I am a person who likes to start things - conversations (if I hear anyone in the supermarket speaking Ndebele I feel compelled to join in), friendships, projects, songs, businesses, stories…. I just love the energy that comes with new beginnings. The planning and preparations, putting tools, and people and ideas together, all give me a high that is unlike anything else I have experienced. And so of course, I tend to start a lot of things.
Anyone who knows me well knows that surprises upset me - even if the surprise is good. You see, I feel robbed of all the excitement of planning, which in many ways for me, is the best part. I love brainstorming and seeing something develop from a simple thought to something tangible, audible, edible. But then - I get bored.
These tendencies are not all that unusual for creative people. We thrive on the energy of creation, and can, if not managed well, lose interest when processes become more mundane and repetitive.
So how can one succeed as a creative entrepreneur? How do you generate enough of the spark that sets ideas alight, but also maintain the discipline of doggedly doing the mundane - accounting for resources, keeping people honest, managing teams, performing preventative maintenance on your business, or building or vehicle? Here are four tips that work for me:
1. Be inspired, not motivated
If you have ever listened to a motivational speaker - and who among us hasn’t, now that we have YouTube, Instagram and even Netflix churning out motivation by the truckload - you will know that the effects of such a talk don’t last very long. This is because of the simple truth that words don’t teach (more on this another time). Only revelation teaches. And once you are operating in the realm of revelation you are no longer motivated, but inspired. Inspiration lasts because it comes as a response deep within when something resonates with who you truly are. Find out the things that trigger your inspiration and do them often, expose yourself to those things and those people. I am inspired by beautiful stories, by big conversations with smart people, by creativity in all forms, and I find that when I immerse myself in these things often enough, I work diligently, even at tasks that would otherwise be boring.
2. Work with purpose rather than passion You’ve probably heard it said enough times that you should pursue your passion. Thats fine for a while, but what the passionistas didn’t tell you was that in the same way that inspiration trumps motivation, purpose trumps passion. When you are driven by purpose you have the impetus to keep going even when things are tough (or boring). Passion can run out any time, but purpose is a lifelong commitment to a certain set of values, a certain way a of being, a certain aim you have for your life. When we work with purpose, we can do hard things. This is why when we build brands, we always start with purpose. It’s one of the most powerful drivers for staying on course (even when you’re bored).
3.Set up systems
Systems help us by making repetitive tasks less onerous. This is a godsend for people like me who do not do well when it comes to repetitive work. By putting the task, or set of tasks, on auto you eliminate a huge chunk of the pain associated with setting up, thinking, planning and doing something over and over again. We can think of habits as automations. (If you haven’t read James Clear’s bestselling book Atomic Habits, I urge you to get it today). Habits help us automate repetitive and/or onerous tasks. Once something is running on auto in your life, you barely have to think about it, so it doesn’t have the opportunity to bore you.
4. Surround yourself with fabulous people and give them space to shine
If there is one prevailing truth in my life, it is that I attract the best people. At home and at work, I am surrounded by stars. And because the people in my life are fabulous, I don’t struggle to share my responsibilities with them. Delegation is often frightening when you aren’t sure if the person you are entrusting the important task to will actually do it. If you have a fabulous team then you have less to worry about. And remember - they don’t have to do the job the way you would do it. They just have to achieve the same result. This means you have to be willing to let go of your own personalised “how” and accept the possibility that someone’ else’s way might be just as good or even better than yours.
Starting things is so much fun, I can’t imagine a life in which I couldn’t from time to time treat myself to the adventure that beginnings give me. But I also value the benefits that come with experience, repetition and expertise. These things come, not form starting things, but from staying with them. And so I hope that these four tips I have shared will enable those of you who are creators to do both - start some fun things, and then see them through to completion.
In winter the early morning sun on my veranda makes it impossible to stay in my freezing cold office on the opposite side of the house. So I bring my tools out here and remember to be thankful for the freedom to work from home, to choose my hours and to pick the exact spot in my home from which I want to work.
But here’s what they don’t tell you about freedom:
Freedom doesn’t always feel free. And it always comes at a price.
It’s a bit like Moses taking the Israelites out of captivity, where they had been enslaved by the Egyptians and subjected to the worst types of unfair labour practices. It took a lot of doing for him to get them out of there. And yet, half way through the journey to a promised land they started to feel the effects of freedom. They started to realise that freedom didn’t really feel free.
“Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What is this that you have done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?” (Exodus 14:11)
This is the kind of BS that every leader who has sacrificed for his people dreads. Leading people who can’t seem to catch your vision is as painful as it is irritating.
