OPINION: Pandemic teaches us how to be resilient
By Iman Rappetti
JOHANNESBURG - I woke up. Pulled the phone closer. The neon glare pulsed back, almost blinding me. The clock leered: 2am.
Another restless night. Worries, like soldiers, marched noisily across my mind. Bills needing paying. School, varsity, mortgage, car, salaries, electricity, food! For the first time in my life a car payment jumped on a trampoline and bounced! Phone rings.
Debt collection lady smug, bullying: "When will you pay?" Me - incensed. "What?!" Explaining. Foreign client. Money coming. Be patient.
The start of 2020 promised as the hashtag proclaimed "TwentyPlenty!"
But two quarters in, for my life and that of my brand-new communications agency, RappettiCom, it was anything but. When I decided to give broadcasting a break after almost two decades in the game, it was so that I could give my other talents a chance to shine. The prospects were great. I had developed a great network, built up a credible reputation and had some guts and creativity, so I thought, "It’s now or never!" Plus, based on feedback and self-reflection, I was good at what I did. And, with my business partner, had a strong vision for how we could oxygenate the airless spaces of traditional communications.
We had barely begun when this insidious pandemic hit. And weeks before it hit SA, it attacked other countries where we had projects planned. We were hurting before Covid-19 stalked us here at home. At first we were dazed. The shock of restrictions, growing infections, the grieving over people dying was widening into grief for a way of life being lost. I cannot overstate how debilitating grief can be. You feel like something that was yours was taken away. It hurts.
The pressure was intense.
I had self-funded my business and, just months earlier, had sunk several hundred thousand rands’ worth of reserves into an innovation I had been waiting years to bring to life - the time seemed right. The supportive funding agency I had approached to propel it over the line, was now apologetic - money had to be redirected to government relief efforts. We watched our new business fight for air. But we knew that we could not and would not let it asphyxiate. Our foundry has been our working-class upbringing and parents who would never give up.
So, we resolved that if the world had changed completely and would never be the same again, so would we. These last few months have been an extreme gymnasium of transforming skills, acquiring new ones, jumping at opportunity, collaborating as much as we could. And building emotional stamina.
We leaned heavily on guidance from those who knew the ropes and scrambled our network. We welcomed partnerships, collaboration and fairly divided the spoils, which were modest at first. We threw ourselves into learning new skills and understanding the changing landscape.
All the platitudes we spouted in times of ease, we had to practise in this time of need. We even saw where we could help other similar businesses wake up from their stupor. We made videos, shared what was possible with them and saw hope register on their dashboards again.
And I cannot believe that we are here. Having gathered enough strength to neutralise anxiety, summoning sheer defiance to vanquish failure, we are preparing to expand our team, further diversifying our offering and once again, chasing opportunities abroad.
Optimism has an attractive fragrance. The more confident and visible we make ourselves, the more people want to work with us. And something else struck me too: if you respect whomsoever you meet along the way, no matter their station and if you practise honesty, giving a little more than was asked, goodwill comes back to you in spades.
The overarching lesson we have learnt is not to hold on to a predetermined picture of ourselves, to be open to letting this adventure etch itself on to our canvas.
And to prepare for a world where working together and seeing a joint dividend is the new way.
I launched a new company at possibly the worst time in history, but instead of escaping to the comfort of my old jobs, I risked even more and opened myself up to an even more powerful outcome. I know that no matter what comes, my superpower will be knowing when to hang on and when to let go.
Iman Rappetti is a journalist, TV and radio presenter and author.