Jeannette McGill: Economic Geologist, Mineral Economist

Life Lessons from the Women of TEDxJohannesburg

(Article 7/20 in the series)


August is Women’s Month in South Africa. To celebrate, we’re conducting long-form interviews with 20 women who have spoken at TEDxJohannesburg. Inspired by Huffington Post’s Sophia project, we’re asking them to share stories and advice about topics that are central to a well-lived life.

Jeannette McGill, one of the foremost thinkers in mining, at TEDxJohannesburg 2014. She makes the point that the mining needs to embrace technology if it’s ever going to reach the productivity levels of its past. Click on the image to watch the talk.

What is a recent realisation you have had about living a more rewarding/fulfilling life?

We don’t have do everything, or be everything to everyone to feel whole.

Tell us something about an area of your expertise that took you years to learn.

The global mining sector remains a complex and intriguing industry. Through 20 years of multi-dimensional professional contribution I have an understanding of the complex impact of commodity cycles and the interrelationship of global supply and demand and how technology and innovation remains the “swing-vote” or modifying factor to drive change.

What do you feel is the most helpful thing your parents did for you that many parents don’t do?

The fundamental foundation that a good education plays through quality (public) schooling and the gift of free undergraduate university education as my father was a staff member at the local university — even though I had wanted to attend a more expensive and prestigious university. But guess what? — a few years later I received a bursary to attend my first choice anyway — I just had to be patient.

Tell us about a book (or books) that had a significant impact on you.

Cheryl Strayed — Wild. At first I was not interested in reading about someone ill equipped for hiking — a past time that I enjoy. But someone convinced me to read the book. Cheryl’s writing is profound and the lessons I learnt were many as parts of the story resonated with me.


Music has the ability to lift any mood or carry me through a hard interval session on the gym treadmill!


Mrs Moneypenny — the columnist for the Financial times has a career book and personal finance book. The advice in each has saved my skin various times!

What is something small or seemingly insignificant that contributes greatly to your happiness?

Music! Music has the ability to lift any mood or carry me through a hard interval session on the gym treadmill!

Tell us about a memorable gift you’ve given or received.

When I graduated with my PhD from an American university my friends gave me a 1oz American Silver Eagle coin to remember my time in the USA.

What is a regret you have that others could learn from?

That I didn’t have the ability to set firm boundaries in unhealthy relationships sooner in life. This is a skill to be developed and learnt. A good mentor, coach or therapist would definitely help if you think you also should be better at this!

Tell us about a travel experience or destination that you would recommend to others.

Travel is all about seeing and experiencing the world differently through scenery, social interactions, and food etc. From my South African departure point destinations like Peru and Nepal have definitely provided these opportunities for me. Croatia is a place on my to-do list that I think might provide these elements in the future.

What habits/routines do you keep that are especially unique or beneficial?

Sunday evening planning of the week ahead: my daily schedule in terms of professional/work obligations, my exercise and my meals. This helps me feel prepared and allows my brain to think through things while I sleep!

A short morning walk around the block — no fancy gym clothes, no heart rate monitors — just me and the morning light on the green trees along the streets of Johannesburg as the city awakes. 10min is all it need be!

What apps (or other technologies) have the greatest impact on your happiness/personal fulfillment?

Movescount” to download my training data from my Suunto watch direct to my trainer

Zinio” to read my favorite magazines on the plane

SeatGuru” and “Tripadvisor” are key when planning international flights and secret tips about great restaurants

Pinterest” for visual stimulation and ideas generation or motivation

How would you have handled your own education differently?

When I was at school opportunities for women where more limited than they are now. “Take a Girl Child to Work Day” programs are hugely beneficial in terms of exposure to possibilities. Make use of them! Had I been exposed to a wider set of choices I might have done something else.


As cliched as it sounds — be present in every day that you do have. No regrets.


Another aspect of education concerns greater financial acumen from school days rather than only later in life. This is a basic life skill that was previously left to boys and accountants!

What do you know now about living a satisfying life that you didn’t know when you were twenty?

Being present. Nudging away the past and the future and just being in the present and breathing and enjoying it.

What do you think about when you think about death?

Death is a reality of mountaineering. One day you might end up in a crevasse or you might have the sobering task of lowering someone else into one. . . So as cliched as it sounds — be present in every day that you do have. No regrets.


Watch Jeannette McGill’s TEDxJohannesburg talk: The marriage of mining and technology is inevitable

Visit tedxjohannesburg.co.za for more.