being ready for critical questions) the passion can come across as being simply fanatical without any merit.

In the Wow session yesterday- we discussed the importance of presenting in the world of work. If there was one thing that stuck with me, it would be the idea that we are always presenting. We are presenting by the way we walk into a room, by the things we say in casual conversations, even by the way we dress. I am always selling something. Presentations are all about persuading others to buy into what you are selling: whether it be ideas and opinions (as in my presentation of my research), or actions and decisions (maybe in a board meeting) or my skills (as in an interview).

Presenting involves making a deliberate decision to be persuasive. This entails being “presentation-fit” as the presenters from Connemara put it.