Rowan Spazzoli

Strategist. Lecturer. Consultant

Be an asshole

It’s a counter intuitive piece of advice. “Be an asshole” sounds like you’re telling someone to be mean or hurtful. It feels like a move that might impact their reputation or affect their work.

But this advice resonated with me deeply today.


Well, in my professional life, my default setting is to help wherever I can. Do an intro when someone needs one, act as a reference on an application, give support on an idea when someone is launching a startup.

And this has brought me immense joy. It’s helped me form beautiful friendships and allowed to delight in the success of the people around me. I’ve gotten to cap my mentee at graduation, start a successful business with someone who just came for advice, and be a small part of helping someone get the biggest scholarship in the world. And with these relationships, the impact on me has been as much, if not greater than what the impact has been for them

There are two problems though. The first is in situations where the person only takes what they want before moving on. This (mostly) happens unintentionally, but can result in a negative cycle of resentment that becomes really hard to shake. And regardless of whether the person meant to do this to you or not, it can damage the relationship permanently and leave a really bitter taste.

The second problem is when you’re battling through a situation yourself and have a complete lack of capacity to help effectively. In this case, trying to help someone may actually push you into a state of burnout.

And this where the airline safety announcements get it spot on… Put your oxygen mask on before helping put the masks on people around you.

Because if you are incapacitated, there is very little help you can give.

And this is why, sometimes, you need to be an asshole. It might frustrate someone who needs you, or anger someone demanding your time. But if you don’t lay down your boundaries and care for yourself first, it leaves you incapable of being able to help the people that you really want to help.

So yes. Sometimes, it’s good to be an asshole.

Hey Asshole – Watsky ft Kate Nash

Hang on to the light

Life has become more complex and difficult by an order of magnitude over the last year. And I can’t tell whether it’s just because of the pandemic, or because it’s of the passage into the middle part of my life. It’s likely that the answer is that it’s both.

It’s left me with a constant feeling of being overwhelmed. Like there is an insurmountable about of things going on, of problems to deal with and help that is needed. The responsibilities have multiplied, and the stakes are so much higher than I’ve ever experienced.

I know that I’m in a process of stepping up, that I’ll eventually look back at this time with pride, at how I was able to deal with so much, while being in a pandemic.

But tonight I realised, in a profound way, that I’m really not on my own on this. That there are lights in my life, people to help illuminate the way, to shine through the darkness, and to reflect back to me the progress that I’ve made and how much brilliance there is to come.

I feel like my own light was just given a little more glow. Like one candle lighting another. And that the same spark I give out into the world is the same spark that will help bring back my fire when I feel like it is dying down.

And in the most serendipitous way, the song that played on shuffle when I got back in the car tonight captured this so beautifully for me:

Hang on to the light in your eyes and the feeling
Hang on to your love drunk original reason
Hang on to the small town you love but you’re leaving
Oh you won’t be a fool for so long
So hang on

Song of the day: Hang on – Needtobreathe

A whole new world

The last time I wrote on this blog, the world was a little different. I was in Joburg with my partner and family. We were at the Gauteng champs, watching my little brother row and the Springboks win in Japan. There was plenty of social contact, freely available alcohol and space to travel around the country.

Now, around 6 months later, none of that is possible.

We’re living in an entirely different world, where banana bread, home-brewed alcohol and Zoom calls are the new normal. And eventually the virus will pass but the world around us will permanently be changed by it.

This time has given me the chance to think. A lot. And one of the things I’ve thought about is finishing the 365 posts that I set out to do on this blog. I’ve got 8 left after this one, and it’s going to liberate me to write a different kind of blog once these are done.

I’ll also be taking the opportunity to re-do my website, as I’ve begun to change my career path slightly since the outbreak of the virus. The new website will go up on the day of the last 365 blog.

I’ve got so many ideas and so many things I want to pursue, and this is going to be the start of my journey.

