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Connecting the dots: Reflecting on life, success, failure & trusting the process


"You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."

A few years ago, I found a video of Steve Jobs addressing graduates from Stanford University. Many of us have watched it, listened to it, or heard about it in passing at some point in our lives and the beauty of it is that there's something in it for everyone. For me, the above-mentioned quote is the one that has stuck with me and guided me on my own personal journey.

Photo: My wife, Alicia, on the day we got engaged


My wife - being the incredible supporter she is - has always encouraged me to write about my story because she has always found it so unique and intriguing, but I've always feared that surely most people have a similar one. Right?

The only way to find out is to tell mine and hope that it encourages you to tell yours, too - because we never know who it might inspire.


So here it goes...


I graduated from high school in 2004 from Westville Boys' High School - which is in one of South Africa's finest city's - Durban. I was always a good kid, participating in as many different sports and spending the rest of my time studying. For the most part of my entire schooling life I was an A-student and a more than decent sportsman - earning captaincy roles throughout my life in the various activities I engaged in. In 2003, the time came to apply for University and begin what I thought was the career path I wanted to follow for the rest of my life.

In my mind, I wanted to go to university, get my degree, find a job, meet a girl, get married, and have a kid of my own by age 26. Standard procedure, right?

Yeah, right. Um...?


I applied to the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) to study Chemical Engineering and B. Com Accounting, but I always had this itch to become a healthcare professional - so I applied to study Optometry at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Chemical Engineering made sense because my dad is a Chemical Scientist and surely it was in my blood? Accounting made sense because it turned out to be my highest mark in my matric finals and Optometry made sense - also my Optometrist is so incredible that I wanted to be just like him.


I got accepted by all three faculties and the two respective universities I had applied to. I had to make a choice - stay at home and study at UKZN or start a new life at UJ - six hours away from everything I've ever known. I did, however, have my best friend Mark de Sousa with me and he was the one who encouraged me to give Optometry some thought. In essence, I craved chasing my own independence more than I craved studying anything, so, I chose the latter and didn't accept the UKZN offers so that I didn't have a crutch to lean on in my hometown.


Moving to Johannesburg to study at UJ would turn out to be one of the best decisions I've made in life and one filled with priceless growth, success, failure, heartbreak, more failure, more success, and more unanswered questions about what I wanted out of life.

[WATCH] Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech

In early 2005, I drove up to Johannesburg with my parents to start a new life. I enrolled at UJ and lived on campus. Everything was different... I was surrounded by a new language, new culture, new belief systems, and I had no idea what life would really be like - but I embraced every single second of it.


Photo: Oppierif House Committee 2006


2005 was the best year of my life that I would never want to repeat again! We went through a year of military-style initiation for almost 10 months, I met hundreds of new people, and cruised through my first year of Optometry with an A aggregate - only flunking one exam which I eventually passed after my re-write. Oh, and it was Organic Chemistry so luckily I didn't take the Chemical Engineering route because clearly my dad's talents weren't dominant in me (haha). In late 2005 I was encouraged to apply to become one of nine House Committee members - the team tasked with the orientation and mentoring of the new first-year residents, and the operational and cultural duties of the residence. Only one first-year student in the residence's history had ever been elected to be on this committee...


I would become the second.


2006 would be a very decisive year for me and was the year I began questioning everything. It was the year I met lifelong friends, the year I traveled again, the year I still enjoyed Optometry, and the year I flung myself towards finding out who I really was.

It was the year I found myself... but something still felt wrong.

2007 would be the rollercoaster year for so many reasons because it had the toughest lessons, big decisions, and life-changing rewards. After an amazing year on the House Committee as the Head of Transformation, I decided not to run again and rather apply to be a mentor - the nice guys and those tasked with guiding the first year residents more closely. In 2006 I joined our residence a-capella group (yes, like the ones on Pitch Perfect) and we were disastrous. But in 2007, we had a whole new group of people, brought in an amazing coach, utilised experienced campaigners, and was led by a talented leader. We competed against the other campus houses and won the men's division - a true underdog story.

You can actually watch the performance if you'd like to.


Photo: Serrie 2007 at UJ


As a result, we competed in the National Sêrrie competition in Bloemfontein. We didn't win it, but the experience was what we all treasured. That year, success also came with some failure and tough decisions. By the end of 2007, I had lost interest in Optometry. It just wasn't clicking for me and I struggled to keep up with the rest of my classmates. With a year to go, I was faced with an uphill battle to regain the academic excellence I was used to, asking for special permission to stay in the programme, and trying to stay motivated studying something I no longer felt passionate about. During this time, I has also decided to run for another term on the House Committee - successfully being elected as the Head of Administration.


