Happy Wednesday and welcome to a brand new month! We have entered the second quarter of the year and I hope you’ve managed to press the refresh button in preparation for what is essentially a new chapter.
Larissa had the opportunity and honour to sit with Ms Thuli Zulu, a woman who is making strides as an entrepreneur in the African landscape, and we hope it inspires you as you reflect on who you desire to become and what you would like to achieve in this new season. Enjoy 😊
Larissa Subira: What we really try to do with bAw under Sonia’s excellent guidance and leadership, is to support, enhance and put light on African women. African women who are leading their lives and just following God, and who are trying to live right and do right. Women who are pursuing their dreams and the aim is to encourage each other because generally the world doesn’t encourage us to do that so I think we have to be each other’s cheerleaders.
The career path that you’re in right now, what you’re doing full time right now, is it something that you wanted to do? Do you feel like you’re on the path that you always wanted to pursue?
Thuli Zulu: Yes. Is this going to be career focused, I just wanted to clarify that.
LS: It’s wholistic. The idea is really about the path you’ve chosen in your life just in terms of what you do with your job and your career. And in terms of the aspect of faith, what made you move towards it and your experience of success and failure, plus issues about being motivated and all of that.
TZ: So the first question is did I know what I wanted to pursue as my path? I think yes, well yes. I made this decision when I was a teenager in high school. We had career guidance. A career guidance lady came to give us insights on different career paths. “What moved you to act on it?” So, it’s a two-pronged answer which speaks to one and two.
I think I was in high school and then people used to come in every month to give us talks on career paths. And I remember I was oscillating between being a medical doctor..perhaps having a medical degree and specializing in psychiatry or psychology because I’ve always had a knack and a love for people.
I really wanted to focus on something that was tailor-made and focused on an individual or small groups of people. And I remember this one time, a woman came in offering scholarships with the university. Often times we’re given the traditional: medical doctor, be a lawyer, be an accountant and she was like we all have different streams. She advised people to take psychometric tests and figure out what they want to do and I was like oh I’m really gravitating towards the communications aspect part of it and broadly.
And that’s when I made the decision, I’m going to major in psychology and comms for my undergrad. Back in the day you could do two majors in undergrad. And I remember in my third year, my lecturer came into the hall. He sat in front at his desk for about 5-10 minutes just in pure silence, put his glass down and didn’t say anything to us. Then he was like, “I’ve just had a patient who has been in my room for 30 minutes banging their head on the wall and I just let them be.”
And the penny dropped then, “I’m not going to do psychology”. And I was like that’s it. Like if anything I’m resolute about today it’s that I’m going to pursue communications in postgrad. And that’s it. It was such a quick decision and I think it’s been one of the best decisions. As a teenager, I had an inclination that that’s what I wanted to do, but the confirmation came at varsity in my third year that I wanted to pursue a career in comms.
LS: So then what was the journey to formalizing it? You did your post grad in comms right?
TZ: I only finished it last year or the year before – my honours. So I did my undergrad and I left and started working. I went through traditional careers and I went to look for my first job and a recruitment agency was like, “No we want you to come work with us”. And I was like, “But I don’t want to be in recruitment or HR. I want communications.” And they were like, “We’ll give you better breadth and depth of the industry and what’s happening out there”. I think it was a good decision.
I stayed with them for a while and learnt quite a bit and was able to scale upwards. And then from there I was head hunted by a consumer brand and ended up in the marketing division. So one interesting thing about my journey is that I’ve never had to actively solicit work. I’ve always been head hunted. And I think the lesson in that is when you pursue something relentlessly, and you focus on it, your gift will make room for you. The Bible says that. If you just work diligently and competently, and you are impeccable with your work , it’ll open other doors because other people are watching.
LS: That’s true and you never know who’s watching and who’s noting unless you just really focus and just work with everyone no matter the task.
TZ: Exactly. And it wasn’t like a deliberated thing or like I was so conscious about it. I decided that I was just going to see what I do best and do me and I think that’s always just been such a winning formula in my life. It’s to bring myself to the place without trying to fit in. I think sometimes we try to mould ourselves into certain things, but up until you’re like oh I get who I am not, then it locks in.
LS: And have you found that the faith walk has always been a part of how you made your decisions? You had these dreams in high school and varsity. And also moving into recruitment which is what you wanted to do at the time. Talk a bit more about that.
TZ: I had a friend who returned from overseas and she mentioned, “I’ve just come back and I was wrapping my head around starting a consultancy and perhaps we could partner up to start something. Like a communications/events company”. I think I was 23. That is when I started my first business. And it was such a daunting thing. People had been coming up to me saying they wanted to start things on the side but nothing had materialized. She was like, “I have a client and I already have work.”
