Monday, June 30, 2008

As I drove to Vosburg, a little town in the Karoo, I still felt "a bit hurried".  It seems to come with modern life.  You know, the busy-ness of business.  After walking through the town during the afternoon, before my presentation, I just started switching off.  The pace of the town, if it can be called a pace, was just so slow.  So present.  So real.
And because I slowed down, the day spent there felt like a long holiday...
So when I drove back, I had time to watch the clouds.  I took the time to stop.  It's my time anyway, is it not?
And I found this...

So, where are the small times of your mind?
Do you visit them often?
If not, make time, it's worth it, every second of it.
Like life.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

This week we were on holiday. Family camp. This meant no-camera-dad-please. Or so I think. So, I packed them away. On Tuesday morning I went fishing with my son. Long walk. No fish.

Bonding time...
And I learnt the value of an empty frame...

After an hour I realised that we had to go back. We had prior arrangements. When I told him, he was angry, really angry. So, here we were. Finding time together to have fun and now, suddenly, I was on the verge of family war.

Then I remembered what Stephen Covey teaches.

"Seek first to understand, then to be understood."

So I kept quiet. Long. Just walking in the water with him. Present and supportive but waiting. You cannot peacefully negotiate with a six-year old.
Then he turned.

"Let's go, dad, nothing here."

We walked back together. In peace. Father and son. No cameras, no business. Just us.

That matters.

And yes, there will be conflict. People are complicated, but I hope that I will remember to keep listening without any presuppositions or argument. (You know, just listening, not re-loading :-)).

Yes, sometimes it helps to have nothing in the frame...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The difference between winners and losers?
That’s a question that’s so often been podered and discussed. Winners seem to have it so easy, but maybe it’s because we only notice them when they start winning! No one notices them when they are trying “just one more time,” where others have given up…
And we all have the potential to “try one more time…” We have had it since we were kids.
Just look at my son and his friend:

We told them the museum was closed. It was after 17:00 on a Sunday afternoon. But they still wanted to check. We need to be more like kids, (a bit disobedient :-) and not give up if there seems to be a glimpse of a chance...

Never let anyone tell you not to try. If it’s worth trying, keep on trying… if it’s not worth trying, find something that is worth trying.

* A great book on the power of effort as well as the power of knowing when to quit is Seth Godin’s The Dip.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Just think about it. Who has been your most serious, most devastating critic in life?

Probably you.

As I was out taking pictures one morning, there was a guard. I don't know what he was taking care of, but it made me think. If there's a guard, there must be something dangerous. And if there is no guard, you are not protected from danger.

Many years ago, when I was studying English Literature, I learnt that whenever knights/heroes went on a quest, there was always a guard, trying to keep them from entering the realm of the unknown. Once you got past the guards, you suddenly found guides. Sometimes these guides were magicians, like Merlin.
So what am I trying to say?
Well, in our minds the guard is our so-called Inner Critic. When you want to do something great, the guard will come with questions such as: "Who do you think you are, to try and achieve this?"
And so often that little voice inside our heads is enough to make us decide not to go on.
What a pity.
There are greatness awaiting us if we can get past the guard. There are guides you will find when you enter the realm of Potential and Possibility...
So, what are you doing? Listening to the guard or looking for the guide?
It's up to you....

Ps. My friend Charles Cock gave me the wonderful book, Synchronicity - The Inner Path of Leadership, by Joseph Jaworski. In the book, Jaworski shows how when you start doing great things, great people come along to make it happen...
Guides, I call them!
So, beat the guards and find the guides!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins distinguishes between good and great leaders. And yes, we are all leaders. We all lead lives, don’t we?
Well, Collins also comes to the conclusion that great leaders have a sense of humility, but they are also proud. Because they are proud, they aspire to greatness, and because they are humble, they understand that greatness is not dependant on themselves only.
Is it not like sunflowers?

Ever notice that sunflowers are like great leaders. They look up at the sun, they smile, they live, they bring their colour into our world.
The moment their heads get too big, they droop.
And that is the balance we need to find, a balance which is so well explained by the National Geographic photographer, Dewitt Jones, when he says we need to be the best for the world, it’s so much more important than being the best in the world...
When I think of the great gift of life that we have, I wonder why there are so many people out there, suffering from depression, hurting because of what they perceive life to be, and crying because there’s too much sadness.
Why are even kids breaking down?
The psychologist I asked just smiled. “ I don’t have all the answers. But if I can make one recommendation, we need more sun, more sand, more exercise." More of what comes naturally and less of what is bought. The free stuff nature gives, that is the great stuff.
And I looked at a picture I took of a little girl a few weeks before.

