Successful business men I interviewed all cited various life-changing experiences that have touched their lives. So this post is about sharing some of their stories.
Boarding school: Two individuals went to boarding school. They both described it as a “ruthless” environment. For one person it left a painful mark on his life and took years to work through and put behind him. However, the other learnt to fight his own fights. Boarding school taught him to be mentally prepared and to live by his wits, both aspects that he thrived on and enjoyed.
On becoming a parent: Several men commented that having children was a life-changing experience. After all, you have no idea what you are in for! All the men interviewed enjoyed having children despite the challenges. They commented that you need to know when to push and when to pull back. Some men were more involved and closer to their children than others. It seems that those who had high powered positions left the raising of the children to their wives.
Health issues: Several men have experienced health scares which led to a lot of introspection. And as a result of the severity they gained a different perspective on life. Some men were more open than others about the impact this had on them mentally and emotionally. It was very clear that the expectation that men must always be strong and be seen to be coping, still prevails.
The death of a loved one (parent, sibling, close friend) as well as their own health scares made several men more aware of their own mortality. They reflect more on the meaning of life and the need to cherish the gift of life. Other consequences are that they learn to appreciate the simple things and are more patient with their children.
One business owner with Parkinson’s disease is quite concerned about how he will generate income when his health starts to deteriorate significantly.
Independence at a young age: A retired MD lost both of his parents when he was 21 years old. There was just enough money to pay for the funeral. This life-changing experience meant he and his brother had to cope on their own. This was new territory for him and quite a sobering reality that he had to take of himself. He met his wife through a chance meeting. As a result his wild, carefree life ended and he found direction. His life became more settled.
Challenges: The head of an NGO grew up in a town where races lived together until the Group Areas Act came in when he was 6. The family had to move to an area for Coloureds. When it came to high school there was only a high school for white children. And so he and his siblings had to board with a Coloured family in another town. This school for non-whites had no boarding facility.
He and his sister lived with the same family. It was a major adjustment. As a result he learnt from a young age to adapt to situations and to get on with others. He also learnt to do what was expected of him.
Despite this, he did not allow feelings of resentment to dominate his life. Instead he worked hard to better himself and give himself a good start in life. As an older sibling he was responsible with other older siblings to ensure that the younger ones were educated.
On the negative side, he experienced stereotypical comments about people that are hurtful: for example, that all Coloureds are drunkards and use dagga. And that all Afrikaners are hairy and stupid. In his opinion, these beliefs just fuel racial and cultural divides.
So what I learnt is that everyone has several life-changing experiences to share. Some stories are uplifting where others clearly have required that they dig deep into their inner reserves.
I once saw a quote on a building: “Be kinder than necessary. Everyone is fighting some kind of battle.” Men often carry these battles alone.
If you are facing some potentially life-changing situation and need a trusted confidante, consider seeing a reputable coach.
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