Of late, I have found myself getting a tad edgy and defensive when explaining why I entered academic life at 'such a young age'. Surely, she must be a careerist, one on those who will step on anyone's shoes to become a professor before the age of 40 - these are the undertones I feel I have to address even though they are never openly uttered.
Even as I am enormously grateful to all my mentors, peers, and the opportunities that I have been given, I know that I have made many personal sacrifices, and that I never set out to be a career academic. I also know that while it remains an important and meaningful part of my life (with some ups and downs), I don't worship my career and wonder if I would need all these disclaimers if I were a man?
In the summer of 2004-2005, I ploughed my way through a part-time job at Coles, an internship at a university publication, and a research assistantship on an African diaspora project. This was shortly followed by a difficult house move, a laptop theft, and being diagnosed with RSI in my right wrist and a slipped disc around the time of my 21st birthday. I am aware it sounds dramatic now, but at the time, it felt as though the Reuters cadetship application I had been drafting, and the foreign correspondent gig I had been dreaming about were nothing but cruel jokes. Consciously or sub-consciously, I moved towards a research pathway (with short stints in media monitoring and all manner of part-time jobs to pay the rent) and also made peace with being 'stuck' in Adelaide.
Almost eight years later, I have none of those health constraints, and have been craving to live the life I never lived at 21. I am not referring here to drunken nights and/or backpacker's hostels, but just that youthful spirit that lets one experiment with leisure activities, hobbies, and generally living more in the moment. My mapping skills work perfectly at work, but I am using my freedom in other parts of my life to create, re-create and be a cartographer without a compass. Frightening, yes, but I am feeling the fear and doing it anyway!
Friends joke that this is almost a Benjamin Button story, albeit a female one. Need I add that it has its perils, not to mention the biological clock warnings from all and sundry. There are also those who cannot undo the categories they put you into, no matter how much you try to show them the 'other' side. So this women's day, I promise to stop showing and apologising, and start doing and celebrating!