The Company We Keep is a column on the CN&CO blog that profiles some of the most interesting people in our networks. Here we share the details of the lives of people we know, showcasing the extraordinary diversity of our society and proving that people truly are at the heart of everything we do.

This blog was written by Carel Nolte, who makes the case for strangers becoming friends …

This is the fourth blog for my 50th year. I’ve written about the music which has defined me, my favourite travel destination, the pestilence of pessimism and now turn my attention to the people in my life.

Let me say at the outset that it is an impossible task to make a list of the people who have influenced me. Or whom I value in my life. There simply are too many. And I also think it is unrealistic. Different people fulfil different needs at different times in a (my?) life. And while there are certainly people I spend more time with than others, and whom I value, need and love tremendously, the amount of time that you spend with a person is not the only measure of influence.

I have met some people only once, and yet in that one meeting I was inspired and learnt so much, that the limited time spent has continued to influence me decades later.

An ophthalmologist in Miami in the early 90s when I was in the USA for all my eye operations taught me about focus. Every time I see a mossie (look that up if you haven’t read Twee vir ‘n Stuiwer!) I reflect on that lesson. And I have literally thousands such moments. Thousands.

Over the years I have reconnected with these stranger-friends, and we pick up as if we have known each other way more deeply, way longer. And with social media and the Internet, it has become super easy to bridge the challenges of geography and limited time. I have learnt that if one is open to connect and expect the best from others, and yourself, you usually get richly rewarded.

I value my alone time – a lot. As a diagnosed introvert, while I am good in social settings I get my energy from being alone, not from others. And after engaging with many people, I need (a lot of) downtime. But that doesn’t stop me from finding new and fascinating people to contribute to my life and to whom i can contribute.

One such person is Dewald Niemand whom I met in Janaury this year.

Dewald is the dominee at the NG Kerk Bryanston – the church where I was christened and which I have recently written about on social media quite a lot. My church when in Johannesburg.

From the minute I “met” Dewald, via his sermon, I liked the man. Smart and funny (if you are nothing else, these two things are what I look for in friends and team mates – reasons enough why that ugly, dumb and mean Donald Trump is never going to be on my Christmas list) Dewald also laughs at himself – lack of arrogance is another turn-on in a friend.

Subsequently we’ve had a few WhatsApp chats, a couple of glasses of wine. The man checked in when we were fighting storms and fires at KleinBlouKlip. And today he is running his first marathon, raising money for a grade 7 student who, I am told, always smiles, loves tennis and dogs and who ran her first parkrun a week ago. Her mum is a helper at the church and the money raised goes to help this young woman with buying sports gear and winter clothing (DM if you can contribute a bit – knowing we all do as much as we can, wherever we can).

Again, I have many people like Dewald in my life. “Strangers” who become friends simply because I expect that we can mean something to each other. People whom I enjoy even if our time spent together is limited. There are also many people who have died who continue to influence me and whose lessons I remember with gratitude and smiles.

And that is why I have a deep and wonderful network – not because I am good at networking (I suck at it and will go stand in a corner in situations where one is expected to work the room). My skill comes from realising that diversity is strength. That every single person – regardless of arbitrary distinctions like race, gender, sexuality, economic background and education – can help me be better. And that, just maybe, I can support them in choosing to reach their full potential. To make their mark and Carpe Diem. To embrace this one wild, brief and beautiful gift of life fully, sucking the marrow from it all!

To every person who has and who continues to influence me – THANK YOU. I don’t say that enough. And I don’t show it enough. But I count myself most blessed by the people I have in my life and the ongoing love, loyalty, wisdom, advice and support you provide. Now go out and make new friends, you beautiful things…

Carel is an investor in people and businesses, believing that 1+1 = (at least) 22. Working with a few basic concepts – best encapsulated in his believe that unless we are dead, anything is possible – Carel aims to build long-term sustainable value with like-minded individuals and companies, while having (a lot of!) fun.