Blog post

Remembering Nelson Mandela 100 years after his birth: Three great lessons from his life

By Joanna IK

July 18 marks 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela. July 18 is an occasion to honour his work. I can recall one of his quotes, his encouragement to make choices which reflect hope and not fear. Nelson Mandela has led the way.

This is what I wish to share with you today. What impresses me the most in his life, a life defined by understanding and giving: three facts, three great lessons to remember in life. In a few words:

  • Remain true to our values and ideals
  • Choose to lead a life free from bitterness and anger
  • Never stop dreaming

The first lesson

The fact that he remained true to the values and ideals which illuminated his path in life – his life purpose to extinguish hatred in his country. He wasn’t afraid to pay the price (incarceration) for his choice to defend himself and the right of all individuals to equal and equitable participation in life. There was no external threat and no inner fear that could prevent him from realising his life purpose.

The second lesson

The fact that even though he spent 27 years in prison, when he was released, he chose to lead a life free from bitterness. Even though he spent the years considered to be the most creative behind bars, his soul remained free from the burden of anger. He chose to forgive those who had sent him to prison. What helped him to get through prison was a Victorian poem entitled “Invictus” and the following verse:

I am the master of my fate

I am the captain of my soul

Much later, the title of the poem would inspire Clint Eastwood into making a movie, by the same title, about the work of Mandela (Makropoulos, 2013).

The third lesson

The fact that he didn’t abandon his dreams. He didn’t stop dreaming that he could become the person he wanted to be before incarceration. Yes, he had suffered in prison. Yes, the years had gone by. Yet he wasn’t afraid to live life. The zest for life and giving was greater that the force of habit. In 1993, three years after his release, he was awarded with the Noble Peace Prize. A year later, he became president of South Africa. He became a person defined by selflessness, tolerance and sense of shared purpose (United Nations, 2018).

Nelson Mandela showed us how to become leaders. No, we don’t need a team to lead. We can be the leader of our own life. That is, defend ourselves; believe in the goodness of others; hear and be heard; forgive and co-create.

On a personal note, I am hopeful that we can all realise that any means of violence is behaviour that hurts. And choose to communicate our needs and fears openly and directly, in a respectful way. Nelson Mandela has led the way.

Have a creative week!

A blogger friend, Joanna


Μakropoulos, Ι. (2013, 18 December). Invictus: O anikitos Nelson Mandela (in Greek)

United Nations. (2018, 9 July). Deputy Secretary-General’s remarks on Nelson Mandela Centenary (as prepared for delivery)

Photo: Mandela Wall – Freedom Festival 2014 by Ralph

Click here to read the poem