The Best of Times, the Worst of Times …

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The Best of Times, the Worst of Times …

The following piece was sent in recently by Old Preppie Tony Macrae, who now lives in Dubai:

Challenging times globally! We live in a VUCA world, a world that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Very few people unaffected and most businesses negatively impacted – so, what do we do to survive and then recover? And, perhaps, live a little differently?
My experiences may help you.

Through a Seven-Year-Old Boarder’s Eyes
I was 7 years old when my parents, who lived in Port Elizabeth, decided that both my brother and I should experience boarding school in Grahamstown – as my Dad and his brother had attended College. I also think my parents wanted a break, from us – too much
energy and me, too rebellious (probably gave our younger sisters, Shona and Fiona, a break too!) So, the adventure began in Lions House – no cell phones, no additional food (other than school supplied), no radios, no talking after lights out, no ‘civilian’ clothes, regular beatings for non-compliance and around 5c pocket money per week if I recall correctly.
One basket under our beds containing all our worldly possessions. That basket was inspected by the housemaster every Sunday night, it had to be very neat! The neatest got bonus points for their House – so, reward management well understood. The highlight of our day was when the ice-cream cart would park opposite
Lions at break-time and we could, when we had money, buy a Rev ice-cream. Church, every day, twice on Sundays and once a month a walk to the Cathedral – it was difficult to concentrate with so much church at that age, but I enjoyed the hymns and the singing to this day.
Food was always a challenge – too much bread, jam and sweet tea and too little protein. We only got toast when Mrs du Plessis (Tigers Matron) sat at our table for breakfast. Toast was another highlight. We were always hungry, which is normal for young energetic boys. My mother devised a scheme to get some decent food to us – and I think that is why I grew so big and played four sports for Eastern Province & Border (swimming, water-polo, rowing and shooting); my mother sent food parcels to the Lions Matron, Mrs Wilmot, and she shared some with us (my brother Duncan and I). Not often, but a very good strategy and it helped!

The Making of the Man
Those were the best of times and the worst of times, but the foundation for a meaningful life and future success was duly laid through this school experience by some very good teachers. Deep-seated values and behaviours were concretized to enable us to manage, as we do now in these tough times.
I played a lot of sport and our under 13 rugby team was unbeaten in 1975, coached by Loraine Mullins. We had a great team, and played together for another five years at College, lost only one game U15. So, sport was a big deal, and I think important to release energy and to
support conformance. That taught me a lot about life and leadership – defining purpose, planning, coaching, high performing teams and teamwork. And managing pressure and stress.
Perhaps most important, about relationships and friendships. We seldom saw our parents, so those boys around us at Prep (and later College) were Family. I did not realize it then, but this family of school friends were important from age 7 to now, aged 57. Friends, and their support, help us to survive & grow, especially in these challenging times.

Friends for a Lifetime
That brings me to my main point. Based on my experience, life is a lot about relationships, and some of my closest friends came from
Prep. And College and DSG. No-one, when their time comes, says they wish for one more day at work. No, the dying and the grieving always talk about relationships, family and friends.
The longest study on happiness ever conducted, which spanned 100 years, carried out by Harvard University concluded that relationships, effective relationships, contribute to our happiness. This is supported by much research; people matter, and we need to spend time throughout our lives nurturing these relationships. That is one route to happiness. You may not know that now, but those boys around you will ultimately mean much more as you grow older – you will value that Prep experience, and value their friendships for a lifetime. Worth thinking about.

Currently, with all the challenges, we often talk about “resilience” in life and in business. Webinars are prolific and often revolve around how to manage under extreme measures, like lockdowns. As individuals, we clearly need to be resilient. So, resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversity, is very important. Like “learning” (which, according to Dewey, is a combination of experience plus reflection), we can learn to be resilient, and that is what you are doing right now during this difficult time, learning how to cope with ‘pain’, in every respect – which will help you in the future to understand, absorb, grow and succeed. Therefore, my view is that we should accept and embrace the pain. We only learn and grow when we are uncomfortable and, on this planet, we will always face problems. Every day, problems big and problems small. That is my experience. We will struggle and fail, and ultimately solve these problems and grow and develop and evolve. That is how humans evolve – look at the South African Elon Musk at Tesla (inter alia), a brilliant mind, challenging, tweeting some crazy stuff, failing and succeeding – but ultimately getting stronger and, in my  view, contributing to our evolution. Humans are problem-solving machines, no question, we are programmed that way – so we need to get used to that, embrace it, it will seldom be easy, but it will set us free to live more fully. We only die once, but we need to live every day.

Find Ways to Have Fun!
In the meantime, I suggest find ways to have fun – we should never be boring because the world is full of opportunity and adventure. Be curious, it may have ‘killed the cat’ but not us. My wife Claire, sons Michael (7 years old at that time) and James (5 years old at that time) left South Africa in 2004 and lived in the Sudan, the largest country in Africa. Also, the most volatile. What an experience – we learnt a lot about other cultures and other people, and about each other, and our family bonds grew stronger; could possibly have gone the other way, but happily married now for 34 years. We lived on the edge (Sudan had been at war for 25 years), right on the edge at times, learning and growing and having fun. Why not seize the day, carpe diem, no regrets – and a lot of US dollars (which are now saved, and very helpful in these uncertain times!) Saving money is good, no question. This experience and beyond (Saudi Arabia followed), enabled me to advance my career and enabled the Boys to become truly ‘global’ citizens, and we now live happily in Dubai, amongst 160 different nationalities – who all have something special to contribute. Diversity is good, for many reasons, including higher productivity.

A thought; think about: The power of the word ‘AND’. Replace the word BUT wherever possible with the word ‘AND’ eg. We can work hard AND we can have fun. We can suffer AND we can still be happy. That is my experience, life is not linear.

No silver bullet exists.

Know Yourself
Finally, I have learnt to ‘play the cards in front of me’, whatever reality confronts us, we must face it and deal with it. And play the cards to the best of our ability. Avoidance is one option but usually it is better to face the issues, the problems, and solve them. My approach and advice: “know yourself’ (Socrates, the Greek Philosopher said that “the unexamined life is not worth living”), ‘manage yourself’ (be responsible and be disciplined), ‘get to know others well’, and ‘take time to build effective relationships’ – it is called ‘emotional intelligence’ or EQ.
Observe the leaders of the world today, what they say and what they do and evaluate their emotional maturity. I conclude: you can do better. Much better, and you will do better because you attend a great school, with great values and great teachers; a school that has produced great leaders. Thank God. We all know what to do, we just need to do it! It is called “execution”.

Good luck.
Tony Macrae (OP 1975)