What really matters

When you slow down a little and let the world catch up, or let your body catch up to your mind perhaps, interesting new insights and priorities emerge.

Some people are motivated by money. Some people are motivated by power. Some people are adrenaline junkies. If you don’t know what motivates me, I’m certainly not going to tell you. But I will say this: it’s a long game.

Money is nice. Not too much; though, because that changes things. Power for its own sake is a joke; a pure ego thing. To have someone respect you for your position is one thing. To be respected for being kind, levelheaded, fair, open, honest, and also kicking ass and taking names where necessary and working your butt off? Call it soft power, but while people can be predictable they are also not sheep. There’s a reason why you have to understand the internal power structures of organisations in order to do business with them. Not everything is as it appears. Not even close.

To have a discussion with someone to say let’s lay this out so that none of our varied & sundry stakeholders will shut it down in a power play; to understand that multivariable calculus is simpler sometimes than making what should be easy business decisions; to go out on a limb and trust someone … but to know who you can and cannot trust?

To walk that line between playing clean and “winning dirty” which isn’t to say cheating … but getting ready to go out so hard and so fast that you’re in it to win it. I used to try to avoid ‘no reps’ at all costs. Now I know better; that’s just another insidious form of playing it safe.

An old goat, now a strength (deficit kipping handstand pushups)

An old goat, now a strength (deficit kipping handstand pushups)

I am TRYING to push that boundary in all areas. It’s soooooo easy to fool yourself into thinking you’re pushing yourself when really you’re just playing it safe. Sometimes you do get hurt. I gave myself the MOTHER of all hand rips playing on an outdoor jungle gym, trying to copy what one of the guys was doing. You’re never going to get that muscle up if you don’t practice, and you’re going to fail 100 times before you succeed, maybe. But seriously … if you’re not scared that you’ll fail you won’t be happy with success. You need all of it. As sucky and scary as failure can be.

Of course there’s also stupid. There are a few gymnastic things I didn’t try as they were pretty well guaranteed to result in nothing good. I wouldn’t risk my company’s cash reserve on something crazy. But these last, and I’m not even kidding, TWO weeks have led to a couple of things that might make the next few months very interesting. The CrossFit world can gossip, and the Skyrove competitors can gossip.

But whatever; if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen. And if you can’t take the heat you probably shouldn’t have gone in there to begin with.

Although having said that …. If you are actually out on those limbs you don’t really know what you’re in for, for good or for bad. Think before you take the red pill. Or don’t, rather, because then you probably won’t.

In the last few weeks I have realised a shift. It’s not an ego thing or an emotional thing but I’ve attained a level of experience with this country and certain aspects of living here and doing business here, and now I see the world differently. I can now recognise in other people who are thinking about moving here or who have been here a short time or who are busy thinking about getting into telecoms a certain worldview, or arrogance, or naivete. About South Africa. Race. Realpolitik in the business sense.

What this means? Coupled with accidental misstatements like when discussing the Chinese slums I started a sentence with “Being from South Africa,” I realised that I’ve been here now long enough that while I wasn’t born here and an expat can never be fully at home in any country, I now feel more like a South African resident who happens to be an American than an American who happens to live in Cape Town.

I think the realisation that it’s this country that I feel at home in, not the Land of the Lotus Eaters that is Cape Town. In all seriousness if a city had to bid for heaven on earth (assuming you have a decent income that is), Cape Town would most certainly be in the running. And yet.



But the continuous Cape Town-Joburg commuting, combined with sitting around making long-term plans for this company, our partners, our industry, has made me feel more like a citizen of South Africa. I fell into telecoms accidentally but Sam and Dominic are right – this industry needs as many good people as it can get fighting for fair and open competition. There’s a ton of great people in this industry, but also a ton of arrogance and satisfaction with the status quo at some of the bigger companies. Shaking things up is fun, and I don’t kid myself about the potential to do this from where we sit. We’re not MTN. But then again if we were, it’d be a different perspective on what’s important!

But how to recognise Henk’s old dream of democratising the internet? The game is shifting and changing, and rapidly, so it’s going to be quite interesting to see just exactly how and where African can leapfrog the rest of the world. If we kinda get on top of things and drive the conversation rather than importing American or Asian business models & business practices.

I read this most disturbing article recently. As I said, I’ve been in South Africa so long that I no longer really know what’s going on in America. But the implications of this article make a lot of sense to me. It’s similar to what happens here in South Africa where you have hard & fast class barriers that you cannot break through without the proper skills. I’m extraordinarily lucky to be going into this next wave with both business skills and some degree of technical literacy (although I’d never call myself a hardcore techie!). I’m not worried about gainful employment in the years to come. But actually even these entrepreneurship skills of opportunity identification and capture; building channels, etc. – they are skills and they come with practice. Never get a chance to practice, never build the skill. Scary, huh?

