Rowan Spazzoli

Strategist. Lecturer. Consultant

Birthday Eve

The evening before my birthday has always been special. It’s my dad’s birthday, meaning that it was a two day celebration in the family. It’s guy fawkes day, which meant that, just like new years eve, my birthday is ushered in with fireworks. And it’s a day of reflection about the year that has passed.

It seems to have crept up a bit quicker this year… but I’ve been able to experience all of those things today. I had a video call with family for my dad’s birthday, lit a very big sparkler out the window of our apartment and now I have time for a brief reflection.

This year has been one of phenomenal growth for me. My life is so different since it was 365 days ago. I feel freer, happier and more willing to take on the world.

Part of that was because of the goals I set myself… the biggest one being the blog. I used to be scared about sharing my thoughts and ideas, both out of shyness and fear of criticism. But writing every day has helped quell that fear and has made writing easier for me. I may not have gotten to the 365 posts yet, but I’ll do so in a few days time. 

The blog has also been a great way to connect with people. I have 30 subscribers and an average of 40 views per post. My family and friends are able to share in my learning and growth. And some of the posts go beyond this to a wider audience.

There have been some speed bumps this year too. Moving apartments, being robbed, friendship problems, family problems, car accidents and massive thesis problems.

But at the same time there have been some things that have been so important. Getting proper mental health treatment, taking on (and finishing) two major consulting projects, lecturing, going to Portugal, finding a new workspace and making some incredible new friendships.

Being 25 has been great. I’m proud of what I have achieved and learnt.

And there’s going to be a lot more in the year to come


Image is of a rainbow this afternoon, as seen from our flat

Blog: 343/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Hozier - Someone New

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It’s within you

I’ve always struggled with letting go of things. I cried for a few days when leaving my university residence in 2012. I was really upset when my mom sold her car. And throwing away things that hold memories is always really difficult for me.

Today I tried to alter this experience, with some advice from my therapist. Instead of attaching memories to items (“cathecting” in her words), I tried to keep in mind that all these memories are within me.

And so is all the knowledge. And all the feelings. 

It made packing up my old apartment so much easier. I was able to let go of so much, and was happy to do so 

One big achievement was throwing away all my university notes. Although they were useful at the time, they serve no purpose now. And most of them were printed by the departments. So I filled up two massive bin bags and took it all for recycling.

I know from experience that nostalgia can be really heavy sometimes. And scary too. But it helps to remember that all of these memories are carried inside us. So it’s okay to let the physical things go.


Image is the view of all my notes inside the paper recycling bin. The bin was empty before I started offloading my stuff

Blog: 342/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: There you are - Pogo

Building our own barriers

I’ve spoken before on the blog about how we can be our own worst enemies, with two sides (or “wolves”) within ourselves competing with one another. And I’ve followed this up with a blog on how we should support both sides here, the ambitious side and the scared/broken side.

When discussing these, I’ve highlighted how the “bad” side has the potential to impact our goals and dreams. How it causes procrastination, laziness, sadness and frustration.

But it’s not just this side that can have a negative impact on us.

The ambitious side, the hardworking side, can also be very detrimental. It can set goals that are not viable. It can lock us in to a series of to-do lists that don’t allow us space to breathe.

We build obstacles for ourselves and get frustrated when we can’t overcome them. Even if they were unreasonable in the first place.

I think that’s the point that I’ve reached with this blog. I have 24 posts left to go, with only about a week left. And I’m starting to feel like I’ve failed. This results in me trying to push myself way over my normal limit. I keep promising myself 3 or 4 posts a day but get to the end of each day without completing any.

So again, as I have said before, I need to learn to be gentle with myself. There are 341 blog posts that have been written. And even if I don’t finish on the 6th of November, I will make it to 365.

And I’m going to be damn proud of myself.


Image is from the Cape Town City game this weekend

Blog: 341/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day:Seven Lions feat Fiora - Dreamin

Role Models: Dale Williams

Today’s blog post is about a role model of mine that I am very close to, Dale Williams. I’ve interacted with Dale in so many different ways. In 2014 I was a student in his course. In 2015 I tutored on the course and he was my boss. In 2016 I was his assistant on the course. And more recently we have become colleagues.

In addition to being my lecturer, boss and colleague, Dale has been a mentor, a coach, an angel investor, a consultant and, most importantly, a great friend.

