One more year on Earth! Were it my last, what Legacy would I leave?
I would like to be known as an intelligent woman, a courageous woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by Being. – Dr. Maya Angelou
This is an excerpt of a speech I gave 5 years ago at my Life Celebration. It still holds true. My external looks may evolve, but my Core remains unchanged. Were today my Last Day instead of my Born Day, these are the words that would capture my Life. It is long. If you want to read it, you need time. This post is really for me. My journal entry in the cyberspace of time. I was here!
I am is deeply rooted in the family I was born into, not just my immediate family, but the heritage of Jubeer, Pieter and Lancelot Peter Msomi that I am honoured to be apart of. When I was young, I used to have moments of feeling like I was adopted because I was so shy and quite where my sister and mother would always be chatting about something or the other. But those moments would soon pass because I could see myself in every member of my family.
I will arrange my chat to you according to the themes that I have chosen for each table which represent values and ideas that are very important to me.
My father gave me a beautiful gift by always sharing with me stories about my heritage and instilled pride, confidence and strength that I see in myself, as though I am living an out of body experience, but which root me and carry me through a great life. And when I meet people like Prof O. T. Nxumalo, uMtwana uGatsha Buthelezi or Dr Brigalia Bam who tell me what a great man, my grandfather L. P. Msomi was, though I do not consciously remember him as he died when I was a one year old, I feel like he is with me still.
I have been convinced for a long time that whatever my soul’s purpose is in this life, the Msomi family is the perfect medium for me to thrive in this purpose. Mum always shared with my sister, S’celo and I, how when I was a toddler and we were on a train trip with her, she asked S’celo who is five years older than me, to look after me whilst she went to the loo.
Mum said she hadn’t gone very far when my sister called her back and told her that she didn’t like the way a particular woman on the train was eyeing me. She didn’t think I was safe. Mum always told us that story to show us that even as little children we had a protective love for each other. Even now she tells me that story to remind me how much my sister loved me and that she is loving me, still. The one thing that my sister always knew about me and took much pride in reminding me at every turn is that I felt her pain on her behalf. So when we were young and she would be punished for doing something wrong, I would be the one who would cry instead of her. And she always used to say, “I know when I am gone, you will be the person who will cry a lot over me”. She knew me too well.
Our family of four made sense to us. We complemented each other and literally completed each other. We are of different personalities and temperaments that like a jigsaw made an enriching tapestry and challenged us to grow as individuals and as a team at every turn. The one thing that I will always appreciate is that we all had the strength to live our lives our way. It was not always easy, but in many instances than not, we knew we were strong individuals with strong ideas about the lives we wanted to lead and we fought to have things our way. And we gave each other slack, but were also demanding of each other to contribute to the bigger whole and to nourish that too. Why I titled my chat to you today as “Struggles of Love” is because in my reflections ever since my dad and sister past on, I have thought so much about this Fabulous Four team. With two of us remaining, it has been tough for me and mum. But the one theme that seems to define the four of us was the Struggle of Love. We were constantly struggling with the concepts of duty and obligation to family because of blood ties versus the choice to love each other with conditions and without conditions because we just loved the individual who just happened to be family. That family dynamic always fascinated and still does. What I discovered in myself is that it is still a theme that shapes my relationships with people. I love the idea of everyday consciously choosing the types of relationship I have with people and trying never to take them for granted or to have expectations of what they should do for or with me because of the accident of birth. Looking around this room today, I am touched by the family members who made this day sacrosanct in their diaries and chose to spend it with me. The families who make my family complete include the Msomis, not just LP Msomi’s descendants, but the Msomi boys which S’celo and I always considered our brothers as we were all girls and they were all boys. The Davidsons, the Molois, the Mkhizes, the Malies, the Zubanes, the Mciras, Khumalos, the Gumedes, the Myezas, the Minis and others. I am so honoured that many are represented here today. Which leads me to the next theme that is critical in my life, that of friendship.
