Anton Pillay is CEO of Coronation and Chairperson of ASISA.

June 2021: South African students have faced many challenges over the past few years, from #FeesMustFall to disruptions of services and bursaries, but the past 16 months may have been their toughest yet as they’ve had to adapt to life in the time of Covid-19.

Offering hope and encouragement this Youth Month, the CEO of Coronation Fund Managers Anton Pillay hosted an interactive webinar to engage with students from four universities around South Africa on how to succeed in spite of adversity and build future careers and lives they can all be proud of. 

Here are his five top tips for young people to get ahead in tough times:

Tip 1: How you Respond is Critical

The sad economic reality is that 46% of the youth of SA are unemployed – that’s 46% of the 17 million 18- to 34-year-olds who form part of the country’s 59-million strong population. The young people attending the webinar have the opportunity to make a difference and act as role models. Young people can’t control macro external forces, but they can control how they respond and can decide not to be a part of that statistic. “It’s normal and understandable to feel anxious and exhausted sometimes, but don’t make room in your life for complacency. How you respond to crises and difficult circumstances could make all the difference and will assist you in dealing with future challenges,” said Pillay, who advised young people to also take a break during the vacation.

Tip 2: Have a Purpose and Aim High

Asked how they felt about the future, 77% of the webinar attendees said they were excited about the future. Pillay was impressed with the outcome and stated that it was the right attitude to have. He assured the students that it was absolutely vital to define their own purpose in life and aim high whilst maintaining strong values and high levels of integrity. “If you aim low, you might just get there,” he said. Aiming high often goes hand in hand with planning ahead for the long term, being a team player, being performance-driven, setting ambitious goals for yourself and operating your own life and personal brand like a business, he said.

Tip 3: Cultivate the Characteristics of a Resilient Person

Resilient, successful people all have these characteristics in common:

  • Curiosity: Young people today have unprecedented access to information and must use this opportunity to find out as much as they can about the world, the career they want to pursue and even the company they want to work for.
  • Empathy: People who have empathy and kindness develop greater insights about life and also form stronger connections that could mean a great deal to them and the people around them later in life. It Is also important to give back to society.
  • Courage: It’s not about being fearless, it’s about having fear and doing it anyway.
  • Agility: You need to learn to be flexible in life, roll with the punches and adapt to your changing circumstances. Life is unpredictable – learn to deal with it.
  • Optimism: Most importantly, you must always choose to be optimistic. There is no time for languishing. Look ahead, have goals and create a path for yourself. In life, it’s all about self-efficacy.

Tip 4: Learn to Face Challenges Head-on By:

  • Continuing to develop your skills and knowledge. You will learn a lot during your time as students, but it cannot stop there. You must adopt an attitude of lifelong learning and use every single day to keep learning.
  • Responding to the challenge you are faced with, notwithstanding your circumstances. We need to ensure we respond positively to challenges to ensure we learn from the experiences. Challenges provide fertile ground for exponential learning.
  • Always getting up and trying again if you don’t succeed. There is no harm in failure, but you must get up and try again. Ignore the naysayers, even if it means leaving them behind. Grit is an absolutely critical factor in success.

Tip 5: Always be the Best Version of Yourself

Decide to always be the best version of yourself, no matter your circumstances. This also means not comparing yourself to others or getting distracted by other people’s journeys, because everyone’s path and talents are different. Social media can cause what we call “relative depravation” - the feeling of inadequacy to others whose lives look more glamorous, but remember social media is not reality. All you need to focus on is being the best version of yourself, being a good person, mentor and role model, and giving back to society wherever you can. This could be as simple as adopting a first-year student to mentor when you are further along in your studies. You also need to remember that you can’t do it all alone and need to learn to lean on your friends, family, lecturers and network.

“You have to decide to always be the best version of yourself, no matter your circumstances.” ~ Coronation CEO Anton Pillay to SA’s university students during Youth Month 2021

As a final word of encouragement, Pillay told the students that it was important to make time for fun and celebrate all their big and small successes along the way.

“Remain strong and focused, as people and as a country. The lessons that you have learnt during this period will stand you in good stead in your life. You’ve got to be entrepreneurial in spirit, take responsibility for yourself and your growth, take control of your own destiny, be a hard worker because nothing comes easy and go beyond the call of duty by doing better than the bare minimum that is expected of you. Live your life with a bigger purpose. You’ve got this!”

Anton Pillay is CEO of Coronation and Chairperson of ASISA.

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