My name is Tara Turkington. I am the CEO of a company called Flow Communications, which I founded in a small spare bedroom 13 years ago, when I didn’t have a job. At Flow, we help clients to communicate their messages, through channels such as websites and apps, graphic design, elegant writing, public relations, social media, exhibitions and activations, and digital marketing.
I work with clever, energetic, fun-loving people, including my younger sister, Tiffany, and our business partners, Bheki Shongwe and Richard Frank. Today we have a team of about 70 people in offices in three cities in South Africa, and we work for many well-known organisations and companies, such as the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Hollard Insurance, Mango Airlines and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
I’ve always enjoyed doing things a bit differently and I’ve had several careers. It took me a long time to find my passions – I only started Flow (my main passion) in my mid-30s. My passions also include growing a winning team (you can always do more with others than you can on your own, and I believe the most fulfilling thing in the world is to help others grow and to be better), travel, photography and people.
We have a lot of fun at work (in fact, people often ask me if I actually ever do any work!) Our corporate colour is bright pink. We laugh, we do silly stuff. We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we do take our work seriously. Life is too short not to love what you do and not to like who you work with.
In order to give you some advice on how you might write a successful and happy life story, I turned to that authoritative research platform, Facebook, and asked my friends for their input. The results were, of course, statistically accurate and scientifically rigorous.
The first piece of advice I can share is:
“Not all advice is good advice. Make your own decisions, as you will have to live with the results of those decisions. And trust in your gut.” – Alec Stafford.
So, from the advice that follows, use what resonates with you and lose the rest.
‘Never stop learning or laughing’
Many people on my timeline highlighted the importance of laughter.
“Laugh! Be eternally curious, believe in your vision and never stop learning or laughing!” – Christine Tworeck.
The next snippet of wisdom is to be kind.
“Always, always be kind to your sister. She will always be there for you.” – Tiffany Turkington-Palmer.
Tiffany is, of course, my sister. (This comment got more likes on Facebook than any other.)
But it’s not just your own sisters you need to be kind to – you should also be mindful of building the greater sisterhood of women, who are still oppressed and marginalised in the 21st century. “Never pull another woman down. As you grow, mentor and take other women along with you. We need to create the sisterhood.” – Rivonia K Naidu-Hoffmeester.
But what about you, as young women about to go out into the wide world? You need to find your sparks, your passions, if you haven’t already. For it is in finding this passion, and living it, that you will find happiness and a life of purpose. “Find your passion and make it your purpose to impact your community, your environment, your world.” – Des Hugo.
There is no such thing as a wasted education
It’s not always easy to find your passion. Many of you won’t know what you want to “do” with your life and that’s OK. Try to experience as much as you can – go to university if you can and try out different subjects. Stick with what you enjoy and trust in the universe – the rest will turn out for the best. Don’t worry about studying something that will land you a good job – many of the jobs in your futures have not been invented yet, and you’re unlikely to actually end up doing something you’ve studied anyhow. There is no such thing as a wasted education, so study something you find interesting, while in pursuit of discovering your passion.
My sister studied fine art, much to our parents’ dismay. She followed her passion, though her job prospects didn’t look great at the time. She learnt to be creative and resourceful. Her degrees in art helped her to start a career and to move into marketing and communications.
Today, her life has turned out very differently to how she (or our parents) might have imagined: she’s managing the finances in a multimillion-rand company and leading strategic thinking on a daily basis – something her creative education prepared her for well. I was a journalist and now I’m in business. The point is, you shouldn’t overplan your future or worry about your career too much. As long as you invest in yourself and your growth by working hard, expose yourself to different experiences, work in the service of others (which is where you’ll grow the most, have the most fun and find the most fulfilment), and stick with what makes you happy, you’ll turn out great.
As my young friend Kerry Robertson advises, “It’s cool to take part. It’s cool to work hard. It’s cool to care.” Over time, your passion will become clear to you.
The Japanese have a term, ikigai, which describes a person’s reason for being. “Ikigai is that sweet spot where what you love, what you’re good at and what someone will pay you to do connects with something that makes a real difference to the world.” – Graeme Codrington.
My wish for you is that you all find your Ikigai. By way of example, I want to tell you the stories of five women I know who have all found Ikigai.
I met my friend Kate Groch at university when she was studying a BSc. She finished her degree but chemistry and physics were not her passion. Over time, she realised she was passionate about education – teaching children and young people and helping them grow to be better, to find jobs, to earn a much-needed income, and to in turn inspire others.
Kate is the founder and CEO of the Good Work Foundation, which started with one small, dusty campus on the grounds of a church outside Hazyview in rural Mpumalanga. Today, the Good Work Foundation has five campuses in Mpumalanga and the Free State and is in the process of building another two. Over 6 500 children attend classes at these campuses every week to learn computer and life skills. Another 300 young school leavers are enrolled in a year-long bridging course, and another 100 students are in second-year career academy courses. By the end of 2020, Kate’s aim is for the Good Work Foundation to teach 26 000 young people each year. You can find her TED Talk online to learn more about this remarkable woman and her vision for a better South Africa.
Kate’s words of wisdom for you are: “Find out what you love to do. Do that! Work hard. But always remember it is meant to be FUN!”
Travel, travel, travel!
A lot of people who answered my survey said that their top life tip is to travel.
“TRAVEL, TRAVEL, TRAVEL. It broadens your horizons, gives you a different perspective, introduces you to new cultures, and gives you a real-life education.” – Nikki Munsie
This is great advice. I love to travel, too – for work, for pleasure, wherever and whenever I can. I especially love the African bush. Recently, my seven-year-old son had to tell his teacher what work his parents do. His answer: “My mom goes on game drives and takes lots of photos!” This is only partly true.