And I was thinking this was a person who was already a work in progress. So I partnered up with her and took a leap of faith and left corporate. But before that I was at another job. I phoned a friend from church and told her that I had studied comms and I wanted to get involved in comms or radio from a production point of view. I wanted to be behind the person who’s on the mic.
And she was like, “Oh my gosh you phoned me at the perfect time because I’m leaving Classic FM and I’m looking for someone to fill my spot!” So when I tell you, God has always etched my path… I said to her, “No, no, no I’ll help you get a person to be behind the mic. I’m not interested. I want to work with the person behind the mic. I want to produce for them.” She said “Thuli, you’ve got a great voice. Come in.” So I went in, did a show reel for them and a voice over, and ended up getting two shows at Classic FM.
Alright so whilst I’m doing that, I’m in studio for 4 hours. What else am I going to do for my day? I want to go back to school, but that’s when my friend gets back from overseas. We were able to start our first comms/events company which was heavily events driven at that stage. So yeah I did that, took a leap of faith. We were young 23-year olds. We won our first tender at a very tender age. We linked up with a reputable company that helped us and became our implementing partner.
Because we didn’t have the infrastructure, but we bought the intellectual property to play, that’s how we started. And we were doing very well at a very young age which meant obviously there were certain principles we weren’t au fait with. Things such as saving money and being able to look at your balance sheet and all the guided principles you need. But it was a learning curve. Then we parted ways after four years. That’s when the recession hit and that’s when I became an independent.
Ah, I was approached by an agent to audition for SABC but I didn’t go in. she was persistent for 2 months. I ended up getting the job. That’s why I’m saying sho, I’ve been quite blessed to have things kind of like meet me. That’s how I was on tv for 2 years. I then left and that’s when I became independent. That’s when I started consulting independently.
I looked for a job for 2 years by the way and no one wanted to hire me. I went through a really rough patch in my life, had to voluntarily hand in my car, and I couldn’t come to church anymore. Even church friends would say they were going to pick me up and wouldn’t. That time in your life, your wilderness experience, is when God shuts everything and everyone out. And I think that’s human nature – you think church people would be there for me? No, no, no – the Holy Spirit said to me, “You’ve got to fully depend on Me and God.”
LS: I can kind of relate being in that dark hole and God forcing you to completely and fully rely on Him… In those times I’m sure you had many questions for God. God should I give up? Is this just a crazy dream? Why did you put this on my heart? Because you know God puts all these ideas and gifts in us…
TZ: I had it out with God hey. Told God you don’t love me. You lied to me. I’m not out there prostituting myself. You know when I was in that phase, men would pursue me. Call me and be like, “Oh I’m in Paris, come for the day.”
TZ: Like really dramatic, big stuff. And I was just like God I’m not trying to entertain that kind of spirit in my life. Here I am, I’m being devoted to You. I’m being honourable, I’m not out there trying to come up with plan B. I’m not compromising my value and my worth. And I was like but God how could You? And God was like, “Why not you?” The Holy Spirit was like, “Who else? Would you want someone else to go through this?”
In retrospect, it was a very blessed time. I stretched my faith muscles. You know when you exercise, you realise that you have another kind of strength and muscle memory. And there’s something about God putting me in the belly of the whale. You know – like the story of Jonah. And it’s symbolic. 3 days could be 3 years. It could be 30 years for someone else. But I had to be insulated like that, to be pruned and to just be in the womb of God. Whether I understood it or not.
I battled with my myself, because you start doubting who you are. You start thinking, what is it? you even think things you normally wouldn’t. Like is there a curse on my life? You start asking your family as to why am I catching the brunt of this? And the Holy Spirit was saying, ‘Be Still – Be still’. I wouldn’t change it for anything because coming out of that has totally transformed and transfixed me on Christ. Not that I wasn’t. If I had to go back there, I would. If it was God’s purpose for my life because He knows us better than we know ourselves and He knows our end from the beginning.
“God never uses anyone greatly until He tests them deeply.” – AW Tozer
LS: And it brings you to the next level of your relationship with God right? In life you can go through a stalemate. Like you said, you build new muscle you didn’t think you could build…but how do you stay motivated? What carries you?
TZ: I think the Holy Spirit, through people I never expected, would come through for me in my life. You know when I look back, I see God’s hand in everything. I have a friend in America who was telling me she’s ready to give up because she hasn’t eaten in 2 or 3 days. I told her I was like, “Babe, there were days when I didn’t eat for 3 days. I thought I was going to die but I didn’t. And you’re not going to die when you don’t eat for a few days.” You see its all mind over matter. You won’t die if you don’t eat for 40-60 days, as long as you have water.
