It takes a village

As written for Auckland university of technology

June, 2016


In the first year of my Masters program, I wrote a lot about motivation and focus.

I was preaching to myself most of the time. It’s no surprise that, at the end of the year just as large milestones were looming, I lost both my motivation and my focus.

It is said that the journey will be the most difficult just as you’re about to make a breakthrough, that you’ll want to give up just before you’re about to succeed; it’s true. That last step of growth is agonising and many of us give up.

But I’ve talked plenty about, “I know what you’re going through” – yeah, you know that I know; we all know.

One aspect of the university survival toolkit that I haven’t touched on yet is ‘company’.

Any time somebody compliments me on a job well done or my character in general, I tell them that I’m only as good as the company I keep. This isn’t empty praise.

When your plan is in chaos, your back is to the wall, and you’re spiralling… if you can’t come down by yourself, the only thing that might pull you out of that -- and keep you out – is another person.

It isn’t enough to commiserate that we’re all in the trenches together. If we all just appraise the muck and shrug a lot, nobody’s going anywhere. But if someone’s trying to climb out, if someone has already scaled the wall and is extending a hand, well, it’s much easier to consider moving. And the more of you going up, the easier it gets.

“You’ve got this, and we’ve got your back.”

I have lost track of how many times I’ve heard or said that in the past year and-a-half.

Success breeds success, which means that in order for us to achieve, we have to build environments that help it happen and ensure it can keep happening. This means surrounding yourself with the sort of people who share your goals, who set expectations for each other, who encourage each other, and have a productive attitude. Sometimes this means saying goodbye to certain friends for a time (or forever), but in doing so, we’re teaching others how to treat us and what we’re worth.

“I know you have a lot of commitments with work and the family, and it’s tough with the assignment deadlines. Have you talked to the teacher about your options?”

“You know I love naps, too, but let’s work a little first, then nap afterwards.”

“I am worried about how much coffee you’re drinking.”

“No, you cannot borrow my notes because you’re too lazy to turn up to class. Some people work two jobs and travel three hours to get to this lecture – you can pull yourself out of bed and walk down the street to take your own notes.”

“It’s disappointing to hear the teacher doesn’t get why this work is uncomfortable because of where you’re coming from, culturally. Let’s go to the Student Hub for some advice.”

“You’ve got this, and we’ve got your back.”

You’ll form different social circles that fulfil different needs, but it helps when they share a core set of values and principles. Namely, that every single group and its members are committed to each other’s success and wellbeing.

I’ve thought about quitting many times during this journey. I’ve broken down with my back to the wall, and cried enough to start my own little Pacific Ocean. I’m not ashamed of that, it’s part of the process. I worry more for the person who doesn’t. Sometimes you have to break something down to build it up better than it was before. Every time, I reached out for help, I got back up, and because of that I could help somebody else up, too.

It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to sustain them, too.