SheSays brought together a powerhouse panel of industry trailblazers, women who have done incredible things in their careers. The theme was career boldness and they spoke about how they had to step out of their comfort zones to pursue greater ambition. We heard how they turned failures into triumphs and how they're continuing to shape our world and embolden the next generation.
The panel included Pride Maunatlala, head of marketing at TFG, Jackie Burger, founder of Salon 58 and former editor-in-chief at Elle SA, Katherine Pichulik, founder and designer of Pichulik and Stefania Johnson, advertising legend and former ECD and shareholder of FCB SA.
Asha Patel, head of marketing at Google SA couldn't make it due to unforeseen circumstances but sent us all a video wherein she spoke about her own personal journey, and the challenges that pushed her to step out of her comfort zone.
She said that she had learned three key lessons from her own journey that she wanted to share with us.
Whenever you're making a big change or when you're required to step out of your comfort zone, there is tension. That tension means that you are breaking ground. When you are breaking ground, you are given the opportunity to learn, grow and develop. Learn to embrace that tension.
Trust that the path that you're on is the path that was intended for you.
Believe in your power and your strength. Be brave and courageous and know your value. Know that you're deserving and there is no one more deserving than you.
Moments that required bravery
Moderator and SheSays director Anelde Greeff asked Johnson to start off by sharing her moment(s) of bravery. She said that when Johnson started an ad agency, women barely had a seat at the boardroom table and for her, that was an incredibly brave thing to do.
In response, Johnson said that at the time her comfort zone had completely disintegrated and she found herself in a difficult situation.
She had to make a decision to put the personal before the professional. She said: "You all are going to have to make this decision at some point. I think women have to do it perhaps more often than men. There are always sacrifices involved but in the long term whatever regrets you may have, it makes sense when you put the personal first. When you look back after you put the professional first, those decisions won't make sense later. So think carefully when you find yourself at those types of crossroads."
Johnson said that when she got the opportunity to start her own agency, she stepped out of her comfort zone. If she had remained in her comfort zone, she would have probably gone to one of the big groups and carried on.
Pichulik said, for her, while going through the early years, she didn't feel "this courage" because she was running on the momentum of the unknown. It only hit last year when we had a big economic shift that affected the retail industry and small business owners in a big way, she said. She had expanded to meet this very clear 60% year-on-year growth that was happening to her company, but it became more about looking at who she was employing, how her system worked and where the flaws were.
She learned how to get comfortable in uncomfortable situations. "Find a sense of peace and ease when you feel terrified to confront, when you feel that your own sense of self-worth is being challenged or questioned. Find a sense of stillness and a deep trust that there is some amazing flow and trajectory that is taking you somewhere that will only be better," Pichulik advised.
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Next, it was Maunatlala's turn to tell us her inspirational story of braveness when she moved from trade marketing to brand marketing. This included her taking a huge pay cut, which affected her to the point where she didn't know where she was going to live and was considering selling her car. It turns out that it was one of the best decisions she has ever made.
Maunatlala said what she learned was that a lot of times when you have to make a change, it's pushed on you. But for her it wasn't a push, it was her gut telling her she needed to move. "Being bold doesn't always come at a push - yes you will get pushed if you don't make the decision in time - but sometimes your gut is also talking to you daily," she says.
Stepping out of your comfort zone
Greeff asked the panel to give some practical advice, sharing with the audience how they knew it was the right time to step out of their comfort zones.
Burger answered first and said that we might look at the premise of the comfort zone in a negative light, but it's a very necessary evil because it's when you really feel you're running smoothly. If you don't embrace that step and start feeling a little bit restless, reckless, curious, it propels is us to do something new, something different.
She said: "I remember when I stepped out of Elle SA and at the age of 57 decided to start my own business. Luckily I had an amazing business coach at the time who is also a complete maverick and I remember sitting with him and crying and saying that I want to do my own thing but I'm insecure, etc. etc. And his clichéd answer was, 'But Jackie what is the worse thing that can happen?' And as clichéd as it is, when you really start unpacking that, what is the worse thing that can happen?"
Burger continued and said:
A comfort zone in itself just tells you that you are actually at a cul de sac. And it's important to check in with yourself and to say, okay, whether you have a checklist, a bucket list or whatever your list comprises of, what is it that I haven't done yet. What holds you back is what society tells us not to do because it is easy to find excuses.
She said that Arianna Huffington referred to it in her book, Thrive as the roommates. It's all those voices that come with you and that say, 'You're too old, too ugly, too pretty, too this, too that.' Those are things that actually hold you back from achieving something incredible and doing what you're meant to do next.
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Pichulik added that what is interesting is that women's bodies especially are an incredible barometer for when you get to comfort-zone maximum. She said she finds that you will either become sleepless, you'll start to be anxious, you will either get sick or you will maybe get an injury. She said your body will literally find a way to force you to change and that becomes an amazing awakening period to begin that transformation.
She said in terms of transitioning from the comfort zone into the unknown, risk is a muscle. So build that muscle before you actually go out there and burn yourself so much that you end up feeling devastated, with low self-esteem, jumping straight back into your 9-5. It's a process.
Johnson said that she found that sometimes creative people can be more productive in their comfort zones. She said sometimes you need the comfort zone of exciting colleagues – yes, you can find yourself in a great team.
It's always quite transient. But don't be too frightened of your comfort zone if you are a creative person. If you are a leader of creative people, your job is to try and create a comfort zone for other creatives so they can be more productive.
However, Johnson warned that the most dangerous comfort zone is the comfort zone of the mind. She said personally she tries to take her mind for a walk every day to prevent this from happening. Take 5 minutes every day and read perhaps a little more about the Caster Semenya case; find out what you really think about gender identity. Have you thought about it and is your opinion relevant? Are you stuck? Exercise your mind so you don't get stuck.
Maunatlala said that she agreed with Pichulik about what she said about risk being a muscle. She said that most people are actually in a comfort zone. Very few people make shifts and changes, so you are not going to find the inspiration to make shifts and changes outside. You are likely going to find it inside because everybody is doing exactly what they were doing 10 years ago.
She said a comfort zone is just what we all are every single day. That's what we are looking for, we seek it, we find it and we settle in – we rest. If you do want to make a shift, try and build a muscle towards something.
Also, she said, the minute your mind starts dabbling in something else that's closer to your passion, something goes on. You light up in a different way and you become someone else and then the more things you do, the more you invest in other areas, the more you read up on it and then suddenly you're able to move out of that comfort zone.
Johnson ended off the talk by quoting Leonard Cohen:
“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in."
Wise words we can all learn from. Want to attend a SheSays event? Visit their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds for details.
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