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KNOWING vs. BELIEVING

A conversation is recounted in the book # Shantaram  in which the character, Khaderbhai, says: “There is no such thing as believing in #G...

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Saturday, 31 December 2016

THE MENACE OF THE UNKNOWN

When I was a child my grandfather used to tell me frequently that #SouthAfrica was doomed, the #Communists and #Blacks would over-run the place and that there was no hope for us #Whites in particular and the country in general. Contrary to his predictions, we're all still here, 50 years later. The political landscape looks different - actually a whole lot better in some respects - the way things work is different, we still have corruption, the economy is a mess, but we're still here, South Africa remains a beautiful place and the country hasn't imploded. 

My grandfather's fear-mongering was based largely on his own fears of the unknown, rather than founded on objective and tested facts. He had no real idea of what the future held for us, but because he was viewing it through the haze of his own untested beliefs about how dangerous Communists and Blacks could be (the narrative of our government of the day), his future-view was bleak. However, looking at South Africa 50 years on and with the benefit of hindsight, the only truth one can distil is that we can never be 100% sure about what the future holds for us. 

Which brings me to the subject of the Trumpster. In my eyes, and those of all Democrat voters, and those of millions of other right-thinking people around the world, DT is the scariest thing that has happened to America in a long, long time and his election presents a greater threat to world peace, our environment and the economies of many countries than pretty much any other single event we have faced in our lifetimes. But, of course, none of what we fear has happened yet. At all. Everything we fear lies in the future and with Donald Trump's unpredictability none of it may come to pass. 

Having said that, judging by what the man has said and done over the last year, and by the way his Cabinet is shaping up, it is probably fair to brace ourselves for some stuff we don't like. However, I recently heard President Obama say that the government is like an aircraft carrier, not a speedboat i.e. It takes a long time to turn, meaning maybe very little will happen, at least during DT's first term.

There is a reality that we are scared of what might happen, but I think the greater reality is that America is a resilient country and Americans as a whole don't want to see their country implode. Their own pre- and post-election reactive behaviour has been driven by the seeds of fear sown by the Trumpster, but the cynical part of me says that much of what Trump has promised and threatened was largely said to get elected, but when the reality of what he has promised bumps up against the reality of what is actually possible, we won't see a hugely different America in 4 years time. In fact, for a start I predict that we won't see one brick laid of the promised Mexican wall.

And I don't know if that is true either. All I know is that the future is unknown, it often scares us sh*tless and even more often proves not to be as disastrous as we expected.

What the future does present with its unknowns, however, is a world of possibility: when we don't know what lies ahead, all sorts of possibilities open up. It is in that space of possibility that we can create, have hope and inject our optimism and fighting spirit into a new reality which aligns with the good in all of us. 

I'm not a Trump expert - I can't even be sure if such a person truly exists - but I do feel confident that not all is lost. Something has been lost in this last Presidential election - perhaps part of the soul of America - but that is re-creatable and I feel confident that Americans will find a way to do so.

For now, all we need to know is that the menace of the unknown need not have apocalyptic outcomes, but there is of course no harm in battening down the hatches if you're scared. It does, however, limit possibilities.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

#IKIGAI - YOUR SWEET-SPOT

There is a potential sweet-spot in everyone's #life which is the place where we find #meaning, where we do what we #love, love what we do and believe that we are making a valuable contribution to the #world.

"Ikigai" is a Japanese concept meaning a reason for being, a reason to get up in the morning, our raison d'être. It is the activity in your life which makes you smile, which energises and nourishes you. Importantly, it can energise others as well.

A great place to start searching for your ikigai is by acknowledging what it is that you love. If you can combine this with what you are good at, you determine and give life to your passion. We are often good at what we love doing - it sort of stands to reason - but not necessarily good at what we love. For instance, I love music and art, but I don't think I am particularly good at either. It stands within me, however, to get good at them, or at least better than I am right now, if I decide that that is where I will best express my passion. However, if I also happen to love exercise and photography and have spent a lot of time getting good at them, that then is where my true passion lies, at least for the meantime.

If I can combine what I love with what the world needs, I then have a mission which I can pursue. This is a bit trickier: does the world need music and art? Perhaps, in which case I would have to get good at one or both in order to pursue that particular mission. However, one needs to look at the world holistically, and then perhaps art and music don't show up, but rather a sustainable environment or lasting peace become the focal points. If I don't love or yearn for those in some sense, then the chances are I'm not going to get good at them. Finally, if I can identify what I love, what I am good at, know that it will help create an inheritable world AND I can get paid for it, then I hit the sweet-spot which ticks the boxes of passion, mission, profession and vocation and, ultimately, ikigai.

Having said that, there is also a moral overlay which tends to sort itself out in at least two of the areas. For instance, you may love sex and be good at it (at least in your own perception!), but if you think you can make money out of it, that would need to be by some way other than selling yourself, others or porn i.e. you would need to find some legal way to make money out of it, such as selling sex toys. But then you have to ask whether the world would be a better place if everyone had a sex toy. The answer needs to be objective and, objectively speaking, I would suggest that that is probably not the most pressing issue or holistic need of the world right now. So maybe that wouldn't be your ikigai. Just saying.

Ikigai is out there, waiting to be found and nurtured. If you haven't found yours, try playing with the variables to see what you can change in order to hit your sweet-spot.

So, as you approach 2017 and start thinking about what the dreaded new year's resolutions will look like, try aligning them and what you love and are good at in a way which helps you uncover your ikigai.

My warm wishes for this holiday season!



Saturday, 17 December 2016

FIXATION vs PASSION

In case you have gone into cold turkey because of the temporary absence of “The Talking Stick”, I am pleased to report that I have emerged from a couple of months of disruption brought about by extensive and worldwide travel, sadly none of which represented leisure time. Be that as it may, the blog is now back on stream and the hiatus in its broadcast brings me to today’s topic.    

