There is one specific question I have grown to resent. It could be that I have been asked it a million times or that there is never a proper answer to give. Either way, I cringe every time I hear it.

“What are you doing with your life?”

During my uncle’s last visit, it tumbled from his mouth as soon as he saw me. He stared at me with all the expectation in the world but I had nothing to share. My life had not taken the overnight turn for success that we see in those cheesy, motivational movies. All I could offer him was the simple truth.

“I am taking it one day at a time,” I said.

He did nothing to hide his disappointment and spent the rest of his visit lecturing me. He mentioned that he had spent his youthful years working two jobs to support himself. That he later decided to go back to school and advance his education to get a better job. He emphasized that setting goals for himself and proper planning helped him to achieve his ‘ideal life’. Finally, he pointed to his fancy car and jingled his expensive wrist watch as poof of his hard work. His parting words to me were, “It does not pay to be lazy and hide behind excuses. You need to work harder than this in life.”

I was defeated. Not only by his assumptions of my laziness but also by his ignorance. Little does he know that immediately after getting my degree, I found myself stranded. I shifted my aim from the high-end career (I had studied for) and tried to secure a basic income job. Truth is, I was ready to accept anything that would put a few coins in my wallet and help me survive.

I have spent tons of money printing my CV or sitting at the internet café, applying online. The transport costs to distribute that CV, swallowed a lot more money. Although, I have been called for a number of interviews, some were located in dingy-looking places that I’ve opted against attending. I have taken on short courses, accepted temporary projects and volunteered. All with the hope of becoming more employable. Despite all my efforts, I have been turned away for not having enough experience, for being overqualified, for being too young, for not being ‘what they are looking for’ or being the wrong gender. Other times, I have been rejected for no reason at all.

It felt like a waste to explain any of these struggles to him because I knew he would consider it to be complaining. He would probably argue that there are people who have gone through greater struggles (for longer periods of time) and made it big. Yet, it seems as though fewer people are finding success these days. Life is harder than it was during my uncle’s time, evident in the increase of frustration and depression statistics.

I have gone through my share of hardship and have humbled myself to the reality that it will take time. My uncle’s pressure to hear about my progress in life is a further unnecessary stress. Especially, whilst living through the recent South African reality.

South Africa’s economic condition has been announced in countless newspaper articles, and blasted on radio. The most noticeable reports are about the increasing rate of unemployment which have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Statistics SA reported that the unemployment rate reached an all-time high of 32.6% in the first quarter of 2021. The youth (people between 15 and 24 years) unemployment rate is at 63.3%. They indicated that 7.2 million people currently do not have jobs and the numbers continue to rise. The reality is that there is no way to plan, adjust or work around this.

Amidst the hardship we are living through, I am disappointed that the most suitable advice my uncle could offer me is to stop being lazy. There is no way to prove that I have nearly driven myself crazy trying to find my feet even though I have been blessed enough obtain a higher education degree. My degree seems to have become a random piece of paper attached to each desperate application.

The only thing that hurts more than the repeated rejection of our efforts is our elders’ idea that a lack of result comes from a lack of intention. I can testify about the youth going above and beyond to survive. Others even resorting to random, creative or perhaps unexplainable hustling. These are diligent attempts that we should be proud of, no matter how small they are.

Young people are not lazy. So, the next time someone questions what you are doing with your life, let them know that you are taking it one day at a time. At this point, I doubt anybody has a better answer than that.


Read about one writer’s opinion about the youth of South Africa, here.

Tell us: Do you agree with the author? Why or why not?