I would like to wish you all a very happy New Year and a peaceful and prosperous 2015. Maybe it’s the time of the year, but I always find myself somewhat philosophical at the beginning of a new year. Every December I sit down to review those personal and business goals I had set for that past year (some hit and some wildly missed!), and then begin the process to set a new group of goals for the new year ahead. It was during this process that the world outside was celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela, it had been a year since his death. I, like everyone I have ever met, possess a huge level of admiration and respect for Mandela. To this day I still believe that his autobiography is the only one I have ever read that truly reads like a fictional novel – so filled with adventure, tragedy and triumph his life was. Royalty; Lawyer; Activist; Comrade; Prisoner; Statesman.
Mandela’s life is truly a remarkable one, and while setting my goals for 2015 I decided to glean some lessons from this amazing example and apply them to my business life for the year ahead. So these are the 3 lessons I’ll be attempting to apply for the New Year ahead.
You must approach your goals with determination and unwavering belief
When I began my career I treated goal setting with a lot of scepticism; maybe it was my youth, the lack of real leadership around me; or maybe I just wasn't taking the possibility that I could achieve something worthwhile very seriously at all. Whatever the reason for my short comings early in my career, it was not something that Mandela ever displayed. From an early age he had made a conscious decision that the unequal society in which he lived was fundamentally wrong and he committed himself to change that whatever the personal sacrifices that would befall him. In 1964 when he was being tried for treason at the Rivonia Trial (where the judge was widely expected to impose the death penalty), so unmoved were his ideals that in his final address to the court, he addressed the ruling Judge directly and said:
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Most believe that it was these remarks that ultimately saw him imprisoned for life as opposed to receiving the death penalty. Now I'm not saying that we all should be prepared to die to achieve our goals; that I fear would leave the world empty of many business leaders if they were to adopt such an approach. What I am saying is, just for a moment; imagine you approached the achievement of your goals with this type of determination and belief. These are not just milestones that you have written on a piece of paper, but ideals that you have elected to adopt and are completely determined to achieve. I believe that if we were to drive towards our goals with this type of passion and belief, we would find that more or most would have been achieved when reviewing them in twelve months time. I have decided to adopt this approach for my New Year goals, to strive towards them with this complete determination and am truly excited to see what can be achieved.
It is when you are at your lowest that the greatest opportunity to learn presents itself
Mandela was sentenced to life in prison on the notorious Robben Island off the west coast of South Africa where he and fellow prisoners performed hard labour. Because of the colour of his skin he was only afforded short pants irrespective of the dreadful winter weather in the Western Cape. It was there that he learned of the death of his son in a tragic car crash and the subsequent passing of his mother too. Both requests to attend their funerals were denied by the prison authorities.
It never ceases to amaze me how this man, who had lost everything and was being brutalised, could find the strength of character to react as he did. He chose reconciliation over retribution; he believed that if he did not learn from his oppressors then he could never understand them. So in his darkest years he chose to learn their language, engage with them and ultimately earned their respect and became ‘a man we can do business with.’ Many of us in business have learned some very harsh lessons along our respective journeys, I myself have felt betrayed and disappointed many times. When I look back now, I wonder whether I could have learned more from those moments, was there more opportunity to be gained by choosing to learn as opposed to walking away? I do not have regrets as I believe that I have ultimately learned from most of those past lessons, however, I will consciously apply this lesson from Mandela with every future challenge that presents itself to me.
It always seems impossible until it’s done
Just like the unassuming and simple persona that Mandela displayed, this simple quote from him undermines the battle and sacrifice that he made to achieve his ideal. But it is in the simplicity of this quote that lies it’s true genius. I was discussing some of my business goals with an acquaintance recently and their response to some of them were for the most part ‘you’re so lucky.....I wish I could get my idea off the ground....it’s just too hard.....’ Life, just like business endeavours, is hard; there are pitfalls and obstacles everywhere. But I believe that if you have a dream, no matter how impossible or improbable it may seem, it is achievable. When I began my business I was not short of people warning me and imploring me to take the safe path, it was too risky and doomed to fail. But it was my dream, one I had held for as long as I can remember, but one I was too daunted to tackle for the longest time also. I look now at the business and the amazing team around me with great gratitude and pride; but the journey has just begun. As I set my New Year goals I have decided to be ambitious with them, yes they may stretch me and they will most certainly challenge me, but I will take strength and motivation from a simple lesson from a great leader – ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’