Yesterday we celebrated Africa day, which was originally called African Freedom day, a day on which liberation movements across the continent celebrated their progress and their commitment to be free from colonial domination. Yet, in our freedom we don’t always feel free. And our freedom comes at a price.
Being independent means you have to take care of your own house, set your own rules and figure out your own measures for success and happiness. Just as in entrepreneurship you have to decide your own priorities, organise your own work, develop systems and discipline yourself to stick to them. . No one else can do that for you. You also have to figure out what really makes money in your business and how to ensure there is a continuous stream of income to meet your needs. This is the price you pay for the so-called freedom of being your own boss. And let me assure you, it’s not as easy as it looks. And all that enormous responsibility certainly doesn’t always feel free.
So if you are sometimes tempted to look with envy at your friends who are “doing their own thing”, working from their verandahs and making "work from home" look like a piece of cake, remember Moses, and the craziness of of former slaves saying “It was better when we were in Egypt.” This applies to entrepreneurship, divorce, and may other types of “riding solo".
Freedom comes at a price, and very seldom feels free.
Last week was ball dropping season in our ops team. For the first time in months I failed to record and publish a podcast episode. We didn’t send out our weekly newsletter like we do every week (even though these are written and batched well in advance) and for the first time this year we didn’t host a Live on Africa business Lounge. For a team that preaches consistency as the bedrock of branding, this was pretty jolly bad.
I could tell you about a few other balls that went unattended in my personal life, but these ones are the ones that face the public and are most visible to our audiences.
It’s a horrible feeling when you don’t meet your own expectations (let alone those of others) but that is the exact point at which you have to remember who you are. Your actions or omissions don’t make you a different person.
You are not less worthy of respect and kindness in the wake of dropping a ball than you were before we knew you were capable of dropping it. Sometimes we forget this, and we allow that sense of shame or embarrassment to define how we think about ourselves. We start speaking to ourselves in tones that should be reserved for hardened criminals and we replay only the worst performing clips from our life story. This isn’t just counter productive - because it doesn’t give you the energy or impetus to do better, but it’s also dangerous because when you repeat it often enough it forms patterns that will eventually change your identity.
It is the same with performance as it is with prosperity. If you were ever able to make a decent amount of money, then you are a person who can make money. The fact that you may be having a hard time financially right now doesn’t change who you are - it doesn’t make you a person who isn’t capable of making money.
I learnt this lesson after I sustained a knee injury running in Kigali. I was off the road for more than a year, and given that I relied on running to manage not just my physical health but also my emotional and mental health, this was a major blow. I was tempted to remove the “long distance runner” piece from my bio, but I remembered that as long as I identified myself as a a runner in my head, I would always have the motivation to resume running. I didn’t want to allow that injury to change who I am and how I see myself. Thankfully after months of rest, a frustrating season at the gym, and having to restart slowly and gently, I am back on the road again - still in recovery mode, but running regularly enough to feel at peace with the idea that I am in fact a “long distance runner”.
Maybe you’ve also dropped balls, failed at something, or found yourself frustratingly unable to do things you once excelled at. My advice is to keep calling yourself by that same name - the name that speaks of your achievement or even your aspiration, because in your heart of hearts, that who you really are.
Remember who you are.
When I started doing body scanning with my children, they were very little. I didn’t know that it was called body scanning and I didn’t even know that it was a real thing. It was introduced to me by a very dear friend, who became my children’s Jewish grandmother and I just thought it was a trick she had gained with age and wisdom for calming little ones.
I wasn’t wrong of course, but body scanning is so much more than that. As a great form of meditation for beginners, it also comes with some incredible benefits, including improved sleep, relief from stress and anxiety, greater self-awareness and body knowledge and increased self-compassion.
Here’s my very simple method.
Moses had to hook up with his God by the burning bush resort and spa.
He couldn’t take his homies along - it was a solo mission.
The superpowers he ended up with were scary - the clan didn’t know if they could trust him - the loneliness was palpable. He didn’t have a Famous Five or a Secret Seven.
He saw the wonders by hisself, and even when he returned with a vision of what life could be like, a vision he struggled to believe in himself, and so struggled to sell to his fellow villagers, his mission was a lonely one.
Each time he had to have a performance appraisal, it was in one of those one-on-one closed session side rooms, where there’s no visitors’ chairs, no one tagging along for moral support - it’s just you and the boss. Then he’d get back to the factory and find the workforce had created a mess. It was hectic man.
