Book Review: Stand Against Bland by Sylvester Chauke

When I picked up this book, I really did not know what to expect. God knows, in recent months our book stores have been flooded with memoirs, some of them of a questionable quality. Having worked for a global advertising agency myself and subsequently starting my own business some 22 years ago, I felt like this is a book I should have written. Filled with some level of envy, I initially ploughed through Sylvester’s book with some mild cynicism. But boy, oh boy, was I blown away.

I’ve never met Sylvester in person. I only know of him through his work and the excellent reputation he has built for himself, as a young black professional in the world of advertising, marketing and brand communications. Like he says in the book, this reputation was especially visible during his time at Nandos. In reading his book, I can genuinely say, what a pleasure it was to meet him. An excellent story teller, the person I met through this book is an authentic human being with a purpose-driven approach to life. His servant-leadership style shines through in how he generously pays tribute to the individuals who gave him his first break in the world of work, at the world-renowned advertising agency, FCB. This generosity of spirit flows through to everyone who has touched his life, including the people he currently works with in his business, DNA Brand Architects.

Thorough and meticulous in his language expressions, Sylvester is both vulnerably honest and yet practical in taking the reader through the story of his 39-year old life. From sweet anectodes about how he sometimes used to travel with his mother to work in the Johannesburg CBD, to how he was embarrassed when his family had to move to an undesirable part of Soweto due to financial constraints, all the way to realizing that he was different. He has a whole chapter on Self Acceptance, where he articulates extremely well the stuff that applies to all of us, regardless of our sexual orientation. In it, he takes us through the journey of how he finally concluded to himself: “Yes, I am a gay black man, but I’m so much more than that.” This was very powerful for me.

Sylverster’s genuine humility and lack of arrogance is evident in how he constantly acknowledges his disadvantages growing up, while not taking for granted his fortunes and blessings, such as his parents’ unconditional love. He quips that while he knows that he is special, he also knows that he has had to put in the hard work over time – and that other black professionals in the game of advertising have also gone through similar experiences. He is not self-obsessed, especially about his sexual orientation. He says: “Be yourself. Just do the work.”

I’m very happy to say that Sylvester’s book also expanded my vocabulary, somewhat. There were rich words used such as: temerity; salubrious, venerable, unbridled and iniquitous, to name a few. A well sought-after key-note speaker, Sylvester also gave me some quick take-away nuggets I will definitely use whenever I do my own talks. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

The following is a summary of these take-aways:

*Cautious optimism and self-questioning keeps you honest and grounded.

*Successful people don’t win the lotto. They simply develop themselves, and continuously apply their learnings to their lives and undertakings. Basically, there are no short cuts.

*We can’t all be entrepreneurs, just like we can’t all be employees. We need entrepreneurs to create businesses that hire employees.

*In business, one enemy is one too many. Build your bridges, don’t burn them. You never know who you will need to collaborate with in the future.

* “You need to have a good relationship with failure. Life will work out in its own way, at its own pace. There will be successes and setbacks. All are part of the fascinating rich tapestry of existence.”

*Nothing is ever so bad that it couldn’t be a lot worse. Keep things in perspective.

*Take care of what you look like. You make your outfit, but your outfit also makes you.

*If we don’t season our hard work with fun, life becomes bland.

Sylverster’s book is well-written, with a sincere and colourful description of his world. Its pace is so tangible, so much so that you can picture yourself living in the book. And I think that’s what all biographies should do. All I can say is, what a privilege it is to have finally met you Mr Sylvester Chauke.

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