There she was, wind in her hair, rays of sunlight playing above her as she scooped some sand into a bucket. All the natural elements were playing with her. They want to play with each of us. Why is it that we find it so difficult to go out and play. Why is it that we so often trade the great opportunities in life for mere good opportunities?

Whenever I see the picture above, I remind myself that we can take a break any time. The boy who was playing the part of Gabriel at the school's nativity play was supposed to announce that Mary was going to have a baby. As the audience turned to him, he was taking a break! We do not want to wake up in an ICU unit somewhere, having survived our first heart attack.
We don’t want the cardiologist to be the first person to tell us to slow down.
Like Gabriel at that nativity play, we need to realize that it’s our right to take a break, even if everything seems really important, even if everybody says it’s crucial – yes, finish the game, but don’t start the next game immediately. You cannot recuperate from 50 weeks’ stress by spending two weeks away. It’s the little breaks, some even five minutes only, which give us the power to keep using ourselves up in living, not in dying.
Take it, you deserve it!
These pictures were taken on the road to our farm.

Whenever I travel on this road to the farm, I am reminded of a specific weekend.
My dad was 78 years old and suffering from diabetes. After my mother had passed away, he stayed on the farm alone. With time came the regular ailments that haunts one during old age. Dad’s generation however have been a tremendously strong generation, often standing with legs stretched on both sides of the grave they escaped the grim reaper’s sword through sheer determination.
That weekend, it was different.
On Sunday afternoon we were supposed to go back home. My wife and I decided to stay a bit longer. It was just gut feel. Dad looked really really tired.
Dad always told us that he wanted to be “thoroughly used up” when he died. It was from a quote by Bernard Shaw,which he had read long before. Well, he looked really "used up" on that Sunday afternoon.
On Monday morning I went to his room early. He was lying on his bed. As I entered, he pulled himself upright against the cushions. His eyes were tired but there were still sparkle in them. “Dad, we’ve come to say goodbye,” I said.
“I’ll come and say goodbye at the back door.”
“But dad, you can hardly walk...”
“I won’t say goodbye to my grandchildren from a bed. I don’t want them to remember an ill old man. No, I’m coming to the door.”
“But dad...”
“Simon!!...” he called. As if from nowhere Simon was there. He knew what dad wanted. Like a trained nurse the strong, sinewy farm worker put his arm gently under dad’s arms and lifted him from the bed. Dad thought he was walking. His legs moved forward, but Simon kept him ever so slightly in the air. And then a moment I’ll never forget.
Simon looked down at dad. Whether it was encouragement or mere conversation, I don’t know. But as he looked at dad, he commented: “The old man is getting strong.” And at that moment I realized that being strong and being thoroughly used up is exactly the same thing. As dad arrived at the back door, courtesy of Simon’s strong arms, he waved to the kids. Then he asked Simon to assist him in going to the rainfall indicator. As he turned, we drove away.
That was the last time I saw my dad alive.
That night my brother knocked on our bedroom window. As I woke up and heard him, I had one question. “Is it dad?”“Yes,” he replied. “Dad has passed away.”He was used up, I thought. What a legacy.
Every time I travel the road to the farm, I remember the motto. It becomes a responsibility. My responsibility. To be thoroughly used up when I die. To laugh as much as I can, to appreciate as much as I can, to live as fully as I can. And to take breaks as often as I can.
An more about breaks next time... :-)
Simon used to work on our farm for 27 years. He was my dad’s right hand through thick and thin. One morning, as I was walking on the farm, Simon was herding the cattle away from the milk shed. I took this picture.

The picture did not quite appeal to me. But for some reason it found it’s way onto a portfolio which I sent to a local newspaper. Imagine my surprise when it was put on the front page. But even more, imagine Simon’s surprise! After being a farm labourer for 27 years, here he was. Front page. When he told me about the experience, he could not stop smiling. And he did not want to tell me everything as he was a “bit shy”. So I only understood the power of the picture after talking to his mother who told me that the locals hadha: “put Simon on their shoulders and ran through the streets with him.” Now I never got paid for that picture. I am an amateur you see. But I am so glad, because there is no compensation that can compete with the benefit I got out of making someone’s day. Try it, it’s worth more than gold. Especially if that someone is someone who has been with the family through the most difficult times, on the journey of life.

A journey which took me on the road to the farm so many times...
There is a town called Upington, 600 kilometres away from my hometown. As part of my job, I often have to go there. It can probably be rated as the “most empty” 600km in South Africa. There is nothing, and as you drive along, there is more and more nothing...:-)
Especially if you’re a photographer.
When there are thunderstorms, all of a sudden things change.

