Olympic Inspiration: Get lean and mean

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That’s me with two Olympic gold medals. They belong to Steve Williams, OBE – English rower and two-time Olympic champion. At the time I was working in Great Britain and he came to address our team at a mid-year sales conference. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know who he was when I saw him. I love sport and watch all kinds. Especially during the Olympics. But I’d never really watched much rowing. In Great Britain it’s pretty big, though. They’ve achieved many successes in the sport and have a number of multiple gold medal winners.

When Steve was introduced as a two-time Olympic gold medal winner I was on the edge of my seat. When he took them out and let us pass them around the room while he was talking I could barely contain my excitement. I was actually going to hold genuine Olympic medals. I was going to touch them. But I’m letting my memories of the thrill get ahead of what I want to share in this blog post.

Steve came to talk to us about Goal Setting and Achievement using the story of his Olympic preparations as an example. What a privilege! To be able to listen to the wisdom of someone who reached the peak of his sport. To have insight into the world of an Olympian. I was even more on the edge of my seat and risked falling off. There is a YouTube video of a similar talk he gave available here.

He tells the story of how he missed out on a spot on the team which went to the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and then he made the decision to dedicate himself to making the team for Athens 2004. And, boy, did he ever dedicate himself. He lived rowing. He lived making the team. He had a specific plan in mind and together with his fellow teammates and their coach, they mapped out how they were going to achieve it. Seven days a week, 365 days a year, including Christmas. This was carried through into the planning and preparation for the next Olympics in Beijing in 2008. Clearly it worked – two golds are all the proof you need.

These are the things which stuck:

  1. Crystallize your thinking around a clear goal. Know what you want to achieve and why. Know what you will gain from the achievement. Understand why it means so much to chase this dream.
  2. Put together a plan for how you’re going to achieve the goal. Break it up into manageable steps. Ensure you know what you need to accomplish by when. The smaller the steps the better. Small steps lead to big gains.
  3. Use every available resource in the execution of your plan. He tells how the team employed a scientist to figure out how to shave a few seconds off their time. The solution this highly paid gentleman came up with was a piece of tape on their oars which would reduce air resistance by a fraction. This would translate into a fraction of a second time-saving in a race. But in an Olympic final, that’s all it takes to win sometimes.
  4. Remain relentless in your daily pursuit of your goal. You eat an elephant one bite at a time. So keep at it. You’ll get there eventually.
  5. There will be setbacks along the way. There will be times when you want to give it all up. That’s why it is so important to understand the why behind your journey. The why is what gives you the motivation to keep going.
  6. Get lean and mean. What I’m getting at here is that you need to shed anything that is superfluous to the achievement of your goal. If it doesn’t help, it goes. Obviously this is not always an easy decision, but, again, if the why is big enough and the gains are great enough it will be worth it.

I’m not doing the talk justice – there were so many points to ponder. I was completely inspired. I had goosebumps. Steve was a great guy. He’d also climbed Everest, gone to the North Pole, run a sub 3hr marathon. But he was very down-to-earth. After the talk he hung around for photos. And I was able to have another dream come true – he let me put a medal around my neck!! How totally awesome is that? I’ve had an Olympic gold medal around my neck. Photographic evidence below.

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I am in the process of setting some big, audacious goals. Stay tuned – I’ll chronicle the journey as I go along.

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Fear is the path to the Dark Side

A race to overcome fear

A race to overcome fear

Yesterday I was having a conversation with someone I’d just met. We were talking about the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I have been a massive fan of Star Wars since I first saw ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ with my dad at the iconic Luxurama cinema in Wynberg, Cape Town. Going to ‘bioscope‘ was always a major treat and this one stands out in my memory. It may have been the start of my love of fantasy and sci-fi.

I was a bit frightened at the start of the sequence in the swamps of Dagobah. It looked creepy and scary. But this is also where we first meet Master Yoda, who, despite his size is one of the biggest icons of the Star Wars franchise and possibly had the strongest connection to the Force. Master Yoda is also the main source of wisdom throughout the series. His guidance always in the form of short, memorable pearls of insight. One of the more famous he delivers to Anakin Skywalker: ‘Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.’

I thought about that line this morning as I contemplated my failure in the 7 day #YourTurnChallenge. I didn’t post anything yesterday – day 6. I missed a day and I was trying to figure out my next step. Do I bother with day 7? Is this failure final? Did anyone miss my daily post? Much of my responses to the above questions were initially quite negative. I didn’t want to bother today. I had failed and should give up blogging. Nobody would miss me.

Then I thought about Yoda’s words and I realised that I was giving in to fear. I was fearful that my blog isn’t good enough. That I don’t know what I’m doing. That people don’t care what I have to say so I shouldn’t say anything. I also spent much of yesterday angry. So fear did lead to anger :-). I’m writing today to ensure it doesn’t lead to hate because I want to do this regularly. I want to record my thoughts about things I find remarkable. I hope that people find these thoughts worthy reading but that is not the main motivator behind recording them. I’ve found that recording them in this way actually brings further insight and understanding. It’s helping me learn more about the world. About myself.

So, thanks, Winnie Kao for the challenge. It’s been a journey I’ve enjoyed and a journey I’ll continue.

