My story, like many others, has very humble beginnings. I completed an Honours degree in Media in the backwater town of Pietermartizburg, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. Here I was introduced to film making in my final Honours year, during which I wrote, shot and directed several student films. I particularly enjoyed the writing process and decided that if I was going to try and build a career, I would have to leave Sleepy Hollow and pursue writing elsewhere. Hollywood wasn’t an option, so I went for the next best thing: Cape Town.
A friend of mine was going to a film school called AFDA, which had won the Student Oscar for the previous year, so I decided to join him there. This turned out to be the biggest financial mistake of my life, but I made it out of there with my wallet reasonably intact. I then decided to pursue several writing and development programs in the local film community, and managed to make a few connections. But as with many things in life, things didn’t exactly work out as planned. After doing some work and never receiving any of the pay I was promised (cash or otherwise), I turned my attention elsewhere.
During and after film school, I managed to get by thanks to my parents and several part time student jobs. I worked at an internet cafe at a popular tourist destination, where I had the pleasure of getting frequently shouted at by foreigners because our internet was so slow (it was actually pretty good by South African standards). I also worked at a book store for a while, where I met a lot of interesting people, and got to explore my love of literature.
My first real job was a part-time lecturing position at a private college. I landed this through sheer luck as I had originally been hired as an assistant, but got bumped up when the position of lecturer when the teacher they’d hired quit only a couple of weeks before term was supposed to start. Here I was, the quiet kid who never liked to be the center of attention, teaching a group of people who were only a few years younger than me.
The first couple of months were hell. As I mentioned, being the shy kid means you don’t exactly volunteer when people are looking for tutors or assistants at university. I spent hours anxiously preparing for my classes, and these nerves carried over into my lectures. My class attendance started to shrink, and I realised that my students must have slowly been dying from boredom.
After a couple of months I told myself “Listen, you’re smart. Probably smarter than most of the people you’re teaching. Stop worrying so much about doing everything perfectly.” And so I did. As I began to relax more, my classes got better, and I actually started to have fun. As a result, the attendance for my classes improved, and my student feedback reports also became much more positive.
Unfortunately my career as a teacher was not meant to be. After another campus closed down, the college I was working for realised they had a surplus of teachers and not enough students. It’s “last one in, first one out” for contract employees, and guess who was the last one in? My contract was not renewed for the following year, so I spent a couple of months looking for work as a teacher. Unfortunately, a lot of private colleges were moving away from contract workers and instead hiring teachers full time. While I had enjoyed my time as a teacher, a voice in the back of my head kept telling me that it wasn’t time for me to take on teaching full time. Despite a couple of job offers, I went back to the book store job to try and figure things out.
As much as I enjoyed the work at the book store, the pay was barely enough to keep me afloat. I kept on searching and searching, and found myself repeatedly hitting dead ends. I reached further and further afield to try and land work. I went for several interviews, one of which included an online English teaching school. This turned out to be basically an English teaching sweatshop. Rows and rows of people and computers in a sweltering office, all parroting back the same basic patterns in order to teach English to Asian students. After the work environment went to hell in the bookstore (that’s another story) I decided to dedicate my time to finding work and quit my job.
A few months passed and reality started to beat on my door. The few job offers I had gotten were either horribly underpaid or were in fields that I couldn’t imagine myself working in, so I had turned them down. This was a decision I was starting to regret. Thankfully the universe wasn’t going to throw me out on the street just yet. One day I got a call from a technical writing company. They would like me to come in for an interview.
I got dressed in my Sunday best and headed out for the interview. Despite being nervous, the interview went pretty well, but there is one thing about it that will always stick in my mind. One of the managers, when looking through my work experience, highlighted the fact that I seemed to be a very creative person. He then said to me “Look, I hate to describe the work here as boring… but it can be very… mundane.” Immediately alarm bells went off in my head. Unfortunately for me, the alarm bells going off in my wallet soon drowned them out. I explained my situation and told them that I was just looking for something stable.
A few days later I got a phone call asking whether I would like the job. Even if the work wasn’t great, this was by far the best paying job I’d been offered, so I said yes. I reluctantly began working as a technical writer in October 2009. I kept on telling myself that this was only temporary and that I would keep on looking for creative work.
Five long years have passed since I told myself that, and you know what I realised? Nothing was going to change if I kept on doing the same thing over, and over, and over again. If I ever wanted to achieve my goals, I would have to take some risks…