That fella Moses, he got the worst deal, man. Forty years tryna keep a bunch of errant peeps on a path that would help them save themselves. Forty years of law enforcement, dealing with their misdemeanours, their grumbling and their drama. And after all of it, after all the scary, frank and open conversations with the most terrifying Board Chairman in history, Moses never got to see the retirement benefits that would have been due to any CEO. Heck, he didn’t even get to attend the big reveal party.
That’s what it looks like when you’re chosen. It’s helluva hard and helluva lonely.
So, if you feel like there are some chosen people that you want to bully into leading the charge, remember Moses, and rather lead yourself. Leave them folks alone.
Ask yourself, “Am I the modern day Moses? Can I withstand the alone-ness?”
Because being chosen means being set apart - standing alone.
You don’t get to choose who is chosen.
You only get to answer if you’re the one.
Zimbabweans are renowned for being patient and peace-loving people. And I am one who believes that this great asset is also our biggest downfall; But not perhaps in the way you think.
Our patience is a problem because it makes us long-suffering. It makes us willing to bear much and to only begin to speak when the roof is well and truly on fire. Our love of peace makes us passive aggressive in the beginning when we are avoiding small internal conflicts in our homes, and cowards at the end, when we are pointing, “Fire!” from the distance and safety that money and privilege avails us.
I want to believe that a leadership team, like a house, or a car, or any other complex structure needs ongoing preventative maintenance in order for it to function well. It needs a regular tune-up to check if it’s still fit for purpose. It needs tightening of joints that are loose, lubrication of spaces that are stiff, exchange of parts that are worn out, removal of bits that aren’t needed any more, and general cleaning and servicing of the whole to assure users that it is in good working order
So how are we doing in that respect? You will be quick to tell me stories about ZanuPF, you may even talk about amaShona, you will name names of politicians that are too obstinate to listen to their people, and leaders too greedy to let go of the reigns.
But let’s not be quick to go all the way up to the top of that hierarchy. Let’s talk about about how we apply this at our own level first. Because leaders come from among us. They are raised by our mothers and fathers, they are the playmates of our brothers and sisters, and are counseled (initially at least) by our own uncles and aunts. We as a collective are the mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts that create the people who lead our institutions today. We blame corruption, but we ourselves are corrupt. We cheat, steal, murder, abuse children, rape women, are mysogynist and then raise our voice in outrage saying the government is evil. How is our leadership renewal in churches? How are we speaking out against injustice in our schools? How do we take responsibility and hold each other accountable in our families?
Unless we are willing to take responsibility at community level we are in for a nasty shock should there be a change in leadership in Zimbabwe - nothing will change. It’s like we have forgotten the delirium we felt in 2017 when Mugabe left office; the hope that was palpable and the cries of joy that filled the air. But nothing changes unless we change.
There are three areas specifically that I believe we need to pay attention to:
The first is accountability. Holding one another accountable for what we ought to be doing and what we have committed to doing is critical if our institutions are too function. If you can't ask your sister-in-law why she hasn’t done what she said she would do, why should you ask your MP, or your Reserve Bank Governor? If we train ourselves to do this at a micro level it will become a culture that serves us well going forward.
The second is responsibility. Taking responsibility for the conditions of our lives and the lives of those around us requires strength of character and a willingness to stumble and fall and be wrong sometimes. If you feel so strongly about things that you have a lot to say on Twitter and Whatsapp, why have you not run for councillor? Are you a member of your residents association? Are you on the school SDC? Have you written a letter to your MP expressing your concerns? “It won’t change anything,” you will tell me. Well, we have tried keeping quiet and then suddenly erupting in protest and that hasn’t changed anything either. So why not try something new?
Third, is a change in mindset towards positive possibility. Only today I have read statements like “Tiri pakaoma…things are tough”, and words used to describe leadership: “Evil…cruel…scared…” Now I am not saying things aren’t tough - they are. I am not saying we aren’t facing hard times - we are. But I am saying there is also a perspective that looks at and focuses on solutions. I am saying that our expectation of tough times will never fail to deliver. Our anticipation of the failings of our leaders will always be accurate. Our predictions of hardship will always be on point. Because these are the things we choose to focus on and this is where we decide to place our energy. It is almost as if we relish the hardship that we describe and discuss so much. When there is a cyclone, we quickly spread rumours about another bigger, scarier one just around the corner. If there is a coup we see seven more coup plots within the next three years.
