Simone Johnston

Quick fire 5:

1. Coffee, black or with milk?  

With milk. I love a good flat white!

2. What is your most used emoji?

 I want to say the emoji with the heart kissy face 😘  

3. If you could invite any 3 people to dinner for the night, who would you invite? 

I feel like when people answer these questions they always have these amazing answers with all these inspiring role models that they’ve always wanted to meet, haha! I think I would choose people who are not too famous, but who I think are amazing. For example, the pastor’s wife from my church, Lucinda Dooley (I think she’s incredible!). I’m also obsessed with this Canadian podcaster, Kaitlyn Bristowe- I think she’d make such a cool friend, so I’d invite her and I think I’d have to say, Ellen DeGeneres- she’s just so hilarious!      

4. If you could only eat 1 food for the rest of your life what would it be?

Thai food! I LOVE Thai food!

5. If there was a movie made about your life, which actress would you choose to play you?

Alicia Vikander (the new Lara Croft)



Could you tell me a little bit about your life right now?

Currently I am newly and happily married to my incredible husband Kyle. We live in Cape Town in a suburb called Wynberg and have been married for 7 months now, so it’s super new! It’s definitely been interesting to have the first few months of marriage pretty much being engulfed with this pandemic! That said, it’s actually been a an incredible & very special time to start off our marriage being able to spend so much time together.

I am a registered and trained social worker and I work in the mental health space at a school called Cedar House, which is a very dynamic and progressive school based in Kenilworth. I am essentially the ‘school counsellor’ but we have named our department the ‘Student Wellness Department’, which I head-up. I support our students therapeutically and emotionally and I assist with some of the academic support too. I also teach a little bit- I teach grade 8-11 Life Orientation, which is super exciting!

I also recently launched a podcast called ‘Something to Say’. It’s an online platform for young South African professionals to celebrate their career stories and showcase their achievements in life. I have been quite the podcaster myself in the sense that I love listening to podcasts and I listen to a range of them. From sermons, to pop culture, to mom blogs (I’m not even a parent yet, haha) but you name it, I listen to it!

I’ve always been a fan of podcasts and at the beginning of lockdown, I was thinking about what it was that I’d probably miss the most and what it was that I might struggle with the most during this pandemic. I realized that for me it was very much about not being able to see people and not being able to connect with people, as I’m very much a relational person.

I’ve also been inspired by other people starting podcasts and so I chatted to my husband about it as a random idea. He was just like, “Do it!”, “You should start your own podcast!”. Truly, he was very much the instigator. He was like, “You should phone this person and contact that person!”, and came up with a bunch of ideas! Within 2 weeks of our conversation I had my intro up-and-running and it just kind of evolved from there as the weeks went on.

I also volunteer for a cancer foundation in Cape Town called ‘Ari’s Cancer Foundation’. I’m the secretary on the committee. It is a foundation that works with adolescents and young adults that are battling cancer or who have battled cancer. We raise funds to support families that have family members who are battling cancer too.

What gets you up in the morning?

I have to say that I’m super blessed to love what I do! My job in itself is something I’m very passionate about! It really does get me excited and I love being at work! I work in a very progressive, positive and inspiring environment and I think that really adds to my wanting to be there and to my wanting to work hard and give the best of myself. It definitely drives me!

The truth is also that my faith is something that’s so important to me! It is the core of who I am and what I do. My relationship with God and what He has inspired me to do and the purpose that He’s given me is really what inspires me and motivates me to get up in the morning and to tackle life every day.

Could you tell me a little bit about what your life was like growing up?

When I think back on my upbringing and my childhood I have very happy memories! I consider myself super blessed to have had a really comfortable and exciting childhood. My parents decided to move to Somerset West when I was 3 years old, but I was born in Cape Town. The timing of the move was soon after the ‘Group Areas Act’ had been abolished and so, as a family of colour, we actually moved into what you would call a so-called ‘white area’. That played an important and very influential role in my life and contributed to the way I was brought up. Culturally, it was a very interesting experience as a family of colour living in an all-white area. My brother and I also ended up going to a school where we were 2 of only about 10 kids of colour in that school at the time.

I have an amazing family! My parents were super supportive and also very much activists of their time! They were very progressive! My mom was extremely active in our school life. She ended up being the first person of colour on our school’s PTA/Governing Body because she was in the office so much with all sorts of ideas and also all sorts of complaints. My parents were super involved in my life.

We grew up in this amazing neighbourhood with a bunch of families who were all in a similar life stage to what we were in and because of that, we all grew up together. It was a bunch of us kids- I’m talking 10, 15 of us all living in the same neighbourhood and that’s what really contributed to the very happy memories that I have of my childhood. We had such strong community. We pretty much did everything together and we navigated life together. I formed lots of close friendships and relationships from a very early age and our parents encouraged that and they encouraged community and connection.

