Last week, I visited Mandela at his factory in Busega. After a walkabout in the factory, he tapped me on the shoulder and said; “look here my Son, my father years back told me the same things I am about to tell you.”
He continued; “many years ago, my father asked me to look at his gray hair and listen carefully. That he had spent many years learning, that he knew many holes which one needed to avoid in life and that if I watched carefully, he would be able to show me those holes so that I don’t get to step in the same.”
Mandela looked me in the eyes this time round and said; “Ian there are many holes in life. But let me also warn you, there are holes if you dared by mistake to step in, no matter what, you will never get back your life. There are just holes you should never step during the course of your life. I may say a lot, but most things you will never learn by listening to me, you have to watch me in action. You have to walk and see the things I see, what I look out for.”
With those words, we parted ways.
I took time to think about those holes. Charlie Munger often says; “all I wanna do in life is know where I am going to die so that I don’t go there.”
It is a concept Nassim Taleb calls; “via negativa.” That if you figure out how to fail, then you have figured out how to succeed. You just have to know which routes to avoid in life then you can comfortably take all the remaining routes.
The big three in life come down to health, wealth and relationships. You probably want to pay a great deal of attention to who you marry. Who you choose to wake up to every morning for the rest of your life. What you choose to work on is probably another important call. But above all, where you choose to live.
You don’t want to step in a hole of a wrong marriage. You don’t want to step in a hole of zero integrity. Integrity is the reputation you have of yourself.
Of course as we discussed our conversation veered off to other areas of life. We talked simplicity and how he finds more happiness in building brands than in an exhibition of luxury. “I have nothing against people constructing palatial homes. For my case, I just want to build businesses that hopefully should outlast me.”