Can we consider an alternative way of being Zimbabwean? A way that says we start out by bravely pouring our energy into changing ourselves so that our leaders can change - either because we require more of them, or because we start to produce a different type of leader. A way that starts with calling each other out instead of echoing each others' cries of woe? If we can’t pay our service bills, and license our cars, why should our councillors fix our potholes? I know this may seem simplistic, but think about how this could scale - everyone playing their part and constructively calling on his neighbour to play his.
What we are yet realise is that all we really have is each other - no one is coming: not Zanu-PF, not #thisflag, not MDC-A, or MDC-T or any MDC, or any other messianic movement will save us if we are not prepared to save ourselves, if we are not prepared to change.
Once the house is burning it’s all too easy to jump on a hashtag or circulate bad news of abductions and arrests, of beatings and bullets. These are serious and deeply troubling reports; but the actions are a result of a system being left too long without proper maintenance - and the system isn’t Zanu-PF. The system is the country, is the community, is you and me. The system is our way of thinking and abdicating responsibility. It’s easy to talk in the school car park about that racist teacher - much harder to walk into the office and state your concerns. It’s easy to gossip in our WhatsApp groups about money missing from the church coffers - much harder to ask our deacons to account for it. If we learn to do these hard things - and we can only learn by doing them, and doing them regularly and frequently - we can begin to build a better society.
We can become a people known, not for their patience and long-suffering but for their courage and conviction. We send a clear message throughout all of our institutions that leading anything in this country is not going to be a free ride. We improve the substance of our conversations and we elevate the quality of leadership and also the quality of citizenship.
Let’s not wait for anarchy before we call “Fire!” But rather put out the sparks and embers that threaten the rug in front of the fireplace. That way we never need to take to the streets in protest - we build a system in which safe, responsible and even gentle protest is a part of our culture and our character.
Today I am feeling many things. But mostly I feel grateful.
I feel grateful that once again, in my lifetime I am witnessing an historic event. There have been so many for my generation - each one different, some of them harrowing, others inspiring, but each one holding a measure of that “the-world-will-never-be-the-same-again” quality that we call history.
I have seen my country come to independence from colonial rule - stood next to my father as a child to watch one flag go up and another come down as our country changed its name.
I have been in the first group of students at my school to use computers at a time when no one had ever heard of Microsoft.
I have survived a genocide and a coup that was not a coup.
I have shed tears and held my breath as black women around the world have broken barriers, in sports, science, business, music, and demonstrated without question that this thing we call #blackgirlmagic is real.
It is a privilege to bear witness - even when the events are tough. You remain forever changed, and how you react to that change is what, in many ways determines your destiny.
In this season we have borne witness to a global pandemic and its effects on the world. We have borne witness to how countries and individuals have reacted, and had the opportunity to, in our own small way, be apart of the voices that impact the trajectory of global events: to decide whether we will be fear-mongers, spreading alarm, despondency cultural division and underscoring class divisions; or to take on the role of voices of reason, asking the right questions and making peace in our time.
To have been part of an MBA programme at ALU at this time has been challenging and exciting. From the first announcement that classes would be held online and not in person as we have been accustomed to doing every 3 or 4 months, to the actual experience of bonding over knowledge over the internet. There has been nothing like this in our past. And so there are no manuals to tell us how to do it best. But as a learning generation we are ready and willing to leap into the unknown and try new things, to fail and to try again anew.
I am so grateful to have been a part of this particular piece of history too. To have added my voice to the conversations, discussions arguments and yes, even fights around all of this. I am appreciating the complexities of life in the 21st century, and mindful fo how my one voice can change the tone of a conversation that is happening in our small groups, in our communities and in our world.
What a time to be alive. And I don’t use the word “alive” lightly.
I am grateful to be alive to witness it all.
Yes I know her.
I know her pretty well actually…(quiet)
Well, yeah.. we’ve done some stuff together.
We’ve become friends actually… over the years.(nodding)
What? Yeah. Well, of course. Yes, very accomplished. Insanely driven. Hard working, but so chilled when you get to know her…
Yes. I know, looks and a banging body too… Issa full-on package right there! (laughing)
Well, of course it looks like that on the outside, but she has her share of troubles.
No really…. You don’t know….
OK well I can tell you some really horrible stuff has happened to her.
Like crushing stuff, you know….things that would break you.
And yeah, she breaks.
She breaks. Breaks like a little girl, as they say.
I’ve seen her crouched on the floor, clutching her belly, wailing.
I’ve seen her cry for hours, seen her not get out of bed, seen her eat nothing but chocolate and wine for…I don’t know how long,
I've seen her when her eyes are red and her whole face is swollen and covered in snot and tears.