Another person who loves to travel and whose advice to you is to “Travel. Travel. Travel!” is businesswoman Khanyi Chaba. After school, Khanyi wanted to study architecture and so went to the bank to ask for a student loan. The bank manager looked down on her and suggested she try nursing or teaching instead, which the bank would provide a loan for (he was not prepared to risk a loan towards an architecture degree, which he didn’t believe she could complete).
The young Khanyi left the bank humiliated, having had to ask the manager to give her the taxi fare to get home (in her naiveté she had thought she would leave the bank with an instant pile of money). She dug deep, never wavered from her dream, found menial work and paid for her own university fees. Years later she became one of the first black female graduates in architecture at the Technikon Witwatersand, now the University of Johannesburg. She went on to work in a housing division at Standard Bank and rose through the ranks, eventually becoming much more senior to that bank manager, still in his same office.
There are no shortcuts to success
Khanyi has subsequently travelled all over the world, often to run marathons, which is another personal passion, after architecture. She has completed 10 Comrades Marathons, 10 Two Oceans Marathons and all top six world major international marathons (New York, London, Berlin, Tokyo, Boston and Chicago). She has also run the Great Wall of China and Paris marathons, and has summited Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe.
Khanyi didn’t get where she is in life by sitting back and hoping things would happen for her. She worked hard. Many, many people on my Facebook wall said,“Work hard!” There are no shortcuts to success. Several friends also mentioned the importance of earning your own money as a woman, and looking after it well. “Look after your money and grow it from the day you start working. Live within your means. A small car is fine. It’ll get you from A to B. Sometimes even to the coast.” – Arja Salafranca.
And, of course, whatever happens in your life, you will need to find ways to stay sane when others irritate or disappoint you. Ismail Mahomed, CEO of the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, offered this advice: “Always keep a packet of Jelly Babies in your top drawer. For those moments when you feel you want to wring the neck of somebody at work, twist and turn a Jelly Baby, and for catharsis, eat away at it bite by bite. You’ll feel better!”
The next story is that of Christi Maherry, who grew up wanting to be a spy. Back in the early 1990s, no woman had ever passed the physical tests required to get into the South African Intelligence VIP Protection Unit – the elite unit that guards the country’s most important people.
Christi, though slightly built, was strong in both muscle and mind, and surprised all her male counterparts by fighting through, eventually becoming one of the president’s bodyguards. She would go on to work closely with former President Nelson Mandela – a highlight of her career. One assignment entailed protecting Prince Philip at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration.
Christi was excellent at her job (no one would have guessed the president’s attractive “secretary” had the martial arts skills to kill someone if necessary), but while on a state visit to the United Kingdom, Christi’s cover was blown by the media and she was outed.
Her life as a spy was over, but this is where her career as an entrepreneur began. She went on to found LAWTrust, a company that specialises in cybersecurity solutions, protecting people’s online activity from criminals. Recently, LAWTrust won the tender to put a digital identity onto every new South African identity card, among many other accolades. In 2017, Christi beat out tough competition to win the EY Global Entrepreneur Award of the Year in the Emerging Category at a glittering ceremony in Monte Carlo.
She recently merged LAWTrust with a large listed company and continues to grow the company globally. Christi is a philanthropist, giving time and money back into developing women township entrepreneurs and towards educating girls. Her advice for you: “Be brave, believe in yourself, trust your gut and remember that courage is a habit that you need to practice every day.”
Another woman of passion with a powerful story is Ayanda Mzondeki. Ayanda went to the University of the Witwatersrand but had to drop out in her second year when she fell pregnant. She had her baby and went on to finish her BCom degree, working two, sometimes three jobs, working as a waitress in a pizza place after her day jobs, as well as finishing her course. In 2012, Ayanda became the founder and CEO of Liyema Consulting, a human resources consulting company that has grown into a market leader with many large corporate clients around the globe.
Ayanda transformed herself from that struggling student into a powerhouse who employs hundreds of people in South Africa, Australia, Ireland, India and Dubai, among other places.
Ayanda’s advice: ”Hold on to your greatness. When life throws difficulties at you, keep going. Don’t ever forget how great you are.”
Ordinary, yet extraordinary
Says Jennifer Crocker, another Facebook friend: Don’t melt as soon as there’s a little heat on you. “Don’t be a snowflake. Life can be tough. Value yourself, but don’t overvalue your value to society until you have something to offer.”
Finally, let me tell you the story of Sharlotte Naidu. Sharlotte was a housewife who loved her sons, but suffered in an abusive relationship. She found the courage to leave the relationship, to put her pain in the background, to reinvent herself, and to find passions she never knew she could have.
Today, Sharlotte is a successful businesswoman who is completing her PhD in robotics in France. She owns a consulting company, is a restaurateur and is the author of the book, Own Your Power, about making positive choices in life, even when we meet terrible hardships.
Sharlotte’s advice for you: “Time can’t ever be replaced, so make every moment count.”
All these women are ordinary people. Ordinary, yet extraordinary. They found their passions, and any of you, all of you, can do the same.
I would like you to close your eyes for a minute, please. Think about what inspires you, what you love to do.
You are unique and BeYOUtiful. There is only one you.
Think about who and what you want to be in this world.
What will your life story be?
Your school’s motto is a great one for life. (Actually, it’s so great I’m thinking of getting a tattoo!) “Facta non verba.” Deeds, not words.
Your deeds will define you. Go out, find your passions and your Ikigai, and do something great with your life!