I think I have inherited my view of friendship from my parents as well. I have Aunts and Uncles where I am not always clear whether the relationships are as a result of blood relations or lifelong friendships. And the distinction has never mattered in our family. There is an excerpt that I would like to share with you from a book called ‘The Networking Survival Guide: Get the Success you want by Tapping into the People you know by Diane Darling’ that I have read as part of background reading to a research study that my partner, Tembisa Marele, our Programme Director and I are conducting in our company Busara Leadership Partners which says, “We have different people in our lives for different reasons. Some of them help us make money, some make us laugh, and others stretch our minds. With some we share a hobby or interest. Time is limited, and we need to make difficult choices. Whom do we make time for? Who makes time for us? Why? We make time for people whom we like and who like us. We find time for people who make us feel positive, energised and worthy. We take time for people to whom we can get or offer value”.
Sometimes in our line of work, we meet diverse people and have so many social occasions where we tend to meet people over and over so that familiarity and commonality can become mistaken for friendship. This is a topic mum and I talk about all the time. As my friends will know, from the comments Galeboe made last night at dinner, I tend to speak to my mum very often. There are times when it can be three times or so a day, depending on what is happening. So it so happens that I tend to talk to her about what is happening in my life and mention names. She has many names floating about in her head and she has to figure out who is a friend and who is an acquaintance. The beauty of my life is that the majority of my friends are known to mum and she is openly shared with them so that she can call them directly or they can call her directly. Also many of my friends have over the years opened their families to me that I soon forget that we are friends not relatives. Friends like Sihle Ndlela whose parents, Auntie Carol and Uncle Chris Ndlela, joining us today have opened their hearts and with whom I have spent many memorable occasions through the years. Growing up, the Ndabas were like my second family.
The fortune I have had in life is the quality of connection I have with people I truly consider friends. We were talking about this again last night and I was saying that the one way I know that someone has crossed from just being an acquaintance to being a friend is this deep connection that I feel that I find difficult to explain. It is intense, enriching and I totally bask in the nourishment of that friendship. I always say that I not only have attractive friends, not by conscious design, but that they are intellectually stimulating. The one fact about my friendships is that the lines between blood family bonds and chosen “family” obligations are blurred because I find my love, loyalty and support for them is equivalent to the love, loyalty and support that they give me. The fact is that one cannot choose family, but can choose friends. When they are your biggest cheerleaders in life, you can’t, but feel like they are your family. My sister used to be very possessive about any of my friends who dared tried to take her place of honour as a sister. My friend Busi Dladla from varsity used to experience that and we used to laugh about it. In the last few years, I have had three amazing women; Dr Joyce Chitja, Tembisa Marele and Zimkhitha Gebeda adopt me as their sister. So after being the baby in the family for years, I am a big sister for a change. They have been a blessing to me.
When I look at the globe, I am so comforted that in every continent I have a friend. Hilkka, my friend from Namibia, thank you for treasuring our friendship so much that you have made the trip soon after having been to South Africa about a month or so ago. I was fortunate to see my friends from Australia in February around my birthday in Cape Town as they could not delay the trip to now. As I usually say, “Life’s Good” (LG).
I marvel at the evolution I have undergone since my young days when I was so shy that I would be even scared of my own relatives. Many thought I was aloof because I was so different from my outgoing and bubbly sister. Even my sister used to constantly ask mum why I was quite, had she done something to me. It took S’celo a long time; in fact it was in 2000 to 2001 when she lived with me in my home in Athol, Johannesburg that I finally made sense to her. I will always be grateful for the years we lived together. I used to love trailing my sister to her haunts when I was younger. And our parents allowed me to attend parties with her when we were home for holidays. I was and am still such a home body that when I did want to go out they welcomed it. I remember the first time my sister saw me dance at a party, she was so shocked, her mouth fell opened.
There is saying that goes:
Every test in our life makes us bitter or better.
Every problem comes to make us or break us.
Choice is ours, whether we become victim or victorious.
In 1995, I worked on my personal vision which captures what I believe my purpose is. I have added three words since then. I live by it and it makes sense to me.
To live my life with passion, integrity and in ecstasy so that every day can be the last with no regrets and no fear.
To exude and have authentic understanding and to leave the world a little better than I found it.