I had to deal with all of this whilst going through the biggest challenge of all - my first real heartbreak which triggered the start of my years of mental health struggles (dot).

The start of 2008 almost saw my time at UJ coming to an end. After difficult discussions with my parents it was agreed that I would return to UJ under very different circumstances. My mental health struggles had me even more curious about neuropsychology and I decided to switch my studies from Optometry to a BSc in Humanities; specialising in Psychology and Physiology. I wanted to know more about my own mental health and how to deal with the struggles mental health patients live with every day. I also didn't want to waste the credits I had earned studying Optometry, so this choice also meant that I went straight into the second year of my BSc Humanities degree - so I had to also be realistic about not wasting the three years I had already spent on campus.


This change of studies would trigger and set in motion my destiny.


One night in 2008, whilst at a party on campus, Izak van der Walt and I would end up talking about music and the bands I was into. Of course, I had come a long way since a teenager who was only exposed to Top 40 music and copious amounts of 90's R&B. In 2003, I heard Limp Bizkit's Chocolate Starfish (dot) album and sunk my teeth into Linkin Park's Meteora (dot) album - to my dad's dismay (Pappa was more of a Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones kind of guy). By 2008, I was deep into Radiohead, Muse, Coldplay, Porcupine Tree, Opeth, The Killers, Kings of Leon, Death Cab for Cutie (my favourite band), Fokofpolisiekar, Foto Na Dans, New Holland, 30 Seconds to Mars, Korn, Marilyn Manson (which disturbed my conservative extended family members) and more of Indie and Alternative Rock's offerings.


Photo: UJFM 2010


Back to the story because I could talk about music and bands forever (dot)...

So, Izak was a radio personality on our local campus radio station UJFM - a rock and heavy metal station. He said I should think about applying to become a radio DJ. A what? Really? Little did I remember that back in 1999 my primary school best friend and I would talk about becoming radio DJs because of 5fm's Mark Gillman (dot).


Note: In 2019, I would work with Mark on a client campaign!


Long story short, I went to the studio the next day - no sleep and not in a good state - for a voice test. Did a demo, and then carried on with my life. A few weeks later UJFM Station Manager, Stephan Potgieter, would call me around 19:00 on a Friday evening. I remember it so vividly; I was standing alone on my balcony when I would get the call that set in motion an opportunity that would re-define my story. I was officially a UJFM presenter. I knew nothing about how to be a radio presenter; all I knew was that I loved music and I will get to play it on the radio and tell more people about it on the radio, too. Two months later I would begin my radio career doing the graveyard shifts with my radio partner, Kylene Weyers. Graveyard shifts were a welcome treat because in 2008 I was deep in my depression and struggled with severe insomnia, which meant that I would go days without sleeping. Now I had something to fill my time with instead of lying in bed listening to the cats fight on the roof of my dorm room.


I loved every single second of being on radio and working in radio (dot).

I loved interviewing bands. I loved meeting celebrities. I loved interviewing celebrities. In my time I got to interview Fokofpolisiekar, Stealing Love Jones, Ashtray Electric, and almost every single local band I drooled over. I even got to do telephonic interviews with international bands like Billy Talent, Alexisonfire, Kittie, and more.


You can watch some of the interviews and videos on the old Facebook page - which I discovered still exists.


When I did manage to sleep, in 2008 I went to sleep more fulfilled than I ever did when I was studying Optometry - now I felt alive! I would spend two years at UJFM - working my way to doing weekday drive shows, become Interview Manager, and join the music team as a Music Compiler (dot).


In 2009, the station would change formats to better represent the demographic of South Africa, becoming a more commercial, Urban music station - focusing on more Pop, Hip-Hop, EDM, and House music (dot). This exposure to new genres of music forced me to spend more time learning about the various artists, the music structure, and the art behind what makes a successful Pop, Hip-Hop, EDM, and House track. Immersing myself into this new range of music would help land me my first big job at a commercial radio station (dot).

In early 2010, I graduated with a BSc Humanities degree and I was really proud of it because I thoroughly enjoyed every second of the classes... the ones that I did attend (haha).


Photo: Graduation with mom and dad


Switching to this degree was one of the best decisions I could have made for myself. This also meant that after five years living on campus, at the end of 2009 I moved off campus and moved in with two of my residence friends - one of them being my best friend. I was unemployed for about three months, so I was allowed to continue my radio gig at UJFM. In March 2010, I got a call from my old boss at UJFM - now at YFM - about a music compiler position. I went in and got interviewed by the Music Manager, Mervyn Sigamoney (dot) - who would also become my boss and mentor during my six year period at YFM. After my interview and complete radio silence for over a month I knew I needed to start looking for another job. Then, on Friday 30 April 2010 I got a call from YFM to come in for a meeting.