One of my great passions (other than family, health, photography, people empowerment and, and…) is writing. I love it because it is one of my forms of expression and it serves, amongst other things, to clear my mind and keep me sharp. I do it for its own sake because it feeds me at some level, despite the fact that (sadly) I haven’t yet found a way to monetize it. However, I have done almost none in the past two months. How can that be?

The truth is that I have allowed Life to get in the way of doing what I love, mainly because there is also the small matter of putting food on the table, which has then got me wondering whether I have become fixated with work at the expense of the things which nourish me. If I am brutally honest with myself, I have to acknowledge that I have lost a measure of balance in my life by trying to serve my work commitments at the expense of all else.

The one thing that is clear, however, is that I am not alone in this. I know any number of people whose sole topic of conversation is where the next deal is coming from, how busy they are, how many emails land on their desk every day, how they will make budget and how much their next bonus cheque will be. They appear incapable of talking other than at a completely superficial level of anything about which they could be passionate such as life, love, relationships or finding meaning in their lives. The problem with the fixation is that it destroys passion, unless the passion is somehow linked to the fixation.

However, unless what you are fixated about makes you wake up each day with a smile and a spring in your step, the chances are that the fixation is not equal to your passion. So when I hear people speaking to me (or at me) about their fixation, I find that eventually there is a part of me that tunes out, because whilst it may interest and even excite the other person, more often than not, it is not within my personal realm of interest and so much of my time is spent trying to avoid the thousand yard stare.

Part of the problem I have described (i.e. tuning out from fixations) is of course my own. However, I want to suggest that when there is fixation without passion, it is the beginning of the slide down a slope to self-destruction. It may give you a buzz at the time and feed you intellectually or in some other way, but it won’t necessarily nourish you and keep you alive in the long term. It is a bit like trying to hydrate yourself with beer rather than water. You know that the one tastes better than the other and has a particular physiological effect on you, but ultimately the beer will kill you: the water won’t.

Beer is the fixation whilst water actually provides some nourishment to your cells, but ultimately you will need to help the cells with the passion brought by say fruit juice or green juice. Water is the safe option and won’t kill you, but it won’t necessarily nourish you. Beer is the exciting option, but will eventually kill you. Some juice with particular nutrition in it is your passion, and that will keep you going indefinitely.

So the question for you is: Which will it be? Beer, juice or water, or a sensible combination of all three?


I want to suggest that, unless you can meld passion into your life, your fixation will eventually get you. 

Saturday, 29 October 2016

#DONALD TRUMP: WHY WE LOVE OR LOATHE HIM

You have to agree: there's no middle ground with #DonaldTrump. Either you love him or you loathe him. What's that about? How can we as humans have such extreme likes and dislikes on the same set of facts? What if I suggested that the reasons are fundamentally the same?

Before starting on the love / loathe analysis, let me say that one of his biggest strengths behind his ability to reach people is that he appears to be incapable of distinguishing truth from fiction, or indeed good from evil, so he is able to say stuff with complete conviction as if it is both true and good and everything he says and does is therefore well received by the believers.

Now, let's start with the Trump fans. They love him, not because he's going to build a wall or ban Moslems from America. They love him because he represents the voice for their own bigotry, racism, misogyny, sexism and conservatism. He's the school-ground bully they never were (or perhaps were), the tycoon they'd like to be, the establishment-challenger they don't have the balls to be. He's the people's champion, and in that guise there's not much he can say or do that will have them see him any other way. He offers hope for jobs by coming up with suicidal plans for the economy which the man in the street doesn't understand (or doesn't want to) because there's a perception that Trump is the greatest businessman around, so he must know what he's doing with money. He offers a more secure America by shamelessly exploiting fears and disingenuously sharing stats and facts which for the most part aren't true. 

The latest sexploits which have seen senior conservative Republicans scattering in all directions don't seem to have changed the man in the street's mind, because I daresay there are plenty of unsolicited boob-squeezing, pussy-grabbing Trump supporters who can't understand what the fuss is all about. "It's just locker room talk", they say, somehow justifying the unjustifiable, except in their minds it's all OK.

Now for those who loathe him. Ostensibly it's for all of the above reasons. People can't stand a lying, racist, sexist, misogynistic, bigoted bully and can stand tall and sanctimonious in their condemnation. 

But what if their loathing is of their own shadow sides manifesting in the anti-hero Trump? What if there is a part of each of us which has had racist, sexist and bigoted thoughts, but then pushed them down into the shadow recesses of our minds? What if somewhere along the line we bullied a sibling, class mate or homeless person, and then hated ourselves for having done it? What if everything that Trump does and stands for is lurking within us, repressed and ostensibly under control, but we absolutely hate that part of us which lies there, ready to slither out of its lair and flare up somehow? It's called our shadow, and it's real. Do yourself a favour and read The Shadow Effect (Chopra, Ford and Williamson) if you really want to empower yourself.

For the meantime, simply ask yourself which part of Trump's manifestation do you dislike about yourself? The answer will be clear.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

OVERWHELM-SION

Did you know: there is no noun derived from the word "overwhelm"? So why not create one? You never know when it could be useful.  I happen to belong to a family whose members (and one in particular) tend to make up words which don't exist, derived from existing words, which give greater meaning to the original. I don't remember who coined the word "Overwhelm-sion" (although I have my suspicions), but this is one of those great words. 

I haven't written for a few weeks, principally because of overwhelm-sion in my own life. My year has rocketed by and things have filled it for me at an alarming rate. By way of illustration, on Tuesday next week I will embark on a series of trips which will see me visit six countries around the world, return to my desk on 28 November and between now and then spend about 4 or 5 days at home. Somehow in the middle of the travel I will deal with work as it accumulates, respond to clients, prepare for talks at conferences and generally manage my office. And amongst all that I hope to stay healthy and do some exercise and a put in a bit of writing and find time to connect with my family. The rest of the year hasn't been hugely different, with a pitiful amount of leave interspersed.

