What's the hardest thing you've ever done?What did doing the hard thing teach you about yourself?Who are the two people who have had the biggest impact on your life?What did you learn from them?What was your first job and what valuable lessons did you learn there?What's your proudest memory? Why?When are you at your best?If you could change one thing about yourself, what would that be? Why?What's the one thing you wouldn't change about yourself? Why?How can you bring more of that thing you wouldn't change into your work?Go back in time five years. What's the thing your old self would be most proud that you've achieved?How would you like to be remembered?
The exercise: How to find the flame again & then make it stick?
- Take those themes and create affirmations (this is where it gets private and personal).
- Write those affirmations down, keep them with you wherever you go.
- Start your day with repeating those affirmations out loud to yourself.
- Whenever you're in doubt or feeling glum, use your affirmations to get you out of that funk.
- You should notice a change, soak this in, observe yourself in this moment.
- Use this energy to immerse yourself in solving/creating your next challenge / opportunity.
- Do this together with keeping track of your RAGE plan & journal your experiences.
- So I was exposed to the reality of the system of economics & social inequality as I grew up in apartheid. So I was always reminded about the reality "unfairness" of life, practicality, hard working humility, from an early age. We could not afford a car until I started working professionally, neither did we spend our childhood enjoying family vacations away from home. We sometimes didn't have the means to enjoy even the small pleasures of school excursions, school photos or even attend my final year farewell party of high school. Despite the lack of financial means, I can't fault my parents, family & friends for not sheltering us from these realities and filling our house & hearts with love, warmth & protection. My childhood was a blessing upon reflection, our elders did a great job providing psychological safety & groomed us to survive whatever challenges came our way.
- Despite our financial difficulties growing up, I honestly can't fault my parents for not providing a safe, secure, humble, warm and loving home. Home was always our sanctuary, it still is - every time I go back to my parents home (which is now taken care for by my brother and I), I am reminded of where I started: the tiny room I spent my life studying in, the small house that was never really empty, always bustling with visitors, our food table always welcoming to many guests, the wonderful conversations I'd have with my elders about their past, discuss world politics and life...one should never forget one's roots, home is where the heart is...whenever I need to recharge and remember who I am, I find solace back home...
- During high school, I had applied to hundreds of institutions for bursaries and scholarships, consistently for four years since grade 10, all through facing rejection but I never once gave up trying. I did this on my own, without help from anyone. I went to the library, enquired about bursaries, photocopied all the forms (there was no internet then), and I would send letters and apply to literally hundreds of companies (back then we just transitioning out of apartheid, the companies were not as diverse as they are today, and most of the bursary/scholarship forms were still in Afrikaans and had conditions like military service). I tried my best in high school, although I thought I could have scored more As, but I couldn't afford to send my papers for remarking and so settled with my grades, it was an A aggregate which was still nevertheless excellent. Even with these grades, it was a proud moment to be accepted to medical school...
- At 18, that was quite a defining moment for me: A phone call determines my fate in medicine, I realise I really have no one to back me up, I had to do things on my own. That was the first major turning point in my life, bringing it all home - that I'm alone in this fight, it's up to me to work my way out. There were no adults in my family or friends that ventured to stand guarantor for a bank study loan for me. So I thought I'd just continue working and try to find a way to study part-time.
- Eventually I would work for Vodacom during vacations setting up mobile base stations and doing drive-by quality of network experience testing. Vodacom was great in supporting me, unfortunately there was no automatic placement post graduation.
- As much as I did not quite enjoy half of electronic engineering topics because my intended software courses dropped away, by that time I was very much fully committed to seeing the degree through in four years, so no turning back. I couldn't whine about it, just get on with it. I was thankful for the bursary and committed to work for the company even though broadcast/radio was not my thing, and assumed the job would naturally follow upon graduation, but it didn't. Even on completing my engineering degree, I turned down three jobs before landing a job in the field I'd studied! I did not want to waste my hard slog of four years by not at least experiencing the job of an engineer!
- Working in Ireland, in the "first world" was a real eye opener for me. I became consciously aware of my incompetence. My knowledge of software engineering was lacking compared to the "first world", I was a little behind my peers and lacking some depth of computing principles I either would've learned at university if my courses hadn't been dropped; or if I had studied Computer Science.
- I had to ramp-up and teach myself all the things I should've learnt at university (if the courses weren't dropped). I ended up on a project that really stretched my ability, but I did not give up. Instead I dug in deeper and through this I had also secured a placement to study my Masters in Computer Science, from a world-class university, that would then bolster and take my South African education to another level, I hoped.
- I also experienced my first-and-only layoff in Ireland, made redundant, something I wasn't expecting it. I was gutted. My world was about to shatter. I was just settling down to a nice routine, enjoying my work, good social network. Without much opportunity left in Ireland, I applied to UK since I did not want to return back to South Africa. Using my savings wisely, I remained in Dublin until I found a job in UK.
