At 30 years old, it feels like my career is at ground zero. A few years ago, while working in Cape Town, I made the decision to transfer and relocate to Joburg. I might have said it enough times to myself that I began to believe that the move was rationally motivated by career aspirations, but I am now honest enough with myself to say I wanted to be with the man I believed I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, at the time. He was in Joburg and so, that’s where I moved to be with him.
I realised as soon as I landed at OR Tambo International that this new city was going to be a challenge when my partner, who was at the airport to receive me, took a moment to mentally work out how we were going to get home with all of my luggage. I nonchalantly suggested we hail a cab. His reaction confirmed my worst fears about moving to Joburg: “That could be more than R500,00”, he replied, astonished at my suggestion. And that’s how I discovered I was going to financially come up short in a strange city. And from that moment on, my stay in Joburg revolved around just not having enough money.
I wasn’t making enough money to live the life I had imagined for myself and that’s what I internalised. Everything around me was confirmation that I was struggling.
Even though the reality is that hundreds and thousands of South Africans move to Joburg to escape poverty and to chase economic prospects, I did not find gold. Quite frankly, I struggled to the point of silently suffering multiple emotional breakdowns.
Something I had done for most of my life, such as using taxis to get around, felt like a new level of struggle because I believed things should have been different for me. I couldn’t comprehend how I could have a Master’s degree and a couple of years’ worth of industry experience and still be where I was. The dream I had for myself felt so far and out of reach.
I fell pregnant months after moving to Joburg, my relationship with my partner disintegrated and two months before giving birth I moved out of the flat that we shared. I was determined to make the situation work for the baby who was on the way. I became a single mom in a city that still intimidated me. I was unravelling, mentally and emotionally. I would get home from work way past 1am on most evenings. My breast milk dried up as a result of the long hours away from my baby and that’s where I drew the line. I remember I had one last meltdown one evening and that was when I made up my mind that I was moving back home to Uitenhage, in the Eastern Cape, and I didn’t care about a job.
Moving back home was the smartest move I had ever made. I believe it was Oprah Winfrey who said that one of the best gifts that you can give yourself is time. And that was exactly what I did. I gave myself time to start from scratch, to heal and to deconstruct and reassemble this version of myself that I am still becoming.
Everything around me was confirmation that I was struggling.
I took the work of figuring out who I was, and what I wanted to do with my life very seriously. I wanted to be clear with myself and so, I had lists about “what does the woman I want to be look like?” Some lists were so simple that I couldn’t believe that I had never thought about getting to know myself in that way before. Moving back home has felt like having a blank canvas to, basically, make up who I am and want to become, and then follow through with that. And every day I am presented with scenarios where I have to decide to follow through on who I’ve now decided I am.
The irony is that moving back home appeared to have been taking 10 steps backwards in my career at first, but the effort I’ve put in the past two years to develop my character and self-confidence, in creating a clearer vision for my life, feels like it will accelerate and parachute the journey to greater heights.
Also, I have forgiven myself for moving to Joburg for a man when I thought I was smarter than that.
Vuyolwethu Ndongeni has worked as a sub-editor for publications such as Business Day, and The Herald and Daily Dispatch in the Eastern Cape. She holds a Master’s degree in Media. With more than seven years in the media industry, most of which have been “behind the scenes”, she’s excited to once again experience the simple, yet invaluable pleasure of occupying a byline.