Refirement Story – Izabella Gates

Izabella Gates (aka Izabella Little) spent most of her working life in IT. Sheworked her way up from programmer to IT manager, eventuallyheading up her own IT resourcing group of 3 companies. In 1998 the group was sold to Dimension Data with Izabella as CEO. However, the pressure and stress of work life resulted in a debilitating health condition that affected her immune system and forced her to give up her career in IT. After a 2 year period of battling with ill health she eventually managed to beat it.

Being a mom of a daughter, Izabella had been writing to her daughter about life for a number of years. “I wanted to make sure that should anything happen to me she would still be able to learn from my life experience through the letters I had written her,” explains Izabella. Over the years Izabella had written to her daughter about all aspects of life that would equip her for her teenage and young adult years; including how to succeed; how to cope with loss, change, and tragedy; practical life skills; marriage and relationships. When others found out about this wealth of information that she had written down for her daughter they urged her to have it published as a book so that other families could benefit from this treasure that she had stored up. This resulted in the development of her first book Life Talk for a Daughter.

While publishing a book can often be a challenging task, Izabella got lucky when her book was chosen as one of the launch books for Struik’s Oshun publishing division, and became a best-seller. “I then planned to pursue my hobby of landscape and wildlife photography, but the book took off and all of a sudden thousands of emails began to pour in from teenagers and families with questions and challenges relating to raising daughters,” says Izabella. “For the first time in my life I felt I was being driven from behind instead of striving to achieve something. I also realised that there was a real need for resources like Life Talk for a Daughter to help families and teenagers through their teenage years, and so began the Life Talk Forum” she explains. Izabella assembled a team of psychologists on stand-by to help her answer the many challenging emails she received from teenagers and parents.

The demand for a Life Talk book for boys was overwhelming and so Izabella teamed up with Patrick Wilson who is a father of sons to write Life Talk for a Son.This was then followed by Life Talk for Parents – an essential guide to challenges faced by teens and parents, co-authored with psychologist Thomas Burkhalter.The Life Talk books are now available internationally and have been translated into Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese and Spanish. Izabella has just completed her next book and this will be available as soon as it has been published.

She also set about developing the Life Talk Forum for parents and teens. Life Talk’s initiatives are about: raising awareness about the challenges faced by youth and parents today; highlighting solutions and key areas to focus on; stimulating dialogue throughout society; facilitating behaviour-change and helping create happy, successful and fulfilled young people who are guided by sound values.The Life Talk Forum also gives talks and runs workshops at schools, churches and corporates, and works closely with the media to raise awareness around teen and parenting issues.

“I realised the importance of the Life Talk initiatives when I received an email from a girl in Australia some time back. She thanked me for saving her life as she had been planning to commit suicide the next day due to some bad decisions she had made. She then discovered Life Talk for a Daughter and it helped her realise that making some bad decisions did not have to mean the end of her life. My passion for the work that I do started when I realised how much heartache there is out there as a result of young people making bad decisions. If more people could become aware of the consequences of their actions they would make better decisions and have a better outcome. This is what drives me every day to raise awareness about the challenges that young people face and help equip them to make better life choices,” says Izabella.

Izabella’s main challenge these days is not having enough hours in the day to get everything she and her team wants done. In addition, she finds it challenging to generate the kind of revenue that’s required. “Even though the books have done very well by South African standards, it is difficult to make a living off royalty income and my royalties to date have been used to fund the Life Talk Forum. We’re extremely grateful for the sponsorship we receive from the ARA (Association for responsible alcohol use) as this enables us to have facilitators who run Life Talk in Gauteng and the Cape, but we need to generate additional revenue in order to maximise the reach and impact of the work we do,” explains Izabella.

When asked to give advice to others wishing to change career path after 50, Izabella encourages people to take a carefully researched approach in addition to doing the following:

  • Identify your strengths, weaknesses and talents.
  • List all the things that you enjoy and would like to be doing.
  • Investigate opportunities that fit your criteria.
  • Look at the pros and cons.
  • Draw up an accurate budget of your living expenses.
  • If your venture requires funding, identify funding options and know how long it will take you to break even.
  • Bounce your plans off someone you trust and who has good experience and wisdom.
  • Be organised – work hard – and above all have fun!

Izabella believes that the greatest fulfilment, after 50, often comes from doing something that helps others. “We’ve used the preceding years to sweat and toil as we clamber up our particular career paths, so from 50 onwards it’s often great to know that we’re putting something back into society and the world.It’s also a great time to look at doing the things you might always have wished you had a chance to do. So if it’s new learning, travel or adventure that you’re after, factor these needs into your planning,” concludes Izabella.

Anyone interested in getting involved with the Life Talk Forum, or corporate sponsors wishing to support the various Life Talk initiatives should visit the website at: www.lifetalk.co.za or email Izabella at Izabella@lifetalk.co.za .izabella_little_gates_small_pic