I’ve watched the crumpled tissues pile up by her bed - and not because she has a flu.
Oh she breaks. Yeah. (sighs)
I have seen her broken.
But then… then its like something happens.
You know that meme that has the quote “She remembered who she was, and the game changed”? That one?
Yeah. Its like something happens… like she remembers who she is. And then she kind of just gets up - slowly. I mean I'm not saying it's like some kind of high or anything.
Just gets up, you know. Washes her face, and starts again.
I’ve seen her start over …. So often…. Too many times actually.
Yeah I mean start over in all kinds of ways - I’ve seen her start over in business, in love, in friendships with other women. Just starting from scratch, you know? With a new project, a new man, or new people. That's gotta be hard. Especially when you’ve lost a lot of money, or your reputation has been tarnished, ego bruised, you know the deal... And the pride right? Like you have this epic massive fail and it’s like everyone is watching, and you just want to move to another country, you know?
But she doesn't flinch. Never let’s herself and the rest of us get away with it. She’ll look straight into the camera lens and start again. Take two, or seven or nineteen…whatever.
I know… I sound like I’m some kind of groupie….. I mean it’s hard not to have enough respect for a woman like that. She’s ….well… she’s something.
Sure there’s haters. Yeah… I've heard the stories…But her? I don’t think she ever even notices them, she’s so frickin focused (laughs).
I don’t know - maybe she does hear it and just ignores it all.
And you kinda have to feel sorry for those people… I mean they don’t really know what they’re talking about. Coz… her…?
She’s seen some things man.
Yeah. That’s her.
Photo by Ramez E. Nassif on Unsplash
As for me and my house, we will encourage courage.
We will be brave with our lives.
We will be brave with our choices.
We will dare greatly and go boldly.
We will walk all the way to the edge of our fears
We will try new things and constantly challenge old ones.
We will interrogate our beliefs and update our habits.
We will do the things that no one else wants to do
so that we can enjoy the rewards that no one else can enjoy.
We will work hard, and we will love hard. We will rest.
We will look to one another.
We will honour each other.
We will allow ourselves to lean on others -
even when we know they might let us down.
We will love wholeheartedly,
even when we fear our hearts might break.
We will eat with gusto. And laugh with abandon.
We will sing just as loud as we like
And dance - even when we're not sure how!
We will raise our voices. And also our eyebrows :-)
We will pursue our passions.
We will fail and try again and fail and try again
We will nurture our gifts and talents
We will forever be learning
We will travel far and read widely
We will argue fiercely and forgive graciously
We will trust a God that is bigger than ourselves
Even when he doesn’t seem to agree with us
We will chase dreams
We will believe in each other
We will be brave.
And be brave
And be brave.
It is difficult if not impossible to be a person of influence or even a person of substance without making an error of judgement. And of course one does not know that one is making an error until after the event.
It is also impossible to be a person of influence or substance without taking risks. So one looks at the job to be done and the potential impact of one’s involvement. As a servant leader one always wants to err on the side of doing too much rather than too little I think. And then one assesses the risk - potential reputational damage being the greatest.
The thing is, you don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t really know another person’s intent or agenda in co-opting you to a project. You don’t know how deep their sincerity lies when they say they need your help. But worst of all - you don’t know what they don’t know which could potentially place you both on a path you could never have foreseen. All of this not knowing puts you in harm's way.
However, if we made our choices with a prevailing sense of not knowing, our lives would come to a grinding halt. No one would get married, or have children, or enter into business partnerships or even start anything new. Not knowing cannot therefore be a reason not to do.
When it comes to helping; when it comes to effecting change; when it comes to contributing to a vision you believe in, unless one has a solid reason not to, one must take the chance and offer the gifts one has. Because whether you are a singer or a strategist, your input is valid and valuable.
So I would rather you didn’t pretend to know for sure. I’d rather you didn’t quote scripture or best selling books at me to justify your involvement. If you simply said, “To be honest with you, I don’t know. I’m not sure; but I’d like to try and help if I can....” If you said this, I would understand you, because haven’t we all been in an awkward spot at some point? A spot where we really can’t be sure of what’s going on, or if our team-mates are sincere? So if you said this to me, and if your choice turned out to be a bad one, me and maybe 13 million other people would find it easy to forgive you. If you just acknowledged that you too, are not too sure.
words for work
I have found meditation to be the best way to control my emotions at work, so I've compiled my favourite mediations into a FREE downloadable e-book just for you!