Image was taken at the house in Claremont where I’ve been staying and features two members of my #quaranteam

Blog: 357/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey

Song of the day: Hey baby by DJ Otzi

Create your own space

As children we are given vast amounts of our own space. We have break time between classes, we get school holidays and we get plenty of time to do physical activities. These are all just a part of our schooling system, but they still allow us to get our own space fairly regularly

However, this changes drastically when you enter the working world. Your bosses, clients and colleagues will try and take as much from you as they’re possibly able to. Getting leave is difficult and limited, working over lunch/ in the evening is seen as heroic and getting exercise is seen as a luxury.

The problem then is that for the first 20 years of our life we are used to being given our own space. It happens whether we ask for it or not.

But once you leave the education system, there is no one that makes sure you get space. There is no mandatory leave or lunch breaks. Exercise isn’t built into your day.

And so we have to learn to ask for it. Learn that if we don’t fight for our space, then it will very quickly get taken away from us.

And naturally, this leads to fatigue and burnout.

So when you enter the working world, or even if you’re in it already, fight for your own space. Because unlike in school, no one is going to give it to you.

Image was taken at the Roodeplatt dam today during the Gauteng champs regatta

Blog: 356/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey

Song of the day: Torn by Natalie Imbruglia

Thesis and Thank Yous

Last week I finally got my thesis results, which included some phenomenal feedback from highly regarded academics. And today I submitted my final thesis, with corrections, to the UCT library, which means that it’s officially a wrap for my MCom in Economic Development. I will be graduating in December 🙂

I wouldn’t have made it to this point if it wasn’t for the incredible people around me who were there to get me over the line. As a thank you to everyone involved, I included an acknowledgements page on the first page of my dissertation.

Thank you once again to everyone for being part of this journey. The full acknowledgement section of my thesis is included below


Thank you to the legion of people that encouraged me and cheered me on in the process of writing this dissertation. I experienced multiple setbacks over the period when this was written, including suffering from depression and anxiety, family problems, being the victim of a robbery and various issues in completing the thesis. I made it through thanks to the unrelenting support of my incredible family and friends.

The irony of writing a dissertation on depression while suffering from it is not lost on me. However, having people around me that openly talked about mental health problems made seeking help much easier. In January last year, I started on anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication, which has changed my life. Thank you to my therapist and my psychiatrist for all the work they have done with me, I am eternally grateful. I encourage anyone suffering from mental health issues to speak up and not be afraid to seek help. You don’t have to fight the battle alone.

Thank you to the many friends that helped me through the tough patches and celebrated with me during the successes. A special thank you to the following, who were always there when I needed them: Jared, Holly, Janine, Steve, Hana, Samantha, Jess, Edward, Marcelle, Charlotte, Kuhle, Kay, Michael, Jonathan, Nick, Abigail, Thabo, Ahmed, Renee, Bridget, Grace, Suzie, Shelly, Dale, Alison, Tiisetso, Alexei, Anna, Tiang, Louis, Rhiannon, Cait, Steph, Ndumi, Katie and Tumi.

Thank you to my supervisor, Malcolm, for all the support with the dissertation and for being so patient with me throughout the process, especially when I was going through a difficult time last year. Your input has been invaluable and I have learnt so much from you.

Thank you to my wonderful family for all they have done for me. My dad, Lihor, for all the support he has provided me throughout my life, particularly in my academic endeavours. My brothers, Lorenzo and Fabio, for being such wonderful siblings. Thank you to my uncle Massimo, for being supportive of my dreams and thank you to Sue, Jacqui, Jules and Matt for inspiring me. Thank you to the Weston family, who have been there whenever I’ve needed them.

Finally, and most importantly, thank you to my incredible mother Debbie for everything she has done for me. You are always there when I need someone to chat to, always ready to help and you have sacrificed so much for me. You’ve experienced every part of the journey with me, from panicking at the registration line with my degree choice, to the teary phone call after the tests in 2015 and, now, to celebrating completing my masters and finding my way in life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, I love you and truly would not have made it without you.

