I am Pierre van der Spuy. I practiced medicine in rural South Africa, provincial Canada and London, England before eventually moving to New Haven to attend Yale. After my MBA, I moved to New York. After many years trying out different careers—management consulting, executive recruiting, coaching—I finally found my passion as a writer, director and actor.
I was always the person striving for perfection in everything that society admires, hoping success would bring me lasting happiness. My obsession with success caused me to be elected president of various student councils, finish jointly first in my final year of medical school; receive a Yale MBA; move to Manhattan; earn a six-figure salary; and date women who were young, skinny and pretty.
Ten years ago, I had accomplished everything I had set out to achieve. Everything except finding happiness and meaning. So I started to study self-help books. It didn’t help. So I moved on to psychiatry textbooks. But nothing I studied helped me in the moments when it really counted or brought me love, passion or self-esteem. I realized I needed professional help.
I started seeing Dr James Masterson, a worldwide-renowned psychiatrist, who helped me face my inner demons. With every painful truth that I accepted, I started to scrape the mask from the surface of my real self. Following my interest in human behavior, I first became an executive recruiter, a career that allowed me to meet and assess many senior executives in corporate America. Later, I became an executive coach and trained other success-addicted leaders in Manhattan to improve their interpersonal skills. But I still did not find what I was looking for.
Then, in January 2005, I produced, directed and starred in Anton, a play I wrote on the life of the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. Now, when asked what I do for a living, I can answer with confidence: I am an actor, a writer and a director. What a relief after years of faking my excitement when I told people “I a medical doctor” or “I am a management consultant.” But as tough as it was to find my passion, I have found living out my passion a thousand times harder. Fortunately, the joy it brings me makes the struggle worth the enormous effort. As for love, I was the biggest commitment-phobe I know. My dating life reads like a combination of really bad horror and mystery novels. I am still not married or a parent. Fortunately, my search inwards has taught me why I, and so many other overachievers, struggle with intimacy. Having made the non-conscious mental blocks conscious, I have a shot at love. But there are no guarantees. It is life after all.
I believe our culture is moving away from our humanity. People need to know the causes, the cost, and the cures of our addiction to material success. Armed with knowledge, we may be able to turn the tide.
In 2010, I decided to return home to South Africa after 13 years in Manhattan. It is a joy to be back amongst my people. South Africa faces enormous challenges, but also opportunities. Since my return, I have lectured at New Africa Theater Academy, a theater school for the previously disadvantaged. My time with my students are without any doubt a highligth in my career. Early this year, I also wrote, produced, directed and acted in In die Skadu van die Uile, my first Afrikaans play. I hope there will be many more!