- In between I got married. I completely funded the wedding myself, including the relocation to UK, etc. It was a simple, down-to-earth wedding, but I do take some pride that I did this all by myself, without asking anyone for any financial help.
- One of my proudest milestones has to be raising my engineering skills to become recognised as a Principal Engineer in the UK, as a result of my innovating text-to-speech technologies to make a Talking TV, as a side off-the-work-books project.
- Following closely behind was gaining my Masters in Computer Science from a world-class international university. These are important to me because coming from South Africa, it certainly means a lot. I remember some colleagues in Ireland and UK just scoffing sarcastically when I shared I worked for an SA company which they had previous interactions with (they held SA engineers in low regard at the time). The UK being a serious meritocracy where competition is tough, meant getting that job as a principal engineer for me was quite vindicating!
- I am grateful I was able to climb up both the technical and management career ladder in the UK and not in South Africa. IMHO this is because it is somewhat difficult in SA to decipher if your promotion was based fully on merit or whether a "previously-disadvantaged background quota filter for equity and diversity" actually influenced the decision making process. Despite South Africa being "free" for 25+ years now, there's still so much to fix in the corporate world. Let's just say, there's still a lot of biased perceptions going on in this country. Non-white people are still doubted here which is sad really, actually quite frustrating at times! So yeah, I actually derive great personal satisfaction and comfort in knowing I actually made it entirely on my own in the UK, based on my own merits, in what is probably the hardest parts of the world when it comes to high-performance "world-class" output. So this achievement is still my story worth cherishing.
- I had zero savings, no private pension to cash out, which meant starting from zero again, but this time in debt, with a wife and three kids to support. To boot, the job I landed in SA was a junior one as well - but I returned anyway, I embraced the uncertainty nevertheless.
- The decision was emotionally biased as well, dispelling much logic or rationale. I recall coming close to a nervous breakdown realising missed opportunities in SA as one example. So I felt we needed to return home to be closer to family. I also wanted to allow my kids to open there eyes to real world problems and challenges they wouldn't normally be exposed to had they continued to grow up in UK. At the time UK felt boring and perfect, whereas Africa felt more vibrant and alive!
- After a couple years working in SA, I was not happy with the work. I felt I needed to operate at a much higher level really. The work began to feel very routine and no longer challenging, because I was operating on skills & expertise from UK on autopilot. The projects I was running, whilst "state-of-the-art" for South Africa, was quite old news to me since I'd done them before, years ago. I considered myself an expert in that field of work (set top box engineering) and therefore I needed to change.
- Me being the hustler I am, I convened a meeting with the executives, pitched my offering to them, explained I could provide so much more value to the group if I was set free, used the "tamed lion" analogy - and successfully negotiated an exit agreement that saw me start my management consulting gig. It was a win-win for both sides, as I'd continue to support the business as a consultant, and be free to branch out to other technology & business projects within the group & external non-compete companies as well. I took a chance, was brave to leave comfort of a secure, stable job...but it paid off!
- So I decided to leave the comfort of a permanent, secure job and good career progression; to become a management consultant into unknown territory! This opened up a few opportunities, expanded my network and also exposed me the the bigger world of business. In a relatively short-period of time, I cleared my ALL my debt, and our lifestyle started to surpass that which we had in the UK, although I've remained very disciplined not to let my lifestyle follow the gains made. So leaving the comfort of a permanent job, trusting in my ability to venture on my own, taking chances, building professional credibility did pay off.
- I would again later leave management consulting and rejoin the collective again to take up a challenge of being CTO, yet another change that stretched my potential. Why did I do this? I had a safe consulting gig, with a good pipeline of work, in control of my own time, working at times a four-day week, and earning good money. I was relatively independent and free. Then I decide to join the matrix again, become part of the collective. Why? Because I wanted a new challenge and was becoming bored of consulting. I also wanted to prove to myself I could switch career tracks again, go back into technical, and prove myself & the sceptics wrong. I am very glad I did so, got to work with a great bunch of people, learnt so much & achieved very good results. The experience provided everything that was missing in terms of my next career jump - and in terms of the original goal I'd set myself, i.e. to be a Jack of All Trades, Master of Some, equipped with the tools to run my own start-up company one day, I believe I've done it. I have the ability to run a company if I wanted to, or lead very large teams as CIO/CTO...so what's my next challenge then?
- I do take care not to burn bridges, this is very important. I've learnt that having the courage to leave it all behind and walk-away is actually not so bad, in fact my experience has taught me it is quite a healthy thing to do! I've hit reboot a few times already and it wasn't so bad. Life & work goes on - one should never feel one is indispensable, that's just pure hubris! Life is about exploration, standing still can't be an option.