Another skill - butterfly pullups

Another skill – butterfly pullups

The article says that the three critical skills for this current business wave are intelligence, skills, and connections. Have all three and you’re golden. Have only one and you’ll struggle. Now intelligence you’re born with. Skills you can build, even if you’re on minimum wage and with a family to support. Want it badly enough; need it, you’ll find a way. Well-connectedness? Number one reason I now feel like a South African? I’ve got a pretty darn interesting network, after fifteen months in the business world. This job opened me up to a lot more people than my time at Heart (although some of those relationships and connections are also useful!).

I’m not going anywhere. Except deeper in. I am going to miss Cape Town. And no, I’m not ready. But then again, I never will be.

Also at the same time I am feeling extreme nostalgia for the snowy, cold of New England. That smell of the pine needles in the snow, the cold smell of the air, and the feeling of the cold air as it hits your nose. It’s an undervalued sense, smell. The smell of the chalk bucket. Of someone’s hair. Of wet leaves in the autumn. Of the hot dust on a street in downtown Cape Town.

My next post is all about how we’re never ready. That boundary between ‘in over your head’ and ‘in a rut but not admitting it to yourself’ is not always clear. One thing I have settled on; though, is that if you can get comfortable facing down your fears that’s when you win.

It’s one thing to be a tad short-sighted, or to eat the cake because you want the damn cake. You know what’s going to happen if you continue down a path, but you do it anyway. Bad idea genes, as Beck used to say. You’re not going to make the adult decision 100% of the time. It’s not reasonable to expect such a thing.

But to understand what pisses you off, and why, and what to do about it? To try to be a nice person. Being snide and backstabbing and gossipy is fun, sure. But actually who wants to be the high school bully?

Fight that battle against righteousness, or righteous indignation. Sarcasm is the lowest form of communication. I don’t like the side of me that is snide and sarcastic. It’s one thing to relish defeating an enemy, or to revel in a victory. But you don’t then kick or belittle the enemy. Not good sportsmanship.

This seemed somehow quite true in recent weeks!

This seemed somehow quite true in recent weeks!

The calm before the storm. A few things are going on hiatus now for a couple of weeks. I’ve forgiven myself a little bit for lack of discipline during this phase of excessive activity. Stress does crazy things to the body and the mind. It is unfortunately true that for the next 6-9 months I am probably going to remain the critical path resource for a number of very important activities. And on the side, I have a volunteer position that takes 5 hours a week and I’d like to be able to spend 10 at it, and a sport that takes 10-15 and should be more like 20-25.

So I don’t take kindly to having my time wasted. Traffic, queues, annoying service providers, administrative hassles, washing the dishes, repeating the same conversation over and over and over again …. Those sorts of things. But everything you do or don’t do is a choice. Sometimes you create problems for yourself, like not doing the dishes for a day and a half then ripping your hand open. Or the time a few years back when I didn’t take out the trash in the morning then sprained my ankle so bad I couldn’t walk and came home to find a mass of maggots and a 200m walk to the trash bin awaiting me. Sometimes procrastination bites you in the ass, hard!!

It’s actually weird and I know it’s not just me because the ‘oh woe is me entrepreneurship is hard’ articles I’ve posted before speak to this but when I’m focused, which is most of the time, I get between resentful and what borders on anger at being kept away from my work. My company and the stack of super-critical not-yet-done items is so important to me that don’t you try and keep me away from it. It’s this whole notion of ‘time not spent actively trying to build the business is stealing from the company’ coupled with this other aspect of ‘is it REALLY all worth it? Couldn’t I just work a little bit less hard? Would anyone really notice the difference?’ Who am I doing this for, again?

So I can be proud of my team because my technicians will go out on a job at 7pm (not a typo), because it’s important to the client and they want to attend the company meeting the next morning. Because our finance manager chases payments at 6am on a Saturday and one of our sales people writes a long email to a difficult prospect on that same Saturday after the company is officially shut down for the holidays. Because I got some very heartfelt thank yous from my guys after reading the Christmas cards I wrote for them. I care and they can see it, and they care and I can see it. The caring is different but that’s normal.

Our team :)

Our team 🙂

This is called trust and respect. Neither are granted automatically; neither can be forced or demanded. Just the opposite. No, I’m not a perfect leader. Who is? But people can tell when you care; AND that knowing when someone’s got your back? People don’t get the backs of people they don’t like and respect. Just the opposite. I was telling Tim the other day about sales – the way to sell is NEVER to do the hard sale, no matter how badly you want it. People don’t like to buy when they feel pressured. I’ve sometimes encouraged people to go to a competitor or substitute, or try another product while we’re busy developing the feature they want. It takes them off guard, but it builds trust. No you don’t always win that particular sale, but you build trust. What did I say above about this being a long game and about connections?