"We'd like to make you an offer - here's your contract. If you accept, you'll start on Monday."

On 3 May 2010, at the age of 23 and with 2 years of radio experience, I started my first ever full-time job at the biggest Youth radio station in Africa as a Music Compiler - playing the music that I had to educate myself on when UJFM switched from a Rock/ Metal music station to an Urban music station.

Coincidence? I think not.

I only planned to spend two years there, whilst pursuing my Honours in Psychology.


Photo: Just Mo, Neil Sinclair (Universal Music) presenting the music team Beatenberg's plaque


I would go on to spend six years at YFM under the leadership of Mervyn, a man who taught me everything I know about surviving and thriving in the workplace. He allowed me to bring my alternative, eclectic, and often eccentric personality to YFM's music playlist as the station moved away from just R&B, House, Hip-Hop, and Kwaito - adding Indie Pop/ Rock, EDM, and Pop music to the musical offering. He gave me the freedom to try new things and the opportunities to do so, too. In this time at YFM I would learn, and practice: music, digital media (dot), marketing (dot), commercial log editing, copywriting (dot), content production (dot), radio production (dot), TV directing, TV production (dot), script writing, videography (dot), photography (dot), and how to lead creative people - allowing them the flexibility to get the best out of them.

It's true what they say; your first (full-time) boss is the most important boss you will ever have in your professional career because they set the tone for the type of employee - and future boss - you will be.


It's here I would forge relationships with bands/ artists like Mi Casa, Goodluck, RJ Benjamin, The Layders, MuzArt, and more. It's here I would would work with incredible labels/ representatives like Karl Anderson (Head of Apple Music - Africa), Tania Anderson (then Just Music), Kevin Grenfell (Universal Music), Roxanne Maritz (SONY/ EPIC SA and now SONY Netherlands), Allan Niccoll (5fm presenter and label owner), Roshika Doolabh (Sheer Music and Just Music), Neil Sinclair, Jina Min (Label manager at SONY), Nic Burger, Brett Schewitz, Rob O'Brien, and more. These, in six years from 2010 - 2016 would give me a taste of everything I needed to decide what I wanted to pursue next. It's during these six years that I learned about hard work, often working up to 18 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I was young, single, hungry, and obsessed. I didn't want to stop. I didn't stop. This is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

In early 2015 I knew that I needed a change - I needed a new challenge. I started to think about my next move and I gave myself 18 months to decide what that is.

In September 2015, I woke up and my inner voice told me that it's time. I didn't want to rush into anything and wanted to spend the next 2 weeks thinking about it. Over the next 2 weeks I would wake up thinking the same thing and then I knew this was real: I remember we were on set shooting one of the last episodes of our reality TV show Ground Zero - which aired during daytime television on ETV - and said to Mervyn that it was time and this would be my last project at YFM.

He said,

"Yeah? That's cool Pre, you let me know when you're ready."

That's the type of boss he was. He never stopped me from going for job interviews (dot) during my time at YFM because he wanted openness and honesty to be at the core of our relationship; but more importantly, he just wanted to see me grow and become a better person and individual.


That's the type of leader I consider myself to be today.


I'd spend 6 months more at YFM until I was ready to move on... and on 18 March 2016 I would serve my last day at the station that taught me everything I know today. Of course, you also have to take the initiative and be open to learning and that's just as important as being exposed to the opportunities.


Photo: Alicia and I would get married in 2018

In late 2015, I met the girl of my dreams and I knew that something had to change because my priority had now shifted. I found the girl that I had imagined myself being with... right down to her nickname, music taste, wit, personality, and intellect.

During my final days at YFM, I bumped into an old varsity friend, Meagan Manners, who was at YFM to promote a TV show for her client NBC Universal. I told her that I was leaving and that I wanted to travel for the next 3 months. After that, I wanted to try out life at a digital/ advertising agency.

At the time I had watched a lot of Mad Men at the time and I wanted to follow in Don Draper's creative genius instead of his love for cigarettes, whiskey, and promiscuity - not a bad choice, right?


I told her what I wanted to do and she said that that's exactly what their agency, Clockwork Media, was looking for.


