STEWARDSHIP, EDUCATION AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP

 

Family wealth fails to make it beyond the third generation in 90 per cent of cases. This failure isn’t due to poor investment decisions, but rather a lack of cohesion and communication between family members, where the family fragments, and with it the wealth.

Some members of the next generation attend the best schools and universities across the world. However, they are still not adequately prepared for the responsibilities that face them when they return home. Each phase of life presents its own unique set of challenges. Families need to ensure they are doing their best to equip themselves and the next generation with the skills and knowledge they need to move forward in their professional and personal lives.

So how can a family increase the chances of success? Let’s take a closer look at the issues, and some critical stages and situations families and individual family members need to be aware of and consider.

 

Challenges Facing Young People

Imagine a young person getting ready to embark on higher education, perhaps abroad. Youngsters can face pressure from peers or from a desire to fit in and make friends. These can be more pronounced for someone from the Middle East. Sadly, it is common to hear of individuals bragging about their family’s wealth as a way to gain acceptance in a new environment, or of people making assumptions based on origin. If a young person is not adequately grounded and prepared, this can make them easy prey to be taken advantage of by supposed friends.

In such cases, there are two typical outcomes. The first is the young person becomes surrounded by parasites, taking advantage of their wealth. The second is the young person succumbing to peer pressure, taking on harmful behaviours or habits. Although both examples are factors every family, regardless of origin, needs to be aware of, these two scenarios seem to be more pronounced for families from the region, due to the perception of wealth, and the differences in culture and traditions between the Middle East and non-Islamic societies.

 

Who Should Succeed?

Succession does not guarantee success, and being the oldest does not make a person best suited to take over the family business. Families in the region, have traditionally seen the eldest son as the natural successor. However, history and excellent examples of female leadership have shown this is not necessarily what is best for the family or the business. The Middle East is experiencing a cultural shift, with women playing a more significant role in business and society. It would be wise for families to not overlook the women in the family and to capitalise on their capabilities.

The transition from one generation to the next can be challenging at the best of times, but the speed at which society is changing in the Middle East can add a different dynamic to succession. Alignment between personal and family values can be perplexing, but adding traditional, cultural and religious values can add further complexity, especially in times of societal change. Ultimately, the person who succeeds should be the best equipped to ensure the long-term sustainability and longevity of the family wealth, to support current and future generations.

 

Shared Vision

The need to create value to support a growing family is not the sole responsibility of the patriarch. Every member of the family needs to move forward together towards a shared vision. Each member of the family must also take personal responsibility in ensuring they work in the family enterprise only if they add value. Failure to do so jeopardises the well-being of the family enterprise and the family system. No two people have the same combination of skills, talents, interests and aptitudes. So each needs to hone their skills to make them fit for whichever role best suits them – if any.

Consider the Olympics: being the son or daughter of a great athlete doesn’t make you a great athlete. You need to have a particular aptitude, talent and interest. You must also have the resilience, tenacity, passion and stamina to stay the course and win. It is imperative for families in the region to go beyond the default ‘eldest son’ and pass the baton to the family member(s) best equipped to carry forward the legacy and provide the support necessary.

 

Ensuring Sufficient Value and Growth

How does a family provide sufficient value and growth of the family’s wealth to sustain a growing family? With increased longevity, there are now more family members across generations alive at any given time. In the Middle East, this figure is amplified by cultural traditions, creating larger families than other societies. Some families have around 30 family members across three generations. In addition to needing more significant financial resources, larger families can also find it more challenging to create cohesion and shared values among family members, further increasing the potential threat of wealth dissipation.

 

Investments

As wealth transitions to the next generation, so does the investment focus. For instance, Morgan Stanley’s sustainable investing institute found Millennials (broadly defined as those born between the early 1980s and 2000) are more likely to align their investment choices with their personal values and are twice as likely as the overall investor population to invest in companies targeting social or environmental goals. The research also found Millennials purchased from a sustainable brand twice more often than the average investor population and were three times more likely to seek employment with a sustainably-minded company. Given the size of the Millennial generation, these are factors worth considering when choosing where to invest the family’s capital – be it the investment portfolio, family business or new enterprises the next-generation want to start. Smart families would seize the opportunity by exploring and aligning the family philosophy and its investment principles.

