There is something very special about a family heirloom. Whether it be your grandmother’s pearls, that painting from your great aunt, a special piece of furniture, or in the cases of those extremely really lucky few – Pop’s vintage wheels. September is heritage month and while one may or may not be in the possession of a physical heirloom, the heirlooms that are most value are those that know no shape or form, and on which no price can be placed. These heirlooms are the pearls of wisdom that we are granted from those who have gone before us, who have faced struggles, difficulties and many a grazed knee but have come out the other side having been shaped and polished into a better version of themselves, much like a pearl.
This heritage month Ayanda Mbanga takes a minute to reflect on the simple truths that have helped to shape her into the woman she is today. These are her pearls of wisdom for you.
Hayiyo kgomo yaboroko. This phrase is loosely translated as:
You can’t get a cow while sleeping.
This saying pretty much speaks to the fact that there is nothing to be gained from being a lazy bum. This was drummed into me by my mother. I was born in Bloemfontein, you see, speaking Sesotho until I was six years old when we moved to what was then called the Transkei. Umthatha, to be exact. My mother was a nursing sister at Pelonomi Hospital, where I was born. I distinctly remember her looking so well put-together and professional in that nurses’ uniform: maroon lapels, stockings, shiny shoes and all. There’s something to be said about the link between productivity and looking good when going to work. But that’s a topic for another day.
My mother was married to a tall beautiful man, my father. At the time, he was an editor of a children’s magazine called Wamba Umhlobo Wabantwana. After we moved to Mthatha, he got involved in business and ultimately died of a diabetes-related ailment at the age of 42. I was 11 years old. My mother raised me and my brothers by herself from then on.
Lesson: Whether or not you have something to do: get up. Make your bed. Shower. Show up. Participate. No matter how high the odds may seem to be stacked against you.
If you can dream it, you can achieve it
After graduating from Rhodes University with a Journalism degree, I headed out to the City of Gold, where I had always wanted to be. There’s a wonderful charm about those Joburg city lights in the night, whether you’re coming in on the Greyhound bus or on an airplane landing at ORT. Like Nelson Mandela once said:
“You cannot be prepared for something, while secretly believing it won’t happen.”
When I was at the small student town of Grahamstown, I always knew in my heart that what I wanted was to be in a big city. I was committed to that belief. And by the time I graduated, I had a job offer from the internationally acclaimed advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. And I wasn’t even an A student. However, to only commit to an idea is not enough to make your dreams come true. Your day-to-day acts – no matter how insignificant they may seem at the time – must support that idea.
Lesson: Work hard. Always put your best foot forward. Get noticed, even in your own quiet way.
Choose your friends wisely
My first boss ever, Tim Groenewald, who recruited me from university, was one of the core people who were there encouraging me to start my business 20 years ago. The new democratic dispensation had just befallen us, and I wasn’t always sure I could do it. And even worse, call it by my name. ‘’How cheeky’’, I thought.
Anyway, Tim and his wife Daleen, together with Joseph Kganakga (now an independent Chairman of our business), Jurie Snyman and a few others were there rooting for me. I’m certainly not advocating for an over-reliance on external validation. At the core, you have to truly believe that you can. Then allow your closest people to propel you further. On and on.
The lesson here is fairly simple: Surround yourself with positive and optimistic people. Positive people tend to make better decisions because they look at all probabilities and try to understand them. Don’t be delusional though. Accept that the world around you is constantly changing and that you will have to change with it.
You can only be you
The same Tim Groenewald once said:
“No one is important enough to lie to.”
The lesson here is also simple: No posturing please. Not everyone has to approve of you and what you have to offer the world. So, just relax. Keep it real, for goodness sake!
Never stop learning
Listen. Not all of us can be this or that or the other. All I want you to remember is that you can carve your own path. Break free from whatever stereotypical shackles you may have come to accept over the years. For example: what your parents or teachers or priest told you. You can always do more.
Former UCT Sports Science professor, Tim Noakes speaks to this in one of his books. Being a marathon runner myself, I rely on this thinking. According to Noakes, the brain decides how much more you can do. It’s not the muscles getting tired. You choose your level of performance and your brain instructs it to do. The importance of self-belief and desire can never be underestimated.
Lesson: Keep going. Be persistent. You can always do more. It’s not always as impossible as it seems.
Life is too short
At a conference I once attended a few years ago, one of my favorite CEOs in SA business, Adrian Gore of Discovery shared that from an actuarial point of view, by the time you’re 40 years old, you’ve lived 85% of your life. Set dreams and goals – not just business plans. I’m talking real legacy issues.
Lesson: Time is limited. Take action. Now!