A dead body, a quarter life crisis and a bucket list…

Why I’m okay with failure and how it has made me a better person.

What do you want to be when you grow up? This is probably the worst thing you can ask your child when they are young. I spent my whole life feeling pressured into coming up with some impressive answer, and growing up in Durban, my only answer was, “I want to be a doctor and a part time model.” I cringe just thinking about it.

The thing is, from the time I was 5 years old, I had it drummed into my head that I should be a doctor (the part-time model thing was from all the years of watching Miss Universe.) That was the only thing someone with good grades should aspire to. That was the epitome of success, according to Indian parents (even if they were fifth-generation South African-Indians). If you had poor grades, then you probably had more options. That was an alluring suggestion, but not enough to get me to go down that path - until I started working in an actual hospital.

When I was sixteen, I started volunteering at a local public hospital with one of my close friends. Sure enough, it was everything I imagined, and some things I wish I could wipe away from my imagination. My hats off to those who work in the medical field, but I decided it was not something I could do on a daily basis, especially since I ended up claustrophobic from being trapped in an elevator with a dead body! Well, I guess dead bodies are safer than live ones here in South Africa, but still, it was not something I wanted to experience again.

I was in a predicament. I had a quarter-life crisis in my final year of high school and had no idea what to do while everyone else was applying for place at University. While everyone was praying to get into UKZN (University of Kwa-Zulu Natal), I secretly wished I didn’t get the place I applied for in medical school. I wanted more options, but time was running out and I had no idea what else was out there. You know how you feel when you have to make a life-changing decision in record time? No, well it’s kind of like taking five minutes to choose a wedding dress because the store is about to close.

So, as you can imagine I did what any normal person would do in that situation, run in 180 degrees in the opposite direction. I decided to become a fashion designer and study Fine Art. Needless to say, my parents weren’t as impressed with me as I was with myself, saying that an Art degree wasn’t going to get me a real job so they weren’t going to pay for it and that fashion design wasn’t something I needed to study since I already had a sewing machine since I was 3. I ended up compromising and studying fashion part time while I pursued a Computer Science degree full time.

I spent all those years thinking I wanted to be a doctor that I never even considered anything else. Even all the subjects I chose in high school were focused on pure science. I missed out on so many other things that I could have done instead. Till this day, I have no idea how to do a balance sheet! Now, with medicine out of the way, there were so many options to choose from.

The world was wide open and I took the opportunity to explore different options because a little of the pressure was off. I had faced my first big failure — disappointing my parents. I think often failure is more about how you make others feel rather than how you feel about it. Once you start disappointing others, trust me, you get used to it and it’s not so hard after the first few times! The only time you start to really discover yourself as a person is when you stop defining yourself by what you do and start doing what is in line with who you are, and you can’t discover that if you are constantly trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations of who you should be.

I remember one of the most important days of my early years, watching Phil Keoghan on the Oprah show, before he was on the Amazing race. He was talking about bucket lists. After surviving a near death experience at the age of 19, where he found himself lost at inside a 22,000 ton ship wreck, he was prompted to write a list of things to do before he died. He spent the rest of his life living out that list of adventures, doing everything he could think of. I was so amazed. There were so many options. I was in awe at this guy and at the possibilities of what I could be doing with my own life.

I made my list of 100 things to do before I die. Everything I could imagine, from writing books, getting a degree in Psychology, travelling to India, having a fashion show in City Hall…. and 96 other things that I was determined to do. I started on my list and I haven’t look back since. Some things were easier to achieve than others and some things took more time than I could have imagined, but it has all been worth the journey.

I have learnt so much, met so many amazing people and have done so many other things that I would never have had the opportunity to do or even thought about, like the time I ended up taking an ancillary Anthropology course when I started my Psychology degree. I had never even heard of the subject before and now here I was learning about other cultures, participant observation and basic archaeology. It was fantastic! When I finished the first course, I was so inspired by the subject that I changed one of my majors from English to Anthropology.

Sometimes you need to just go with the flow and see where life takes you. You have to be open to trying new things or you might miss out on real life adventures. I am not one of those people who can do the same thing everyday for the rest of my life and be okay with it. Life is not about just being okay with it. I look back on my school days and smile when I think about how not becoming the one thing I thought I wanted to become all my life has made my life now so much richer with new unimagined experiences.

Nowadays, when my family enquires about me, it’s usually with, “..so what is she up to now?” to my mother. Yes, I may have been a fashion designer, teacher, poet, photographer, model, baker, pilgrim, kids nursery-mural painter, journalist, writer, manager, UX designer, web designer, computer programmer and a lot of other things along the way, but it does not define who I am. I am not what I do, but I put a little bit of who I am in everything that I do.

I am someone who likes to imagine a world of possibilities, bring ideas to reality and inspire others to do the same. I have done most of the things on my bucket list, but I’ve learnt that it’s also ok to swop, change and remake your lists from time to time as you grow and learn with the experiences life gives you. It’s not about the bucket list anymore, somewhere along the way my bucket list became my roadmap to finding myself.

Just keep moving forward and upward. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get on with it. If nothing else, at least you will have interesting stories to tell your grandchildren!