 

Value-creating Enterprises

One way to provide sustainability is through value-creating enterprises. However, with the advancement of technology, businesses in the region are in danger of being disrupted, making innovation, tech-savviness, agility and sharpened entrepreneurial skills even more essential. It is also where the shifting traditions mentioned previously can be a positive influence. With more Arab women tapping into their entrepreneurial capabilities, families have greater potential in wealth creation, further safeguarding the family’s legacy and wealth for future generations. A proactive approach to disruption, embracing the shift in traditional views, and supporting the role of women in business, is a way to benefit all parties.

 

Managing Transition

Transitions are never smooth and for the patriarch, handing over while finding new direction and purpose can be challenging. Over the years patriarchs have gained precious experience and wisdom, and often still want to feel needed and useful. That said, the transition offers an opportunity for patriarchs to harness their knowledge, experience and interests into a new chapter, exploring and undertaking new ways to continue their legacy. As with all change, this has its challenges. Entrusting someone with your life’s work is no mean feat. The region has changed so much over the years this can add an extra layer of difficulty for patriarchs from the Middle East.

Patriarchs have also seen a shift in the values of the next generation and society. The next generation, coming on board with a fresh pair of eyes, is eager to take on new frontiers. Managing succession requires all parties to understand the two perspectives, and finding the balance between them is vital. Passing on the legacy is a gradual process that comes over time, but eventually, there is a need to let go. Leaving the transition to the last minute is likely to leave the next generation ill-prepared, and higher risk for the dissipation of the wealth and legacy.

 

The Process of Succession

Ninety per cent of wealth, globally, does not go beyond the third generation, and the dynamics of families in the Middle East could increase that number even further. The unfortunate statistics demonstrate the intricacies of navigating the phases of a succession process.

Succession is not merely about setting up structures to ensure wealth is passed on. It is an intricate process through which the next generation is equipped with the skills, tools and aptitude to succeed for generations to come. The better-prepared families and family members are, the higher the chance of success.

 

Rethinking Startup Success

We often hear ‘it’s a great company, they’ve raised $x’. This is the wrong metric, and recent disasters (e.g. WeWork, Uber and Theranos) have confirmed this. Thought it was time to peel back the layers on what we should be looking at. Here’s the article featured in Entrepreneur Middle East. read more

Discussion on AI & Intellectual Property

A recent article in Technology Review posed the question of whether AI can be an inventor. In principle, it’s a debate around IP law and whether AI can own ideas it generates. Check out the debate generated on LinkedIn. It’s worth a read. Additional views always welcome. read more

State of MENA Startups 2019

Following on from the recent report on the startup scene in the MENA Region (well done to MAGNiTT and 500 Startups for putting this together), here we peel back the layers on some of the issues raised. read more

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ENABLING THE NEXT GENERATION TO THRIVE

I love studying, working with and sharing stories about the next generation for it is a subject that encompasses defining wealth, the impact of our actions and indeed our purpose. In a nutshell it incorporates the purpose of our wealth…the purpose of our lives…and how we maximise both.

But how?

John F Kennedy had said, “To those whom much is given, much is expected.”

And we have in the large part great expectations of the next generation.

And yet, one of the greatest fuels of disappointment is expectations.

Seneca, the Roman philosopher and senator, attributed anger to frustrated expectations.

So here we have one of the dichotomies faced, not only by wealthy families but also by human beings at large.

And it is our humanness I would like to focus on for the next few minutes in determining what we pass on to the next generation and how.

Some time back, I was at a conference and was asked, “What is the responsibility of the family?”

Any thoughts?

In my opinion, the primary responsibility, regardless of your level of wealth is to best prepare your children to survive and thrive in this world, to be good human beings. You may give them lots of money, but do they have the wisdom on what to do with it? If there is a downturn in the economy and fortunes are lost, do they have the ability, fortitude and resourcefulness to rebuild it? What about if they grow the wealth or forge a path that is away from the ethos of the family? What if they are fantastic in their business but are terribly unhappy in their private life?

