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5 Tools for success from Nelson Mandela's 67 years of public service

Nelson Mandela with hands together in prayer action and smiling
Nelson Mandela (Madiba) 1918 - 2013

Today, is Nelson Mandela’s birthday. He would’ve been 105.

To honor the man who spent 67 years of his life serving the people of South Africa: South Africans are encouraged to spend 67 minutes in community service on his birthday. I erroneously thought the concept was instituted because of his death in 2013. The real story, is that back in 2009, then President Jacob Zuma, wanted to honor the man and his contributions to South Africa, getting South Africans involved in supporting local non-profits and raising funds for Nelson Mandela’s organizations, (Nelson Mandela Foundation) Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and the Mandela Rhodes Foundation)

I’ve decided today to spend 67 minutes reflecting on what it means to honor someone, and what values we can take with us from how he lived his life.


A word that requires action. It’s easy to believe something is unjust, think the world needs to change, and offer up solutions for how something could be done differently. But how much am I prepared to sacrifice for those beliefs?

Nelson Mandela sacrificed 27 years in jail for his beliefs in a free and democratic society for all South Africans. That’s 27 years missing your children's birthdays, 27 years of seasons changing, longer than the number of years going to school aged six and finishing your schooling to become a doctor aged 30. Honestly, it’s unfathomable for us to comprehend the strength and fortitude it takes to endure such mistreatment for doing the right thing.

It’s one thing going to jail for a crime you are guilty of, life has consequences, but enduring an injustice like this could (and should) make most humans bitter — that was 30% of his life!

Which leads us to his next attribute to embody.


Possibly the hardest value to embody, especially when we feel justified in our rage, resentment, or any other reason for feeling aggrieved. Forgiveness, based on the definition stated: is the action or process of forgiving or being forgiven—another action word.

A universal truth is that we are not defined by what happens to us, just how we respond to us. We have a choice to become bitter, or better.

I often wonder why Mandela had to spend 27 years in jail. One of the things he spent more time than most people doing — is thinking. I wish I had an opportunity to talk to him, one of my questions would be, “Do you think you had cultivated such a deep sense of forgiveness with a clear belief to lead South Africa out of our own dark ages with that sense of forgiveness sooner?”

He practiced forgiveness in jail by choosing to get to know his captors, learning their language (Afrikaans), and connecting with them on a human level. He could have ignored them, despised them, dismissed them… perhaps he did early on. Yet such was his vision that the ideals he held for a free and fair South Africa included them too.

Mandela understood that vengeance does nothing to heal a nation. Does nothing to heal an individual's heart to operate out of love — instead of fear. Forgiveness doesn’t mean ignoring what happened to you, quite the opposite in fact, it’s more like having the courage to face the injustice or grievance towards you head-on, accepting that it happened, and then choosing to use it as fuel instead of being an anchor in your life. Essentially, you use it, instead of allowing it to control you.

And that is how you prevent it from holding you back.


Imagine waking up, day after day, believing that you were going to die a prisoner? That could break a man's spirit, his purpose, his motivation to keep going. There is not a single story of success that excludes this word. By definition, anyone who has achieved their goal or become successful in their pursuits had to have perseverance to make it.

Remember covid? We were first told two weeks to stop the spread, which became two months, and they tried to make it last two years. At some point, it felt like the insanity wouldn’t end. It’s a great reference for us to put ourselves in another's shoes to see what losing hope can do to you. Some days are better than others, but essentially the overwhelming feeling of dread or fear can paralyze us.

While climbing Table Mountain ever day for a year, on clear days I could see Robben Island, his prison for 19 years, and on my darkest days I used the knowledge about what Mandela did to push through. If he could make it through all those years — I could make it through one.

Understanding that nobody on earth is born with incredible qualities to achieve something that I don’t have as well — changes the focus to become: How do I tap into those qualities that I recognize in others?

Ultra successful people may have some good luck along the way, some athletic ability greater than us, but the overriding factor that feeds their success is mindset and using that mindset to override the off switch when things get hard and no matter what — find a way by continuing to persevere.


Possibly a close second to forgiveness to execute. I changed my understanding of this word when I was in my twenties and read a book that said, “When you pray to God for patience, He gives you opportunities to practice it to build it.”