We moved from Somerset West to Cape Town when I was in grade 6, which was a big shift for me. Grade 6 is quite an important year, being the beginning of the adolescent phase, which is difficult for anyone and so making that move was quite critical at that age.

I was always a very relational person who had lots of friends and enjoyed spending time with and connecting with people. I was also very involved in my church from a young age. Most of my high school career I spent a lot my time at church involved with a number of things. From the worship team, to youth group, to Sunday school, to mission trips, to camps- all sorts!

I would say that a part of my childhood was quite sheltered, in a sense. Sheltered in a way that I look back on it as a sort of protection, which is something I’m grateful for! I think being a part of a church or connected to like-minded people of the same faith, contributed to my life in a positive way. It wasn’t a hindering kind of sheltered.

Did you have any dreams when you were younger?

There were 2 specific things that I was passionate about when I was younger. The one thing being dancing. I did ballet for a couple of years and I did contemporary dancing for a long time. Part of me thought about potentially going to some kind of theatre school or a space where I could pursue a career in dance. The other half of me loved people and working with people.

When I was really young I remember watching that crazy soapy on TV, ‘Days of Our Lives’. There was a guy on the show called Brandon and he was what they called a ‘Paediatric Counsellor’. He used to work in hospitals with kids and I remember watching this soapy and having this term ‘Paediatric Counsellor’ in my mind. At the time I don’t think I understood what ‘paediatric’ even meant, haha! I think I may have understood the term ‘counsellor’, but I thought ‘paediatric’ was just a fancy word. Later on, when I was in grade 8, I remember having to do an oral on my dream job and I did mine on being a Paediatric Counsellor, haha! Only later in life did I realise what ‘paediatric’ meant.

I think that little dream of knowing I wanted to work with children and knowing I wanted to work in the service space was always there and was very clear from a young age.

How has the way your life has panned out differed or been similar to those dreams?

I remember for a long time, especially in high school, I doubted my ability to achieve the goals I had set out for myself. I really grew in confidence. It took a long time, a lot of self-work around growing in confidence, specifically around my intellectual ability. One of the reasons being that (and not to blame anyone or anything) but I have a very intellectual brother. He excelled academically and at school he was a complete all-rounder! He could pretty much write exams with his eyes closed, whereas I had to put in the hard work to achieve the grades that I wanted to achieve. I always kind of doubted myself and I guess, a lot of the time, I compared myself to who he was and what he could achieve.

I didn’t  even really consider options for tertiary education because I didn’t really understand how tertiary education worked and I remember thinking, “I don’t know if I can go to college or university, I don’t know if I’m clever enough to pursue those options.”. That’s something that’s definitely changed, because when I was younger, I wouldn’t have ever seen myself pursuing these options. Knowing now that I’ve gone through university and pursued those academic aspirations, shows that I proved myself wrong, I guess.

Did you have a role model growing up and why?

It may sound really cliché, but the honest truth is that my parents have been the greatest role models in my life! I honestly could not compare anyone to them! I say my parents because both my mom and my dad have role modelled certain aspects of life so beautifully and I’m so grateful for that!

When I think about the different ways in which they role modelled- whether it was role modelling achieving your dreams, or working for what you wanted or knowing who you are, or role modelling having a good relationship with God and having faith, or a wonderful marriage, or how to just love and interact with people- my parents did all of these things and more! They have taught me empathy and compassion. I learnt these things from my parents by watching them live these things out in their own lives and I literally I couldn’t name anybody else that role-modelled better than they did! 

What personal challenge(s) did you face as a young person and how have those shaped you?

I kind of touched on it earlier- but the fact that, as a family of colour, we moved to a so-called ‘white neighbourhood’ and to so-called ‘white schools’, definitely played a huge part in influencing my sense of identity. It was the biggest thing I faced and struggled with as a child and as a teenager. For a long time, I felt very disconnected to what society perceives as ‘coloured culture’. I felt very much like I was growing up in more of a ‘white culture’, but I wasn’t white. I struggled for a long time with not knowing where I belonged and not knowing which category I fit into.

I wouldn’t say I experienced first-hand racism as a young child, but my brother definitely did. My mom would have to explain certain situations to me in order for me to understand the lesson or understand what he was experiencing. As a family we encountered a number of challenges, but it’s only when I got to varsity that I actually experienced or understood racism as such. I questioned who I was, how I understood myself, why I spoke the way I did, why I lived where I lived, why I looked the way I did- all the aspects that make up who you are and which form your social identity. I questioned these things for a long time. It took years of personal growth and my parents playing such a pivotal part in allowing me to have those conversations and ask those questions and work through those things.