Something eventually has to give with only 24 hours in each day. So I sit here wondering how that happened and how to not do that to myself. This isn't intended to be a self pity-party, but the forthcoming odyssey has finally got my attention.

I have always led a full life because there is so much that interests me and that I want to do. There's also the small matter of putting bread on the table. And there's also the holy grail of work-life balance to pursue, following what you are passionate about, and, and...

The truth for me is that, if I look back on my year, I started planning it by putting in doable commitments throughout the year and assuming that the rest of the year would fill itself out as it usually does with the day to day stuff that happens and that amongst that I would get some time for exercise, take some leave and so on. In other words, I left it to Life to take care of my life at some level. Life needs no greater invitation to come along and mess with people who have left too much in its hands. Although everything I originally planned and prioritised was about right (if I had taken on no more), I didn't put enough non-negotiable boundaries in place, so found myself trying to create space for stuff which wasn't originally planned. Result: overwhelm-sion.

Now, whilst we all know that "the way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans", the lesson is about absolutely deciding on your highest priorities when planning your life and honouring that which matters most. Everything else is a distraction which may require attention, but should be treated very circumspectly unless it will clearly enhance your bigger picture and priorities.

Anyway, I've got to where I have and will deal with it. Now for the challenge of off-setting my overwhelm-sion with a bit of underwhelm-sion.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

DON'T BE FAMOUS FOR #FORNICATION

I was at a conference a while back when the facilitator asked the group: "What do you want to be famous for?" Not a bad question, considering that the group was at the conference to ponder on what next steps would have to be taken for the business to rise to the next level of success.

The question got me to thinking how you know when you're famous and and what that actually means. Success is easier to measure than fame: you set your objectives and when you make them you conclude that you have succeeded. Whether this qualifies you to go on and judge yourself as successful is another question, but  at least you get to decide whether you're successful against clear and measurable goals.

Fame classically means you're known by lots people for some attribute or achievement. How many is "lots"? I have no idea. Famous means much the same thing, but can also mean "excellent".

So when I'm asked in a business context what I want to be famous for, it would be for some excellent achievement, skill, service or widget that sets me apart from everyone else and for which I'm well known by lots of people.

Sadly, most people in the world never become famous in the classic sense of the word, no matter how long they strum their guitars each day, or how many songs or books they write, or how many hours they work in a week. Fame is more often than not a happy coincidence of talent or skill plus the media picking up on it at the right time for the right reasons. However, it's essentially an accident, so striving for fame in the classic sense is for most people a waste of time.

But what I want to suggest is that we can all be famous in our own way. Even if its not famous to hordes of unknown people, we can be famous amongst our friends for being the one that is completely count-on-able to do what he says he will do every time, or the most caring or funny or courageous. We can be famous amongst our family members for being a fantastic father or a mindful mother. We can even be famous to ourselves for being the most dependable person we know, and so we can honour ourselves for this type of fame. To me, this is the fame is both attainable and meaningful.

The trouble with traditional fame is that it raises the bar for the famous person's behaviour in the public eye, so when we slip beneath that bar we can become even more famous for all the wrong reasons. This week the current best scrumhalf in the world, All Black rugby player Aaron Smith, a legend in New Zealand and amongst rugby fans worldwide, became even more (but unwelcomely) famous when he was seen going into a disabled persons' toilet with an adoring female fan for reasons on which it is unnecessary to speculate. Other examples include Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton, whose fame as a golfer and President respectively overnight converted their original fame to notoriety for womanising and their sexual exploits. They all earned the first type of fame from excellence, but attracted the less desirable second type because of the first.

When we hold ourselves out as one thing, but then show another side, the reputation which we thought we had evaporates instantly.

So Life's offering is to be famous for whatever noble cause you choose, but for heaven's sake don't let yourself become famous for fornication.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

"JUST FOR THE #ENTERTAINMENT VALUE"

We had a guest from a small village in the UK Midlands last week, my wife’s cousin, Tim. He hadn’t been to South Africa for 24 years, but had come primarily to visit Kaz and her Mom (Tim’s aunt).  One day Kaz took him on an outing to #Tala Game Reserve. Kaz described the service they had at lunchtime as simply diabolical. When the time came to pay the bill, Tim added on a tip. Kaz asked him why he had done that when the service had been so poor. His reply: “It’s worth it just for the entertainment value.” He’s quite an extraordinary person.

Despite the allure in our house of green juices, vegetables, smoothies, muesli and other food generally regarded as good for you, for the whole week he was with us Tim stuck to his customary diet of chips, cake, the occasional pie and baked beans, supplemented by the delightful discovery he had made on his last visit to South Africa, Yogi Sip.

Now Kaz would probably be having a meltdown if any of her family were to follow Tim’s diet, but she’s quite uncharacteristically relaxed with Tim because he’s been roughly on the same diet for the past 50 years – perhaps it’s a bit more sophisticated now than it used to be when he was a child – and he is not an ounce overweight, is never ill, has a perfect complexion, no wrinkles and looks a good 10 or so years younger than he actually is. Granted, he could use a decent dose of sunshine, but then again that is so for most Brits.

So have we been doing it all wrong? Should we bin the Mediterranean diet, or Banting or whatever else is supposed to do us some good and just stick to chips, baked beans, cake and Yogi Sip?  I can confidently say that if I were to do so I would put on 10kg in a month, almost certainly get run down, develop acne and constipation, fart a lot and spend my time trying to ward off colds and other infections. So how does one explain Tim as a picture of health?

What I haven’t yet mentioned is that he is simply one of the nicest human beings ever to grace the planet. He is steady as a rock, has a wonderful sense of humour, nothing gets him down, he bears no malice to anyone, doesn't have a bad bone in his body, connects with everyone he meets, is grateful for everything, takes everything that Life delivers in his stride and in the same accepting and philosophical vein. He is absolutely happy with where he is and what he does in his life, so in short he simply has no noticeable stress. 