The sky is painted with pink and purple hues. The landscape turns into yellow expectation and the camera finds it’s way out of the glove compartment. Because there is drama.
Is life not like that?
Is it not the drama of life that makes it worth living? Is it not true that eagles fly higher because they chase the thunderstorms? Unlike ostriches that hide their heads in the sand when crises come, eagles approach those crises with zest and ensure that those thunderstorms make them fly higher than any other birds. Some birds never fly high, they don’t grow through the drama, the effort and the wonder of being challenged by circumstance and then challenging those circumstances! So next time the storm clouds of life come thundering over the horizon, look them square in the eye, face them and grow. That’s the stuff life is made of. And when you grow, you have so much more to give...
Well, speaking of giving...
Next blog will have more on that :-)
These days one of the skills that we really need to have is something called appreciation... Appreciating what we have, appreciating every moment.
Like these two boys...

They were out there. Fishing. For two and a half hours, I watched them. They were just fishing. And they did not catch a thing. Yet they were enjoying every moment of it! Because they were living in the moment. Kids live in the present. The future may be a promise, from the past we may select memories as gifts, but there is no gift such as the present. Is that not why we call it the present?

But it’s a gift we often find so difficult to open.
Just have a look at us. We type away on keyboards while talking on our mobile phones. We seem to be listening to people, but when text messages arrive, we move into other conversations, away from where we are. Sometimes when we are at work, we think about our families, and too often when we are with our families, we think about work. We never seem to be where we are. Our minds are often drifting in an attention deficit world.
Unlike these boys. They are where they are, they are who they are, and they never complain that life seems to be passing them by. We were all there once, maybe it’s a place we can visit again?

And talking about visits...
More on the next post :-)
My first memory of an attempt at art is about having to draw a mother’s day card. I was in pre-primary school. As I was drawing, I looked at the cards that the other kids were creating. I could clearly see their subjects. They were drawing families with cars, dogs and cats. As I looked down at what I had been drawing, I saw abstract shapeless lines. Had my teacher been clever, I could have become rich as an abstract artist. Unfortunately, she was more of a realist than I was (and am). Despite my inability to draw properly, I must say that I have learnt the art of appreciating art. I appreciate music.
And I appreciate the fact that we were all created in the image of a Creator, therefore, we are all creative!
And yes, it’s not difficult to become an artist once you can appreciate beauty. The above is just a normal picture of people hanging clothes on a washing line. I asked Photoshop to frame it and turn it into an oil painting. Easy. All we need is the time to be appreciative...Being able to see the moment for what it is...
My dad had a philosophy he picked up from some book, and he used to share it with us so often. I quote dad, although I know he was not the original author, but I still hear his voice so clearly: ”When opportunity knocks, you must jump, and you never know when opportunity is knocking, so you must keep on jumping!” Well, I saw it so clearly one morning when I went out to take some pictures on our farm. As the sun was getting higher, it was throwing beautiful shafts of light over the road. Yet, there was nothing to photograph. So here I was, looking through the viewfinder, trying to compose something out of the opportunity. Still, I lacked a subject. Something to complete the picture. And then, as if from nowhere, the herdboys were bringing the sheep in my direction!
I got this shot.

Had I not been there, I would never have had the opportunity.
There are so many reasons I could have missed the shot... A famous saying by Abraham Lincoln goes something like this: “ I shall study and prepare, so that when the time come, I shall be ready.” In Henry V, Shakespeare has Henry say: “All things are ready, if our minds be so”. Are you ready for great opportunities? Are you ready to have greatness come into your life? Well, if not, when will you be? You need to understand that readiness is not an art, it’s an opportunity. Not all of us are artists in the perceived sense of the word, yet, opportunity comes to those who appreciate and prepare, not to those who procrastinate and criticize. It’s all about art, I think, though I am no great artist myself...

Next time, more on that...
In a previous post, I shared my son's zest for life, but sometimes ...

