SAWIP inspires, develops and supports annual teams of interns and its whole alumni body to bring about community development through social projects amongst the most disadvantaged and marginalised South Africans.

Get Busy Living

by Matthew Chennells
Matthew Chennells
I am a Masters student in Economics at the University of Cape Town, with a poten
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on May 08 in Experience 0 Comment


Never in my life have I been required to be as organised as I’ve had to be in the last few weeks. Never before have I had to keep a diary and pens nestled away in my pockets for when I check up on friends or make plans to see them.


Thursday night?” A frantic flick to the required date – Alas! – not to be: I'm being psychoanalysed for SAWIP.


Don't ask.


[“But the last Tuesday in September’s looking pretty free at the moment. How bout I pencil you in...mid-afternoon fine?”]


Though it is rough and all of us in the team are working hard at managing everything, the nice thing is that we are all in the same boat. We are not unique in this either and it extends beyond us as well; people, friends and family are busy in their own lives, trying to coordinate their own wants, needs, loves and hates. A quick peak over the side of our boat shows a never-ending fleet of others, each tossed around on this wild sea, some looking terrified, some determined, some trying to steer their ship, others being sick over the side. The world concerns itself with being busy.


The night before Worker's Day last week was my first evening of respite in a while and I arrived back to my room and collapsed. I desperately needed to see some scarce friends, but I realised that I didn't know what a single person was doing that night, and the lure of deep sleep and mindless trash on TV was unfortunately too strong. I began wondering as to what exactly this 'busyness' is that I've found myself caught up in.


Being busy should, hopefully, imply doing things that you think have a purpose, whatever that may be. My last post mentioned the inspiration I draw from our team in pushing myself to be excellent in what I do. Even if I never strove solely for it, to me, excellence has always implied what we regard as a standard explanation; being the best you can at each thing that you do, whether it's in your academics, relationships, service to community, sport, your own personal development, etc. There is no doubt that in my life some of these are taking a hit at the moment – I’ve clearly bitten off more than I can chew – yet I'm happy with this state of affairs where I’m not achieving quite as much in certain areas as I would have liked. Why is this?


It’s because now I see excellence in a broader sense, a greater overarching idea of being the most useful you can be, given everything that you are doing. I hope you’ll forgive me for diving into economic jargon, but it’s a sort of overall maximisation of excellence that we seek – as opposed to in specific areas – that weights the different things we are doing based on the importance (and costs) we attach to each outcome that we want; the best net result that we can attain. Ideally, we learn to trade off what does not fit into this picture (although we struggle to figure out what these aspects are) and remove them from the equation while maintaining a balance in our lives. But this sounds quite lazy.


In our group we’ve chatted about it before, but this idea of balance is interesting. It’s often expressed in a good way, a necessary means of keeping all aspects of life in sync and not becoming bogged down and lost in one area. But it may also be the opposite, a tacit excuse to justify not striving for excellence, an excuse not to give attention to things you know you should probably direct more focus towards.


I do believe in being aware of this balancing act, perched as we are on a sort of multi-dimensional see-saw. But maybe we do not need to remain in equilibrium at every point in time; we might, in fact, never be stable, always flailing our arms in certain directions and struggling to stay upright. What if we should see this idea of balance as a long term idea, that over time (don't ask me how long) we shift to keep balanced overall even if we pendulum in the present from one extreme to the other? Like slow tectonic shifts in the deeper bases on which we build our lives even as we run around trying to get things done. We all feel this; sometimes it's good to be uncomfortable, drained, outside your comfort zone, off-balance.


I am enjoying this busy state at the moment; I find it exhilarating even as I feel myself being exhausted. For two reasons:


  1. I feel like I am pushing my boundaries, exploring what I’m capable of; when I work late, move non-stop, miss my friends and family, stop doing the things I enjoy, I know that these are testing who I am and what I want. It’s also making me continuously re-assess what and who I regard as important.


  2. I feel that most of what I'm doing is actually useful to what I want to do in the future.

I am not pretending in any way that I live every minute of my day with purpose and drive and zeal. Far from it; I know that I can be lazy and I know when I need down-time. But driving yourself hard, pushing your limits, reaching out and stretching for your goals gives you a sense of elation. And when those end goals are things you regard as valuable to yourself as well as to others, there can’t be too many greater feelings.

Except when you keep getting stabbed by pens in pockets.



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About the author

Matthew Chennells

I am a Masters student in Economics at the University of Cape Town, with a potential research focus on human interaction under uncertainty, education and sustainable development. I spent two years after my undergraduate degree working, travelling and cycling through Europe, parts of the Middle-East and Africa and I love experiencing and learning about people and places that I encounter. Discovering how I can be most useful to my community in the future is what I am focused on at the moment.


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