I wish someone had told me you should always get on the bus

“I wish someone had told me” is a series of posts that feed into our inquisitive nature at CN&CO. Each week we hear from someone in our network about something interesting or surprising that’s recently happened or occurred to them. These blogs are a way to pay it forward and form part of CN&CO’s belief that the world can be a better place – and we all have a responsibility to make it so. This week’s post is by Rob Christian.

With a decent dose of hindsight – and, more importantly, the right mindset – whatever challenges you happen to be contemplating in life might not seem so stressful and important for the future. Looking back, rarely have my actions then had a negative impact on now. What can seem important at a specific moment of your life fades into an trivial haze as time marches on. Some of the smallest decisions can yield the biggest and best journeys.

A few years ago I set off for a year of backpacking, rather than embracing the engineering environment for which I had laboured for the previous four years. My priorities were:

  • Scuba diving (island life, no shoes, motorbike – what more could you ask for?)
  • Farm labour (have you ever tried to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on a pregnant sheep?)
  • And visiting family on the other side of the world (did you know New Zealand has the second highest sheep to human ratio – now Google the first!)

Drive an ambulance to Mongolia? Why not

I lived in Thailand for several months, completing my Divemaster qualification (a story for another time), went to work on cattle and sheep farms in the land of the All Blacks (New Zealand, for those of you who don’t follow rugby) and ultimately ended up in South Korea, being amazed at how a country could seem so “Western” yet remain distinctly “Eastern” at the same time.

The only limit to my travels was family dependent – my brother had organised his wedding in December so I dutifully threw my backpack over my shoulder and headed back to the motherland.

The wedding was wonderful; South Africa was sunny, and all was good in the world except for one thing – I did not have a job. The timing of my return, fortuitous as it was to embrace the summer weather, was somewhat naive in terms of joining the workforce. No company was hiring in December, nor could I expect that to change at the start of January. People were simply focused on wrapping up the year’s tasks and going on holiday. The number of work applications sent into the void returned exactly what I expected, silence. As the December holidays began in earnest I resigned myself to the fact that I probably would not be able to start the new year with a new job, so I would have nothing to take my mind off my personal circumstances…

Getting on the bus (mini) literally

Around this time my mother was working at Pretoria Boys High School. As such, she was familiar with all the part time “jobs” that the school had to offer and suggested I contact the teacher responsible for organising their bush school. Since I had nothing to lose by having a conversation (life lesson in there somewhere) I did so and was informed that I could accompany him to assist with the next contingent of Grade 9 boys to Kamoka Bush School in the first week of January. While the bush school would only be for three weeks it would be at the same time that I had hoped to renew my job hunting with vigour and secure my entry into the working world. What if one of my previous applications was read by HR, now looking for a new engineer to join their team, and I wasn’t available for an interview? Would there be any way to continue my job search in a place that had limited internet or cellphone reception?

It sounds mundane now but it was of great importance at the time. Humour me – for an unemployed, basically broke, young adult who had zero corporate work experience, it was a big deal at the time.

On 2 January I decided I would get on the bus for the bush school the next day. Although the decision essentially came down to a “what the hell, why not” attitude, it was not easy as I tend to over evaluate any “important” decision in my life (much to the disbelief of people who actually know me). I often over-evaluate in a short amount of time, so in my mind it balances out. Off I set to Kamoka to help shape the lives of 30, 15-year-old boys from my previous high school. I was still broke and itching to find a job. There are many events in our lives that may carry us in a new direction without knowing, and this was one such event.

Although the bush school class was from Pretoria Boys, the land and facilities are owned by St Stithians, and it was during a weekend there that two old Stithians – one newly appointed as head of council – decided to visit. As I had already been at the school for a week, I played a small part of the hosting party and got talking to one of the individuals about life in general. One question that arose was, “How long have you been involved in education?”, to which the answer was, “One week… I actually studied engineering.”

It doesn’t matter where the bus is going, get on son

The outcome of that conversation was a phone number and an open offer to call at any time during the year to discuss possible work options. Fast forward several years and I now work with both old St Stithians, as part of an incredible team, as well as having been exposed to countless amazing individuals along the way. The experiences I have had and the opportunities that present themselves daily in my life are numerous and challenging in ways that only a few people will understand. But I would not change anything in my past that has led me to where I am today. Nor would I have thought that my life would have taken such a different direction than the one envisaged nine years ago on the day I walked into my first engineering lecture at UCT.

If you just get on the bus, anything is possible.

If you decide to do something – anything! – at a given point in time, the result of that decision can never truly be appreciated until years later. If you do what you can, with what you have, where you are (shamelessly stolen from Teddy Roosevelt) you can never imagine where you might end up in the future.

Want to take a sabbatical but unsure how? Get on the bus.

Hesitant to tell someone how you truly feel? Get on the bus.

Looking to make a difference in the world? Get on the bus.

It doesn’t matter what it is, the next time you have a decision to contemplate, be it one of gravitas or even frivolity, don’t think too hard about it. Just get on the damn bus. It could take you on a wonderful journey.