You see, he who takes his color into the world often becomes afraid. When the waves hit the beach with the power of high tide, when the thunder roars, and the wind howlingly gusts around him, he wants to be where it is safe. He wants to be with his mother. There he can feel safe.
If one reads what John Maxwell says about fear, one of our biggest fears is the fear of failure. So many people never chase their passion because they are afraid they might fail. So often we don’t take the risk of living the life we are supposed to live, and then take the bigger risk, the risk of living a mediocre life.
My son taught me that we often need to go to safe havens. These may be places where you can be quiet, or places where you can be with people who really have faith in you. People who make you feel better about who you are. People who make you more creative because they believe in you even when you have doubts.
Make time in your diary.
Call it haven time. It’s the most precious time you can have, it’s the time you should never negotiate away in a world where time has become the currency of caring. This should be your time. Your time to grow in a safe place while looking at the onslaught of life with courage. Like a boy, sitting on his mother’s hip. He knows he is connected to the most powerful force in the world. The power of care. The power of care goes much farther though. When you care about what you do, it creates opportunity.
Just look at my daughter:

This picture was taken one morning after her mother had left to go to teach. Well, you can see what I had to cope with...
And, yes, I did what every good dad would do. I went outside and took pictures...

No, jokes aside.

Why is it that we don’t realize that we are emotional beings, and not only rational robots? We’re not robots, we’re not minds only. We have the miracle of emotion, the foundation of passion. In his books on Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Coleman teaches us that we need to get in contact with our emotions again. We need to identify and treasure them, rather than suppress them all the time. Here is the interesting thing. In a world where IQ is professed to be everything, the results of our IQ tests are kept secret...
So what does than mean?
It means that your IQ is directly equivalent to your self-esteem. If you think you did well on the test, you may feel more clever than you are, therefore act more clever than you are and then become more clever than you are...
Unfortunately, schools are ridden with dangerous weapons called “red pens”. They become the ultimate tool in colourful criticism! So in most instances, we are afraid that we might not have done so well in the tests, and therefore a reverse cycle takes place. We often feel as if we did not do well, therefore we do not do that well...
And in a strange way, an unknown test result, a big secret, determines how clever we think we are. Yet, if we look at the miracle of our lives, we will see that each of us have natural intelligences, not necessarily in all the fields they teach at school. Thank Heavens, Howard Gardner identified multiple intelligences, today we know that brilliance is not often being really clever in all subjects, it may be, and often is, more a question of making the most of your natural gifts.
But so often we find people are not in touch with these, we feel the threat of failure as it grabs our emotions...and maybe we need to find out how to handle that...
A possible clue lies in our fears and how we oftentimes do not face them in the right way.

So next time, I revisit a picture of my son...

All I had to do was take my camera and go. Nature provided the rest. As the sun started painting, the waves started rejoicing against the rocks, and I felt as if I was attending a majestic dance. There were just not enough memory in my camera to capture The music and the dance that seemed to last forever...

Nature wants to give so much, and so often, like that memory stick, we seem to be unable to receive.

Why is it that, so often, we keep on shutting our minds from the opportunities that nature offers?

Why is it that sometimes we become disconnected from the joy that life offers?

Well, some more next time...
So what if you are passionate about something that you don’t seem to be able to achieve? What if every time you start working towards your dream, the world seems to conspire against you? Well, let me share with you the following story. When I was a young boy growing up on a farm, there were many kids attending the farm schools in the area. They often had to run several miles to single classroom farm schools. Yet, they made the most of it. Often, in order to make the road seem shorter, they would roll a tyre in front of them. The tyre took their minds away from the difficulty of running long distances.
And I asked them to teach me. Now, understand, I am not a very sporty person. I am clumsy, have low muscle tone and am often in Thought-world rather than reality. I call it my Happy-Place. It’s in the world, but away from it. I build castles there. I watch clouds and I see pictures. And I don’t need any drugs. Imagination is such a healthy drug...but back to my story.
So when I asked one of the kids to teach me how to roll a tyre, I went through a great learning experience.
First I learnt that whenever you pick up a tyre to run, there always seems to be dirty water, mud and some really "goo-ee" stuff in those tyres. That usually falls on your feet. If you still want to keep on going, the problems do not seem to stop. Firstly, the tyre goes in all directions, it wobbles, it wants to fall over... but... when it starts gaining momentum, it turns into a wonderful force. Suddenly there is so little effort required to make it go! It just needs a slap of your hand every now and then. And you run like mad to keep up with it! But you become so involved that you forget that you are running...
And so are big dreams. Whenever you start chasing after them, there always seem to be obstacles. Like the dirty water in the tyre, there is always someone who wants to throw water over the flames of passion that comes with big dreams. Many people then stop chasing their dreams. What a pity. What a pity we often don’t go further than the wobble. Because, if we persist, the dream becomes like the tyre. It starts gaining momentum, and suddenly it becomes a pulling force.
It makes you forget about the effort. It just keeps you running in its direction. Never getting tired (or should I say tyred?) –because it becomes a force of the universe, taking you to new heights, new hope and new perspective. And the universe has so much to offer...
(More about that next time...)
On a hot December Saturday, a local toy-store was having a "Picture session with Barbie". Well, there was no way my daughter was going to bail out of a session with her favourite “person” in the world. So off we went. Just before we left, I snapped this picture as she was sitting on grandma’s bed, waiting for us to finish what we were busy with.

