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Heroes of the COVID Crisis: How Nolan Pillay of StraightTalkWithNolan Stepped Up To Make A…

Heroes of the COVID Crisis: How Nolan Pillay of StraightTalkWithNolan Stepped Up To Make A Difference During The Covid19 Pandemic

An Interview With Penny Bauder

Don’t sit back, and watch others move forward with their lives, make a choice to take your power into your own hands to achieve the success you long for, time to unleash your potential. Success is not going to walk towards you, go out and make a difference to the world. Life does not have to end where you are.

As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nolan Pillay.

Nolan Pillay is the brilliant and dynamic founder of the trademarked self-development programme: Be the BEST Version of YOURSELF™ running under the company StraightTalkWithNolan (Pty) Ltd in Africa. Rivalling the likes of similar international programs that have flooded the continent, Nolan’s life-altering system has more than just one homegrown advantage to offer.

A born South African, Nolan has an almost intuitive knowledge of the diverse range of pulses that make up the heartbeat of the African continent; and most importantly, he has been there. Much like many South Africans today, Nolan’s childhood was a humble one. He has seen poverty and hunger — done homework by candlelight, worked multiple jobs to put food on the table and to get himself through school.

He has been down and out, unemployed, had sleepless nights worrying about keeping the roof over his family’s heads. Most importantly, Nolan Pillay is the man who never gave up on his dreams and who is ready to share his personal success story with the world — if only for the purpose of empowering others to achieve the same through his program.

It was at his very first job as a packer and sweeper that Nolan realised that he wanted to do more with the rest of his life. He took on extra hours at work in order to finance his studies, achieving not just one, but two diplomas and then moving on to achieve a SAP certification — one of the highest qualifications in the IT world at the time.

Without having any real-life role models available to guide him, Nolan kept himself motivated by delving into whichever self-development programs he could invest in. Considering all the obstacles he went through, including Apartheid South Africa, and experiencing covid pneumonia in January 2021, spending 13 days in ICU with 58% oxygen levels and still coming out stronger than ever, Nolan believes there is more to do to make our world a better place.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

I grew up in a small town called Pietermaritzburg, at the time we were exposed to Apartheid South Africa, where freedom was non-existent. Further to those challenges, I came from a very poor but humble, poverty-stricken background, going to school with no shoes on a rainy day, no jersey on a cold day and studying with a candle because my parents could not afford to pay the electricity bill. As a 10-year-old, I remember going out at 5am in the mornings, together with my siblings, selling the delicacies my mum used to make. If we did not make a sale, it just meant no lunch for school and going to bed in the evening without eating anything.

As I grew older, I took a job as a “PA” and that is not Personal Assistant, its petrol attendant, they use to call us “bowser boys” back then. Forward wind to 1989, when I wrote my matric (grade 12) and failed, this led me to attempting suicide because I focused a lot on what society would think of me, I was embarrassed. God was on my side, and I survived the attempt. I got a job as a Packer/Sweeper and worked hard in my career which led me to become a certified SAP Consultant, one of the highest qualifications in the IT world at the time. This taught me many life lessons and one of them was not to play the victim or self-pity mindset, I learnt to use any obstacles as stepping stones to do better with my life.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. As humans we have so many negative thoughts daily, imagine if all of us could turn those negative thoughts into positive ones, would the world not be a better place to live in? The resonation was growing up, I could have allowed myself to stay stuck in the negative apartheid South Africa and worry about how we were treated but I chose not to. As angry as I was, I had to make sure I protect my own sanity and turn them into positive outlooks and train myself to “trust the process” and focus on the future.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

This is my all-time favorite which was shared to me by a friend in the early 90’s at work. “Success is not to be pursued; it is to be attracted by the person you become”. I believe in the law of attraction and know that my thoughts have the power to manifest anything in my life. This is relevant to the work I am doing with our youth, where my focus is on teaching our youth how to improve their mindset, thought process and authentic leadership skills. Many of our youth chase success and believe that it happens overnight, we see them jumping from one start up to the next all the time until they realise that sustaining themselves in what they do is equally important. They must follow their purpose and why, by doing this I teach them to “trust the process” always, link their purpose to their values and become the best version of themselves.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

