"You might ask how did I know if I was doing the right thing or not? How do I know if I am moving forward? Well, I don’t know. Which is where my community steps in. I look to those ahead of me for guidance. In this matter I’m relying on mentors, my own past life lessons, and my targets of where I want to be at different points in time to guide me. Whether or not I do something, change is here and future change will come still. So choices will have to be made."
When I moved to Sweden in 2019 to start my master’s program in Environmental Management and Policy at Lund University, I knew that it was the start of an adventure. With many things to learn, people to meet and places to visit - Sweden was the next exciting stage of my life. Leaving the professional world to return to academia was not easy, but I knew with certainty that Sweden was my step forward.
I graduated from my program June 2021, at which point I was faced with a decision. After having successfully completed my degree, finalized my thesis, and completed my student employment with the university… I needed to decide what would come next.
It is difficult to articulate what one wants from life. It is not easy to lay out concrete and explicit targets to aim for. When it comes to my professional life, I had always known the kind of work I wanted to do - I want to work for a company or government agency that makes sustainability a real, actualized force in their practice. But, what was hard, and what remains hard… is understanding how to get to that point. I have my big picture vision in mind, but how do I get there? How do I know if I am on the right path? How do I know if I need to course-correct? What will success look like for me?
After having worked very hard for the 2 years of my program, I spent this past summer of 2021 restoring and resting. I felt the sun, swam with friends, ate delicious food, and just stood still for the first time in a long time. I knew that the next steps on my path would require energy, resilience and vitality. And in order to resume my professional journey, rest was not only important - it was mandatory.
At the tail end of my summer off, I emerged with a new understanding of what I wanted for myself. I realized that it's important for me to do work I care about, work that can sustain me, and work that can challenge me to grow. It is through consulting mentors, joining the professional development program run by International Citizen Hub Lund, “Kick-Start Program Fall 2021”, and observing my own past successes that I realized how this future vision would come to be achieved - I needed to take it one step at a time.
This is so simple, yet hard to observe; widespread, yet difficult to notice. Everything won’t happen at once, you won’t achieve your peak vision of yourself the first time you try. In fact, it won’t be many years until it finally happens. I had to let go of the idea that I’d find the perfect job tailor made to my skillset and ambition right out of the gate. I needed to see my path forward as one inlaid with stepping stones. I needed to overcome one challenge at a time - this stepping stone to gain relevant experience, this other stepping stone to complete my master’s program, that stepping stone to understand the Swedish job market, this stepping stone to gain novel skills, and so on. As long as I was moving forward, that was success. You might ask how did I know if I was doing the right thing or not? How do I know if I am moving forward? Well, I don’t know. Which is where my community steps in. I look to those ahead of me for guidance. In this matter I’m relying on mentors, my own past life lessons, and my targets of where I want to be at different points in time to guide me. Whether or not I do something, change is here and future change will come still. So choices will have to be made.
So here I am now, several stepping stones ahead than I was at the end of my summer. I recognize myself for what I have achieved in these past months, and I nurture myself to reach the stones ahead of me. So my advice to you would be to envision your path as stepping stones. Recognize the stones you have already reached. Celebrate them. And give yourself patience, grace, and courage for the stones you want to reach in future.
/ Rumbi Chikowero