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2021 is just a number


2020 has reminded me of one significant thing: you can never predict tomorrow, and there are no real certainties in life.

In January of 2020, I started a new role as Head of Strategy & Insights for a reputable creative sport & entertainment agency in South Africa. I was determined to take this new challenge head-on, given that this would be my first as a department head and keen to inspire and grow those around me.

The start of the new year began like any other in a typical agency environment — busy, fast-moving, with lots of work to turn around in a short amount of time. I got stuck in, adding value wherever I could and learning new skills on the fly to showcase my agility and dependability to the role at hand. Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies, but I persevered and grew into the role as time went by.

But then the whole world changed, seemingly overnight. The sport & entertainment landscape — our bread and butter — came to a screeching halt. We did what many other agencies in a similar position had to do — we pivoted. Our events and activation digitally transformed and went virtual. Thanks to our clients’ backing and trust, we were able to virtually activate most of their campaigns and launch a few new ones along the way.

It was a scary time for everyone in the industry, and like all of you, I made it work to the best of my ability, geared and ready to put in a shift knowing that my role could potentially be on the line. It was tough — mentally & physically to be always-on. This new WFH life was challenging to manage initially with no routine and no sense of normalcy in-sight. As humans have learned with thousands of years of practice under our belts, we must adapt & evolve to survive.

While I want to say I survived & thrived despite 2020 being one hell of a kak year. Sadly, like many others, I too lost my job in the end.


There’s no other way to describe losing your job during a pandemic while giving it all you’ve got. 2020 was *supposed* to be 20plenty — I had goals, plans and things I wanted to achieve this year and losing my job was not one of them. It was a tough pill to swallow, one that has kept (and keeps) me up at night. Even as I write this now, I feel a sense of disappointment and despair. Was there something I could’ve/should’ve done differently? Or was it inevitable given the circumstances?

So after the strangest year of my life, I have 5 lessons to share:

1- Sometimes being wrong is the best thing that can happen to you. This year brought so many new challenges; I found myself making many mistakes, misunderstanding many things and discovering how little I actually know. It was unsettling, and I lost confidence. But being wrong so often also allowed me to learn new things. This year taught me humility and that by listening more, and talking less, by going into all activities without an agenda, I soon developed new skills and discovered better ways to do things.

2- Ask for help, listen to advice, but also trust your gut. Related to the above, there is no one you can’t learn something from, and we are surrounded by people who know a lot about things we know very little about. Learning to admit you need help, and importantly drawing on the skills of mentors, advisors & partners around you makes it easier to move forward and better work every time. Knowing when to trust your gut is also key.

3- Change is often not what you hoped for. It’s better. Change is hard. It can even be painful. It means forcing yourself to think differently and let go of old ideas. But being flexible, and ready to pivot opens the door to new experiences, new skills and opportunities you had not even considered.

4- Lay low in the long grass. In Africa, we have many predators who watch their prey before they attack. Hunting can take hours, even days. They are patient, laying low in the long grass and waiting for the right moment. Sometimes we feel we need to take action; we need to do more, and we need to do more now. When you are living in such an uncertain world in which urgency and panic have become the norm, taking a moment to evaluate before making a decision, taking the time to find the right and best solution rather than the easiest and fastest solution, often saves time later and gives you a better chance of success. Be patient and choose each action carefully, prioritize your efforts. Don’t rush and save your energy for important things.

5- Nothing is impossible. When you are unafraid of making a mistake; when you know how to ask for help; when you are open to change and new ways of thinking and doing, and when you are patient enough to evaluate the situation and make the best decision properly, you will soon learn that there is very little (perhaps even nothing) that you can’t do. You will surprise yourself.

We all hope that 2021 will be better. But the purpose of the tough times is to equip us with the tools and skills to make to turn the bad times around. I hope 2021 brings you every success, and that the big things you learnt this year pave the way to better things this year.

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