As it happened, whilst he was here we had a week of mini-domestic disasters – stuck garage door, burst water main, broken gate and a few others not worth mentioning. Tim was the one at the house whilst we were out at work, quietly befriending and managing the contractors with no drama or fuss. As I say, quite a remarkable person.

And that, I reckon, is why he can and does eat any cr*p he feels like and still shows no ill effects after all these years. My theory is that, because he carries no personal baggage, his body is able to devote all of its energy and resources to dealing with his diet and extracting what few nutrients there are in what he eats.

For the rest of us, we fuss about our kids and stress at work and worry about the world and our government and our President and the economy and money and health and our relationships and whatever else happens to be in our lives, so we don’t have the resources to deal with bad food as well. And the health consequences follow.

So I’m not suggesting that you retire to a desert island (or even to North Muskham in the English Midlands)  and eat chips and baked beans for the rest of your life, but imagine how well and vital we could all be if we could see the entertainment value in absolutely everything in our lives.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

THE (UN)FAIRNESS OF LIFE

You can believe that #Life is unfair, or you can think that it's fair, just as it is. Guess which choice is going to di(stress) you most?

The fairness debate reared its head in the context of #CasterSemenya's emphatic performance in the recent #RioOlympics. It's not a debate confined to the likes of Caster, but actually to every aspect of our lives.

As far as Caster is concerned, the debate is whether it is fair for her to compete as a woman given that she has natural testosterone levels reportedly three times higher than most women. Her competitors and detractors say that this isn't fair because women just shouldn't have that much testosterone and speculate (unproven) that that's what gives her super-powers over other women. Well, yes, but does that entitle Justin Gatlin and every other competitor ever beaten by Usain Bolt to complain that his superior size, leg length and quick twitch muscles are unfair and therefore he should not be allowed to race? And has anyone ever bothered to measure Bolt's natural testosterone levels? Or should swimmers be heard to complain that Michael Phelps has freakishly long arms which should be trimmed? Or would it become fair if Caster Semenya were to compete in the men's events despite the fact that she is a woman? I don't recall her complaining that she came from a poor background, or that many of her First World competitors have had access to massive government funding, advanced training programmes and facilities and first rate nutrition all their lives. Is that fair given that many African athletes simply have to make do with what is available to them and rise above their circumstances? Does more natural testosterone outweigh the advantages of sustained funding, proper training facilities and nutrition? The trouble is, you can't make Life fair.

Certainly, you can make sure that your kids get equal sized portions of food at dinner-time, or that they get the same education, or that sports teams each get a relatively equal chance to play with or against the wind, but that fairness only occurs when someone has some control over the situation. For the most part, we have no control over what Life delivers of its own accord, so if Life chooses to gift (or curse) one person with different physical or intellectual attributes than the next, or more money and privilege, we can either bitch and moan that it's unfair, or we can accept that Life is perfectly fair just as it is.

How often do we hear about people born into poor, abusive or dysfunctional families rising above their circumstance, not by chance but because of the very circumstances in which they found themselves? It is easy enough to blame your circumstances on what Life delivered you in the first place - your inability to run fast, your family's poorness, your parents' alcoholism or your unfortunate looks - but whilst those circumstances may seem unfair relative to Mo Farah, Bill Gates or Brad Pitt, sometimes those circumstances can also be the very catalyst which motivates you to take a stand for yourself, learn from what Life has to offer and excel in something.

The moment you compare your life to those of others, it is easy to conclude that Life is fundamentally unfair and then you invite into your life stress, dissatisfaction, resentment or whatever else follows the meaning which you put on unfairness. When you stop comparing and simply get that Life is exactly as it is, the limiting thought processes that go with the 'unfair' judgement dry up and all sorts of creative possibilities manifest themselves. It is the difference between feeling sorry for what Life did to you and feeling grateful for what Life delivered to you. Your athletic gifts may not be the same as those of Olympic athletes, but your intellectual gifts may far exceed them. You may not have as much money as Donald Trump, but then again you might  feel very blessed not to be Donald Trump. You might not look like Angelina Jolie, but you might have your health intact.

Life can never be fair, if fairness means equality with your neighbour in every single sphere, but Life is inherently fair if we just accept that it delivers as it sees fit, whether we asked for what it delivered or not, and its invitation is to see what you can do with what you got.

Our mind-set when we demand that everything should be fair is wide-open to discord and broad dissatisfaction. Our mind-space when we accept that Life is fair as it is opens up to peace and all sorts of creative possibilities. 

Where would you rather be?

Sunday, 21 August 2016

WHEN #EXCELLENCE ACTUALLY SUCKS

As the two week human excellence carnival in #Rio parades to its conclusion today, I find myself asking what the sportsmen in the various disciplines themselves got out of the #2016Olympics.

We've had #UsainBolt proclaiming himself the best ever, a proclamation with which it would be difficult to argue, certainly on the athletics track. We've had #MichaelPhelps bowing out with more Olympic gold and other medals than any other sportsman in history (and more gold medals than two thirds of the countries in the world), which makes him the greatest Olympian ever if medals are the benchmark. We've had Wayde van Niekerk break the 400m track Olympic and World records by such a margin that even the legendary Michael Johnson was awe-struck, although my impression was that Wayde himself couldn't quite understand what all the fuss was about. We also had Luvo Manyonga ending his journey on the streets by escaping a serious drug habit and cracking a silver in the long jump, and we had Lawrence Brittain (with his team mate Shaun Keeling) winning silver in the rowing, 18 months after being diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Unbelievable triumphs.

