Reflections from the Heart

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Photo Cred: Siphumeze Khundayi

In my last post, I talked about New Years’ resolutions and why most times they do not succeed.

New Year is a time when people meaningfully and deeply reflect on their lives and identify areas which require change that will be good for them. I also tried to look into why such good ideas and plans are not carried through.

In reference to the above, I will outline more examples to show you that the matters I am talking about in these blogs are not abstract, but are principles that people can apply verbatim. By sharing this with you, I hope you will slowly try to piece together the gist of what these blogs are trying to convey. In other words, I am trying to say that things do not happen in isolation. There is always a background and a totally plausible explanation as to why things happen the way they do.

My beloved aunt passed on this week. We had celebrated her 70th birthday just late last year. At that gathering, many of us her nieces and nephews and other members of the extended family pitched up even though it was week day and in early evening. It was a very happy moment to be in her company and enjoying the food on the table. Everyone wanted her attention including several phone callers from overseas from our cousins living abroad.

By this time she was already afflicted with the cancer that brought her life to an untimely end. She gave us her usual Aunt Vic charm, sweet but finicky about what to eat and who was doing what. With memories so fresh, no wonder we are all broken as a family as you can imagine that after 70 years of her mark in all our lives, it will be difficult to get over her any time soon.

What came out during the tributes is what I would like to share with you. Speaker after speaker used similar words to describe what they experienced with her. These included words like: discipline, strict yet loving, dedicated, loyal, soft yet strong, small yet towering influence, consistent, fair, conciliatory, independent yet family oriented, friendly, caring, nurturing, excellence, neat… etc., etc. Different people experienced her in different ways of course but the same attributes applied to these relationships.

I lived with her at close quarters for most of my life and I can attest to what the others were saying. Consistent throughout her life was her sense of duty to family, loyalty and dedication to her friends and love of her job where she worked all her working life. Life-long work to most young people these days is impossible to imagine as they thrive on variety but imagine the converse where you are with one employer for life. The temptation is to be familiar and sloppy with a high sense of entitlement. This invariably happens whenever one is in familiar surroundings for as long as she sat in her job. We stop caring and take everything for granted that what is will always be. Not for my aunty. As she progressed in her job she became worldlier, more sophisticated and more influential. The high standards that she had set in her own life seem to have blended in well with the demands of her job in an ever-changing environment.

One cannot afford to be lax or mediocre in a large organisation. There is no room for boredom otherwise you get left behind. Large organisations have a way of rewarding those who are committed. One must engage tactics at a personal level and strategise continually to be the best they can be to survive the competition as well as your long term survival in the job.

Does this sound familiar? Long term survival, excellence, best practice, managing self? I have repeatedly talked about these attributes that determine behavior, long term planning and goal getting. My aunt was consistent in the things she did. Her personal surroundings were spick and span always. When you arrived at her house with toddlers, she expected them to behave irrespective whether they were two years old or thirteen years old. She insisted on tea on a tray even when it is at a funeral. Everybody knew how she loved plants. Plants were her vocation. Every moment she had, she was in her equally beautiful garden. She was never short of free advice on plants. She turned her talent for plants into a passion that she ignited in some of us. She lived her life defined by those things she valued, her family, her friends, her hobbies and her job. I can safely say she lived a fulfilled life and has left a legacy for those whose lives she crossed.

A book I was reading recently on Ethics and Leadership started off with a situational analysis. It asks you, the reader, to imagine that you are at a funeral…and that funeral is yours. It also asks you to imagine what the tributes will be saying about you!

At the beginning of this post I started off by describing my Aunts funeral, how everyone said the same thing in different ways and different words. Every word was a description of the person I knew very well. The one thing I can confirm to all is that she lived a life of immersion in the things she loved. She exhibited love and patience to those around and in her life. She kept on evolving from the circumstances of her job that took her to all corners of the world and as we all grew older, we learnt from her the value of consistency and love and loyalty. Her friends were also loyal, always there, over the years. It was the same faces in happy and sad times. We rallied around her, gave her attention and kindness and finally, we realize that is what we are left with after her demise; her legacy to all of us. Our basic need to live, love and learn should cumulatively lead to the legacy that we leave behind for others to emulate.

I mentioned earlier that most (if not all) things do not happen accidentally. In reviewing the life my Aunt led, there are attributes she exhibited which if we all emulated them, we could well be on our way to fulfilling our desired goals.

Whether we are implementing strategic objectives at the work place or we are trying to build wealth for ourselves and our families or we are starting a business, we will not succeed if we do not apply some if not all the attributes above. The purpose of these blogs is partly to de-mystify the precondition of success. People who succeed in whatever field they are in all have certain common attributes between them. Also when we define success, we must apply it to every level in life. We almost always refer to success when it comes to ‘public’ success like for celebrities or politicians. Success should also be applied to those people who are responsible for bringing up well balanced children who make a contribution to their country. Those moms are never acknowledged as successful for doing that. My aunt by the way brought up two sons and other dependents; she influenced a hoard of us some of whom are CEO’s; ambassadors ably representing the country etc. That in my view is success. Let us change the definition of success start applying this narrative from the family level. We must identify and celebrate those attributes in us that have contributed to a different kind of success in life.

The one area that concerns me is the area over which we all have control over our own behavior. Many books on management and leadership refer to the primal role of behavior of an individual and his freedom to make choices that determines whether that person will succeed or not. For example, change in behavior is at the core whether to achieve our New Year resolutions or not; we will not achieve our dream to save more; we will not achieve our dream to start and build a business. As long as our behaviors are flippant, inconsistent to our plans, it will not happen. Further, when we do make the choice to be different, we must dedicate ourselves to that choice. We must live the part day in and day out so that it becomes synonymous with who we are. I read somewhere that excellence is a product of habit. If you do something repeatedly it becomes a habit and because you do it habitually, you should do it very well. So be excellent and excellence becomes easy. We must develop good habits that enable us to do things well, easily and quickly.

Excellence at work!

If you are known for excellence, it is a good thing for sure and you would want to protect it. People will want to be like you. Excellence has built and sustained nations. The world is dotted with excellence which was achieved ages ago and continues to marvel us. Think about the farmers who produce most of the food consumed in the world? In their individual capacities they consistently plant and sow the wheat or maize that is fed to people and sometimes livestock half way around from their world. Over time they excel at what they do by employing better seeds and methods of production. That is excellence achieved over time of doing the same thing in a better and better way. It is the same story for all those individuals who wake up every morning designing goods and services for consumption by the rest of the world. That is not child’s play, it is commitment, dedication etc. that leads to excellence.

The point I am making is that excellence is the habit of doing something over and over until it is done in the best way possible and becomes a definition of who you are. We can develop a habit by changing our behavior right there where we are sitting. It is not something out there that you have to purchase. Within yourself, make the decision to be excellent and change your behavior accordingly. That change in behavior will enable you to achieve whatever goals you have set. In time you will be far ahead of where you are coming from and beginning to attract attention from your friends and family. I think that is what my Aunty Vic did.



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