The future…

The future…

Besides life’s two most reliable certainties – Caesar’s hand in our pockets and the matter of our own impermanence – there is another one we repeatedly tend to overlook: The future will surprise.

Our depiction of the future is coloured by the present; we are, after all, just human.  In good times, we often step into the quicksand of hubris and get trapped by deceptions of invincibility; confusing fortune for competence.  In testing times, we extrapolate misery; and time after time underestimate the world’s (and our own) ability to counter distress and bounce back. 

Two years and three months ago, we were enjoying the December spirit of 2019.  We were six months down the path of Ramaphoria, the name ‘Zondo’ was becoming a comforting news item, and the nation’s month-old William Web celebrations dwarfed the country’s economic growth rate of only 0.2% for the year.  We took comfort in the SA GDP growth projection of closer to 2% for 2020 – and above 3% for the world.  We looked forward to life after state capture – and were inspired by a livewire one-monther called Andre de Ruyter who cancelled his December holiday to sort out load shedding.  Things were on the up!

Three months later, two years ago to this week, the world however went quiet.  No car on a highway, no feet in shopping malls, no toiling in office buildings, no chattering diners at packed eateries, no passengers at airports…  No one projected this turn of events, although Bill Gates probably whispered ‘I tried to warn you’, and some media channels once again bellowed out ‘The end is near’.  Our country’s official Covid infections stood at 709.

In the year that followed, 2020, the global economy shrank by close to 5% and South Africa’s by some 6.5%.  And in the two years to this month, families globally are estimated to have lost at least 20 million loved ones to the Coronavirus pandemic; South African families around 300 000 members.  The world’s monetary authorities implemented unprecedented programmes to address liquidity shortages and prevent market freezes amidst the carnage; South Africa’s interest rates were cut to the lowest level in more than 50 years.

And here we are in March 2022, putting pressure on supply chains, looking back at a year of around 5% economic growth in South Africa; the economy bent but not broken, roads abuzz with cars again; many office buildings still quiet, but profit announcements surprisingly positive.  We are masked, sanitising at every second door, Zooming, home-officing and (hopefully) vaccinated – off most red lists, not being taxed more in the latest Budget, vaguely remembering the unrest of July 2021, and hearing the splashing of our mines swimming in cash.  All in all, a much gentler silhouette of the future indeed.

But just as we readied ourselves to take a deep sigh of relief and shift gears, Vladimir Putin decided to replace Covid as a global menace, double our fuel price, and halve our confidence levels…

Reflecting upon the last two years, the message is simple: Don’t ever try to live your life according to a forecast of the future – or your own inflexible expectations.  Rather spend your energy on building a system, personally and for your business, that is robust enough to get you through ‘any future’. 

Such fortification ideally consists of a never-ending effort to be best at what you do for a living.  When you are known for excellence, harsh times are normally less chilly; your recoveries more dependable.  It also consists of a strategy that doesn’t make you sail too close to the wind, however optimistic the times, but in fact ensures a reliable buffer to hedge you in times of unforeseen trouble.  A safety net is a life saver. 

Furthermore, it comprises of a never-ending process of investing in good relationships – and surrounding yourself with reputable people.  We get through our crises in life on the shoulders – or in the arms – of people we cared for when it mattered; and who care for and respect us for the right reasons.  And finally, to live with the unknown means you never say die; be quick to adjust your sails when the wind changes; make plans, turn hope into action, never stop trying.

We encourage you to build a life – and an economic model – that are friendly to the unforeseen; to position yourself as the most reliable constant in changing times.  Remember, anxiety lives in the gap between what you fear ‘might happen’ and what you hope ‘would happen’.  Shrink that gap, mindfully; let nothing be unexpected!