I may not be perfect, but I am always me: Dudu Msomi.
To hunger for knowledge. I will tirelessly nourish my insatiable curiosity and love of learning about life by “staying at school” and sharing ideas with people in the world. I will actively seek fountains of knowledge through listening, discussions, observing, travel and in the silences of my thoughts.
Planning with flexibility. I will have ideal directions; ways that I want my life to follow, but I will always be open to changes that experiences and the unforeseen can have on my plans.
Acceptance and willingness. I will strive to accept who and where I am at every point in my life and have the willingness to take a risk when it is called for and to move myself relentlessly towards my vision.
To be totally turned on by my career(s). My career is a facet of my being. It must always be fulfilling and a joy. If and when I am not happiest doing it, at any particular time, I must invest time to see what is wrong and address it – immediately.
Smiling and laughing – with and at myself. The quality and frequency are my indicators and assurances and testimonies to my life. I will cherish and anticipate them for the rest of my life.
Every decision I make is the best I can make at that particular moment. There will be no regrets. Mistakes are indispensable to my growth.
To love, to understand, to respect and to make an impact in the lives of everybody I come across – my family, friends, colleagues and strangers.
Material comfort will not be definitive in my understanding of personal success or worth, but it is important to me as a vehicle to enjoy a high quality of life. Life, according to my standards constitutes amongst many others, playing, travelling, learning, resting, working, receiving, entertaining and being entertained, being peaceful, laughing and giving.
“DOES IT MATTER!’
I always take my life temperature against this vision, and when required, take corrective action to ensure that I stay on track. So when you look at me and how I live my life, I hope I make sense when you assess it against this vision. That is what I would like my legacy to be.
I have always maintained that I have lived a charmed life. The charm lost its shine when I got to 35 years old when I had just completing my MBA as I had planned to have it done by the age of 35; I lost my sister and father. The losses really affected me in 2008. I will never forget that day. A year after dad had past, and one year and half since S’celo had past, I woke up one morning due to have a breakfast meeting with Jimmy Manyi who at that time was at Tigerbrands which we had been planning for a couple months since both our diaries were hectic. Suddenly I couldn’t move. The flood gates of the pain and the loss were just forced opened. My business partner at the time, Riccardo Giletti, arranged that my diary be cleared for the next couple of weeks. I booked the earliest flight to Durban. My friend Mpho Makwana left a board meeting or something and came to be by my side for three hours or so whilst I was waiting to be picked up by Avis Point to Point and taken to the airport. I cried non-stop all that time. I was home for weeks on end.
My mother was so worried, she didn’t know if I would pull through. I was fortunate enough that my colleague Riccardo carried my load at work and allowed me to grieve. I will always be so grateful to him.
And for a long time since we were two less, I have struggled to find my place in the world. I have spent the last four years trying to stay present in this world, to find joy again and to figure out whether who I am is out of choice or as a result of the unconscious design to fit into the beautiful tapestry that we made as the four of us. It has been a tough spiritual and physical journey that has taken a toll on my health. But I can honestly say that from this year, I feel I have turned a corner and I am back on my life’s purpose. This is very clear to me in relation to my family members and I am comfortable with where and how I fit into the Msomi family puzzle. But despite the deep sadness in my life now that will always be with me, the charmed life is still my reality. I am a lucky girl in so many ways. What is happening today is a testament to that.
Dolly Parton says “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain”. There is just something about experiencing difficulties; pain and hardships that makes us better human beings. More compassionate to our fellow human beings and ourselves. Better teachers. That were we to have a smooth ride in life, we somehow seem to lack that excitedly complex and inspirational spark that draws the rest of us to you. I think despite and in spite of the health, spiritual and emotional knocks I have experienced in the last few years, my true character has come out. I like the person I am and are becoming with every trial and triumph I experience so that every breath can be my last, without any regrets. But also there is a greater compassion that has become stronger than it was and it is giving me wisdom that I hope over the years will be evident in my work, my writings and in many other dreams I hope to accomplish.