Two weeks later on 2 May 2016, I started my new job as a Digital Account Manager at Clockwork Media. The next year-and-a-half would be the most gruelling and testing of my life. I learned more about life and work in this period than I had in my entire life as a whole. Agency life will have that effect on you. I woke up at 4am everyday, worked until 7am, took an Uber to work so I could work on the way to work, work until 7pm, spend a few hours with my girlfriend, work from 10pm until 12am, sleep until 3:30am, and then repeat.

It is here I was faced with my biggest failure - or what I prefer to call my biggest learning experience.


I got taken off key accounts, moved to new accounts, and faced some of the most taxing client relationships of my life... taxing, but important. I almost lost my job, but I didn't want to leave or lose it in bad taste and I had 6 months to prove my worth before I would have to find a new job. When I joined the NBC Universal team with Meagan I worked smarter and more meticulously. It also helped that I was back working on media and entertainment-related clients, but I did miss the rush of working with a telecoms giant like Internet Solutions. I could have left Clockwork Media, but I wanted to prove that I belonged there and that I had what it takes to hack it at an agency - even if I had to face taking a 50% pay cut. My integrity and personal reputation was important. The company's leaders, Tom Manners and Nic Simmonds, were incredible to me and shared the trust they first saw in me when I interviewed there. They didn't cut my salary and gave me the tools I needed to learn and succeed in my role. I sat with digital strategists, copywriters, paid media managers, designers, and everyone I could learn from so that when I walked out of there I would be equipped to immerse myself in the digital space.


Photo: With Amanda and Meagan at the launch of Mariah's World for our client, NBC Universal


In April 2017, I left Clockwork Media to start up my own company, using the knowledge I had obtained from YFM and Clockwork Media to start a small digital agency. It was trickier than when I resigned from YFM because I was in a serious relationship with the woman I knew I was going to marry, but she refused to let me ignore my dreams. She worked more jobs to help me financially and sacrificed her wants and needs because she believed in us. She gave me the strength to follow my heart.

My family was also afraid. I no longer had a stable income, but they were there for me, supporting me personally and financially. This meant a lot because I had clearly always put them through a lot with my wandering creative spirit and unconventional life choices - unconventional in Indian circles where you're encouraged to be a doctor, dentist, lawyer or accountant.


In May 2017, Coffee & Socks Digital was founded and I began the process of building my company. Through friends and recommendations, I was able to secure a few clients and build up some steady income. I enjoyed working from home, meeting new people, putting together pitches, working from coffee shops. Basically the fluidity of my daily life - which is kind of where we have found ourselves in 2020 thanks to COVID-19, ironically.

In 2013, during my time at YFM, I went for an interview at Primedia Broadcasting to chat about some job opportunities. There was a role as a Music Compiler, but somehow I didn't know if I wanted to do that again, so I shied away from it. All I knew is that I wanted to work for 947 - a radio station under the Primedia (PMB) Broadcasting stable - because I wanted to work on their Joburg Day events. These events were always huge and always looked like an incredible experience. The station also had this amazing energy about it and always collaborated with the coolest brands and I wanted to be a part of that. It didn't work out and I would continue going for these annual chats with then Station Manager, Ravi Naidoo (now Chief Creative Officer at PMB).


Fast forward to August 2017, I send out a tweet about 947's impressive music programming - something I've never done before.


You can see the tweet here.


A day later I get a call from Ravi to come in for a chat about a digital role within the business. I go in, meet with Ravi and Karl Gostner (then Head of Strategy) and they grilled me on digital programming. They asked me to put together a strategy as my official job application, so I spent the next 3 days analyzing 947's online/ digital properties, putting together the strategy, and then sent it through.

Weeks go by and I hear nothing. I take a trip to Durban to see my family, and work from there on my business. Business was going well and I was loving working on it, but 947 was always at the back of my mind since 2013.


On the last week of August I get a call offering me a freelance role at 947.


On Friday 1 September 2017, I wake up early, turn on Drake's Hotline Bling, and make my first drive as an employee of 947.


September 2020 will be 3 years. If it wasn't for COVID-19, May would have been my sixth Joburg Day. I've worked on over 100 digital commercial campaigns, drafted over 1,000 online articles, and I get to work with the biggest names in the media and entertainment industry.

Photo: Huawei Joburg Day (Image by: Stef Bosch)


I've been working in the radio/ broadcast/ media/ entertainment/ digital industry for 15 years and it's hard to put into words what it's been like. In my time I've had the honour of meeting international icons like David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Thabo Mbeki, Thierry Henry, Jared Leto, Joss Stone, Jonas Blue, Skunk Anansie, The Hives, Taraji P Henson, Sandy Rivera, Eve, Ciara, Travis Pastrana, Timbaland, Wiz Khalifa, Raphael Saadiq, Daniel Sharman, Louie Vega, Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, and more.

