Ten to twenty years ago following your heart would not have been an option. When you had bills to pay and mouths to feed, you did what would earn money. Times, however, have changed. People are now learning more about themselves and that life is about much more than surviving. And more and more they are crafting their lives around what is truly important to them.

Taking control of our lives is nevertheless quite daunting. Sometimes we think back and suddenly realise that working 50+ hours a week has become the norm – and at least we receive a cheque at the end of each month. What we need to do then is to tap into the networks of people who are in the same boat as us, but are doing things differently and actually succeeding . . .

24Slides is an inspirational talk platform driven by the idea that ordinary people have immense power and that our actions and decisions have a ripple effect throughout the world. Its message is put across by different speakers using just 24 (Powerpoint) slides displayed in 24 seconds to share their ideas and message.

Magnify, don’t multiply

Dr Mark Vella. Photo taken by Wilfred Diedricks

Dr Mark Vella, the director of the School of Lifestyle Medicine and founder of 24Slides, opens the floor by going back to 1975 and the publication of Shirley Conran’s book, Superwoman. This, along with other events, contributed to a culture of believing that we could do anything – we could be it all and have it all. However, with the appearance of world’s first personal computers (PCs) in 1978 and the speed of technological development ever since, this is no longer true.

The pace of life has increased fourfold so that we are drowned by information and life rushes on too quickly for us to control. Unfortunately, to our detriment, we still try to live by the idea of holding the reins.

The effects can be seen in the rise of social stress indicators.

Mark Vella argues that we cannot do things as before. We need to “magnify and not to multiply”, meaning we should do less, but be more focused. We should spend more time on the things of quality and deeply immerse ourselves in our passions. This, he explains, can be achieved by leverage (using less effort to achieve goals/get things done by collaborating with those more skilled than us), understanding that success is not just about hard work, money, and finally, concentrate on changing that which we can influence. In closing, he says: “Find what you love and let it kill you. Put more effort into the things that really matter and do fewer things, deepen your effort and find what you are really good at, push and do it so passionately that you would die for it. And success is likely to come to you.”

Does this serve you?

Leske Neethling. Photo taken by Wilfred Diedricks.

Next up is Leske Neethling, a personal trainer and lifestyle educator who trains people outdoors exclusively and aims to offer a holistic approach to fitness. Her website opens with the words:

“Spending more time outdoors could be the best thing you ever do for your health.”

When she turned 30, Leske’s body told her “Look, I’m actually not going to support you anymore.” For 10 years she had been running herself into the ground. Since she had been told of her mother’s murder, Leske had been working on adrenalin, had not taken care of herself at all and was reacting to her circumstances. One day she suddenly thought of asking herself a four-word question which she has used as a tool throughout her life ever since: “Does this serve me?” She explains that often we like holding onto pain or grief or toxic relationships or regrets or financial decisions which cause us to become stuck or immobilised. We do not know which way to go. Like the monkey whose paw got stuck in a trap, we also do not want to let go of our bananas. But, as Nelson Mandela once said, “Once a person is determined to help themselves, there is nothing that can stop them.”

The universe is a mystery

Bruce Bassett. Photo taken by Wilfred Diedricks
Bruce Bassett. Photo taken by Wilfred Diedricks


Bruce Bassett is a modern-day Einstein who studies the entire universe. He is the head of cosmology at AIMS, the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences, which is a network of centres of excellence for postgraduate education and training. It is believed that the next Einstein will come from Africa and so South Africa is currently leading the discussion in finding an answer to a question that has baffled scientists for many years.

Bruce explains that often science is presented as knowing the answer, but goes on to share some of the greatest mysteries of our time, namely the existence of dark matter and dark energy.

Normal matter, the atoms and things we can see, makes up only 4% of the universe. The rest is dark matter (interacts only with the universe through gravity) and dark energy (a mysterious force which causes the universe to expand). Years ago it was believed that the universe was static, eternal, but 80 years ago we found that the universe was expanding. Also, while we had thought that the expansion was slowing, it actually is accelerating. To date we have not been able to figure out why and how fast. The scientific method of reducing matter to smaller individual parts doesn’t work in this instance seeing that dark matter, which makes up the biggest part of the universe, cannot be seen. And so, Bruce says, we know a lot, but we have come a long way to understand that there is a lot that we do not know.

A song a week

Simon van Gend. Photo taken by Wilfred Diedricks
Simon van Gend. Photo taken by Wilfred Diedricks

Simon van Gend has been a musician for 25 years. His band is called Simon and the Bande á Part, a introspective indie/folk/rock band that is a “unique blend of folksie foot-tapping red wine fireside poetry.” On Valentine’s Day last year Simon started trying really to find out what he could do with his music. He was inspired by Ira Glass, who had spoken about why writers (or artists) write/create. According to Ira, we write to copy the people we think are good artists, but then there is the problem of “The Gap”: we realise we aren’t as good as they are; that actually we are really bad, and therefore we quit. But Ira says: “To close the gap between who you are and who you want to be you have to put in the hours and do the work.” Simon decided to put this to the test and set himself the challenge of writing 52 songs in 52 weeks. To stop himself from backing out, he announced his project on Facebook and wherever else he could. As he says:

“Find something in the present that is easy to do that puts your future self into a position it can’t back out of.”

He had many ways to keep himself on track and he toured the US receiving feedback to help him choose 20 songs for an album. The recording was done and launched at September’s First Thursday event. Simon ended his talk by playing his song “Watermelons”, which is ultimately about relinquishing the myth of the best is still to come or having bigger fish to catch, and instead just relishing in the watermelon juice dripping down your face.

All these people come from different walks of life but have one vital thing in common: they are all living their passions deeply and completely. They are fully immersed in what they love doing. And if they can, why not also you?

24Slides is held every two months on a Thursday evening from 17:30 to 18:30 at the Wellness Warehouse in Kloof Street. If you need more information, contact The School of Lifestyle Medicine at 021 438 4155 or visit their page here.

[Main picture credit: Photo taken by Wilfred Diedricks]