A brave new year to… Leap out of your comfort zone

By Steve Sherman

I run an educational NGO (livingmaths.com) and we teach in around 30 schools.

We run an extra-mural program where we make young kids fall in love with maths and science. Up until March, things were going well. I was working in classrooms, presenting workshops and the plan was to make 2020 a year of growth. Well let’s just say that on 27 March those ideas came to an abrupt halt. I essentially became unemployed overnight!

When lockdown commenced, I was unable to earn an income and this became a problem! With the new year almost upon us, it is usually a time of introspection and a time to reflect on how the past year has worked out and what we can do to make the new year even better. 2020 is ironically the year that we have been gifted 2020 vision. Introspection and self-reflection did not arrive gently. It kicked down the front door!

As luck would have it, problem solving is what I do for a living! Now I get to put this all into practise. I made a brave and conscious decision to take the proverbial truckload of lemons that were dumped on me and turn them into lemonade. I am going to fight to make this a brave new year! I signed up to as many online conferences, online course, workshops and Facebook groups as I could so that I could learn what others were doing during this difficult time. I then offered to run FREE maths enrichment classes for K-8 at two different time zones. Yes I was even teaching from 2am to 5am for the Australian children!

During this time, I began testing the integrity of various software platforms to find the one that met my needs. I had over 1200 children sign up for the 6 weeks. This allowed me to develop an online extra-mural programme that I am very pleased to write is already into its second 8-week cycle. I have opened it up to children all over South Africa, and in September I will be looking to offer opportunities for international students to join in.

My virtual birthday parties are now all the rage. I have done parties for children as young as six up to an adult who turned 82. Parties 2.0 have many benefits. You can invite whoever you want — irrespective of where they are in the world, no cleaning up, no catering bill, they all actually leave at the end of the party plus you get a recording and screenshots from the event. Can you imagine a party with no ‘farribles’? I am busy with a couple of parties each week.

I then initiated projects with international partners in order to run STEM summer camps in the USA and UK. With international partners, I would be able to run quality events with an established organisation and this allowed me to a foot in the door with international markets. Two weeks of Astronaut camp were so successful that we are already planning events for Autumn and winter in the USA.

Finally, I began offering corporate team-building. Many businesses have got their staff working from home. Business has changed and no one knows how long this will last! In order to keep staff motivated and committed, activities that build team morale and foster unity are essential!

With my years of experience running Bingo for charity within the community, I was easily able to adapt to virtual bingo. Scavenger hunts and online Kahoot quizzes are a speciality of mine. Many years of involvement with youth movements in South Africa helped me to develop strong people skills, group games, ice breakers and the know-how to run activities. All I had to do was make the digital translation. Judging by the bookings and the feedback, the transition has been successful.

With the New Year on its way, I have growing optimism for the exciting new life trajectory. I feel that the pandemic gave me two choices. Either give in and hope for the best or be brave and put on my “walk the talk, big-boy pants”, climb out of my comfort zone and start embracing my potential.

My advice to those of you that are suddenly unemployed or going through difficult times – have faith and belief in your own abilities. Focus on what you are good at. Look at ways to monetise your skills. In the virtual market, you no longer have to think local — you can access the world. True growth occurs when you climb out of your comfort zone and take control of the things that you can control.

Be brave! Maybe the pandemic is not your greatest challenge but rather a catalyst for who you were meant to be?

Steve is the Chief Imagination officer of livingmaths.com. He gets people to fall in love with Maths and Science. He has a black belt in buffet.

Click here to read the other Brave new year to… opinion pieces in this year’s Rosh Hashana theme.

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