There is so much written about succession, legacy, constitutions, and governance that I sometimes think we have forgotten what it’s all about and left out the greatest aid in our cause – the love and respect we have for each other as family.

But do we?  Do we truly understand each other?

Do we empathically listen to each other?

Do we really endeavour to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes?

Or do we adopt an attitude of – this is how we have always been, this is how things are done in our family.

What do we really want for the next generation?

Isn’t it really about them growing into the people they have the potential to be?

Every family is different and every human being is different too.  It is not for me to tell you how you should or shouldn’t do things. My intention is rather to provide you with a framework to see where you are right now, to contemplate where you would like to be, what matters, to consider if your current strategy will get you there, and the steps to course correct.

We are all familiar with a tree. But the tree didn’t come out of nowhere. You first need the seed, you need to prepare the soil, you need to plant the seed in the right environment to ensure its roots take hold, and you need to provide it with the appropriate amount of water and sun to ensure it grows. It is the same with the next generation and it is these elements that we will extrapolate to practicalities in nurturing and developing the next generation.

There are three 3 core areas:

  • Mission & Purpose;
  • Values & Self Awareness;
  • Actions
Mission & Purpose

Most businesses have a mission statement and a purpose. It is well articulated, often hung in the reception, in the corner offices, on the fronts of prospectuses, on the website.

But how many families take the same care in developing and understanding their own family’s purpose, what they stand for, what is important to them, their raison d’etre? This is not a nice to have but a must have – a unified philosophy that instills a sense of identity and direction in the family. This is not something that is imposed by an outside adviser, marketer or lawyer, all scenarios I have heard of, treating it as a check box on the path to governance, but rather a process of exploration and discussion.

This is not too dissimilar to building the foundations to a building – do you want a shack or the ability to grow into a soaring tower? It is the same amount of depth the family and its members need to go through if they want to grow as a family and instill growth in the next generation. It is an essential process that provides an opportunity for other family members to voice their perspective, dreams, hopes and desires in co-creating the environment which is most essential for their development and growth – their home.

The Purpose & Mission become the bedrock upon which the next generation understand the character that was weaved into the family through the generations, the moral compass that will help them determine the right path to choose, in discerning the multitude of options presented to them. It provides them with a backbone, a support mechanism upon which to draw wisdom. As long as it is done correctly, with the appropriate level of exploration and discussion it requires, and deserves.

One family of noble lineage stemming back to the 800s epitomised their family philosophy in the following way: our family is like a chain along a wall, attached by a nail. Some nails are lower, others higher, holding the line of the chain. Your responsibility is to ensure you place a nail. It doesn’t matter if up or down, but ensure you place a nail. It is this simple philosophy that enabled this next generation member to muster the courage to reshape himself and move forward after losing everything in the financial crisis. This simple phrase enabled him to remember the character instilled in the family, the courage and resilience of the family, and the standing of their good name. This went on to determine how he handled the situation he faced, how he interacted and engaged with others, how he conducted his business affairs, how he severed the ties he needed to, all with the dignity, grace and integrity instilled in him along his line.

That is the power of Mission & Purpose. The ability to thrive in the face of challenges.

Values & Self-Awareness

Has anyone ever upset you, even perhaps made you angry?

It probably wasn’t the person’s intention to make you angry. But their actions or what they said happened to impinge upon one of your values. Moreover, their behaviour was also linked to their values. We see people like icebergs. Not from a temperature perspective but from a depth perspective. We only see the tip of the iceberg, the one-eighth peering above the surface, people’s behaviour. But the majority of the iceberg lies beneath the surface, in the depths of the water it occupies. And this is where we have our beliefs, perspectives and values, lying beneath the surface and façade of our actions, often lying within our unconscious mind.

Failing to be aware of, or sensitive to, what these are is like being in constant autopilot.

Imagine being in a plane, relying on the autopilot but you don’t know the controls, navigation system or even what all the parts are called. Do you think that journey will end well if something unexpected comes into sight? And when life happens, it is values and perspectives that are affected.

