Saturday, May 30, 2015

Reflections of a man in his 30s (Lister Kom)

Lister and I overlapped at university, but got to know each other better when we started in the same team in our first job. We were both studying and working, and were early birds to the office to try and get the day's 'bite of the elephant' out of the way so it didn't hang over us. Combining the angst of adjusting from university to the real world with studies isn't easy. It is always great when the team you are in has people in a similar boat, who are also people you enjoy spending time with. Lister and I were the usual suspects when it came to 'Tea at Ten'. There are few problems that can't be solved with tea. More than ten years from that tea, and a little less green, Lister reflects on a few lessons.

Reflections of a man in his 30s
by Lister Kom

As I reflect on the past 35 years, particularly the last 15, it's dawning on me that life continuously dishes out lessons to each of us. Whether we take notice of such or not, it's really up to us. Here particularly, I would like to share my reflections on just three. Pride, discipline and stereotyping.

1. Pride
There I was, in my stance, drenched in sweat; with pounding music, in the background, numbing the pain of exercise. I was totally focused on the routine, listening to the buoyant instructor in the front. Suddenly, "go down", I heard a mumble next to me. I turned around. "Go down like this", he mumbles again, at the same time demonstrating the action [one knee touching the floor]. My first thought, "Who the hell does this loser next to me think he is?". How dare he disturb my tempo! What a nerve! Anyway, I thought, I'll wait until the session is over. The problem with postponing a confrontation, time just seems to draaaaag. I lost focus in the class. Session ended.

As I exit the class, I happen to come across "Mr Know-It-All", still adamant about correcting my technique. In a spur of the moment, I concocted a response: "The day I see a string of muscle on that obese body of yours, then you qualify to correct my technique." End of conversation! I didn't bother to wait for a response.

Now, reflecting on this incident, why did I respond in this rude, pride-filled manner? Why couldn't I accept correction from this gentleman. He meant no harm. PRIDE! My pride couldn't allow me to receive this harmless advice. Pride also makes you selective who you receive advice from. Over time, I've had to accept that advice can come from anyone and I always need to be ready to receive it. It doesn't cost me anything. Also, accepting advice without being defensive allows humility to prevail, which is a noble trait indeed.

2. Discipline
My daughter is 7 years old, currently doing grade 2. If all goes well, in 2026, she'll be doing her first year of tertiary. Assuming an educational inflation of 6% pa, a typical 4-year degree will cost my R800,000 at that time. What! This is enough to scare the living daylights of any middle income earner who hasn't thought about this. This reality faces a lot of us young parents. Most of us, we choose to bury our heads in sand and pray that a miracle (e.g. bursary) will happen when the time comes. Some of us find comfort in the meagre savings of R200 pm in education plans. Well, given this dilemma, I've learnt to rely on three buddies to assist me. Namely compound interest, time and discipline.

If I started saving R1000pm when my child was born and increase this yearly by inflation of 6% i.e. R1000 in the first year, R1060 in the following year etc. If I put this in a savings vehicle which gives me 8% p.a., then in 18 years when my child completes matric, I would have roughly R750,000. Of this great sum, I would have only paid R380,000 in total... the rest would have been supplemented by my friend, compound interest. And I'll have peace of mind about tertiary costs. Now, if I started saving when my child was 5 years old, when she turns 18, I'll only have R385,000, almost half of the R750,000... just because I ignored my other friend, time, for 5 years.

Lastly, all of this cannot be done without the other buddy, discipline. Discipline forces you to say "no" to unnecessary debt e.g. credit cards. Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, calls credit cards "the crack cocaine of the financial world." I've learnt the hard way, not to allow myself to be seduced. It's all to easy to easy onto the slippery slope - and slide down into overwhelming debts. Within no time, you end up paying that R1000 you were meant to save, on credit card repayments.

3. Stereotyping
A few years ago, I witnessed my dearest parent cowering under the arrogance of a bank consultant, due to a misunderstanding about a credit card statement. The consultant ended the conversation in these words, "you better pay that R350 tomorrow, otherwise we will nullify your card". Mom begged me to call this consultant, as she could not bring herself to explain, to a white consultant, the mistake the bank had made in this matter. Not paying much attention to how I handled the matter, it was resolved. What sat heavy in my heart though, was how we would ever overcome this deeply entrenched "fear of other races".

This fear is not only limited to confrontational situations, but also fear to empower a person from another race. In corporates, nepotism is mostly acceptable when it's done by white colleagues. Business opportunities to supply the company are offered to family members, only if they are white. A black colleague brings some blankets to work to sell from a car boot, she gets fired immediately. In government institutions, it's the other way around... this black vs white spat. This is all due to stereotyping. It hampers us from having great human-to-human interaction. It also hampers us from reaching out to each other and offering a hand. Instead, loathsome distrust shakes its head despicably.

There is a long way to overcoming this, but hopefully we all eat this elephant one bite at a time. At times, I take a few steps back, but I strive to never give up! I continue to reflect every chance I get.
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