But then again, we had Chad Le Clos bitching about what a poor race he had in the 200m butterfly to come fourth and his boring silver medal in the 100m butterfly? And how many other athletes did we hear saying: "Gutted to have only got silver / missed out on a medal and only come fourth", rather than saying: "I'm blown away and grateful to have made it into a final and been the second, third or fourth best in the world!"? Granted there were many who were glad to have got a medal of any colour, but not too many who patted themselves on the back for a fourth or fifth place or simply for being there to help make up the numbers

I accept that the perspective is usually different when you are a spectator rather than a participant, but I personally celebrated Akani Simbine's fifth place in the men's 100m track race. What an astonishing achievement, to be the fifth fastest human being on the planet! I suspect he was pretty pleased with that performance as well.

The truth is that a minuscule number of people in the world become Olympians - perhaps 0.001%. Even fewer make the finals of their events and only three of those medal, with one being gold. We (and the athletes) tend to forget that the odds of medalling at the end of the day are so miniscule as to be close to impossible for all but a tiny handful of people - rather like the odds of winning a lottery. 

So when you get into an Olympic event, you are already extra-ordinary i.e. way beyond ordinary in terms of physical prowess and ability.  Most people would give their proverbial eye teeth for that prowess, so ungracious losers just get up my nose. I am more inspired by people who are unconditionally grateful for their gifts and opportunities, no matter how ordinary or extraordinary those gifts might be.

For someone to come fourth in an event is flipping exceptional! To think that it sucks is missing a huge piece about which to be grateful. The disappointment in not medalling is partly an ego thing - somehow athletes come home thinking they haven't quite cut the bacon by only being in the minor placings. This is partly because of the weight of expectation which society at large puts on them, but I would suggest that it is more about the demand they put on themselves to be the very best. The one thing we know, however, is that they greater the demand or expectation that we (or something) should be or end up a certain way, the greater the level of disappointment and suffering when it ends up some other how. 

A great irony is that Caster Semeya's excellence sucks in a completely different way. Gifted with physical attributes that make her the fastest woman over 800m also give her the freedom she derives from her running, but there must also be times when she regards her physcial attributes as an absolute curse rather than a gift.

The invitation, therefore, is to do or be the very best we can, but without placing a demand on the outcome or how we should be in order to achieve it. Is it not enough to celebrate our greatness, or uniqueness for what it is, rather than insist that we compare ourselves with every other Tom, Dick and Harry to prove that we are better than them? So what if we're better? How does it make us feel better about ourselves when we 're better than the next guy?

If that's the way we want to play the game, prepare to be disappointed, because the truth is there's only one Usain Bolt and one Michael Phelps, and the chances of any of us being one of them are 1 in 7 billion, so be happy with what you have and what you know to be true about yourself. You'll be so glad you did.

Friday, 12 August 2016

GOING FOR GOLD (part 2): THE FINAL PUSH

I previously wrote about a young #Olympic rower named Jonty Smith (@jonty11smith). Today at 16h27 South African time he and his crew race in the final of the Mens Heavyweight Coxless Fours. Here is my message to them:


Dear Jonty, David, Vince and Jake, (and, indeed, all of Rowing Team SA),

I couldn’t be more excited for you or proud of what you have managed up until this point. Today is your day of reckoning. The heats are over, the repecharge is won and you only get one shot – ever – at winning a medal in THIS race.

Rugby players are fond of saying that nothing that has gone before a knock-out match matters any longer. Whilst I doubt that that is so for rugby players, I want to suggest that everything that has gone before matters. Every race you have won or lost, every session on the ergo, every stroke you have ever pulled is your experience matrix. It is a complicated database on which you will draw for every stroke of today’s final. You will know exactly what has worked before, and what has not worked. You will know exactly how it feels when your timing is out, or when your timing is impeccable and the boat is running. You will know how to react when someone hits a wave. Importantly, you will know what you have done, how your performance curve has climbed and climbed since Henley last year and what you are capable of achieving. You might also know the depths of your own reserves that you can plumb, but then again you might still need to find out what else is in reserve.

It will take you 230 odd strokes to cover the course today. That is 230 opportunities for greatness. They also represent 230 choices you can make about how you perform and what you want for yourselves. No race is about the last 50 strokes. Every race is about every stroke, but I daresay one or more moments will come in the race when you will need to make a huge choice about whether to dig deeper, go harder or back off. That choice will define you and all you stand for forever. 

You will draw your inspiration from yesterday’s unbelievable row by Lawrence and Shaun to take Silver in the Mens Pairs, and from the thousands of friends, family and fans you know about, but also from the millions of South Africans who sit glued to the Olympics channels in hope and awe, watching other South Africans being the best they can be. Most importantly, you will draw your inspiration from your hearts, from all that you know yourselves to be and from any higher power on whom you have drawn in the past – Life, God, the Universe – whatever has meaning for you. This is you opportunity to discover who you are at your very core.

There are very few people who become Olympians in any given year – perhaps 0.0001% of the world’s population and perhaps a quarter of those become finalists. The achievement you have already made is enormous, but the possibility you have created of becoming a medallist is one on which only you can act.

Although no one wanted a repecharge and an extra race, I have a sense that that is exactly what you needed. One extra race to bring you to your peak. 

Finally, remember that fear is simply excitement without breath. You will need lots of breath, so be excited from the outset.

I and millions of others will be watching and shouting for you and the rest of Rowing Team SA later today. Go for it.

YOLO

Sunday, 31 July 2016

THE DRAWING OF THE CARDS

So we have #MunicipalElections coming up on Wednesday. #America has a #PresidentialElection coming up in November and the #UnitedKingdom has just emerged from its #Brexit debacle. It's intriguing to see the cards being drawn upon by the various interest groups.

#Trump has of course been playing the #FearCard which, as far as I can tell seems to be pretty effective. The man can lie, connive, treat his workers badly, abuse Mexicans, women and minority groups with impunity but nonetheless continues to build his support base. So clearly fear works and there's no need to fall back on the #DecentHumanValuesCard.

The good folk of the UK will confirm this. That's exactly what the #Leave campaigners relied upon, although their fear card specifically targeted immigrants with the #XenophobiaCard and all that that would mean for the UK. To hell with the #PowerfulEconomyCard.

