Find a Way to Control Your Day

Before I ever stepped foot in South Africa, I was told by many of my African American friends and associates that: you are going to feel like you have come home; there is nothing that feels like being around that many black folks and finally being of the majority vs. being a minority and that this would be forever life-changing. The bottom line of all the comments was that the experience of going to South Africa would feel like a “homecoming.” While I would totally agree that it is incredible to be surrounded by people who look like you when you’ve lived a life of often being the only one or one of the few, my takeaway is that sharing a skin color is not the most important link to awakening a shared sense of culture. 

When I decided this time last year to bid on an auction item titled “once in a lifetime trip to South Africa,” firstly, I had no idea that I would win the bid and secondly, I had no idea whether or not my husband and daughter would be on board if I won.  Well…let’s be honest, I knew Britt, my daughter would be on board because she is always on board to travel. In fact, I’m pretty sure she said yes before I could even complete my initial sentence. Coach Mitchell, my husband, on the other hand, would take some convincing since flying is one of his least favorite activities. 

Fast-forwarding past the logistics and family negotiation… we landed in Johannesburg after 14.5  hours, exhausted, a little disoriented, but overly excited and curious to see what it felt like to finally “come home!” But, spoiler alert, that “homecoming” feeling didn’t happen right away…in fact, it did not happen until the last day of our 10-day adventure. 

Our South African journey took us from the concrete jungle of Joburg to awe-inspiring wildlife encounters in the wilderness on safari in Pilanesberg National Park.  To the city of Pretoria where we experienced perfectly manicured, highly secure, bioengineered gated golf communities (designed to keep foreign dignitaries, diplomats, and people of means safe) to the houses made from layers of tin only a few miles down the hill in the township of Mamelodi.  This township is where the majority of the people in the city live, packed in tin houses like sardines in tin cans. We were told by our host that approximately 10,000 people live in the beautiful gated communities and approximately 400,000 people live in the township which has no running water, no electricity, no access to police and for the majority of residents, no way to make a decent living.  We were told as we drove through the township not to take pictures, not to let our windows down, and not to engage because we might be robbed or accosted. Also, in the same Pretoria that hosts high security gated communities and high-density townships, there is another seeming contradiction – just a few miles away in the other direction exists the luxury high-rise Time Square Hotel & Casino with 9 fabulous restaurants, infinity pools, swinging chairs floating magnificently over the water, and a world-class casino bar none.  Next stop Cape Town! From the V&A Waterfront buzzing with people singing, dancing, eating, drinking, boating, shopping and loving life, to the world-class Cape Town Stadium built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, to our private 2-story penthouse suite equipped with a private rooftop pool, breathtaking city, sea, and mountain views and an outdoor kitchen and fireplace… to just about 3 blocks away, a grocery store where we were almost mugged in broad daylight walking down the street from this very same penthouse hotel.  The security in the hotel was stellar but upon leaving the hotel you were on your own.

The dichotomy of the culture is what I felt in South Africa. After 46 years of Apartheid followed by 25 years of rebuilding, retraining, and reestablishing cultural norms, I see progress and prosperity trying to pry its way out of a system that is incredibly hard to shake. How do you undo the past and truly start over? How do you establish equity and opportunity in a place that thrived off of oppression and division for so long and with such meticulous and merciless success? It’s not that we don’t have the same questions to answer in America, we’re just on a different timeline… 

While there is much to South Africa I have yet to learn and may never fully understand, what I gathered from my conversations with locals, experts, and those coming from neighboring African countries looking for a better life in South Africa, is that America is still the land of immense opportunity for those willing to do the work to seize it. We take for granted that our banks are reliable, our currency is strong and stable, and if we send something via mail to a loved one, it will most likely arrive in 2-5 business days. We take for granted the power of our passport.  This, unfortunately, is not the South African experience.