It took a long time, even into my adult years, to really become confident in who I am. To accept me for me and not actually box myself in and try to find a label or a category to fit into, but to just be who I am and be proud of that!

Has education played a positive role in your life and if so, how?

I consider myself incredibly privileged to have been able to a) go to school and b) go to fantastic schools that have shaped and molded me and nurtured me academically. I had amazing experiences with teachers who played great roles in my life and friends that I met through school. Some of my very best girlfriends today are my friends from grade 8. That’s definitely a gift that the educational space has given me!

Apart from that, I definitely consider myself privileged to have been given an education which has given me access. I wouldn’t have been able to pursue tertiary education or essentially pursue my dreams, without the access that education has given me.

What pivotal moments/people have there been along the way and how have they shaped you in where you find yourself today?

I’m very much about connection and I see every person who has come into my life as either a gift or a lesson, no matter who they are. So, I feel like everybody who has come into my life has played a pivotal role. I’ve learnt so many lessons and received so many gifts of life through the relationships that I’ve had.

One of the most pivotal moments of my life was a decision I made to go overseas and au pair in the USA for a year. That experience flipped my world upside down! I grew in confidence, my horizons broadened, I grew in independence and I grew in autonomy for the first time. The sense of living somewhere else just broadened my horizons and gave me a better appreciation for life and for South Africa and the richness of the cultures and the diversity that we have here. I came home appreciating who I was and where I lived so much more! It shifted something in my identity and in who I was. I began celebrating my identity and also began having a better appreciation for other people as well. Being away in America definitely changed me! 

How do you use your current platform to create a positive influence for the young women in SA?

On my podcast I have interviewed 8 stunning women so far! When I started the podcast I was very much about giving young South African professionals a voice and a platform, but the truth is that my list of people who I’d like to interview (which I still have and am still continuing to work on) are all women! They’re boss-women doing amazing things!

I haven’t publicly put it out there that it’s a podcast for women exclusively, but it’s kind of naturally taken that course and I think that women and their life stories and their career stories need to be heard and need to be broadcasted! I’m channeling my energy into giving women the platform to showcase that!

The podcast is really not about me, I’m just hosting the space. I want other people to have their voices heard and have their stories heard. I think people have incredible stories and it’s the narrative I’m interested in. It’s not even about where they’ve landed up, but more about the journey that people are on, the challenges that they’ve overcome, the hardships they’ve endured and the blessings that they’ve been given! That’s what interests me and that’s what I want to hear about. I want to showcase stories that people can relate to and be inspired by. That’s my heart behind that platform. 

What are you still hoping to accomplish in the next couple of years?

With regards to the podcast- my hope is to grow the platform. I don’t know how and I don’t know where I see it evolving to, but it’s definitely something I’m committed to! I don’t want it to be a once-off ‘lockdown project’. Eventually it could even evolve into being a part of my work and not just a side hustle or hobby. I would definitely like to invest my time and energy into growing this platform!

I also still have some academic aspirations. I haven’t really said this out-loud yet, but from 2016 up until this year I was busy trying to complete my master’s degree- it’s been a very rocky 3 years and at the beginning of this year, I made the decision to give it up. There were a number of challenges and complications I faced and I just felt like it wasn’t what I was meant to be doing anymore.

It was very difficult to essentially ‘break up’ with it. I had invested a lot of money, a lot of time and a lot of hard work into it. I felt a lot of guilt around not pursuing it anymore and not completing it and a lot of guilt around feeling like a failure. I realize that its oaky for life to change though and for your path to change and for it not to be linear. What’s important is that your intentions and your heart are in the right place. My heart wasn’t in it and it ended up being something that I wasn’t passionate about anymore. This isn’t to say that I’ve given up completely. I’d love to still pursue a master’s degree, just in a different field or a different kind of masters perhaps. I really enjoy learning and continuing to learn and want to continue to add to my skills base.

Personally, something I’d love to achieve is to become a mom. I really look forward to being a mom one day! 

What piece of advice would you give to the young women of South Africa?

Something I’ve been thinking about for a while and feel quite passionate about is that there is space for all of us! I feel so passionate about women supporting women. My advice would be to align yourselves with and invest in friendships with women that will build you up and that will encourage you! Women who will support your dreams and run alongside you.

We can all have dreams and there is space for all of us to do whatever it is that we want to do, but competing with each other and criticizing each other is only going to break us down and chip away at us and delay us. It’ll delay you and the other person/people you’re competing with too.

I think in a world and society where there is so much negativity around women and where we’re continuously battling the stereotypes of gender and the history of women being oppressed, we can’t afford to be fighting against each other. My advice is to align yourself with and invest in female relationships and friendships that will build you up and support you in whatever you’re doing!



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