Hardest Lessons Learned

Hardest Lessons Learned

In this week’s blog, I want to share Ray’s story with you.

By now you should know that I’ve been wandering around for 21 years as Chief-Cook-and-Bottlewasher at Speakers Inc, claiming to have The Coolest Job on Earth. Well, it’s true, I do. Except maybe for Time Travellers. Maybe they have the coolest job .. hmmm … but I digress.

One of the things I love most about this Adventure of mine, is that I get to interact with the most amazing humans, on a daily basis. There isn’t an expert in any particular field that I can’t ask for advice (except maybe the Time Travellers, they’re quite a secretive lot, hey?), and when I’m down in the dumps, I count my lucky stars that I can reach out to any one of the phenomenal people we represent, and just by chatting with them, I’ll feel better. Often they don’t even know I was grumpy, sad, demotivated and/or hopeless when I called. It’s just the way they roll.

One of the most interesting people we work with is Ray de Villiers. I can honestly say that I have never walked away from a meeting or a chat with him, without my brain being very engaged, and my heart just a little aflutter at what the future might hold.

So when I asked him last week to share 3 of the hardest lessons he’s ever learned, he came back and said, “sure, but I’m going to be authentic and share my personal story, cool?”

And of course, I said, “Cool!”

Because authenticity is what we’re all about around here.

And as it happens, his personal story involves a business lesson or two, too, so both heart and head get a little jolt …

“When I’m asked to send my CV in for something I always have to preface it by saying that it looks like a box of Smarties or M&M’s…. and it really does.

This diversity of experience has proven to be an asset in my current role as a professional speaker and consultant on Digital Transformation and the Future World of Work…. but, it has not been without pain and significant periods of upheaval.

There have been at least two times in my working life where I have been forced to completely reboot my life. I realised recently that this is not an experience many people have had. In fact, the changes to jobs brought on by Digitisation and other recent social disruptions have many people facing, for the first time, what I’ve faced a few times now – and it is terrifying.

The first disruption came in my 20’s. I had studied theology and was a minister in a local church. Nobody becomes a minster for the career opportunities or the money… it is something you do out of a sense of calling. You invest a significant part of your self-concept and value in the role…. you ARE a pastor.

As a result of a sexual indiscretion I was fired from my role (quite correctly)…. and my world disintegrated. I had no idea who I was or what value I added to the world. It was devastating. And then I rebuilt my life from the ashes.

Eventually I became an entrepreneur with a tech start up in the computer gaming and Organisational Development sectors. We were on the leading edge of the gamification trend and got some amazing projects and clients on board. The business was boot strapped for 3 years using our own revenue and we were proud of what we had built.

Then we picked up an incredible project that would put us on the global stage…. but, in retrospect it was too big for our small team.

If you can imagine dying of indigestion that is what happened to our business. As an entrepreneur I had sunk a fair amount of my personal energy, self-worth, and net worth into the business…. and then I had to liquidate the company and declare bankruptcy…. and my world disintegrated again.

We lost everything (eventually even my marriage). I had no idea who I was or what value I added to the world. It was devastating. And then I rebuilt my life from the ashes, again.

My story isn’t unique. Walt Disney, Abraham Lincoln, even Donald Trump all declared bankruptcy (some more than once) before becoming the icons they are seen as today. Your life may be facing a looming catastrophe through tough economic times or through the digitisation of the workplace.

We all tend to lock a fair amount of our self-definition and self-concept in our work life (because it is where we spend most of our lives). Think about it… you meet a new person and one of the first questions one of you will ask is: “So, what do you do?”. We don’t respond with a description of our parenting or hobby personas we describe what we do for work.

So, when (or if) you lose your job or business, for any reason, what are some of the lessons you can learn from my – and these other social icons’ – experiences?

● Rebuilding starts with Acceptance

It was my boss’ fault for mismanaging the business, it was the clients fault for being too demanding, it was because of digitisation. In all of these and similar examples, we are saying the state of our life is someone else’s fault, and they should be responsible for helping us get back on our feet again. NONSENSE. This is your life now, and the sooner you accept this as your reality the sooner you will lift your head up and look forward. As long as you remain a victim of an external circumstance you miss out on the opportunity to be a victor instead.

● Look up and ahead as soon as you can

It is natural to wallow for a bit, but wallowing does nothing but eventually leave you stranded in the mud.

