Rowan Spazzoli

Strategist. Lecturer. Consultant

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

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

Pause. Look up

I often get overwhelmed when I’m working. I have a sudden realisation about the volume of work that needs to be covered. Or I can’t get through the complexity of something, which throws me off course.

My normal approach used to be to double down. To force myself through. To sit in my chair and stare at the screen until something came to me.

The issue is that this made me more anxious. And compounded the problem I was facing.

But I’ve started something new.

When I first get overwhelmed I stop what I’m doing. I leave my computer. I go outside to my favourite bench.

I pause.

And I look up.

I allow myself to sit in that spot. And look up at the trees, across to the yachts in the dock or into this distance at Table Mountain and Signal Hill.

For as long as I want.

I pause until I get clarity. Until I am able to calm myself.

Once I feel like I have managed to do so, I get back up and go inside. And I am able to tackle the problem or overcome the obstacle.

Sometimes you don’t need brute force.

Sometimes you just need to pause. And look up


Image was taken looking up at the tree from my favourite reflection spot at the business school 🙂

Blog: 350/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Stars Fall Down - The Parlotones

P.s. thank you to everyone for the kind words after my last post <3

Leverage your position, change the world

I remember getting to Grade 8 and feeling like a tiny ant compared to the staff and older students. I remember getting to my first year of university and feeling very small and insignificant compared to the lecturers and senior students. And I know that since finishing my undergrad I’ve felt like a tiny speck compared to the grown ups in the working world.

But I also remember being in Grade 12 and feeling like I could get anything done at the school. I remember getting the assistant lecturer position and feeling like I had access to the whole university. And now I feel like I’ve gotten roots in the working world.

There are many situations where a group of people will have significantly less power in their environment. This could be because of age or work experience…. but it can also be along race, gender or sexual orientation lines as well as other imbalances caused by the past.

When you’re in a position of power, whether as a Grade 12 student, a lecturer or someone higher up in a work environment, you can leverage your position to help those with less power. This might be as simple as introducing them to the right people or advocating for them when necessary.

The same applies to situations of historical imbalance.

It’s easy to say “there’s nothing I can do about the past.”

But you can.

Leverage your position. Help change the world.


Image was taken at the prom yesterday 🙂

Blog: 349/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day:Matthew Mole -Have I told you

P.s. I know I’ve been a bit slow on the blogs. But I’m still determined to get them done soon 🙂 

Friday Shoutout: Mo Malele

“My brilliance is best unfiltered, so take me as I am or don’t take me at all”

– Mo Malele

Today’s Friday shoutout goes to Mo Malele, one of the main people that motivated me to pursue my own path. Mo is one of the most exhilarating, creative and inspiring people I have ever had the fortune of interacting with. During our post grad accounting degree she made the leap to follow her dream, which catalyzed me into doing the same.

Side note: the motto used in our accounting degree by the lecturers was “#StayWithTheHerd”…. this didn’t sit well with Mo and Me. So our motto became #DeviateFromTheHerd

Mo has just started a blog for her writing and other creative pursuits. She also performs spoken word poetry and is soon to record an album. Oh, and she’s a Director Of Marketing And Business Development at BSK Marketing and was previously at P&G. 

You can follow her blog here  or at the address below:

https://momalele.wordpress.com/

And here is a video of her performing some of her spoken word:


Thank you for helping me find my own path Mo, for being so wonderful, and for taking the leap to #deviatefromtheheard


Image is of Mo and me on Jammie Plaza in 2016, after we decided to #deviatefromtheherd

Blog: 346/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Muse - Algorithm

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

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