We live and we learn

by Upendra Naidoo

I had long thought that 2020 was the worst year I could have experienced given the start of a global pandemic, but along came 2021. It’s no secret that I found my undergraduate degree challenging. It was filled with loss, growth, a search of identity and at the tail end a steep learning curve in the form of online learning. Regardless, I am proud of what I accomplished, but this year has been something else…

Education and the pursuit of knowledge have always been passions of mine. I always thought of myself as an under-achieving over-achiever. The paradoxical nature somehow worked for me yet being an honours student in 2021 came with its own unique challenges which had made me question everything. Juggling coursework, a research project, errands, a personal life, and my mental health initially had me in a tizzy. It was at the start of this year did I truly realise how terrible my time management skills were when left to my own devices. I craved structure and needed to make a change or else I would burn out and lose out on a one in a lifetime opportunity. It may sound like an exaggeration, but I assure you it is not. There were mornings when I questioned life and dreamt of the sweet release of death. I would eventually wake and get on with my day, pushing those dark thoughts aside.

The mind is indeed a powerful thing, but I chose not to wallow in self-pity and defeat. Instead, I was able to make a change, to focus, improve my time management skills and become a better independent learner. It definitely was not easy, and sacrifices were made. Those sacrifices took the form of little to no socialising and cutting down on sleep to ensure adequate preparation to fulfil academic commitments. Perhaps another person would be able to handle it all, but I’m grateful I finally found what works for me without endangering the achievement of my goals.

Given this change for the better, I was able to enjoy and engage with the material being taught. My passion had returned as well as a renewed sense of purpose. Specialising in radiobiology was not just to understand more about the disease that claimed the lives of a few loved ones, but to be a positive influence on the world. To share my knowledge with all those I encounter. Hopefully the rest of the year goes smoothly, with opportunities to study further as I continue to live and learn.

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