Here in #SouthAfrica, we have far more interesting cards to draw in order to pull votes. The four shining examples are:

  • The #EldersCard, in which our beloved President said that the opposition parties were full of educated young people who knew nothing, so people should rather vote for the ANC because the elders know what they are doing. Hmmm.
  • The tried and tested #ApartheidCard, in which the ANC can continue to blame all ills in the country (including corruption apparently) on the old apartheid regime because, after all, it only ended 22 years ago.
  • The ubiquitous #RaceCard, in its multiple forms, but perhaps the most recent version is one to watch in which an EFF local government candidate posted on Facebook a call for all Whites to be hacked and killed. Really? Will that alleviate the poverty and unemployment in South Africa? I wonder whether a party like that belongs anywhere other than alongside #ISIS?
  • Finally, the #AncestorsCard, in which our (still beloved) #Zuma suggested that if voters turn their backs on the ANC, the Ancestors will turn their backs on the voters, with all the karma that will surely follow. (One must of course assume that Zuma has a hot-line to the Ancestors.)
It's funny that parties are having to resort to the above drawcards in a local election when, surely, the only card worth pulling would be the #ServiceDelivery card? Which, incidentally, the #DA seems to have pulled pretty successfully in the Municipalities which it controls. Just saying.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

FEAR-BASED DECISION MAKING

Fear: False Evidence Appearing Real. Not a bad result in turning the word 'fear' into an acronym. For that is what much of our fear boils down to: we invent evidence in our minds which in turn becomes our reality. Let's take #Brexit, for example.

The Rest of the World view is that Brexit represented a vote which pitched economics against xenophobia. I accept that it was more complicated than that, but from where I sit the Leave campaigners appealed directly to the deepest fear of the voters who eventually supported the campaign. What were those fears? Well, they included hordes of Turks and other foreigners spilling into Britain, taking jobs, living off the dole and generally making a nuisance of themselves. If you were to dig deeper the fears probably led to a catastrophe scenario millions of Brits begging on the streets, increased taxes to cover social security benefits and general, abject poverty.

This seemed to the man in the street a worse outcome than, say, world stock markets crashing, the Pound taking a bath and a loss of access to the EU markets.

The problem was that Turkey is not and has never been a part of the EU, so the fear that Turks were going to start migrating to Britain was as fanciful as it has always been. The fear of mass immigration and a damaged social security system was all about things that might, or might not, happen at some time in the future, but somehow this became the reality for the Leavers. What their fears ignored was the predictions of virtually every economist on the planet of what was most likely to happen with a Leave vote. And guess what happened? We're told that US$3 trillion was wiped off the global markets. The Pound has dropped to its lowest level against the Dollar in over thirty years, meaning that every import into the UK has become 15% more expensive and potentially, the thing that the Leavers feared most, is the thing that their vote will end up bringing about: higher taxes, more of a strain on social security, increased cost of living, a worse relationship with the Europeans and so on.

The simple point here is that a great number of Leavers - I can't say everyone, but I speculate that it was many - made a decision based on fear rather than common sense. Their decision was based on false evidence which had become their reality, rather than on real evidence (i.e. what was so about the UK immediately prior to the vote - a stable and relatively strong economy, sensible Government, strong currency and reasonably good working relationship with European neighbours).

When we make our decisions, we need to be able to discern the actual truth - Life's reality - from the falsehoods which we make into our own reality. This requires a discernment of what is true from what is false, because it is the falsehoods which engender the fear. We fear outcomes, that things might happen (which so often don't), that others will think ill of us, or that markets will go a certain way, or that we'll run out of money, or a million other things that might or might not happen. This is the unstable, untested ground and as long as we fear the future and the unknown we will be unable to base our decision-making on the reality of what is so right now. We basically become gamblers, rather than rational thinking human beings.

I saw Chris #Froome, leader of the #TourdeFrance, start running up Mont Ventoux the other day without a bicycle after his was damaged in a crash. The clear rule in the race is that you cannot do any part of it without a bicycle, but Froome ran up the hill anyway because he feared that no one would get a spare bike to him, he feared that the race officials wouldn't fix the problem that had unfairly caused him to crash and he feared he would lose his lead and so lose the race, so he made his decision based on fear and could so easily have brought about the result he feared the most: not winning the Tour de France. Thankfully sanity prevailed, he stopped running, was given a bike and the race officials sorted out the unfairness, but fear-based decision making could easily have cost him very dearly.

Mr #Trump wants to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of America, and wants to keep Muslims out of America, and wants everyone to carry guns, and, and...Whether these proposals are based upon his own untested fears of the future, or are simply a product of a devious, vote-seeking mind feeding on the fears of his electorate, the fact is that if voting is based on the fears being stirred up by Mr Trump, there is a real risk that America could emulate Brexit, make its decision about who should be the next President based upon fearful perceptions and bring about a result which it may live to regret bitterly.

I'm not telling anyone how to vote, but my greatest wish for the people of America is that your vote is based on what you know actually to be true, rather than on your greatest fears, especially when most of those fears have been stirred up by a man whose acquaintance with the truth appears to be both rare and coincidental.

Monday, 27 June 2016

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR...

So the #Leavers won their #Brexit vote and now seem to be a bit like a dog which has caught up with a car it was chasing, but doesn't quite know what to do with it. To the contrary, the tyres of the car are leaking, it's belching smoke, oozing oil and doesn't seem like quite the prize it was when it was travelling comfortably down the road.

From where I sit, which is far away in our own dysfunctional country, it seems to me that the Leavers got something they wished for and it doesn't taste quite so sweet as they had imagined. Almost all I have heard since the outcome of the Referendum has been shock and horror by those who voted to Remain and tales of buyer's (or is it seller's?) regret by ordinary voters who were arguably conned into voting to Leave. I haven't heard anything from the leaders of the Leave campaign other than retractions of promises. One would be forgiven for thinking that there would be whooping from the rooftops by the Leavers, or perhaps at least a leap and click of the heels or the odd fist pump and air punch. But nothing.