Great thank you for this amazing question. One step back, I contracted covid-pneumonia in January 2021 and was admitted into ICU with 58% oxygen levels and spent 13 days in the ICU. I am still recovering from covid, and due back for final X-Rays in October 2021. During my time in the ICU, I was exposed to lots of trauma, patients passing on daily, operations in progress, seeing distraught families, losing weight, etc. It was a painful time in my life but again I used all the skills I learnt to help me through this phase of my life. There is no cure for covid, when I was admitted into the ICU, I was fed with vitamins only, I had to use the mind hacks and techniques I learnt to get me through this phase. Basically, I had to help myself! While I was in the ICU, I plucked up the courage to do a two-minute video to inspire others to take care of themselves and to avoid ending up in the ICU like me. Since then, I wrote a book entitled “My COVID Journey”, the main aim of the book is to help save lives, in the sense that if someone gets covid, they can follow the mind hacks and techniques that I used on myself to recover. The second aim is for families who lost loved ones to experience what a covid patient goes through, including all the trauma. I strongly believe this book will help millions of people as covid is still lingering around. I would like to add that I was not an Author, but I did it anyway, now I can call myself an Author.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

Someone who can face any obstacle in life and come out fighting stronger than ever. Through my covid phase, I showed extreme courage even when I was at my lowest point I did not give up, I kept fighting to survive. A hero should be resilient, the famous saying is “make your comeback stronger than your setback”.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

Wow, so many heroes out there that do not get the recognition they deserve BUT I guess with heroes its all about coming from the heart space.

  1. Resilience — someone who has taken a beating many times in life but still rise stronger than ever. They see obstacles as stepping stones into success.
  2. Authenticity — no matter what we go through in life, we must not lose who we are as humans. Heroes are not ashamed of their past, they speak openly and freely with a goal to inspire others through their journey.
  3. Inspiration — turning all pain into inspiring stories, simply means “owning your story”. For me its about sharing to inspire as many other people as possible, we would never know who needs to hear this story. This also teaches others to take ownership of their lives and own their stories.
  4. Humanity — Heroes are real humans who don’t put up a facade for self-gain. As a Coach, when I speak to others about this topic, many have no idea how to engage with others from a race, religion, culture, or sex point of view, these are discussions that heroes initiate so that we get to know each other better. This human connection is missing, the pandemic brought it back at the beginning, but we are back to square one.
  5. Bravery — when we see others in pain, be it from bullying or victimization, we stand our ground and stand up for the person affected, even if it means putting our own lives at risk. I have done this many times in my life and will continue to do so.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

It’s the humanity within them, and I am not saying that others are not human, but heroes do things with instinct, a gut feel that whatever they are doing at the time is the right thing, they are willing to get out of their comfort zones. We grow as humans through this discomfort. It also has a lot to do with who we are and our drive to care for others more than ourselves.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

Great question, while I lay in ICU in a critical condition, many thoughts were running through my mind and one of it was what if this gets more out of hand and we start losing people in the millions. My thoughts were, what are you going to do about it? How can you help when you are so helpless? The fighting spirit in me, took over and I decided I needed to create some awareness and warn others how bad this really is. The problem was, how can I create awareness when I can barely speak a few words, my breathing was very low, even though I was on fast flow oxygen.

My mind kept telling me, “do it Nolan”, this can help save lives. I then sat on my chair and recorded a two-minute video sharing what I was going through and they should protect themselves so they don’t end up like me. Here is the video clip https://youtu.be/BACGG7DNs1U

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

My parents will always be my first heroes. When I look back at who I have become now, I would not have made it this far if it was not for them. Through their own struggles and pain daily, they still made sure that we, five siblings in total had grown up with good values, like respect, integrity, hard-working, authenticity, etc. I remember my mum working in the shoe factory and dad being a waiter all their lives, times were tough, but we made it through life and the values installed in us, allows us to grow even more as humans.

