Let's get back to loyalty
Updated: Jul 24, 2019
– a memoir.
I have not written much lately; life has been a whirlwind...
In the past 8 months, I have experienced many joyful moments traveling the world, training my new horse, witnessing loving matrimonies, appreciating the joy of a new life (Jack is the happiest baby I have ever met), drinking liqueur coffees in view of Elephants and Rhinos, winning numerous (undeserving) accolades and watching my fiancé’s business thrive. Indeed, the past few months have been privileged and eventful. Yet, as many of us would like to avoid, there have been unforgiving hardships, tough decisions, loss of family and friends, sprints of depression and even guilt. Fortunately, all endured and highlighted the importance of loyalty. Loyalty to yourself, your family, your ethics and your goals.
Firstly, context of some tough decisions that needed to be made. As a management consultant, when completing a business model change and restructuring project, I would always wonder how the CEO was going to feel when he had to relay the message that the process most likely will lead to reshuffling staff and letting redundancies go. Well, now I know how it feels... Late last year I had to restructure a company given market dynamics and make some drastic painful decisions; letting staff go. For those who have not started or led a venture – your founding team is a family; you will feel a loyalty to them as they push you to be a better founder, they sanity check your (often) crazy strategies, they applaud you no matter how many times you stutter, and they motivate you to keep going when you are simply burnt-out and frustrated with the corporate nonsense. I was lucky to have a full team of rockstar cheerleaders behind me.
Unfortunately, strategy and hypotheses are not real life, things change and you have to be agile. Staying loyal to a vision, goal and setting boundaries of self-preservation will mean taking decisions that are hard - but being principled will leave all better off. Since the restructure, I had to remind myself that the decisions taken were not disloyal to anyone, but a necessary change.
Secondly, the loss of a friend. Those who know me, confidently label me as an animal lover. My dogs are like children. I feel they are grateful, loving and loyal - often more than most humans, and stupidly forgiving of our many flaws. They are dependent on us, and yes, it is absolutely a selfish love. The affirmation of their love toward us, regardless of what we have said or done, is truly endearing.
Anyways, I had a little Yorkshire Terrier named Hoity Toity for nearly 12 years. She was miniature in size, but a giant at loyalty and love. She was the “oopsie” of my first promiscuous Yorkie, Quila, who flirted with the resident Yorkie male at my mom’s house (unbeknown to us), whilst I was on Contiki tour in Europe. Shortly following, Hoity Toity was born and naturally, I adopted her.
Hoity, as a pup, traveled to Stellenbosch University with me whilst studying, as did her mom Quila, and over her lifetime ventured with me to many places across beautiful South African landscapes; wine farms, hotels, restaurants, and beaches. A great travel companion that would stay awake, listened to my ideas, never complained (not even about my folk music) and loved the biltong bites on the long drives.
Hoity’s personality was starkly different from that of her mother, Quila. Quila was cheeky, demanding, overweight, shared her bed with other dogs, would sit on anyone’s lap and loved kids. Hoity, on the other hand, was very considered in what she did, who she paid attention to, what she ate and how she loved. She was truly Hoity Toity, and I loved her.
In October 2018, the vet diagnosed Hoity with 4 cancerous tumours around her lungs. She often struggled to breathe and coughed periodically. He recommended that as long as she is not in discomfort and has a good appetite, then we should simply monitor her until it's time. Soon after this diagnoses, I went on a trip to Underberg with only her. I knew it would be our last road-trip together. I tried to imagine my little trips to nowhere without her, or who I would read my books to, but rather I was simply sad. How short their little lives are. She stayed strong for long, but I could see that she was rapidly deteriorating.
In January 2019, I took her to the vet as a follow-up. The doctor did not expect her to live as well (and as long) as she did since the diagnoses. She was a little fighter. Yet, when I finally made the decision to put her to rest and euthanised, I realised how selfish I had been. I probably should have taken her earlier but, I did not want to accept that my little best friend of 12 years, my side-kick, needs to leave me. (That is why I say we have a selfish love with dogs.) When the vet eventually held her for the injection, she had dropped so much weight (she still ate lots) but the energy consumed to simply breathe exceeded her daily food intake.
Watching her take her last breath, albeit peaceful, was gut-wrenching and reminded me how futile life is. All we have at the end is the memory of those who we have lost, i.e. the memory you make of yourself is hopefully one that is worth remembering! Ideally one of loyalty and honesty.
As such, in memory of Hoity’s special little loyal spirit, it would be an injustice to not share three principles that she exemplified that embodies loyalty. Something we should all strive for as an adjective when it comes to all that we do.
1. Set boundaries
When we brought Hera (our American Staffordshire puppy) home last year, Hoity was not very impressed. She often stared at Hera as though she was some peasant dog that we picked up and is now unsettling her perfect abode as a princess and the house favourite. She did not play or engage with Hera much, but she did not need to. You don’t need to be friends with everyone, I guess. Hera is boisterous, bigger and louder than Hoity. Regardless of Hera’s 10x size versus Hoity, this did not stop her from setting very clear boundaries with her new housemate.
I was in awe of how Hera would back away from the bowl if Hoity would want to eat, or that Hera would sleep in the smaller dog bed because Hoity had claimed the big one. These boundaries were remarkable; showing that being the biggest or the loudest will not determine the level of respect that you can earn. Hoity was simply persistent in what is hers, what she expects and what she allows. She was loyal and clear about what she wants, no grey areas. We should do the same.
Hoity was tiny and fragile. She did not like children and often tried to snap at them. This was not because she wasn’t a loving dog. She simply recognised that she was very small and that kids might underestimate their strength and hurt her. Of course, it would be unintentional of them, but she quickly defaulted to self-preservation when she felt threatened. In today’s world, we have become so accepting of all that surrounds us, even if they are not good for us. I urge you to say no to things (and people) that are not in your, or societies, best long-term interest. Prioritise your health, sanity, moral fibre, dreams, future ambitions, and your environment. In other words, by loyal to yourself and self-preserve.
3. Be intentional
Loyalty is intentional. It takes commitment, forgiveness, and support.
Hoity was my shadow; whether I deserved her loyalty or not, she decided I did. From the moment I would arrive home, or to the moment I’d pick up my keys to leave. No matter where I was, the bath, the pool, at my desk, cleaning or relaxing on the couch– there she would be. I never had to look far to find her. She might have been a bit too possessive of me when it came to other dogs, and she barely sat with other people if I was around - but she was intentional about her love for me. She knew who she loved, and she stuck to it. Even after I’d leave her at my folks for months when traveling, the moment I return she would bolt toward me -ready to forgive and to come home with me again.
So be loyal, stick to who or what you love and forgive quickly.
I have been applying these 3 principles of late, at work and home. It has helped me stay convicted to some tough decisions. I have had to set boundaries to protect the fortress (loyalty to my ethics), prioritised my health in self-preservation from stress (loyalty to myself) and I remain loyal to those who have shown the same to me (loyalty to others). Next – I will be applying these to all my relationships. Let the dominoes fall as they should.
My love for both Hoity and Quila is hard to explain. They both taught me so much, and I was fortunate to have shared many memories with them. I hope these principles will encourage you to leave a legacy of loyalty in all that you do, from business to family.