We’re so earthly bound we don’t think about spiritual things. You don’t die hey babes if you don’t eat for a few days. You wont. What kills us is the thought of not eating, and the thought that “Am I at this place” begins to play on our psyche. And that’s when God was like you know what, greater is He that is within you.
I remember having one of my very good friends lend me her car. Like an old car, but you know I was so grateful just to have a car then. But my friends were like Thulz you drive an Audi the same way you drive this old car… So it never changed who I was. God sees who I am. Sometimes we get caught up in ‘I’m here’ or ‘I’m at this place’ or ‘at this station’. The station begins to define us but God knows who you are but not where you are. When God did pull through it was like, “Oh, you just wanted something to shift in my spirit”. During that time I went on a fast. I went home, found that there was a spirit of being unsettled at home…things I would’ve never seen if I was ‘ok’ because I was so caught up in my life. That fast flipped the script in my life.
LS: Did you find that after this, after the fast and the two years, your approach to life, work, career and relationships shifted? Was there like a 180-degree shift?
TZ: Yes, like 180 times 7. It was a total radical shift. I came out of it thin too which wasn’t my goal but that’s the thing. Being whole body, mind, soul and spirit is the reason why God wants us to starve our stomachs. To be stewards of everything around us. Because when I was in the fast, I was awake; where am I going? Who am I spending time with? This place I’m driving to, do I need to? You are conscious and awaaake…
The bible says examine yourself right? That period was phenomenal and things got better. I got my first big contract. I was able to pay for my place 8 months in advance. I was telling a group of ladies where I was giving a talk: “I didn’t put myself under pressure with the place. I had sold all my furniture. I used to live in really beautiful places. But with this place, all I needed was a fridge, a microwave, my bed and music. That’s all I needed in life. And my bible and my books. If I have those things, I can live anywhere. I didn’t need the accessories and the appendages. I cleaned out everything and that’s how I was able to build up a business. I wasn’t owing anyone anything.”
And that’s how I was able to start my company, Creatte – with a double tt – with a friend. Our journeys took different paths after a few years, and I started running the company independently. That’s when I re-branded to CREA8 International with an 8. And yeah, I’ve been running the company for 9 years now.
LS: Oh wow congratulations! So you opened your doors in 2010?
TZ: Oh yes God has been good. We have a pan African team. One of my things is African transformation in gender, more specifically for women. So 80 percent of my staff contingent are women and the rest are men. Incredible men who understand women and just get on with it. And yeah, it’s looking at scaling more.
LS: It’s great that you’re using your platform to empower women, to uplift them and employ them. As a woman who manages women, you’ve worked with successful women and you’re one yourself . What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions about successful women are?
TZ: We’re quite pushy. There’s a fine line between assertiveness and aggressiveness. Men don’t appreciate it when we assert ourselves. They find it non-feminine. Secondly, if you’re an attractive woman, people assume you got your way to the top using your attractiveness or your sexuality. It’s interesting because it’s women against women hey….
When you walk into a room, people already judge you because you have a bright coloured weave on or you have bright lipstick and when they hear you speak… It’s like, “You’re tv girl. You’re not meant to understand business principles or have the acumen.” So I feel like we have to push harder as women, telling yourself you have to get that PHD to get that credibility coupled with who I am. And why? If you have the intellectual prowess, why can’t you just be that and be accepted?
LS: it’s a challenge. You’re penalized for your looks. Penalized for your thinking, for being too outspoken. This unfortunately flows in every aspect of our lives and it’s sad that the church isn’t leading against this kind of thinking because it’s actually not biblical… The church doesn’t push back on this but tends to be at the forefront of pushing certain views of women.
TZ: But for me it’s not what we say, it’s what we do. We can purport to have whatever beliefs, but what you see on social media is a total contradiction. So show me, don’t tell me who you are. Your life reflects everything that happens outside of the pews.
LS: What’s one thing you want African woman to really know about themselves or to take with them as they’re pursuing whatever vision God has given them for their lives?
TZ: I know this is going to sound very archaic, but this is it: You are Enough. The world is ready for the African woman print. We don’t have to overextend or over-exert ourselves, You ‘are’ already.
Thank you Thuli for opening your heart to us and sharing your life-changing experiences! Thuli is the Managing Director of Crea8 International and a communications specialist. She has also been a radio and TV presenter. She is a woman who loves God and seeks to be the best version of herself. You can find Thuli at the below social media sites:
Facebook: Thuli Zulu
Please feel free to drop your questions and comments below as always. Let’s learn together.
Thank you for reading as always sis, and have a great start to Quarter 2 of 2019!
P.S. Save the date for our next event! Details below.