My journey as a student at UCT has come to the end after eight years, three degrees, thousands of hours studying and many late nights. Thank you to UCT for all the phenomenal memories and for shaping me into who I am today. It’s time to close this chapter of my life. As the last line of my old school song says:

“Here our ship once anchor’d and here its course was set.”

Image was  taken at the Bascule bar where I had a sneaky whiskey to celebrate the end of this journey.

Blog: 355/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey

Song of the day: Phoebe Ryan – Mine (Illenium Remix)

And life goes on

In April 2016 I had a week where my life seemed to fall apart. So many bad things happened to me in quick succession that it was difficult to keep track of them all. I was overwhelmed and scared and anxious.

I handled this by shutting out the world. I hid in my bed. I wallowed in self-pity. This was the only way I thought I could make it through that patch.

This week has also been really diffiult for me, both professionally and personally. And it’s been draining. But I feel like I’m handling it a lot better

This is probably the combination of many factors. Seeing my therapist was vital. Being on antidepressants has kept me stable. Having a routine means I have something to fall back on.

In addition to this, I understand myself and my emotions much better, and so do my friends. This means that I’m able to sooth myself and my friends are more easily able to step in.

As a child I often wondered how adults managed all the ups and downs of life, while balancing careers, families and friends. But now I know that this comes with experience and an acceptance that sometimes things are out of our control.

No one is able to handle anything the world throws at them. But we can choose to get better at managing the curve balls. We can actively learn, reflect and make changes to be able to deal with problems as they arise.

It’s a difficult journey. But in the end, life goes on. And the sooner we are able to learn this, the easier it’ll get down the line

Image was taken on the prom this afternoon 🙂 there was some weird cloud cover but the whole scene was pretty spectacular

Blog: 354/365

Song of the day: Paper Wings – Rise Against

Bonus song of the day: Memory – Sugarcult

Pitching perfect

Tomorrow I have one of the biggest pitches of my life. We’re asking a major corporate for some major funding so that we can have a major impact on South Africa.

Today was exhausting, but we managed to:

  • Complete and polish our slide deck
  • Make our pitch perfect
  • Buy me new clothes (for anyone that knows me, this is a major accomplishment)
  • Buy foods and snacks (v. important)
  • Rework a component of our strategy
  • Design a mock-ups of our final product
  • Design pamphlet to go with the final product
  • Print the mock-ups and pamphlet
  • Reprint them because they needed to be perfect
  • Cry
  • Cry again but a little more gracefully
  • Take selfies
  • Draft a letter of intent to be signed in by the corporate after our meeting
  • Clear out emails and messages we ignored during the day
  • Eat
  • Sleep

Tomorrow’s pitch is the culmination of years of work.

And yet we still don’t feel ready.

But for a moment like this, you can never quite feel ready.

It’s time to take the jump, let’s hope like hell our flying contraption works.

Image is from a lookout point in Citrusdal, while on a weekend away there with some of my favourite people.

Blog: 353/365.

Song of the day: Illenium – Crashing

The Last Mile

Two years ago I ran a marathon. A full marathon.

And the most difficult part of the whole event was the last mile.

There were hundreds of people cheering on the route. A friend waited at the last corner to shout my name. There were giant banners, cheerleaders, a brass band and race marshals all egging me on.

And yet it was on that last mile that I was closest to giving up.

Knowing that I was near the end was part of what made it so painful. The finish line seemed incredibly close and impossibly far away at the same time.

I made it over the line.

And I stopped.

And I burst into tears.

The last mile has always been a struggle for me. The last day of studying before an exam. The last bit of work to complete a goal. The last few blog posts in my blogging challenge.

It’s the last bit that is the toughest.

So after a lengthy break, and lots of time to reflect, I’ve become determined to learn to finish what I started.

My new resolution is to get better at reaching the finish line.

Welcome to the last 14 posts of my #365of25 journey.

Image is of a beautiful midlands escape that I got to experience with one of my favourite people

Blog: 352/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey 
Song of the day:  BORNS - Electric Love