Let me share a story to illustrate: One family had built a significant investment company and it was understood this was a family business to be grown and transferred to future generations. Then tragedy struck. The father was diagnosed with cancer and, shortly afterwards, his wife also. They underwent treatment and, thank goodness, they survived. The experience shocked the family and all were immensely grateful the parents survived. The experience affected the parents profoundly, driving in them the desire and will to found and endow a world-class medical research facility dedicated to uncovering the causes, treatment, prevention and cure of the genetic cause of cancer and other genetically based diseases. In addition, they tithed 40% of the family business’s annual profits to fund the facility.

That is how values are shaken and reshaped – when life happens.

Actions

The third is Actions. All the goodwill in the world, all the lovely statements and words will do no good if we do not follow through with our actions. We are pulled in a million and one directions with many demands on our time, and mostly looking forwards not back. We have all heard the expression ‘with the benefit of hindsight’.

So it is the ultimate hindsight I would like to touch upon – the topic that is rarely talked about – and that is death.

It is ironic that as human beings we avoid the topic. How many times have you heard a patriarch, even yourself say, “if I die…”? We love guarantees, certainty, and yet we shy away from the ultimate deadline. But through this lens, we can glean much insight into what is truly important to us: Where we focus our time and efforts; What we put off for another day; Who we say no to; What and whom we say yes to; What we don’t say waiting for the right time or holding on until the other makes the first move.

Consider this if you will – imagine you had a week to live:

  • What would you do differently?
  • How would you behave differently?
  • Who would you choose to share time with?
  • What conversations would you ensure you had?
  • What can you now see that you couldn’t see before?
  • What are you grateful for?
  • What really matters?
  • When you are no longer here, what do you want to be remembered for – the empire you built, or your character, how you conducted yourself, how you treated others?

One family’s experience that resounds in me is the story of a beautiful woman, now with children and grandchildren of her own. She is a humble and soulful lady, doing her best to be a steward for the wealth as well as being a loving wife, mother and grandmother to her family. In sharing her story she revealed that her father worked very hard, committed to the company and what he was creating. His focus on his work, as well as his belief that women had no role in business, meant that he shared very little time with his daughter, to the extent that she learned who he was and his accomplishments through a book. On the other hand, he did share a lot of time with his grandchildren who can now forge their own path instilled with the grandfather’s philosophy.

Nelson Mandela said “In judging our progress as individuals, we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education…but internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being.”

So in considering what we leave the next generation and how, I would impress on you the importance of focusing first on the foundations. This enables the next generation to have the capacity to delve within themselves to grow and have the impact they are capable of. It also enables us, to understand and embrace what matters and to be the best we can be. For it is in our own life’s example that we leave the ultimate testament to our legacy.

TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE

Within every person lie moments of significance, experiences that shape us, change our perspective, carve our character and drive us to a deeper part of ourselves.

A few years ago I had one of those moments. It took the form of a terrible shock – the sudden death of someone I loved deeply, his last breath in front of my very eyes. I would be lying if I said, as I reflect on that moment, that my heart doesn’t hurt, that my own breath doesn’t stop for a moment. But just as I choose to ride rollercoasters, with the gut wrenching squeals that come with them, if I’m honest, I choose to reflect on that moment. Not to experience its sadness, but rather to encapsulate a sense of purpose, of urgency, of peace, of joy, of life itself.

The fact of the matter is a) I can’t change what happened b) it could happen to anyone of us at any moment c) our own time on this planet, whether we choose to admit it or not, is finite.

So I find it focuses my mind to what really matters in life, knowing all too well that this could be my last moment. As strange as it may sound, I choose to see it as a gift.

I have held back from sharing this openly with people, in a way fearing putting myself so much on the line, fear of being judged, fear of being labeled as morose. But those who know me can attest that I have a love of life and a love of humanity. And it is because of that love that I am doing this, because maybe the lessons I learned through my experience could in some way make a small difference to someone, and that in a strange way will make the experience worthwhile.

No Unsaids

If you love someone, tell them. If you need something, ask. If you’re stuck, own up. Don’t be afraid to share your dreams, your wishes, your aspirations. Don’t worry about airing your fears, they don’t seem so bad when they’re brought out from the dark recesses of our minds. Be fearless in challenging perspectives (especially yours). Be honest. Be truthful. Be honourable.