Perhaps I am reading all the wrong websites and am just not subscribed to the cool sites where all the Leavers post their cries of triumph, but then again, maybe not.

Maybe Boris Johnson thought this would be a great campaign to get him the PM's job. If that be so, it sounds as if he's welcome to it and it will be nothing short of a poisoned chalice. However, at this stage it seems as if no one really wants the job, but again I'm not privy to the inner circle so don't really know. All I know is that Boris has been pretty quiet in victory, but has made no friends of the younger voters of Britain.

All I do know is that all the public signs point to a disparate group of whingers wishing for something and then getting it by mistake, with all the huge consequences that will follow a formal Brexit, to say nothing of the consequences which have already played out. Despite no one having a plan on how to Brexit, the one group which has shown some determination to give effect to the Referendum has been the English footballers in EURO 2016.

The centuries of grandmothers' wisdom seems to have played out: Be careful of what you wish for: you might just get it.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

"ON THE EDGE OF YOUR SEATS..."

I want to share a story of #creativity, #courage, #inspiration, #motivation, #passion and #trust. I must immediately declare a parental interest, as my daughter Jeśka is one of the heroines of the story. But the tale is not so much about her as it is about what is possible when you simply say "Yes" to the way Life is. It is also the story of three young actors who formed a theatre company called Duckface, sourced a theatre, a script and put on a show from scratch in #London.

Earlier this year the three of them, Jeśka Pike, Nicholas Campbell and Emily Wyatt (Director), decided that they were over waiting for their "big break" and that it was time to take the acting bull by the horns. They formed their company, sourced a theatre and put out a call to playwright organisations for scripts. Of the 30-odd that they received, one was a brand new play by Donna Hoke, an award-winning New York playwright, who entrusted her new baby entitled "The Way it Is" to three actors whom she had neither met nor heard of. The Duckface trio unanimously agreed what a great piece of work it was, even though it had never before been stress-tested on the stage, and came to an agreement with Donna. Emily sourced some funding to help them hire a theatre, equip themselves, source their costumes and props, market the play and get the show on the road.


They recently completed a two week run in London, ending the run with full houses and massive acclaim from patrons, fellow actors and industry people. Remember, this was a brand new and completely unknown theatre company, playing a brand new and unknown piece. Some of the reviews on the TimeOut website included comments like: "An exceptional piece of theatre, brilliantly directed...a powerful, personal, provocative & profound play brewed-up by the talented Duckface actors group...Truly gripping play with a thought-provoking script. Wonderful performance by both actors - I couldn't take my eyes off the stage!...Daring, compelling...A chilling piece of theatre that'll have you on the edge of your seat! Beautifully played by two actors who expertly highlight some ugly truths of adult life" and so on.


Even the BBC weather presenter, Ben Rich, tweeted to his almost 3,000 followers: "A hugely intense hour of drama with 'The Way It Is'...@Nicki_Doug and @Jeskie_pie were just awesome. Catch it if you can."

On any basis the show was a huge success and I for one hope that it goes on to bigger theatres and greater acclaim. However, there is a bigger picture to the story. Save for a minuscule percentage of aspirant actors, Life has it that actors need to do their time, go to endless auditions and wait and hope that they will be picked for something and eventually get a decent break. That's The Way It Is: ask pretty much any actor who has made it and he or she will tell you about long hours as a waitron, running errands and doing menial work to pay the bills between acting jobs.

A couple of months ago Seth Godin blogged about picking oneself (as opposed to waiting for others to pick you). That's exactly what Duckface has done. Rather than hanging around and waiting for a break which might never come, they have backed themselves, taken a huge risk of unknown actors, putting on an untested play, in an unforgiving city and brutal industry and pulled it off. As a top London choreographer friend of ours wrote in an email to us and Jeśka after seeing the show: "She's got guts!" She would know what she's talking about.


One can't help feeling inspired and motivated by the self-faith and courageous spirit of the unknown actors of Duckface. My guess is they'll soon be known throughout their industry. Whatever happens, they know what they are capable of, and couldn't have known without trying it out. Yes, I'm a proud Dad, but I also feel inspired by the way these three actors have embraced Life as it is and lifted their own game to meet Life's game.

As for Donna Hoke, bless your heart for trusting the process and trusting Duckface with your creation. I don't think we've heard the end of it: in fact, I suspect this is only the beginning.




Saturday, 18 June 2016

IF #TIME WASN'T AN ISSUE...

If #time wasn’t an issue in our lives, we might:

·                     Stop stressing about deadlines
·                     Spend more of it with our children and other people who matter
·                     Take more holidays
·                     Stop rushing around
·                     Not make ourselves sick
·                     Start appreciating everything around us, rather than filtering out the trees, flowers and birds and whatever else we consider unnecessary
·                     Connect with others, including the man in the street
·                     Walk with our dogs
·                     Do more of the things we love
·                     Keep ourselves healthy
·                     Actually taste our food
·                     Meditate daily
·                     Think straight about the bigger picture
·                     Find proper meaning in our lives
·                     Eat at dining room tables rather than in front of the TV
·                     Complete all the unfinished business in our lives
·                     Clean out the garage
·                     Tick off our bucket lists
·                     Enjoy our leisure time rather than feel guilty about it
·                     Not struggle through old age
·                     Start living in the moment and not in the past or future

And it’s all possible, if that’s what we choose.