My heroes of today are those who create a platform of inclusivity, someone who is all about humanity. I am going to go with my Global Hero, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman from Gift of the Givers Foundation

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

For me the drive by all governments to have all citizens vaccinated, I have never seen so much of push for the vaccine that our human rights have been imposed upon. In my country, they have gone as far as saying, if you don’t take the vaccine and have a vaccine passport, you will not be served alcohol by the bottle store or in restaurants. The reason why this scares me is that we have so many other global problems like poverty, infrastructure issues, corruption, crime, gender-based violence, rape, etc. I always wonder why we cannot use the same energy towards these issues, we would live a much more peaceful life. Who is gaining from the vaccines? Why have we lost our human rights at the expense of forced vaccines. This has also caused division between those wanting the vaccine and those who do not. My belief is that both choices should be respected! I will share my example, coming from covid-pneumonia and knowing what my body went through during this phase of my life, why would I want to take the vaccine when I have enough anti-bodies within me already? My common sense tells me not to take it, so please respect my choice.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?

My hope is fully with the Youth of the world. As a Coach working with the Youth in Africa. I have seen the potential that they have to become authentic leaders, this is what is lacking currently. If we can guide them based on our knowledge and experience, I have no doubt we can turn our countries around into successful ones. The days of leaders playing political games is over, many do it for their own agendas and we can see this clearly now. One of my students mentioned to me that they don’t believe that we should discriminate against each other, we are all human. This was so heartwarming. We will turn this around and start to rise again! I visualize the future to be a more focused one on all the positives out there and we have tons of them. Immediate change is critical, I speak about my moonshot a little later and what I plan on doing, my strategy has been tested. Now, we need to get everyone else to start thinking in the same way for the betterment of our world.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

Most of my inspiration came at the beginning of the pandemic. I saw humans being human again, people were shopping for friends, neighbors, and even people they did not know. This was so blissful to see, compassion was at an all-time high. Families started to connect with each other and although frustrating at times, they bonded again.

Then a few months later, people were back to their old selfish ways, hording toilet paper, groceries, etc. like we were going to run short, manufacturing did not stop. I saw people with 2–3 trolleys packed with groceries. They did not even bother about the person who cannot afford so much, they were so self-centered, disappointing behavior.

Now, even more disappointing is the name calling on social media towards those who do not want to take the vaccine, again human rights are imposed upon.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

Yes, absolutely. When I look at our current situation, I see the chase by companies for the dollar at the expense of tramping on human lives. What do I mean? There are many cases reported where companies are treating the unvaccinated like they are the disease, they are not even covid positive but still they are treated poorly. Its shocking to see the discrimination against employees who eventually succumb to the pressure and are forced to leave. What about their families? I would love to go into these companies and teach them about humanity and how one should be respecting each other. Companies must realize that without employees, they have an “empty building”, let that sink in. I am very hopeful that once we solve issues like this, we will get better as the human world.

For me, it has been a game changer, I turned my covid experience into a major growth opportunity. From almost losing my life to coming back stronger than ever and writing a book to share with the world.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

Respect towards each other as a start, humanity must be restored. Governments must recognise that human rights should matter first above all else. Transparency is also lacking, I always question the numbers and know that in our country, Tuberculosis was the number one cause of death, why do we not see those numbers anymore, just be open and transparent. Our government healthcare system must improve to the same standards as private healthcare. Every human being deserves the same healthcare.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Don’t sit back, and watch others move forward with their lives, make a choice to take your power into your own hands to achieve the success you long for, time to unleash your potential. Success is not going to walk towards you, go out and make a difference to the world. Life does not have to end where you are.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement I have started is aligned with my moonshot “Transform 1 million lives in Africa, starting with our Teens and Young Adults by enhancing their mindsets and thought process, through our Coaching, Authentic Leadership and Personal Mastery programs”. I am looking to collaborate with anyone who I can present this vision to. There is an African Proverb “If you want to go FAST, go alone. If you want to go FAR, go together”.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Elon Musk, he is an ex South African and would immediately relate with my moonshot. He knows our diverse cultures and knows that we are a country that has been through a lot, and we still keep persevering. We have a never give up attitude.

How can our readers follow you online?

These are my social media accounts, my handle is straighttalkwithnolan





This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Heroes of the COVID Crisis: How Nolan Pillay of StraightTalkWithNolan Stepped Up To Make A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.