work, work, work, work, work
You see me I be work, work, work, work, work, work
You see me do me dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt
There’s something ’bout that work, work, work, work, work, work
When you a gon’ learn, learn, learn, learn, learn, learn
Me na care if me tired, tired, tired, tired, tired, tired
Rihanna ft. Drake Work (from the 2016 album Anti)
I was once a five year plan type of person. I tried to dig up my 1999/2000 resolutions but can’t find them in my closet packed with loose photographs and bank statements dating back to 2001. I did find an orange folder holding unfiled copies of letters I typed and sent to my high school girlfriends. Quite startling to read them and see how seriously I was thinking about work, work, work, work, work and more than that, vocation. I tend to describe 23 year old Chizzy as a joker, dizzy about her path, clueless in the corporate legal world. And maybe I need to review this narrative, be a little more generous to my younger self.
Extract from letter to Nkasori dated 23/3/98
Hey Sweetie. How are you? I’m pretty good actually. The beginning of any year seems to always be a time of change for me, change and alot of tough choices. My career has taken a positive turn in that I quit my job at Central Chambers-the law firm and have started work as an Assistant Legal Officer at the Development Bank of Zambia. It was pretty scary leaving but I just had to do it. The work was alright, it’s a pretty renown firm in Lusaka and the client list was pretty long and the variety of cases really wide and I was getting loads of experience…but the money was badbadbad. In the end it began to sour my approach to work and worse to clients. And some people exercise the option but I couldn’t bear to go on sponging off my parents and siblings whilst lapping up the experience at Central Chambers. I also need to start saving up for a fridge and furniture and planning my future, I want to have my own flat by next year and be able to go on holiday once a year, etc. etc. and this job will allow me to do that.
The works pretty uninspiring and straight forward. ..we draft mortgages, debentures, specific and floating charges, etc….Ultimately I want the bank to pay for my Masters in about 2 years time. And after a year I’ll be entitled to a large number of loans from them, car loan, house loan, furniture loan, etc. I’ll try and squeeze as much out of them as possible and then I’ll piss off and go elsewhere.
The most exciting thing though is that I’ve been accepted at the University of Oxford for a summer programme in International Human Rights Law. I don’t know whether I told you but I did some volunteer work with refugees, mainly Rwandan and Burundese last year. Also in my final year at Uni I wrote a dissertation on the genocide Convention and its effectiveness and I included a case study on the Rwandan crisis. Since then I’ve been hooked on the subject and all I know is that I want to go Rwanda and DO SOMETHING…Lord knows what, but I think I have a role to play and I think this course will help me define this role and enhance my knowledge and help me channel my energies in the right direction….so I’m applying madly for sponsorship to any and every possible organisation. It’s not easy though. Anyway, I’ll be meeting the Dean of UNZA’s Law School next week to discuss the same. He seems to have alot of advice and access to scholarships at other Universities that I might be interested in. All this other work I’m doing, I regard it almost as a penance…before I discover my real talents.”
The 1998 letter continues with a paragraph on my romantic life and a declaration that I’ve ‘gone off boys’ because they are ‘childish and idiotic’ but ‘who knows, maybe I’ll allow myself a fling soon.’ You can laugh.
It’s twenty one years on and faux sad face, I have bought neither a fridge nor car, and have only ever bought one piece of furniture brand new – my $550 Macy’s three seater. Yesterday, a precious workmate brought his truck to work so that we could collect my ‘new’ arm chairs from the Stanford surplus store. 25 bucks for both and a fancy executive desk lamp thrown in for free, how sweet is that? I am entertaining friends, retirees, this weekend and I want them to be comfortable. I remember that at 23, I had a folder with plastic sleeves, full of new and shiny objects (torn from South Africa’s Home & Gardens magazine) that I would have in my dream house. Clearly, I am less preoccupied with new and shiny now.
But the sentence about doing penance in an uninspiring job gives me pause as I contemplate voicing a professional resolution for 2019.
Oh girl, before the night is over
I bet, I bet I can make you sweat
– Keith Sweat, Make You Sweat (from the 1990 album I’ll Give All My Love to You)
I applied for a couple of jobs in 2016, alot of jobs in 2017, and for a whole lot more in 2018. In 2018, a handful of my job applications ended in interviews, and I received and rejected job offers from two excellent institutions – neither felt right for me.
I’m almost a decade past my PhD defense and I haven’t broken a sweat since. This is a problem because I’m a human rights expert, and I think that should make me like a fireman, nurse, school teacher or a chef – someone who works on their toes and with volatile substances – I’m meant to get hot at work.
I’m open to all sorts of next acts: Enrolling as a grad student in the MFA program for creative nonfiction at Hunter College; setting up a gender strategy for a USAID food security project in Kenya; leading a domestic violence response team for the NYC Mayor’s Office; building partnerships between Face Book South Africa and social justice stakeholders; researching the sexual historiographies of women elders in a Zambian city.
There is no dream job sector or title, only my hope for a mission that (i) centers the interests of the most vulnerable who are coincidentally, the most powerful amongst us (ii) institutionalizes dignity and equality in professional engagement and practice, and (ii.i) trusts my leadership and talents.
In the last three years, so many sisters and friends have asked the right questions: ‘Why did you even take this job?’ ‘Why aren’t you writing?’ ‘Why not just leave?’ ‘Why not go back to school?’ So many have pushed me toward life giving work, vacancies I initially looked past, and side jobs that are the example of the elusive hard sweat that comes from the zone of smart, ethical, fast and thoughtful human rights work. It’s because of these sisters and friends that I’m encouraged to keep sharing.
I’m sharing this 2019 resolution, for my own accountability, but also for others who feel comfortably or uncomfortably stuck in a profession that they are trained for but not called to. If you feel like me, that you are mid-career but still busy with entry level work, if you believe there’s a difference between (job) appointment and anointment, if you too are moving toward work that inspires and perspires, let’s talk and exchange strategies for creative searches, creating our next gig, and shaping our professional narratives. Inbox me on FB or linkedin, or connect with me on whatsapp, firstname.lastname@example.org, etc.