Just saying…

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

HOGS AT THE TROUGH

I was sitting on a bus in #Cumbria (#LakeDistrict) with my wife, Kazalette, recently when an unkempt and scruffy bloke sitting a couple of rows ahead of us (let's call him Onslow) suddenly turned around and engaged me in conversation. "Lovely day, isn't it?", which seemed like a reasonable opening line. I agreed that it was. "I've just come up by train and taxi - cost me 95 pounds, it did." Not necessarily information for which I was yearning. "Just had terrible health problems, I did. Heart and tingling fingers", said Onslow. Starting to be too much information. "And then I lost all my money - looking for a job now and hoping to get some more money." Hmmm...where's this going? And who comes looking for a job in the Lake District, anyway? "I bet you've got a good job, haven't you? What do you do?" With Kazalette frantically kicking at my shin, I finally had the presence of mind to declare that I was an author, rather than a lawyer and withdraw as best I could from further discourse with my new best friend, Onslow. And with that most of the conversation mercifully drew to a close.

On any basis, Onslow was an operator at work on tourists, what one of my late partners, Rob McGowan, might have called another hog at the trough. Rob, who was managing partner at an ex-firm of mine, had a strong philosophy that no associate should ever be admitted to the partnership if he or she was just going to be "another hog at the trough". Unless that associate was going to add genuine value to the partnership and make it greater than the sum of its parts, the path to partnership wasn't open because the associate would simply be feeding off the other partners' crops without adding anything more.

I've come across a lot of hogs feeding and watering themselves at other people's troughs in my time. Perhaps there's a need for them at some level: I can see that hogs present us all with the opportunity to get our backbones in place, take a stand for who we are and what we bring to the world, rather than just seeing ourselves as hog-feeders. Hogs, unless they are reciprocating with something, even if it's just bacon or some other contribution to the well-being of the farmer, should really be moved out of the pen as soon as possible.

It seems to me that Life has so much more to offer if you can be the one filling the trough, rather than simply feeding from it. When you're the trough-filler, you are required to draw on your resources and creativity, but isn't that what keeps you alive and looking at the big picture? The hogs eventually get slaughtered because they're not offering any of that sort of value. 

However, if you're going to be doing the trough-filling, you wouldn't want to be doing that all on your own. You would want some support and assistance. When hogs are at the trough the flow of energy, nourishment and value is in one direction only: towards the hogs. If we are going to feed hogs, we need to find a way of having them contribute so that they are earning their keep. If they aren't doing that, they'll eventually use up all of your resources.

So the take home here is to look around and see if their are any hogs feeding from your trough. If there are, what are you going to do to ensure some sort of reciprocal exchange of nourishment or value? If they have nothing to contribute, consider putting them out of the pen. Slaughter is always a possibility.

Which I am sure is the fate which awaits Onslow.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

GOING FOR #GOLD

Yesterday evening we went to a celebratory party for Jonty Smith (@Jonty_Smith), a young man whose rowing crew qualified last week for the Mens Heavyweight Coxless Four at the #RioOlympics. His story is nothing short of inspirational.

Jonty has been in and out of our house for many years as one of our son's (Stefan) best friends from school and later house-mates at Cape Town University (UCT). He was a good water-polo and rugby player at school, but had never seen a rowing boat, far less rowed in one. However, he is 1.92m tall, lithe and strong and looks as if he could do any sport to which he sets his mind. Just over three years he joined us on a family holiday in Mozambique. Somewhere along the way I bent his ear and told him I thought he looked as if he would be a perfect candidate for a rowing boat, my old sport from years ago. Whilst I might have planted a small seed for him and didn't really expect him to do it, I suspect in reality that he was lured into the sport by meeting three very pretty girls from the UCT rowing club on that same holiday.

Be that as it may, he returned to UCT for the new academic year, signed up for the rowing club and promptly pulled one of the quickest ergometer times in the University. Now an ergo is not by any means a rowing boat, but it requires extraordinary physical ability to produce a good time, more so if you have never rowed before, and it gives a pretty good indication of a person's ability to move a boat. (It also gives new meaning to the word 'suffering'.)

Jonty's progression in the sport was meteoric, quickly making his way into the University first crew, breaking the National ergometer record, being selected for a South African U23 crew and finally being chosen for a Men's Four to race in the Grand Challenge Cup in 2015, an elite Men's race at the rowing mecca, Henley. Rowing does not come naturally to many people and it generally takes many years to achieve what Jonty did in that short space of time. However, Henley brought the crew down to earth with a bump, being well beaten by a world class crew in the first round. 

After a couple of crew changes, several good beatings in other international regattas, more tweaking of technique, endless hours of training both on and off the water over the past year, the crew finally hit their straps last week at their last opportunity to qualify for Rio, the Lucerne International Regatta in Switzerland. They needed to finish first or second to qualify. What they did was to cruise into the final and then win comfortably from the favourite French crewAny rower would take a gold medal from that regatta and feel grateful, but when it comes with a ticket to the Summer Olympics it is pretty special.

Not to take anything away from his other gifted team mates, David Hunt, Vince Breet and Jake Green, what Jonty has achieved in just over three years is almost unheard of in rowing. It is a bit like someone picking up a golf club for the first time and then being able to compete meaningfully with Ernie Els or Rory McIlroy after three years. He has been blessed with a perfect physique, an incredible physiology and a temperament which understands and almost revels in the suffering necessary to row at the top of the sport. What the crew has done in the space of one short year is also extraordinary, with most top rowing crews needing to train together for years before becoming this competitive. Emerging from a first round drubbing at Henley, picking themselves up, dusting themselves off and qualifying a year later for Rio is testament to the immense character of these young modern-day heroes, as well as their coaches, Roger Barrow and Paul Jackson, to say nothing of the many private funders and supporters (including parents and family) in the background.

What's the piece in this for all of us? Yes, good physical attributes help in sport, but the huge pieces for success are willingness to go for it, a readiness to pick yourself up when you take a tumble and go again, total focus and commitment to your path and a willingness to suffer for what you want. It also can't be done without significant support from others.

I want nothing more for this humble, wonderful young man and his crew to win a medal at Rio, but the mere fact of what he and they have achieved to date should be inspiration enough for all of us as to what might be possible with some application.

Watch the Mens Coxless Fours (M4-) at Rio to see how the story unfolds.