While we have a lot to work on in America when it comes to women and minorities receiving true equity… we also have a lot to work with in America. When I wrote Own Your Phenomenal Self: A guide on Character, Success, and Leadership, I wanted to invoke the message of “you are enough and you have enough because you were born with enough… and all you have to do is make one definitive decision to own your destiny, change your attitude, your behavior, and maybe even your job, and you will reach your desired success!” I took for granted that while there are still pay disparities, underlying prejudices, and unfair starting points, you can still find a way to outmaneuver, outperform, overcome and ultimately master corporate culture in a way that gets you a seat at the table. I know because I did it. But could I have done it if I was born in Apartheid South Africa? I’m not sure… Could I have done it in the South Africa of today, post Apartheid? I am still not so sure… 

So why I am sharing this story with you? I want to inspire you to find a way to control your day. I liken it to one of my favorite quotes: 

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.
– Saint Francis of Assisi

All you can do is control your day. Tomorrow is not given. 
Each day belongs to you. You choose where you go, what you say, what you do, and how you react to the world around you. And every day builds upon the next day. Like the turning of a ship or the opening of a flower, it’s a painfully slow process that seems nonexistent at best and never-ending at worst. The change is so slow it seems like nothing is happening and nothing ever will happen. But you can’t turn a ship in one fell swoop, it won’t budge. It has to move inch by inch. You have to put in the work every day… and each day has to connect to make a week and each week has to connect to make a month and each month has to connect to make a year and suddenly, if you put in the work to move your personal ship each day, think about how tremendous your trajectory will be in 5 years time. Too often people get lost in the sauce waiting for some big, life-changing decision to fall in their lap. Every decision is a life-changing decision because the sum of all of your little decisions in life are what make you who you are and take you where you are meant to be. 

The animals know what I’m talking about… 
They fight for survival every day…like me….like you…like us.  Below this newsletter is a short video showing 3 examples of wildlife in South Africa that remind me of what’s possible when you own your phenomenal self: 

  1. The seal who said, “I own this buoy and I might be the smallest one here, but I want what I want and I am not afraid to fight and win!” 
  2. The elephant who said “I don’t care if I hold up 20 cars and safari trucks, I am going to sit here, cross my hind legs and eat this tree…and you will not pass… you will watch. I want this tree and I want this moment and I want you to witness my power!”
  3. The lion who said “I’m the king and I don’t have to bare my teeth or show my claws to show my strength. I remain cool, calm, and confident because you know and I know… and I know that you know… that I rule this place and you better not get in my way!”

So after taking all of this in, only on the last day of our 10-day trip did I finally feel a sense of “home.”   The evening before our departure we partied at our first and only club of the trip at the Time Square 
Casino & Hotel in Pretoria.  The dancing, the music, the rhythm, the food…that is where I felt the sameness…that is where we were most accepted by the South African community as one of the people. Music, rhythm, blackness….it’s in my veins and my DNA and it’s in theirs as well.  With a mix of African hits, American hits, and delicious food we all danced the night away to the same rhythm, same beat, to the same love of living life, and the same work of survival and achieving success.

Key Takeaways

  1. Sharing a skin color is not the most important link to awakening a shared sense of culture.
  2. While we have a lot to work on in America when it comes to women and minorities receiving true equity… we also have a lot to work with in America.

About The Author


Rita P. Mitchell is an overcomer.  In a career spanning nearly four decades, she has navigated countless roadblocks and conquered numerous obstacles to accomplish her personal and professional goals in the very competitive financial services industry.  Rita became president of her own insurance and securities brokerage firm, Mitchell Financial, Inc., spoke on the TEDx stage, has been a frequent contributor to Black Enterprise magazine, and became the first-ever recipient of First Horizon’s 2018 Inclusion & Diversity Leader’s Award.  Before retiring in early 2018, Rita served as Executive Vice President and Manager of Private Client Services for Middle Tennessee, First Tennessee Bank.  Most recently, she has written Own Your Phenomenal Self, a guide to empowering young career women to achieve their desired success and an Amazon bestseller. In addition, Rita is a certified John C. Maxwell Coach, Trainer, and Speaker.  Currently, she serves on the boards of the YWCA USA, Cheekwood, Leadership Nashville Alumni Association, and Board Chair of the YWCA of Nashville & Middle TN.

Every month, Rita shares her thoughts, experiences, and opinions to encourage you to stay on your journey to your desired success. Sign up to get Rita's monthly motivation delivered straight to your inbox!

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