Connect deeply

Put down your phone, your iPad, your laptop. Ignore your emails, messages and put your phone on silent or off. Get the person you care about most in the world and look into their eyes, hold them, feel their breath, take time to listen – to the words and the silence in between, the magical doorways that lead you to their essence.

Be present

If you’re at dinner, be at dinner. If you’re having a conversation, be in the conversation. If you’re sharing a moment with someone (even yourself) be in that moment. Absorb everything every moment offers you. Just as you would savour every morsel of a gourmet meal, so it should be with moments.

Have the courage to love deeply

The only thing that hurts more than loving someone is not having the courage to love at all. Love with all your heart, with abandon, with fullness, with gusto, with no holds barred.

You can’t have a rainbow without some rain

Don’t be afraid of shedding a tear and definitely don’t bottle it up. See tears as a way to transform what may seem as a sad or painful experience. With light shed on it and the right perspective even that moment can bring beauty and joy into your life.

Gratitude

Be thankful for every moment – to have an extraordinary life one must take pleasure in what may seem extra-ordinary.

Tend to what matters

It is easy to get distracted, to listen to the drum of others. Take some time to figure out what truly matters to you and make sure your daily actions reflect that.

Just do it!

Don’t wait till tomorrow, till next week, till you have more time, till you have more money, till whatever excuse or reason blocks your way – today, right now, this moment. Tick tock, tick tock. You have but one life – live it!

 


 

Headhunter turned talent spotter, Deborah is vested in the impact business has in both economic and social terms across various strata of society. She is the Creator of AMANI™ and a catalyst for business being a force for good, 

 

Did this resonate and you’d like to know more? Please get in touch for your confidential one-to-one.

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YOUR EXPERIENCES MATTER

We often admire the big names, the personalities, the people in positions of influence. But in so doing, we sometimes forget our own significance.

I am currently in Malta. My mother’s native country. A place I have had a varied relationship with throughout my life, and a place I have come to love and appreciate deeply. Last night, I went to the church my mother used to take us to as children. I had gone to say hello to a dear old neighbour of ours – she always had gentle wisdom to impart, oftentimes in the form of a smile. The choir was in the middle of practice and as I sat there I was greatly moved, not only by their voices and the amount of effort and practice they put into the songs, but by the passage of time. This was the church with so many events: first holy communion; confirmation; the baptism of my cousins; the funeral of my mother and countless confessions. In those moments I was overwhelmed with and grateful for the journey of life.

As I observed the ladies in the choir I was reminded of another facet. These were the ladies whose doors my brother and I used to knock on as children doing ‘bob-a-jobs’, little errands to raise money for the scouts and other countless initiatives we got involved in at school. These were the girls who were with us in our religious classes. It reminded me and brought home that regardless of our background or our upbringing, we are all doing the best we can with what we have and see in front of us. No-one is better or worse than anyone else. We have nothing to prove. Only to be and do the best with what has been bestowed upon us. I wonder if all those people realised what an imprint they had on our lives as a family, me as a person and the role they played in nurturing our spirit.

My mother was an extraordinary woman, with strong values and the courage to live by them. As I get older, I understand with greater depth the lessons she used to impart, and with every passing moment I smile, realising that there is very little she did that wasn’t a lesson.

One particular summer when we were living in Saudi Arabia, I asked my mum to teach me how to knit. An odd thing to do in summer in the blazing heat, granted, especially in my friends’ eyes, but I wanted to know how to knit. So my mum, with all her patience, started to teach me the craft of knitting. I was making a sweater, black, with two cables on either side. From time to time, my mum would take over, reviewing the work I had been doing.

“Deb” she used to say, “be mindful, you keep dropping a stitch. Make sure you have all the stitches.”

So at the end of each row, I would go back and count all the stitches, ensuring I had not dropped anything along the way.

There I was thinking I was learning how to knit, which of course I was. But I learned something else too. I first needed to decide what I wanted to knit – the shape, the size, the colour, the thickness and so on. I had to choose the type of yarn and quantity that would enable me to create what I wanted. And I had to have the skill and tenacity to follow through. I also had to overcome the cajoling from my well-meaning and fun-loving friends :-).

