“I Choose Ambition over Convenience” – Lesego Maphanga

This article forms part of SME South Africa’s Youth Month 2018 series ‘A Seat at the Table’ – an exploration of SA Youth’s efforts to step up and effect positive change. Follow all our #YouthMonth2018 coverage here.

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Lesego Maphanga is what you would call a classic overachiever who has spent his life determined to go beyond the expected.

Hailing from Benoni, the 28-year-old is used to juggling many balls and is steadily establishing himself as a force to be reckoned within a number of industries.

He is a corporate trailblazer with multiple interests including media and entrepreneurship.

Maphanga is currently manager of Emerging Payments at Standard Bank. He joined the bank in 2016 after completing an internship as an innovation strategist while studying towards an Industrial & Systems Engineering degree at the University of Pretoria. Maphanga also hosts his own radio show, Urban Culture Drive, on online radio platform CliffCentral, a lifestyle show that covers everything from career and business advice, to finances and relationships for a millennial audience.

“[Unplugged and In Charge] is about redefining the status quo. For example, many people would say that engineering and banking do not mix. But they do. What do you think is behind internet banking? Some people say that you can’t be an entrepreneur and have a nine-to-five job. Of course you can. It’s about living your life the way you want to according to your dreams and goals.”

Maphanga himself has ambitions to venture into entrepreneurship.” In the current economic environment in South Africa, it’s important not to be an island. As many employees as possible need to convert to becoming employers. It’s the only way we will create economic transformation,” he says in an interview on the Standard Bank blog.

It takes a visionary mindset to be willing to inconvenience oneself for the pursuit of one’s ambition

Success and sacrifices

There is however a price to pay for great ambition, Maphanga says, but it’s worth it.

“80% of the time it sucks, it never makes logical sense in the beginning and no one you explain it to will understand, but that’s because it’s not their ambition so they do not have to.

“It’s hard and gruelling and making continuous sacrifices comes with the territory, but I assure you that it is worth the realization of living life on your own terms and discovering your own limits as a person. It is a bitter sweet feeling and your future self will thank you for it. Perhaps that is the biggest motivation of all – to be happy with oneself, internal validation is second to none.”

SME South Africa sits down with Maphanga to talk the price of chasing your dreams and what other young South Africans can learn from his grind. 

I want it all

Multiple careers – “As a young person I understand the frustrations of having to choose between a career and my creative dreams and aspirations. I have chosen what is unpopular with many autocratic leaders in corporate, to pioneer the concept of pursuing multiple careers simultaneously.

“I am adamant that as people we are multidimensional and thus our careers should be too, I don’t believe in ‘work-life balance’, but rather comply with ‘work-life integration’, this is because work is a large part of our lives and if it does not ebb-and-flow with our personal lives none of us can achieve our full potential.”

Overcoming the instinct to play it safe – “We cannot ignore the reality that because of socio-economic factors most young people are in employment in places that kill their souls everyday. We are not urged to follow our dreams, but rather to play it safe and follow the path furthest from poverty as possible, for example –  be a doctor, accountant, engineer, etc.”

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I choose ambition over convenience

It comes down to ambition – “For one to be an industry leader it has less to do with technical competencies, and more with personal ambition. It takes a visionary mindset to be willing to inconvenience oneself for the pursuit of one’s ambition.”

I have learnt that ‘the more you do, the more you can do

Experience offers wisdom

Accept failure as part of the process – “[I have been successful] mostly because I have failed in many of my previous endeavours and through it I have strengthened my character. I also have a strong support structure in my family and friends who are forever spurring me forward.”

‘Self-education is key’ – “Many who excel in their careers do a lot of learning on the job and also reading up on the subject when they get home – essentially a lot on self-educating.”

Lessons from the corporate world

Leadership skills – “Corporate culture is by its nature very structured, focused on target attainment and is competitive. It’s because of this that people with corporate backgrounds tend to be successful when venturing into any industry outside of these institutions. Skills such as pragmatism, execution, diligence and leadership are embedded in you even if you spend a short amount of time in a corporate.”

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Michelle Strydom
Michelle Strydom
I'm a journalist for online publication, SME South Africa. I'm a BA journalism graduate from the University of Johannesburg. My areas of focus when it comes to writing are entrepreneurs, startups, marketing and funding. I also enjoy creative writing and proofreading.