My Definition Of Success | Success is much more multi-faceted a concept that I believed when I was younger. I used to equate it with the obvious things, the symbols, but now I think true success is the deep-seated sense that you are where you need to be, doing what you were meant to do. Everybody on the planet has a role. It doesn’t have to be lofty or grand to be an important one. Very simple things can lead to a sense of purpose. For me, there is a particular feeling of contentment or satisfaction I experience when I’m writing things that matter to me. I forget everything else but the thing I’m doing in that moment. It’s when I feel most at peace with myself and the world around me. The more I feel that feeling, the more I’m living my life’s purpose. And for me, this is what success has come to mean.
I Am Driven By | Often, a sense of injustice. That somebody is being short-changed; that we are not doing enough to change the world for the better. When people are gratuitously negative it makes me crazy. I want to say to them, do something! Even if it’s a small thing. Every human being on the planet has the power to make things better. If something feels wrong, think about what you can do to improve the situation.
My Highlights | What makes me the happiest about what I do is when people reach out to me with their stories and tell me I’ve made an impact on their lives. Often it’s people wanting to return to South Africa and have found my sentiments reassuring Or it’s people who are homesick and needed to hear some references from home, or individuals who feel conflicted about the life choices they have made and are looking for comfort and a bit of inner peace. It can be a little alarming, the responsibility, but mostly it makes me feel warm inside and reminds me that while we are all on different journeys it is our job to support one another in whatever way we can. I am proud that my voice has reached them and touched them in some small way.
A Key Talent | Empathy. To be able to reach people through your writing you have to understand a little bit about who they are and how they work. I think I’m good at relating to how people are feeling and tapping into that. Whatever venture one is embarking on, having insight into and empathy around different points of view can be one of your biggest strengths. People relate to you and identify with you when they feel you understand them and where they are coming from.
Principles I Live By | Honesty. Towards other people, but mostly towards yourself. Accepting who are you and what you need, and allowing yourself to be that person even if you don’t like all aspects of them. And then, kindness. The world is a hard place, so be kind to everybody around you no matter what you get back, and be especially kind to yourself.
Lessons I Have Learnt | That human beings are all the same and that we want the same things – to be happy, and to avoid suffering. We are much, much more alike than we are different, and knowing this means seeing the world a little differently.
Dealing With Doubt | I give my inner critic a name, Martha. It’s the name of a guinea fowl we once had living in our garden. When she starts telling me I’m no good and that my writing is rubbish I say, ‘Martha, what do you know? You’re a fricking guinea fowl.’ It helps me recognise that the voice is just a voice and not real or the truth. To be honest, I feel like most things I do I’m faking it. My worst involves giving public talks or lectures. I always feel completely out of my depth and sometimes paralysed with fear. In those moments I pretend I am somebody who doesn’t mind giving public talks or lectures. I pretend to be calm and relaxed. Amazingly, people seem to believe me. Then I guess I ‘become’ the thing I’m pretending to be. But it always takes huge amounts of courage to get myself onto that podium and then I’m amazed when people tell me I didn’t sound totally stupid. For me, ‘fake it till you make it’ is the only way I ever really do anything. And I’ve discovered I’m not alone in this!
Balancing high performance with happiness and contentment |
The conclusion I’ve reached is that non-stop happiness and contentment are simply not realistic given the human condition. We are designed to ‘hold’ every kind of emotion, good ones and bad ones. The bad ones aren’t pleasant, but without them it would be impossible to appreciate the good ones when they came along. Most of life is banality punctuated by moments of sadness, turmoil, contentment and joy. We try to make choices that give us more of the latter than the former, but to try and completely avoid feelings like envy, boredom or dissatisfaction would be to avoid part of living. So, when I feel the ‘struggle’ to be happy I try to recognise it as a struggle I can’t win and surrender instead to what I’m really feeling. I find when I let myself feel sad, for example, the sad feeling passes in due course. But trying to force yourself into a state of happiness… well, personally I haven’t had much success with that.