Anyone who looks at something month by month or quarter by quarter without considering the big picture is doing it wrong. That’s the number one problem with Wall Street and Silicon Valley. An excess of short-term thinking. And when you’re looking at the forest and Wall Street is looking at the trees … holy cow. Nightmare.

I had a rare chance to take a leap of faith in someone and get something that had been weighing me down off my chest at the same time. Nothing feels quite as good as that, actually, does it? Kind of like keeping secrets in general or being disingenuous. Two things the industry forces on me that the drama queen likes, for sure!

So fine. Certain emotional drains & time wasters can be eliminated. Realise that certain situations or people aren’t going to change. I had a fantastic day on the public holiday of Monday, starting with a beach workout and then spending a few hours just chilling with Hes & Ryan at a café overlooking the water. As Hes, who is even more judgmental than I, so wisely said: “In life you have two choices. You can take it. Or you can leave it.”

What doesn’t make sense is to cry over spilt milk. Or, to go gossiping about the guy who spilled the milk. Flipping hell; we all have better things to do. I’m quite happy at this point not to be a player-hater. I’ll try not to be a ball-hog, though, and call it persuasion rather than manipulation if it helps me remove the distractions and get stuff done.

I’m feeling pretty good getting ready to recap the year emotionally and set goals for the new year. I really wish to be less drama queen and more the right kind of princess next year. The people you spend time with helps; my team is great, my business partners are great, my coaches are great. Even the shoulder is healing. Life is good.

Too many tourists this time of year!

Too many tourists this time of year!

Macrocycle life is good. Microcycle was pretty lousy actually! I trained I think Tuesday night (gymnastic stuff; barbell Turkish getups, a gazillion squats, then a workout that I didn’t realise was an evil twist on Fran until it was too late), then went to qigong and then I was so tired I could barely even eat my dinner. Woke up the next day a bit ill; brain in a fog, and remained that way until Friday. What a nightmare; I wanted to spend some serious time in the gym but my body did not agree.

The final gym workout I managed was more squats at CCF. Over 4,000kgs in that one session. Sounds like a lot when you say it that way but that’s work capacity. And this is week 1. Coach is quite right that this next programming cycle is brutal, and it will be doubly so since next week in Vermont I won’t be able to do much aside from gymnastics. But you can always work on those!

There were a lot of friends in town this week, so lots and lots of socialising. A couple return visits to the awesome wine bar Publik; a friend from Dubai, a friend now living in the Wild Coast, a couple from Pretoria, a catch-up with some people I hadn’t seen in months. And nostalgia. For what could have been; for wanting to be somewhere else; for wishing that I’d made certain different choices.

But that’s the game, right? If you don’t regret certain things then it means you haven’t learned from your mistakes or that you haven’t been pushing the boundaries enough.

What really matters? Not being in a rut. No matter what it takes, I will never ever go back there.

  • “No. Simpler than that. Bullets don’t move through water very well.” – Brian
  • “You’ll always be wrong being right before others.” – Cedric
  • “Where are they actually from? They’re too nice to be from Joburg.” – Ryan
  • “For a while he was quoting out of the book. It was quite cute.” – Ellie
  • “Hashtag ‘Smith brothers’?” – Hes
  • “In life, you’ve got two choices. You can take it …. Or you can leave it.” – Hes
  • “It’s a fragile thing, the male ego.” – Jos
  • “I don’t play games.” – Ellie
  • “Nice guys are boring.” – Jos
  • “It’s easier with a kettlebell.” – Lush
  • “Stable is the word.” – Tim
  • “You guys don’t officially know that I know him.” – Ellie (seriously!)
  • “That’s my $.02.” “That’s a lot more than $.02.” – Ellie & Mansoor
  • “Yeah. That’s my job.” “That’s a tall order.” – Ellie & Mansoor
  • “I have a higher tolerance than Adam.” – Adam (different Adams!)
  • “I’m surprised your brothers are still alive.” “How do you know that they are?” – Rudolph & Stefan
  • “The CEO denied it. Which means it’s probably true.” – Ellie (turns out I was right)
  • “You’re in Joburg so much I thought you lived there.” – Dave (please note, Dave met me a week ago)
  • “What’s the difference between manipulation and persuasion?” “It’s like the difference between rape and seduction.” – Ellie & Dieter
  • “I can’t think and do at the same time.” – Tim
  • “I wouldn’t change our team for the world.” – Rudolph
  • “Next year is going to be interesting.” – Rudolph
  • “Only in Joburg would they hijack you for your hair.” – Tim
  • “Good job.” – Tim
  • “It’s not easy when you also have a full-time job.” – Jarred
  • “That’s a Cape Town yes.” – Ellie
  • “I think we’ve got Kelsey, too.” – Alex
  • “I could never be one to be completely absorbed by work.” – Amy
  • “Why indulge the nonsense?” – Kelsey

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