While I was working on luxury yachts in the Mediterranean, I had the opportunity to visit the town of Pisa, in Italy, with the American captain of a neighbouring yacht. One of the main tourist attractions in this town is the world famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. While we were there, the tower was being renovated, restored and repaired – architects and engineers were working hard to stop the tower from falling over completely. What was interesting to me is that they weren’t trying to straighten it to its original, vertical stance. They were keeping its “lean” because it is that very “flaw” that makes it so iconic, and so popular with visitors.
The life lesson here is that things don’t have to be perfect to be interesting. In fact, perfection is often a little boring! Instead, it is the flaws that make things worth a second look, and which make them stand out from the rest.
One of the cities I visited during my 9-month working holiday in the United States was Washington DC. And of course, when you’re in Washington, you have to visit The White House. Naturally, it is a huge tourist attraction and when I got there, there were queues and queues of people waiting to go in. Big, muscular security guards were admitting people in groups of about 25 at a time. I had limited time in the city and didn’t want to spend what I estimated would be at least 2 hours in a queue. I decided that as I was on my own, it might not be too difficult to slot into a group much further up the line. I approached one of the guards, explained my situation and asked him if I could join the group that was going in next. And he said yes! He could easily have turned me away and told me to wait my turn, but instead he showed understanding and simple human kindness. It is a gesture I still remember today, 22 years later.
The life lesson learnt here is that sometimes, a seemingly small and insignificant act or gesture can make a huge difference in someone’s life. We should all practice random acts of kindness every day.
As a student, I spent a ski season working in Keystone Ski Resort in the Rocky Mountain Range of Colorado. To help stop me missing my family and friends, and feeling too homesick on Christmas Day, I decided to do something interesting, enjoyable and special.
I was very interested in joining a group for Christmas dinner in a restaurant at the top of the mountain, followed by a midnight run down the ski slopes - lit only by torch light. It sounded so exciting, but I was worried that I wasn’t a good enough skier, and almost abandoned the idea there and then. My sense of adventure won the day, however, so – after some reassurance from the organisers - I signed up.
The entire experience was absolutely amazing and I was thrilled I had had the courage to do it. It is one of the adventures I will never forget!
The life lesson here is not to let fear stop you. As Dr. Robert Anthony so wisely says: “Courage is simply the willingness to be afraid, and act anyway.”
A few years ago, during a “travelling” period of my life, I had the chance to explore the Spanish province of Andalucia. One day, I found myself in Frigiliana, a beautiful and charming town characterised by cobbled streets, coffee pots overflowing with vibrant bougainvillea and steep, winding stairs. The town was thronging with tourists, all appreciating its beauty and “quaintness.” Adding to the appeal was a little old lady, typically dressed in black, who came out of her house to sweep her “stoep.” While we were taking photos, it suddenly struck me that while we, as tourists, were admiring this “picture postcard” pastoral scene, the old woman herself was just having a normal day and was going about her business - no doubt as she does every day.
The lesson here is that life is all about perspective. What created an extraordinary scene for us as tourists, was just an ordinary moment for the old woman.
During my three-year stint working on luxury yachts around the world, I found myself in Bodrum in Turkey, as part of the crew overseeing the re-fitting of a beautiful 1930’s yacht. The work was exhausting and I didn’t have a lot of time for sightseeing, but one thing I will always remember about Bodrum is the magnificent roses that seemed to grow just about everywhere! They were absolutely breathtaking – some had blooms as big as two hands cupped together. They were growing without any attention – no one fertilising or pruning them – and yet they were probably the most breathtaking roses I have ever seen.
The life lesson here is that, when conditions are right, things will flourish - even if they’re not given an overt amount of attention. Don’t wait for someone to nurture and look after you before you grow – create the right conditions for yourself and attain your own magnificence.
While travelling back to South Africa after working on a yacht in Turkey, I took the opportunity go to the United Arab Emirates, to visit an old friend who was living in Dubai. Dubai is situated in the middle of the Arabian Desert, and so is probably the last place in the world where you’d expect to find a ski slope! But this is exactly what I discovered one day while walking round one of the city’s many huge shopping malls! I was fascinated to be able to watch the skiers through a glass wall - while being very grateful for the cool air-conditioning blasting away on my side of the glass! A similar experience was watching beach volleyball take place in the middle of London – very far from the nearest beach – during the recent Summer Olympics!
The life lesson here is that just about anything is possible if you don’t let yourself be dictated to by your situation or circumstances. If you can dream it, you can do it!
During my year-long working holiday in America, I tried to see as many different cities as possible. I often made use of Greyhound buses, and one day, when leaving Chicago, I had a ticket for a bus that was due to leave at 4pm. I arrived at the terminal at midday, but didn’t want to walk around with all my bags, so I just sat and waited. Another lady had also arrived early, and she too decided to wait. As the afternoon wore on, crowds of people started arriving to catch the bus, and the fact that we had been waiting four hours didn’t seem to matter - the new arrivals just pushed and shoved so that we were forced right to the back of the queue. We were both furious, and the lady shouted and screamed at the conductor, demanding to be let on the bus. I kept calm and explained that we had been waiting hours. In the end, the conductor let me on to the bus, but turned the other lady away for being rude.
The lesson here is that aggressive behaviour seldom, if ever, gets you what you want. No one likes a rude person. If you want something, ask for it in an assertive, NOT aggressive, manner, always taking the feelings of the other person into account.
While working on luxury yachts in the Mediterranean, I found myself with some rare, but much-needed time off while we were moored at the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda in Porto Cervo, Sardinia.
The town is a favourite stop-off point for some of the world’s uber rich and famous, and it’s not unusual to see international celebrities benefitting from a little retail therapy there! Exclusivity and expense are the dominant impressions when you walk around, so you can imagine how surprised I was when, while browsing in one of the most upmarket shopping malls in the world, I found several shops offering lovely items I could actually afford!
The lesson here is that we shouldn’t be intimidated by outward appearances, reputation or title. Very often, if we are brave enough to look beyond the daunting exterior, we may well be pleasantly surprised at what we find.
While my Mom and I were visiting the UK for a family wedding, I took the opportunity to take us both up to Edinburgh in Scotland for the world famous Edinburgh Tattoo. Because it was a relatively late decision, the whole city was already packed out, and we were unable to get any accommodation.
Fortunately we found a little fishing village called Dunbar, about 20 minutes by train from Edinburgh, where we managed to secure a room in a B&B. One day, while sitting on the pebbled beach in Dunbar watching the seagulls and listening to their raucous and incessant calls, I was suddenly struck by the fact that the seagulls back home in Durban don’t actually make a noise! What I had taken to be to be the same ol’ seagulls as back home, were in fact very different. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but that noisy Scottish beach made me aware of the difference.
Even though something may appear familiar, there may be differences we don’t expect. We shouldn’t take things at face value – rather make an effort to learn and appreciate individual characteristics.
While touring through the States, I had the opportunity to visit Venice Beach, in Los Angeles, California. This world famous spot is renowned for its long boardwalk, packed with people roller-blading, running, cycling etc, as well as for the aptly-named Muscle Beach Gym.
It was fascinating to watch not only the people working out in the gym, but also the people watching the people working out in the gym! Everywhere I looked there were gym bunnies showing off their bodies in barely-there outfits. I found the whole experience very shallow and superficial. It’s not that I’m not into health and fitness – I’m hugely in favour of staying healthy. But it was sad to see people working out not for the health benefits, but for the ego boost they got from having others stare at their bodies.
Don’t place emphasis on those things that you will lose – looks, for example. Rather invest time and energy into things that will yield long-term and lasting benefits.