These traits are no different from the traits we need to establish in the lives we want to create for ourselves. In our rush through lives and our focus on a particular outcome, we sometimes forget elements that are important to us – our loved ones, our friends, our health. We even forget experiences that shaped us, that developed our strength, our character. We can forget certain skills or gifts that we have. We can even forget what matters.

So in planning your life, your career, your education, or whatever it is that is important to you remember these steps, and please, above all, don’t drop a stitch.

BANISH LIMITING BELIEFS

A friend of mine shared an anecdote of a time when someone asked him what his new year’s wish was, to which he answered ‘for there to be a year with no wars, no hunger and no misery’. She laughed at him, saying he was a fool asking for too much.

We have much to answer for in the beliefs we hold and the possibilities. Imagine for a moment someone a hundred years ago said “I want to go to the moon”. Suffice to say, he would have been laughed at, and if she were a woman, even more so. And yet, it was possible, it did happen. So would we not be better thinking how to make something possible as opposed to treading on ideals and hopes, dreams and desires?

Within each one of us, lies a part that wishes for a better world, for the removal of injustice, for the cessation of cruelty, poverty and hunger, and indeed, a world full of peace and a better way of life. So can we stop ourselves from stopping others striving for their ideals? Putting out their light so that we don’t feel bad about ourselves? Can we encourage people to pursue their ideals as opposed to telling them to be realistic? And dare we own up to what our own heart’s desire truly is and strive for it?

What is realistic? Back in the dark ages, it wasn’t realistic to have light or running water. It also wasn’t realistic to have planes, trains and automobiles. And yet, that is the reality we have today.

We should encourage ourselves and those around us to speak about our dreams, our ambitions, and to create an environment where it is safe to dream and to pursue them, to realise them in thought and turn them into a reality. We say a problem shared is a problem halved  I say that a dream shared is a dream doubled. Only in that way can we shape a new reality, for ourselves and those around us, something I believe is one of the things many people wish for.

 

 

Deborah has profiled many of the world’s top talent, identifying the secrets to their success as both business people and human beings. She challenges the way people think, engaging their talents, fulfilling their aspirations and positively impacting the world around them.

Did this resonate and you’d like to know more? Please get in touch for your confidential one-to-one.

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Had a Good Giggle Recently?

“The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.”  Horace Walpole

We sometimes get too serious for our own good. Actually, when you sit down and think about it – and see through the initial façade – we really are quite funny as human beings.

Take fairy tales: There are people who believe in the fairy tale of living happily ever after – not a bad thing in itself.  But we seem to have forgotten that in a fairy tale – and before the happily ever after part comes in – the good queen usually dies, and an evil witch dupes the good king.  We only remember the happily ever after bit.  So, when something ‘bad’ happens to us, we rebel, saying this can’t be happening, feeling the injustice of it all.

But if we’re smart, we would rejoice because the quicker we realise what’s going on and see it as a stepping stone to the happily ever after, the stronger we will persevere.  Just as we’d read through the ‘scary’ part of the book, knowing that it all works out in the end, perhaps this would be a wise way to pursue our life.  Please do not misunderstand, I am not making light of things that happen to us in life such as loss, grief etc. but they are part of the passage of time and we have a choice – to become broken through the event, or to realise it is part of the kaleidoscope in what we call the journey of life.

Some may think this a silly outlook.  But we’ll see who ends up laughing.  For if we can’t laugh at ourselves, our folly and idiosyncrasies, what hope do we have of taking everyone else’s foibles in our stride?

Laughter and comedy are great tools in the journey of life.  Just in case you weren’t aware, here are a few quick health benefits:

  • Humour is infectious. The sound of roaring laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze.
  • When laughter is shared, it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy.
  • It’s fun, free, and easy to use
  • Humour lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert.
  • Laughter boosts the immune system, decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
  • Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
  • Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
  • Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh.

 


 

Headhunter turned talent spotter, Deborah creates the connect between people of character and companies with principles. The Founder of AMANI™, she is an advocate for business being a force for good, vested in the impact business has in both economic and social terms across various strata of society.