You need to lift up your head, heart, attitude, and vision out of where you are and forward onto your horizon. The opportunities that come your way will probably not be in the same space or field you have just come from. Looking ahead gives you the opportunity to scan as broadly as possible for opportunities.

I went from church minster to IT consultant, from entrepreneur in South Africa to project manager in Saudi Arabia, and I’m now an international professional speaker…..who is unable to fly to events that have been cancelled around the globe so, I’m scanning the horizon again.

● Take what comes…. even if it is weird

I was out on my bicycle keeping my energy up and massaging my broken spirit after being fired from the church when I got a phone call. Could I work with users of Customer Relationship Management software to increase their acceptance of the product? WTF!?!?! I didn’t have a computer (I used to write my sermons by hand)…. I had no idea what CRM was…. I’d never worked in corporate.

My answer?… Of course I could.

I arrived for the interview the next day…. and I got the job. My life swung onto a new track that launched an incredible decade-long journey that led an ex-minister towards launching a computer game development startup. Don’t write off any opportunity because it wasn’t something you thought you would ever do. Life will give you gifts as you rebuild, grab them with both hands and make the most of them. In a few years when you look back you’ll not perceive this as a change of direction… it will just be the path your life has taken and it will look as good in retrospect as your dreams -before losing everything – had seemed in anticipation.

● You’re not alone – your network wants you to survive and thrive.

The job at the IT company came from a friend who recommended me without even checking with me, the job in Saudi Arabia came from a friend who was offered the job himself but he wasn’t available, so he suggested me – with no idea if I met all of the requirements.

Every role of significance, and certainly the ones that enabled me to rebuild from ashes, was rooted in an opportunity that came from relationships and network, not job hunting. The saying: “It’s not WHAT you know but WHO you know” is never more true than for a person so crushed they need someone to reach into the ashes and help them up.

What I, and many others, have come to realise is that the people we have around us want us to get back on our feet as much as we do ourselves. At the risk of mixing metaphors, we do however, need to avoid looking these gift horses in the mouth. Take whatever is offered to you that lifts you up out of the brokenness… once you’re up and moving you will be able to shift again and follow opportunities that may feel like a better fit.

The people in your network know you and may see something in you that you don’t perceive in yourself… this is the beginning of your rebuild.

I’ve walked this journey twice, and with the current global recession and disruption in our industry I’m in a similar place again.

It is exhausting, it is painful, and it feels like your world is about to end – I actually attempted suicide after the bankruptcy, I was THAT broken.

Today I’m so THANKFUL that the attempt wasn’t successful.

The years since then have been tough but have also been rewarding…. If I had succeeded in giving up I would’ve missed out on so much.

Can you relate to any of the above?

Is there something looming in your life that has you terrified and afraid?

There is no pill you can take to make life easier, but these are some principles and concepts from my experience that I hope you’ll be able to use…. and in that process, I hope that can you take my pain and sorrow and devastation and give it some meaning and value beyond my life…. and I’ll gratefully thank you for ensuring that my experiences were not a waste.”


Raymond de Villiers - Showcase Digital Disruption
Raymond de Villiers – Digital Disruption

Raymond de Villiers talks about understanding how trends like Cheap Energy, Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, Digitisation, Fintech, and other Changing Global Dynamics influence Strategy, Leadership and your Organisation. His engaging story-telling style draws on his experiences around the world – including an extensive period in the Middle East – incorporating broad research and sound globally-relevant content making him a fresh insightful voice in his space.

Ok, clever clogs, I know that was FOUR lessons, not three, but I was just checking to see if you were paying attention.

I’m sure, though, that you were as moved and inspired as I was when I read this from Ray. I think MANY of us are in similar boats to the ones Ray describes, and my fervent hope is that his advice will help you feel a bit better and will enable you to “Look Up and Ahead” as soon as possible.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I got SO many responses to my mail last week – THANK YOU! – it was easily the most rewarding and re-affirming afternoon I’ve had since this *bleeping* lockdown started.

Again, I read and reply to every one I get, so please get in touch. Did Ray’s words ring true for you? Did they help? I’d love to know.

Until next week – stay safe and sane.

Big hugs … oh wait … sigh … big elbow bumps!


Remember that this address is most reliable for getting in touch with me.

And … just before I go:

Hardest Lessons Learned

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