Well, the picture session with Barbie was a nightmare. (For me anyhow). Just imagine: Thousands of kids, ( I know I am exaggerating, but it really felt like that),milling about in a toy-store. Some were complaining that they wanted toys which they would never have seen, had they not come to the store, but which were strategically placed to pick purses as we waited in the queue for our turn to have her picture taken. The picture with Barbie showed a tired Barbie with an even more tired Anienie on her lap. And I learnt another great lesson.

It’s not always the big events that make the difference.
Life happens in small moments.

Little moments are often so much greater that the “big” moments we often eagerly await. It’s no use to look forward to the end of the year so much that you forget that you can have fun in the present. So often, professionals chase their pension and not their passion. (As motivational speaker Denis Waitley says)
For amateurs it’s the other way around, we chase passion. We follow our hearts, moment by moment, second by second, because time is the stuff life is made of, we cannot afford to waste it, can we?

This is my son.
At the time I took this picture he was three years old. He had, (and still has), the zest, passion and enthusiasm we associate with three-year olds. And I don’t know why they always find the expression thereof six o’clock on a Sunday Morning when the parents just want to have some peace, some slumber...
But in his world, that’s not allowed. He’s not yet under the "bad" influence of what can be called the profession of living. Unlike us adults who have become so accustomed to the world providing colour into our lives – you know, 55 channels on the television, then there is music, radio, media, etc ... He understands that it’s not the noise that matters, not what we receive that motivate us. Rather it’s about taking our colour into life. Like kids do. With passion.
In this picture, Benno is in colour, the rest is black and white. The inverse would have made for a sad photo. Imagine he was colourless in a colourful world...I am glad it wasn’t necessary. There’s too much of that in the world already...
Well, I often do presentations with these photos. And sometimes my kids attend.
So it was obvious that I had to put my daughter’s picture in as well...
That will be next time :-)
Hello friend,
Welcome to this, a picnic spot on your journey through life.
I am so glad you came along. So glad to meet you. So glad to spend some time with you.
So often we hurry past these little spots. I know.
I’ve done it too.
Until I was forced to pause.
By passion.
Now there’s a concept, paused by passion.
Want to hear more? Well, take a seat. Let me introduce myself. My name is Igno van Niekerk. I am on a quest. I look for the picnic spots of life. And then I invite fellow travellers, like you, to share a mug of life’s finest coffee with me.
Life’s coffee? Why, I am glad you ask. It’s stories you see. Stories and pictures. Blended and percolated. The aromatic caffeine of plot which fills your cup and awakens you to the invisible treasures so many travellers never find.
Why don’t they find these treasures if they are scattered all over the road of life?
Too many questions, I know.
So let’s see.
In a world governed by the race for material goods, where money often becomes the prize in a mad but dispassionate race, there is something I would love to share.
It’s an attitude to life. Something which cannot be bought, and, for which, one cannot be paid. It has to do with the fact that one does it for the love of it. Let me start at the beginning. I see, I’m confusing you a little. Here, here’s your coffee, drink with me, while I tell you my story.
For more than 20 years, I have been an amateur photographer. Getting up on cold winter mornings when others prefer the soft silk of the duvet and the treasured few more minutes granted by the “snooze button.”
So why do it?
Why do it when no one pays you, why spend time crawling through thorny bushes in the dark early hours of the morning, rushing to catch the right light, when there is not a single cent’s worth in it.
Well, I have learnt some great things from being an unpaid painter with light. The first thing I learnt was that if I am looking for beauty, for greatness and for awesome things, I merely have to get up and go find them.
Like that early morning at Zebra Lodge, North of Pretoria, in my beloved country, South Africa.
After a late night, I could have stayed in bed, but there was the inner voice that calls the amateur. Come, see what you can enjoy...
And then, after driving around a while, it suddenly happened. On a dam I had passed in the early hours, the sun was choreographing a scene which I could capture. It was just there. And I found it. Because I was there. I believed it would be there, and there it was...

So where does passion come from?
Well, I can merely find clues, and maybe make a few suggestions. Let’s take a trip down memory lane...
A trip to our own childhood days.
Remember when you were young, when the road of life opened up ahead of you, as you were walking along?

Well, we'll talk about that next time! :-)