As I said in my vision, “Smiling and laughing – with and at myself. The quality and frequency are my indicators and assurances and testimonies to my life. I will cherish and anticipate them for the rest of my life”. Laughter is part of me. It is my release. It is the gauge I use to evaluate my inner life.
I do not just want to be happy; I want to be ecstatic about my life. The things I spend my time on in this life and in the quality of relationships I build.
There is a quote that Oprah likes talking about that is derived from Toni Morrison, a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize American Novelist which says: “It’s interesting to see when a kid walks into the room… does your face light up? That’s what they’re looking for…when my children used to walk in the room when they were little, I looked at them to see if they had buckled their trousers or if their hair was combed or their socks were up…so you think your affection and your deep love is on display cause you’re caring for them, it’s not. When they see you they see the critical face…what’s wrong now? …Let your face speak what’s in your heart…it just as small as that.”
I remember watching that episode on Oprah and automatically I recalled my dad’s eyes when I walked into the room. His eyes used to light up. In his presence, I always knew how much I was loved. And I always say that a man who loves dogs, the way my dad did, is a softie at heart. My dad used to cook for me. We used to walk arm in arm. On weekends, when I was young, we spent every Saturday morning at the gravesides of the family members in Pietermaritzburg, cleaning from Uncle Muzi, to Auntie Sibhimbi, to Gran and Grandpa, to Auntie Nhlanhla and his Aunt, Matilda Jane Gumede. Like clockwork, we would follow this routine and he used these times to tell me about them, share what he knew of the family history and emphasise the tenets of love, education, worship and enterprise in the family. Despite the different choices every family member has made and how those choices have turned out in their lives, Dad used to drill into me those tenets.
S’celo and I were fortunate to be born to a mother who really wanted us and who really loved us. Sometimes we used to think the love is just too much, it is suffocating. Mummy, you have had a not too easy life. You lost your parents very young. You did not have the support that you and dad gave us. And yet you manage to draw from the deepest reaches of your soul, a life and a love that knows no equal. Our ‘favourite’ again, Oprah, was doing an interview with Inyanla Vacant who was explaining why she did not see that Oprah was giving her an opportunity to have her own TV Show because she loved her, as an individual, not just her work. Inyanla powerfully responded saying “I couldn’t receive it. I didn’t know what it was”. An AHA moment happened for me. I have experienced and been given such love from my family that when I do not receive it, I know that I am not receiving it.
I know mummy that you are afraid for me. That I will not have a life partner to share my life with. It could happen and it may not happen. But what I know for sure is that because my life has been love, when I experience it, I will grab it with both hands. It is not about looking for perfection, it is about seeing what you know does exist. I am just not able to receive what I have not experienced which is something that is dressed up as love, but I do not feel it as love. And I hope as you look around the room; though it may not be the husband love that you are wanting for me, do see that my life is enveloped in love.
Though I was very shy and so my interactions with people outside my immediate family and close friends were limited, one thing my father, in particular, nurtured in me was to build the courage of my convictions. Especially in my intellectual pursuits. He also told me that there is always a prize to pay for the choices you make and that you have to learn to choose your battles as long as you know the war you want to win. I have loved writing ever since I was a child and English essays at school were an avenue for this passion. If I had a controversial angle to an issue, dad would encourage it.
At times mum would be afraid that he was encouraging my militancy. But mum had made sure that I was reading by the age of four so books and doing research has been a passionate pursuit of mine from a very young age. It is difficult to be courageous in intellectual pursuits if you do not love knowledge. I am grateful for the foundation that both my parents set for me because to achieve my vision, “To live my life with passion, integrity and in ecstasy so that every day can be the last with no regrets and no fear” I need to take courageous decisions. As Mark Twain says, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear”.
Lastly, my entire life is premised on the pursuit of wisdom. Our company is called Busara Leadership Partners. Busara is wisdom in Swahili. In my work and play lives, that is my relentless pursuit. And my beginning path to wisdom has been “To honour my father and mother”. I hope I have succeeded because the rest would be easier.
Thank you very much for indulging me today. I am so blessed and honoured to have you all in my life. I look forward to a continued journey as family and in friendships.
I look forward celebrating your life. Because you are worth it.