I suddenly realized that all those moments sitting int traffic, waiting in line, delays with finding a job, were all opportunities to practice and instead of magically thinking I’d become patient overnight — I relished these to be patient.

You can even practice this by doing small things like buying a chocolate and eating it in a couple of days instead of immediately. Another word I use to improve my self-talk about anything I struggle with now, is simply adding the word “yet” to the end of it. It completely Transforms any negative into a possibility:

I am not patient….yet.

I am not successful…. yet.

I can’t speak Spanish… yet.

It’s a great word to throw on when you start catching yourself being negative around a quality you wish to embody. Just look at the words above and think about how you responded to them?

I am not prepared to make sacrificed towards my ultimate goals…. yet.

I can’t forgive you for what you did… yet.

I don’t have the perseverance to push through challenging things… yet.

I have no patience to sit in traffic jams… yet.

I equate Mandela’s patience to sit all those years and never let the hope in his heart die out, to nurturing even the tiniest flame in the wettest conditions, the sticks might all be wet, but instead of waiting for the rain to go away, you keep blowing on the existing flame until you hit a turning point and that fire needs less to work to burn.

We build patience by not allowing our entire future to overwhelm us and focus on what’s in front of us right now.


Here are five of some of his wisdom gems:

“It always seems impossible, until it’s done.”

“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.”

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

There are 67 years of experiences, pain, joys, desperation, and success that feed those collection of words.

Wisdom too, is an action word that requires us to experience life and take all the knowledge that exists to test what we think, feel, and believe.

Having climbed Table Mountain every day for a year — I pressure tested my belief on what can happen when we focus on what we can do together, instead of overwhelmed and alone.

When we lived in New York during covid — I pressure tested my beliefs on health and how to stay fit in the most extreme circumstances.

Working in Wilderness Therapy — I pressure tested my beliefs in my ability to genuinely help others.

We currently have an abundance of information — and a lack of wisdom. The question becomes: what are we prepared to do to gain wisdom through experience in service of ourselves, and our communities small and large?

Well, living up to the other four words that Nelson Mandela embodied in a great start.

How To Turn nelson Mandela's Lessons Into Action

Reading, listening, watching, these are all great activities to tap into what makes us come alive, a greater purpose to push ourselves in search of what we’re capable of. Awareness of new things, or just different ways of thinking about something is essential on our pathway to spiritual peace.

The next step is having Faith in ourselves to figure out what to do next. If we know who’s an expert, it can be as simple as reaching out to them on social media. You’ll be surprised how often people respond. Who knows – you could even have a coffee date with them virtually.

Before we can venture into unchartered territory, we have to ask ourselves (and be brutally honest!) whether we’ve healed our traumas, searched our blind spots, and are prepared to dive in personal growth as a way of life. The way we become valuable in service, is through the limits of going into the depths of our own darkness. It’s why I believe the heroes journey resonates with all of us so deeply. See the arc that is part of every successful movie, book, and mythological story. Each one taps into our search to be greater as part of a greater purpose. That’s the healing part that is so instrumental.

Heroes journey depiction
Truth is? What most depictions leave out is once the hero returns, his last task is to teach others what he learned.

While this is unfolding, pay attention to ideas that pop up, people to call, and places to visit. These are like the breadcrumbs of inspiration that, because they are usually small — are dismissed because, “How could something so small be of any significance?”

Trust me, its the small things that matter and lead to major breakthroughs and the smallest acts done consistently add up exponentially the longer they’re done.

Just such an example, is if you have a significant other, how often do we get opportunities to practice these actions above? When we live with each other for so long they can become ignored and assumed to ‘just happen.’

I know I’m guilty of this on the communication side of things. What’s that wonderful saying, something like, “if you don’t use it — you lose it.”

I personally believe we should be doing things more than one day to honor Nelson Mandela, after all he didn’t work one day a year, for 67 years. Getting up each day and focusing on what was ahead of him was what built his legacy and 24,441 days.

Remember - you have an awareness now of how to improve on this five action words. Now take the smallest step and go practice one of them. I suggest writing a letter of forgiveness to someone who wronged you… and watch how incredible that feels just doing one action.

Last but not least, you can always set up a free call with me to discuss where you're at, and how one of our programs could help you practice growing in a safe and secure way while still being out of your comfort zone. Simply click the button at the top of the page and schedule your call.

I look forward to hearing from you.


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