I could give 50 reasons as to why he is a role model to me. But I’m going to settle on the 4 most important ones. His lean philosophy, his strategic insights, his humility and the support he shows… for everyone.

Reason 1: Lean Philosophy

Dale operates on a lean philosophy with most of the things he does, which are loosely based on the “Lean Startup” principles.  This means that current work and new ideas are built on learning feedback loops (e.g. Kolbe learning styles) that allow them to be continuously improved.

The loops consist of roughly four components. The first is abstract conceptualization, which is having an idea of how things are currently done or could be done. The second is active experimentation, where the idea is tested before going our. The third is concrete experience, which involves implementing the idea. And finally, reflective observation, where the impact is analysed.

This results in being able to quickly and effectively implement new ideas. In the time I’ve known him, we have been able to improve the course in at least 20 different ways, mostly because of the rapidness of his lean philosophy.

Reason 2: Strategic insights

Dale uses a combination of a wide knowledge and a natural instinct to generate some of the most interesting and impactful strategic insights. He uses this when implementing his own ideas or when helping people with theirs. And I’ve been fortunate enough to observe and receive these insights.

For example, we once had a situation where a group of students were unhappy with an aspect of the course. The normal reaction from a lecturer here would be to push back or ignore the students. Instead, while he was gathering information about the issue he took time out to reflect. And in the space of just a few minutes, he decided on a path that was both unconventional and lead to the students being happy with the outcome.

Reason 3: Humility

Despite helping so many people, from students to executives at big banks, Dale always remains humble. He rarely name drops or sings his own praises. Instead, he highlights the work of others that have worked with him, and is quick to acknowledge their contributions.

Reason 4:  Mentoring and Cheerleading

Finally (and most importantly), Dale is one of the greatest supporters/fans of people and their ideas that I have ever come across. As mentioned in my blog yesterday, he has inspired and taught me how to do the same.

Over the last four years I have watched him support many students and business leaders in their projects. He sits on the board of a number of student startups. He has given funding and invested in ideas and businesses (including my own). He consults and supports whenever he is able to (for free). And he will never hesitate to put you in touch with someone who could help you further


Dale is an incredible mentor, leader and friend. He is connected to the people around him, thinks critically and creatively, supports people and is humble.

And I can’t wait to continue learning from him.


Image is from Dale speaking at an event organised by a student last year

Blog: 340/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day:ID vs Mako - Smoke Filled Room

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Being a cheerleader

Today I got excellent news from some of the people I have been a cheerleader to this year. Two students who struggled through their post grad in accounting messaged me to say they passed, and that they’d be applying for masters degrees next year.

And a student that I wrote a reference letter for and mentored got accepted into one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world. 

And one of the entrepreneurs I mentor was featured in a magazine and showed up all over social media.

I love hearing and seeing people flourish like this. I love celebrating their achievements. And I love standing on the sidelines and being the biggest cheerleader I can be.

Sometimes we’re all too concerned about our own successes and forget that we can be a function of someone else’s success. We can support people, cheer them on and celebrate when they cross the finish line.

So congratulations to the four incredible people that achieved great things today. I will continue to cheer for you and can’t wait for the epic things you’ll all do in your lives.

P.s I haven’t forgotten about the Role Models series…. in fact, tomorrow’s role model is who has shown me the value of cheerleading. Tune in to see who this person is 🙂


Image is of a butterfly I saw this morning that had just emerged from it’s cocoon. The symbolism to this blog post was too great to not upload the picture

Blog: 339/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Vanessa Carlton - A thousand miles

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Role Models: Professor Phakeng

The first time I saw Professor Phakeng was at an event on social cohesion, hosted by the Poverty and Inequality Initiative (PII). I knew little about her before the event, but after seeing her speak I knew that she was a game changer, and that she was a role model to me.

Throughout the event she spoke up and challenged ideas, bringing an intellectual rigor, relevance and confidence that I had never seen in a talk like that. Her insights were profound and I remember being left with so much to think about. 

Since then I’ve been following her on Twitter, and seen how engaged and connected she is with students and people from all over the country.

And when it was announced that she was in the running to be our new Vice-Chancellor, I was so so incredibly excited.

I was even more excited when it was confirmed.

So, briefly, let me tell you why Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng (Kgethi) is one of my role models

Reason 1: Connected and on the ground

The thing that I probably admire most about Kgethi is that she is incredibly connected to students at UCT and around the country.  She engages with people both online (usually Twitter) and in person, where she’s always happy to stop and chat to someone that says hi.

