An open letter to the Youth of South Africa on Youth Day!

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For the few that don’t know, today we observe and show respect for the deaths of hundreds of young, black South Africans who attempted to protest against an official order which made Afrikaans compulsory in black township schools throughout the country on 16 June, 1976.

Although this was a horrific event, it eventually played a role in fighting and overcoming the inequality and oppression caused by apartheid.

But whenever I wake up on 16 June, I feel a sense of sadness and optimism at the same time. There is no question that we have made many incredible strides forward as a nation since the Soweto Uprising. But we have also squandered many opportunities to ensure a brighter future for the Youth of this country. But I don’t want to focus on the bad today, because today is a day of celebration.

With this in mind, I want to share an open letter to the Youth of South Africa with all of you. If any of this resonates with you, I hope you help me share it far and wide. But most importantly, I hope you join me in my attempt to help these young people become the best version of themselves:

HELLO YOU BEAUTIFUL YOUNG PEOPLE OF SOUTH AFRICA!

Today (16 June) is a special day because young people just like you took a stand against something they didn’t believe in many years ago. Sadly, some of these young people lost their lives in a very unfair situation, but they also courageously paved the way for you to be free today.

When I say you are free now, I mean that in many senses of the word. As a young person, you are free to think and learn as you wish, free to experience all that life has to offer, and free to become anything and anyone you want.

This is why being young is a privilege, but often times, you don’t know what you don’t know, and so you only realise the true extent of this privilege when you’re a bit older. It’s with this in mind that I want to share a few thoughts with you:

ADULTS ARE JUST WINGING IT!
When you’re really young, you often think that adults have life all figured out, but we don’t really. There is so much we don’t understand about the world, and we’re just working it out as we go along. You’re going to get here soon too, and it’s normal to be a bit confused at times. My advice is, don’t be too hard on yourself!

PAIN IS LIFE’S MOST POWERFUL TEACHER!
Humans are almost hardwired to avoid pain but this is an impossible quest. Throughout your life, people are going to disappoint you many times, life is going to knock you down constantly, and you are going to make many mistakes. Not only is this normal, it is vital for you to experience pain so that you can become a better version of yourself.

In other words, pain is a precursor for growth, and we learn our most valuable lessons when we fail. The key is to try not to fail the same way over and over again.

THE WORLD IS FILLED WITH DIVERSE PEOPLE!
One of the things I wish the schooling system taught young people is that you will perceive life through a lens that is unique to you. The way you are brought up, the many experiences you pick up along the way, and the people you hang around with, will all shape your view of life.

The key is to appreciate that life can be experienced very differently by other people, and that none of these perspectives are right or wrong. If you engrain this lesson in your heart, and you learn to play well with others, you will do really well in life.

NOT EVERY EMOTION YOU FEEL IS TRUE OR REAL! 
As you grow up, you will experience so many powerful emotions; both good and bad. The key is not to be dominated by your emotions, and to remember that you always get to choose. A wise man named Victor Frankl experienced some of the worst of humanity, and he had this to say about his experience:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Another person who got this right was Nelson Mandela. I think you know his story well. His decision to forgive the people who oppressed him, is another reason I am in the position to write this letter to you on this special day.

WHEN YOU LEARN TO HAVE EMPATHY, YOU ARE POWERFUL!
Quite simply, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of other people. So many people in this world don’t understand that empathy is a super power.

As an example, I only recently learned that hurt people are the ones that hurt other people. Healthy people want to see others grow. When I started to try understand why people do what they do, and I detached the emotion of it, I started to understand what Victor Frankl said above, and I became powerful.

THE WORLD IS CHANGING REALLY FAST!
Until recently, the rate at which the world evolved was quite predictable. But in recent years, the world is changing at a pace we have never seen before, and nobody knows what the world will look like in 5, 10, and 30 years with one exception; we know that it will be very different from today.

That’s why the best advice I can give you in this case is that you need to learn, unlearn, and relearn constantly.

But here’s the amazing thing, you have been given a special tool to help you on this journey. The internet now allows you to learn almost anything, at any time, anywhere in the world, and virtually no cost. Almost every young person that has ever lived before you didn’t have the internet at their disposal, but you do. The world is literally your oyster.

FIND YOUR IKIGAI!
In the last few decades, many adults have chosen their line of work based solely on the amount of money it will give them, but so many of these people are unhappy. I think the Japanese concept “Ikigai” (which means “a reason for being”) is a much better way of deciding what to do with your life. Basically, Ikigai says you should:

  • Do something that you’re passionate about
  • Do something that you’re great at
  • Do something that the world needs
  • Do something that the world is willing to pay for

It might take you a while to find your Ikigai, and that’s ok. Just trust me when I say it’s worth the effort. Finding your Ikigai will keep you young, and make you happy.

YOU WILL ALWAYS DO WELL IF YOU TRY CREATE VALUE FOR OTHERS!
On top of finding your Ikigai, you would do well to remember that the world rewards consistent value creation. If you can help solve a big enough problem for other people, you will always make money. Look at any person who consistently makes a lot of money, and you will see their secret lies in value creation for others.

DREAM BIG. ALWAYS!
This is something that most adults don’t get, so you will do well to understand this. You will only ever create according to the size of your dreams. So always try stretch your mind, think big, and don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something. This may sound like a cliche, but as you get older, you will see how many people get to the end of their lives, and regret not dreaming bigger and pursuing those dreams!

MORE THAN ANYTHING, LOVE IS THE GOAL!

I have mentioned many things in this letter, and I could mentioned many more, but for the sake of honouring your time, I want to end off with a simple idea:

In the end, the ultimate privilege in this life is to love and be loved in return. If you can keep the concept of an unselfish love in your heart throughout your life, you will be happy and live a long life.

Young people, the lessons you learn from here on will eventually shape the future of this country. I just want to remind you that you can choose to do and be better than the people that have come before you. This is ultimately my wish for the young people of this country!

Happy Youth Day,
Mark Sham