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From finding inspiration to being the inspiration

16 March 2023

We all have the potential to make a profound difference.

As South Africans, we have weathered many storms over the last four years. At the end of 2019, just before the pandemic descended upon our shores, the broad unemployment  rate was touching the 38.5% level. Covid-19 then struck, stripping 2.2 million South Africans of their jobs and claiming over 100 000 lives.

In July 2021 we were dealt yet another major blow when civil unrest broke out in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. Approximately 350 people lost their lives and all of us were shaken by the events, compounding existing stressors and a sense of overwhelm initially brought on by the pandemic. The broad economic fallout from this unrest was estimated to be in the region of $3.3bn, a loss the country could ill afford.

Yet another major collective challenge then exploded – the war in the Ukraine. Tens of thousands of people on both sides of the conflict have lost their lives in this inhumane and indeed unnecessary war, and while we as South Africans are geographically removed, we have not been shielded from the conflict. Higher energy and fuel prices, disruptions to trade, and investor uncertainty are only overshadowed by soaring food prices, seeing food inflation officially peak at 13.4%, the highest since the global financial crisis in 2009.

At the same time, climate change has shaken parts of the country such as the Kwazulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga, with some of the most severe flooding seen in decades. Hundreds of lives have been lost, thousands of homes have been destroyed and tens of thousands of people have been displaced. The estimated cost is somewhat vague and lies somewhere in the region of R17–R25 billion. In truth, the figure is incalculable, as is the case with all the major events over the last four years and the compounded effect thereof.

Our ongoing struggles as a nation have only been magnified by the current energy crisis, with no apparent end, solution or answers in sight. For 6 to 12 hours a day the majority of South African homes and businesses are without electricity. The daily cost of what started as somewhat of a national ‘inconvenience’ is in the region of R900 million, says the South African Reserve Bank.

It is important to acknowledge that for most people, days are hard, challenging, complex and overwhelming. While we have had little control over the historic (and current) geopolitical or socio-economic events over the last four years, and the broader impact they may have on society, what we can control are our responses. That is what will ultimately shape our future and that of our families, teams and businesses.

During times like these, and indeed times of stress and uncertainty, it would serve us well to draw deeply on two extraordinary resilience traits that we all have, but may not be all that confident in or aware of how to develop: inspiration and courage.

Inspiration has the potential to propel us into an immensely positive reality and brings imagination and dreams into being. It unlocks vast reserves of discretionary energy, more than doubling our productivity and amplifying both creativity and innovative potential. Being inspired can make us feel ‘superhuman’ and help us be the fullest expression of who we can be.

Courage is the conduit to greatness. It allows us to change, gives us license to fail, the strength to get up and try again and the self-control to stay aligned with our life mission when consumed by fear and self-doubt.

Knowing all this, the bigger question is how do we become inspired in a world where anxiety and insecurity are so pervasive? And more importantly, how do we sustain inspiration, which is in and of itself so fleeting?

The only answer is that it lies with our ability to inspire others. If we wholeheartedly commit ourselves to uplifting those around us (family members, friends, teams, employees, communities) it ultimately changes us and ignites a fire inside that becomes inextinguishable.

Harvard researchers have discovered that there are 33 traits  (such as self-actualisation, emotional regulation, humility and so on) that make us inspiring to others and the world around us. That is not to say that we require all of these traits in order to effect a transformation in ourselves and others, but rather we need to be exceptional in the traits that are aligned to who we are, what we represent and who we ultimately want to be. More than a basket of traits, it is helpful to appreciate that human inspiration emanates from four core areas:

  • Showing personal resiliency

  • Human connection

  • Being able to set the tone in a given environment

  • Being able to lead others effectively

The more we develop ourselves in the areas where we already shine, the greater our impact on the world around us (of course this is contingent on revelation and embodiment of these existing attributes). In many respects, it’s not that we have to be someone we aren’t, but rather to be more of the person we are.

Lionel Messi, arguably one of the greatest soccer players of his generation, while possessing an abundance of exceptional traits such as creativity, teamwork and skill, is also known for his unmatched composure in the big moments. His inspiration superpower lives in the personal resiliency space due to his emotional regulation, self-belief, self-confidence and self-actualisation.

It could be said that Oprah Winfrey is one of the most inspirational figures in recent history.  Oprah has touched the lives of millions upon millions of people, inspiring the downtrodden to rise, encouraging the disadvantaged to transcend their circumstances and the abused to fight back. How has she achieved this degree of transformation? Her inspiration superpower is connection. Oprah has the ability to truly listen to the plight of others, she recognises their pain and has a genuine desire to help. Above all, she finds commonality with everyone she interacts with.

The overall message is compelling: we all have the potential to make a profound difference. To bring this reality into being requires time to self-reflect, to objectively identify our contribution lever/s, to re-energise these inspiration factors and be courageous enough to live these values.

We can shape and change the world, we just need to put in the effort.

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