I swear…

rt maskWhen I was a kid, I was pretty immune to peer pressure. I was a goody-two-shoes of note because I was incredibly fearful of authority. Authority included adults in any shape or form. Parents, teachers, aunts, uncles, sports coaches. So I usually toed the line. I was wild and adventurous. I was often described as naughty. But I didn’t really do the ‘bad’ stuff. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t drink. I didn’t take the car without asking. I didn’t come home after curfew. I didn’t do drugs. (Clearly a wasted childhood).

My biggest transgression, my major rebellion, was swearing. From the age of about 12, I started swearing like a sailor. In fact, I probably went through phases in my early teens where I would have made sailors blush. I was pretty inventive too. Stringing together expletives like a championship fighter putting together a combination of jabs and punches and then delivering a knock-out punch. My second language, Afrikaans, is a great language to ‘vloek’ in and throwing some rude Afrikaans descriptions into the mix only enhanced the edge. On one particularly memorable occasion, another kid who was only slightly older and bigger  tried to steal my bicycle at knife point. I loved my bike. It was my freedom. I wasn’t going to just let it go. I started hurling curses at the would-be thief and made him so uncomfortable, he just walked away. A victory? Maybe.

I don’t really know why I started swearing. I don’t know if that was just my way of stepping out of line with minimal risk of being caught. This was before the time of cellphones with video-taking capability and YouTube. I think that I believed it made me fit in with the cool crowd a bit more. I was usually on the outskirts of the cool crowd. Not entirely spurned but not entirely accepted either. My habit certainly didn’t help me win any admirers of the female persuasion. My barbed tongue stayed with me for a long time. I’m not too sure when I realised it was unseemly and uncool. Thank goodness I did.

Ah, youth. What a time. What a time. Looking back, I wonder if a different form of rebellion might’ve been more fun and less embarrassing. Nostalgia, as they say, is a thing of the past.

A hole-in-one?

sfield  2005 111This weekend, at the Abu Dabi Championship, Rory McIlroy made his first hole-in-one as a professional golfer. A remarkable shot. I don’t know what the odds are of making a hole-in-one but I imagine that they’re linked to how many shots you hit in total over your playing career. The more you play, the more chance there is that you’ll score one. However, there are many stories of people who have not been playing for very long who manage to join the exclusive club of Ace Scorers. There is something magical about scoring one though. All golfers dream of making the perfect shot. Watching the ball fly through the air, land on the green, maybe bounce once or twice and then roll towards the hole and drop in. It just takes that one great shot. Golfers of all abilities have been known to make them. This reminded me of my painful hole-in-one experience.

I’ve been playing golf for about 14 years now. Lately I don’t play as many rounds as I did when I started but I absolutely love the game. A while back I was playing a practice round on my own. I had the afternoon to myself and couldn’t find a playing partner but decided to go out anyway. It was a beautiful clear day in Cape Town. I was enjoying the practice. The course was quiet and I was able to take my time and consider every shot. I started on the back 9 and reached the 16th hole (my 7th). On this course (Bellville Golf Club) the 16th is a par 3 of about 140 metres. It is slightly downhill and, on this day, the flag was towards the centre-back portion of the green. I selected my trusty 8-iron, took a couple of practice swings, addressed the ball and swung. A nice connection. The ball flew through the air and landed near the front of the green to the right of the flag. It took a friendly bounce and started rolling towards the hole. I watched in silence. The ball went in. I shouted with delight. Then I screamed in anguish. No!!!! Why now? No witnesses. It doesn’t count. No!!! When I called up some of my golfing friends, they were more amused than sympathetic. My neighbour even made the comment that most people only make one in their whole lives and I made mine without anyone to see. A couple of months later I was there when he made his one. I’ve witnessed 3 other holes-in-one but have yet to make another myself. On that day I vowed to never again play golf on my own. :-).

But enough about me. Rory’s ace reminded me of my hole-in-one story (I’d love to hear others, so please share them in the comments if you have one) but it also got me thinking more generally. There’s that old saying about the tree in the forest. The golfing version would be something like ‘If a hole-in-one is scored when you’re alone, did the ball go in the hole?’ If you’ve achieved a dream and you’ve played that perfect shot but nobody is there to see it, does it count? Is this a useful analogy for non-golfers? Can it be used as an example of how to conduct yourself in normal, everyday life at work or at school or in your personal dealings with the world? I think it can. Bear with me as I try and make the connection.

The modern world, with social media and smart phones, means that we can all live our lives out in public. At any given moment, there are probably thousands of selfies being shared. Photos of meals. Photos of locations. Photos of views. People are hyper-connected. So, at some level, we crave the witnesses to our achievements. We feel as if the achievement is not as laudable if nobody knows about it. If nobody sees it. If I go to gym and don’t update my status, does the workout count? It would seem that the answer to this, like my hole-in-one, is ‘no.’ I’d like to offer an alternative viewpoint. I believe it does count. I believe that there are different ways to keep score. You don’t need to have the adulation of your friends and followers in order to make a difference with your actions. If you are doing something purely to be seen and noticed, then the something is probably not worth doing. You’re better off expending your energy elsewhere. Make the choice to make a ruckus because you can. Make a ruckus because you want to. Make a ruckus because you care. Make a ruckus for yourself. You’ll start seeing a big difference in how you feel about what you’re doing on a daily basis. The outside world doesn’t care about your achievements as much as you think. They are more focused on their own. So go focus on your contribution. On your art. And feel the satisfaction that comes from that, irrespective of the approval of anyone else. You can still share it with the world, just don’t make it all about the sharing.

It’s #YourTurn to go out there and score your hole-in-one.