Lacking Confidence I Ventured to New Heights

I had been a “stay-at-home” Mother for over 20 years and after a divorce and the kids growing up, I decided to venture out into the world with absolutely NO confidence or experience in the business sector.

I met Samantha McDonald in 1997 when I went for an interview at her Guest House, Sherwood Forest, in Pretoria. Sam had two Guest Houses at that time. I was in my late 40’s and here was this “young” girl in her 20’s interviewing me.

I remember as clear as day, that first morning when I walked into the dining room and saw all these strangers looking at me and I thought “What do I say to them?” Sam, with a twinkle in her eye and a slow smile, said “Just say good morning and did you sleep well, and for goodness sake – just smile !!! ” - couldn’t have been more simple.

In the late afternoon, I would help out at the Main Guest House, expected to cook a professional supper for the guests and manage bookings and check ins. That was extremely daunting, as I had no computer skills or office experience and had only cooked for friends and family. Samantha and Channing lived at the Guest House at that time, with their baby daughter, and every evening they would sit down to a dinner that I had cooked, to show their support and boost my confidence.

I arrived one morning to the switchboard system and computer and literally took my bag and left. Seeing my despair and anxiety, Sam and Channing decided to do away with the computer and go back to manual invoicing and bookings, until such time as I could cope. Every time doubt threatened me, they were there with so much encouragement and support. Sam would sit down with me and say “There is criticism and there is constructive criticism and it’s the latter I am doing”, and then the shrieks of laughter would peal through the guest house - no hard feelings, just knowledge learnt.

Then came Email and cell phones. I was at a total loss and Sam was once again there to teach me - step for step, just the odd rolling of the eyes again, as I asked, and re asked questions. When the going got tough, I would tell her that I just cannot carry on and she would say “I know you can” and would give a list of positive reasons. I learnt to chat to all my Guests with self confidence, laugh with them, advise them, and deal with any sticky situations.

Sam then spread out into new directions as a side line – writing a book on Guest Housing and a Leisure Guide on Pretoria, as well as a South African accommodation guide. To watch her determination (by now number 3 baby was on its way) and hard work, was an eye opener. We all so admired her.

By now, I’d taken over as the manager of the Guest House, and was quite protective over my new domaine. We worked long and late hours, seven days a week. The only time we really had huge differences was when Sam used to buy antique furniture for the business and we would sit back aghast (can still see her walking in the front door with a smile – just knowing she would get flack) and wonder what on earth she had bought this time, only to take back every word when we saw how perfect a piece fitted. Sam has an incredible sense of humour and the laughter and jokes that kept us going, was amazing. Any DIY jobs that needed attending to, there she was – pregnant or not - up the ladder or down on her knees. If any of us had a problem, Sam was always approachable and was there for us, imparting her determination and experience with her Staff with that smile we came to love and admire.

I stayed in Guest Housing for 15 years, working in beautiful establishments, cooking up a storm, mainly due to Samantha’s encouragement and because she believed in me. And my life now? I moved to a new town, a totally different career at the age of 60, and have so much more confidence in myself. What I’ve learnt is to laugh at situations and most importantly, I’ve learnt to laugh at myself and my own insecurities and, if necessary, to pick myself up and start all over again, because I know “I am confident and I can”.

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