This quality is so unique for a leader in her position, but there should be more leaders that do this. The reason is that being close to the ground helps a leader understand the people they are serving and make better decisions as a result.

By doing this, she is able to respond to the needs of students as well as inspire them, which is phenomenal.

Below are two recent tweets from her. Notice that she wasn’t tagged in the first one, but because she follows the students she is able to respond to them.

Tweet number 2:

Reason 2: Making Education Fashionable #BeltSwag

In December 2017, before she was VC, Kgethi started a hashtag that trended across South Africa and the continent. The hashtag was #BeltSwag, with the idea that students should post their graduation pictures to both recognise them and inspire others. And also, to make education fashionable.

The original tweet is embedded below, followed by a tweet by one of my former students, Glenda, at her graduation with her mom. Glenda’s tweet went viral 🙂

I’ve never seen anything like the #BeltSwag tag, where an academic started a nationwide trend. And it still gets used to this day. 

As a lecturer, this is exactly the type of inspiration I love to see for the students.

Reason 3: Communicating

Kgethi communicates to UCT students and staff to the best of her ability. She sends emails that contain detailed information to update us on the activities that are going on at the university. This includes a recent one where she acknowledged and apologised on the university’s behalf for skeletons that were obtained unethically by the university in the mid 1900s.

Beyond this, she constantly uses her platforms to promote scholarships and opportunities to a wide community. An example of this is the tweet below about funding that is available at UCT.

Her transparency and communication is exactly what a leader should have, and it’s just another reason that she is a phenomenal role model.

Reason 4: Fierce Resolve

Finally, I admire the fierce resolve and commitment that Kgethi shows to the causes she believes in. For example, she has pledged to donate 10% of her salary to fund UCT students, as she believes in making education accessible. And, in order to save money at the university, she cancelled the inauguration ceremony planned for her, which would have cost around R1million.


Kgethi is an incredible leader. She is connected to the students, continues to inspire them, communicates effectively and shows incredibly commitment in all that she does. 

She is one of my role models. And I hope that I can continue to learn from her leadership.


Image is from the PII event in 2016

Blog: 338/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Roald Velden & Sabien Bouw - Shadow

The Final Stretch of #365of25

In the last few weeks I’ve been slacking a little bit when it comes to posting blogs. It’s been a combination of being busy and being really tired. But also, I’ve been focusing on doing things gently and sustainably instead of forcing them. 

That said, I am so close to my goal of #365of25. I’ve written 337 blog posts, a number I would never have expected to achieve. And I only have 28 more to go.

There are also only 16 days before my birthday. And I fully intend on wrapping up the 365 blog posts while I’m still 25.

I’ve decided that I’m going to have two themes for the upcoming blog posts. 

The first will be on role models. I’m going to write 3 blogs on some of the most important role models in my life. These won’t include friends and family, as I’ve mentioned before in the blog how these are my day to day role models. Instead, I’m going to be talking about people that inspire my career path and help me set goals for who I want to become.

The second will be a set of 25 posts about 25 lessons I’ve learnt over the last year. They’ll follow a similar flow to the current blog posts, but with the objective of reflecting on the past year and passing on some of the knowledge I’ve acquired. I’ll likely post two of these a day.

With just over two weeks left of the journey, I am both excited and proud of myself. And to those that have followed this journey since day 1, thank you for being there and for all the encouragement.

It’s the final countdown… We’ve nearly made it to #365of25


Image is from the prom today, obviously 🙂

Blog: 337/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: The Lagoons - California

The Electronic Favourites

A little while ago I wrote about how the internet allows us to have completely different tastes, particularly around music. You can be a fan of genres, artists or songs that close friends and peers have never even heard of.

So on that note, I’ve decided I’m going to share some of my favourite electronic artists that my close friends might never have heard of. There are many, but the top ones include:

  • Seven Lions
  • Said the Sky
  • Illenium
  • Griffyn
  • Mitis
  • BT
  • Roald Velden
  • Alex H
  • Mango 
  • Axis
  • Talamanca
  • Tritonal
  • Tycho
  • Above and Beyond

If you’ve got any artists or songs that none of your peers or friends know, feel free to leave them in the comments 🙂


Image is from my first ever electronic music/trance party, with Tritonal, in 2012

Blog: 336/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Tritonal - Still with me (Seven Lions Remix)