Photo: Meeting a hero of mine, David Beckham


I've been privileged to engage/ work with broadcasters/ producers/ programmers/ agency powerhouses like Craig Steyn (my radio day ONE), Nicole da Silva (the first person to give me advice when I joined YFM - read my farewell YFM instagram post higher up), Anele Mdoda, Frankie Fire, Thembekile Mrototo, Alex Caige, Cindy Poluta, Haseena Cassim, Dineo Ranaka, DJ Fresh, Mo Flava, Bonang Matheba, Tholi B, DJ Warras, Ayanda MVP, DJ Sabby, Yuven Govender, Reolan Reddy, Smash Afrika, Phindi Ziqubu, Mantsoe Pout, Thando Thabethe, Sizwe Dhlomo, Sibusiso 'Sbu' Hlatshwayo, Karabo Ntshweng, Rob Vember, Pearl Modiade, Euphonik, Zanele Potelwa (watch out for this one, she's got a big future ahead), Tumelo Diaho-Monaheng, Greg Aldridge, Lucky du Plessis, Linda Mbuso, Mulo, Andy Maqondwana, Vin D, Darren "Whackhead" Simpson, Bridgette Makhela, Just Mo (a music mentor of mine), Ntando and Hlelo Masina, Landi Groenewald, Lesiba Marokana (YFM, 5fm, Metro FM), DJ Doowap, Zweli B, Roxanne Fagri, Conny Mogashoa, Reagile Makenna, Shirley Mofokeng, Emily Partington, Amanda Sapo, Luschka (Noppé) de Villiers, my OG's Biggy, Jesse Shaw, Lauren, Ash Jacobs, Kyle Moschini, Joy, Caitlyn Coles (we have something cool coming together), Nicola Fox (here's another brief) and so many more. It's really worth mentioning the youngsters that I've had the honour of working with and mentoring, too. Talented, hungry, and dedicated young individuals like Melody Miya (who has a special story about a certain incident that we will always remember and one of the rising voices in the media industry), Noni Khumalo (raw energy, talent, and a master at everythhign she touches), Sibo Siwela (a whole face of a suburb), Nik Lawrence, Hlengiwe Mashinini, and Shannon Leibach (who Anele and I agree could be the next Daniel Craig and obviously a big radio name)


*please forgive me if I have left you out.


I look forward to see what my 947 journey still holds in store under the leadership of our talented management team of Thando Makhunga (SM), Grant Nash (PM), and Conny Mogashoa (OM). Thanks, team!

I could never have predicted any of this but I am so grateful that it all happened.

If I had never:

  • got into alternative/ indie music that got me a shot at UJFM (2003)

  • moved to Joburg (2004)

  • studied Optometry (2005)

  • had that heartbreak that triggered my mental health issues, which pushed me to study Psychology to better understand myself

  • changed my degree to the BSc Humanities which gave me more time to pursue radio as a hobby (2007)

  • lived on campus where I met Izak that night and taken his advice to try out for radio (2008)

  • got that UJFM job which later exposed me to different music genres (2009)

  • got that YFM gig which taught me about digital, business, strategy, leadership, content production, radio production, copywriting, and more (2010)

  • randomly bumped into Meagan at YFM that eventually got me the interview at Clockwork Media (2016)

  • learned so much that I started my own company - still in business to date (2017)

  • had the flexibility to work on that strategy document for 947 (2017)

  • get that job at 947 (2017)

... none of this would have happened.


COVID-19 has been a time of great reflection, chaos, sadness, confusion and anxiety, BUT take some time to look back at your life and appreciate the journey you have been on to get to where you are now - whether it's good or bad. Every moment of introspection is a chance to acknowledge your current position, accept what has happened in the past, and move forward. I don't know where I will end up one day, but one day I will be able to look back and tell you how I got there.

"You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."

Thank you to wife, mom, dad, brother, friends, and everyone who has played a part in my professional journey.


Also, thank YOU to you for taking the time to read about it.


There are a lot of people who played an incredible part in my journey at agency level, too.

I hope that it will inspire you - the reader - to follow your heart, take risks, make mistakes, fail, succeed, and fulfil your destiny. Feel free to share some of your stories below because I would love to hear about it.

My favourite quote is by Mark Twain. It helps me as I pursue of my dreams:

The two most important days in your life; the day you are born and the day you find out why.

"Stay hungry, stay foolish."

Preneil

-

Follow my journey on Instagram and Twitter.

Listen to our Binge League podcast series on Spotify.


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