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'Burn the ships, not the bridges'
Author: Development & Alumni / Ontwikkeling & Alumni
Published: 10/10/2019

“Burn the ships, not the bridges."

That was one of the five key points that Stellenbosch University alumnus, Werner Cloete, shared with undergraduate and postgraduate students who attended the recent Careers Café where he was the guest speaker.

Cloete is the Principal of Calling Academy in Vlaeberg, Stellenbosch, where boys from low income communities are provided with an opportunity to access a quality, private school education for less than R6 500 a year. He completed a BSc in Chemistry and a Postgraduate Certificate in Education at Stellenbosch University (SU) and spent some time teaching overseas before returning to South Africa to join the teachers' body at Paul Roos Gymnasium. In 2016, Cloete took a leap of faith to start the research in order to establish Calling Academy, which he co-founded with Dr Philip Geldenhuys.

“You have to commit to your vision, if you know the vision has come about through the right process, and to do that, you have to burn the ships to close the escape routes," he said to the 310 students who attended the talk.

This, said Cloete, was one of the most important things he learnt when in 2017, a mere three  months before Calling Academy was to open and with many learners already interested, he found himself unable to secure a premises to house the school.

“You have to expect the hardships. It will test your commitment to the vision, but it will also bring about personal growth that will benefit your venture further down the line," said Cloete.

“If you leave too many escape routes open, you will look for a way out at that point, and you will end up leaving your vision behind. So burn the ships."

He also reminded students that it was crucial to remain in touch with what is happening in the world.

“Once you have a vision and an awareness of what is going on around you, something will happen inside you due to the tension between “what is" and “what could be". I am talking about experiencing discontent –  being  upset at the current state of affairs."

This state, said Cloete, is what will motivate you to innovate, another important tip in building a career while making an impact on society.

“Innovation that is born from being in touch and being aware of what is happening in society, is a lot more powerful than innovation just for the sake of innovation," he added.

For Cloete, going the road alone is not an option. He believes that if you want to do something extraordinary, you have to find the people who are doing “cutting edge work" and learn from them.

“We need to move away from individualised decision-making towards group decision-making. Look for the kind of people who will take you to where you want to be and associate yourself closely with them. Spend your time with people who are moving in the right direction."

However, while many of us are aware of the importance of having a mentor and even a coach, Cloete suggested that students rather seek developing a push-and-pull effect in their lives. This can be done by “filling the seats" around your table of support with a hero, an inner circle friend, a mentor, a mentee, a coach and a trainee.

“Find someone whom you can mentor too. This is when you get a push-and-pull effect with a mentor that will pull you up and a mentee who will not only push you up through their questions and how they keep you honest,  but whom you can lift up and assist in developing their skills. So have both a mentor and mentee.

“We can learn so much from each other, and so I would also suggest that you become intentional about building up relationships across cultures too," he added.

Cloete also touched on other points in his talk, such as the importance of gaining exposure and valuing the relationships that you have in your life.

Before concluding his talk, he encouraged the students to live their lives according to a quote he found to be a good reminder to treasure the people who are there through it all.

“Remember that primary relationships are important and that 'no success outside the home can compensate for failure within'. Your family will carry the baton when you are gone. If you want to change the world, make an impact on the lives of those around you so that they can go out and make a positive impact on the world too. You don't want to be the guy who runs with a vision, but whose family says: I don't even know this guy."

The Careers Café series was launched in 2016 by the Alumni Relations Office to provide a platform for alumni to engage with the university in a different manner by offering their time and skills to help current students prepare for the careers they want.

Photo: Careers Café speaker and Principal of Calling Academy, Werner Cloete (far left), is seen here with Paballo Tsiu (second from the left) and Tianca Olivier, the two students who won an opportunity to have dinner with Cloete in order to learn more from him in a one-on-one conversation. With them is Marvin Koopman (far right), Alumni Coordinator at the Development and Alumni Relations Division. (Photographer: Henk Oets)