Reflection

Showing Up – My Olympic Inspiration, A Minute, A Few Words, An Old T-shirt, Pay It Forward.

“You’re not in the official squad Toby. You don’t get swimmers and uniform.”

This announcement from the head coach was in front of 30 of the best water polo players in the country – some of them my great mates. All of us were striving to be a part of the Sydney Olympics just 2 years away.

We were in the briefing room above the pool at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra for an Australian Men’s water polo training camp with Serbia.

When the coach asked if everyone had their gear, I was the only one who put my hand to say I didn’t.

I was on scholarship, living and training at the AIS at the time. The training block in the lead up had been the hardest I’d ever trained. I’d put everything into it but still hadn’t been selected in the official squad.

It was a completely fair response.

“You can join in the conditioning work and be part of the warm ups. But you won’t be getting game time. You can watch and learn.”

I wanted to crawl into a dark corner and hide.

Showing up

I sucked it up and showed up to the sessions to do what I could.

At the end of the week, everyone was back in the same briefing room. The group was heading to Sydney for official games.

“Does everyone have their travel and accom details?”

I didn’t, so I stuck up my hand again.

You’ll have to make your own arrangements if you’re going to come Toby.”

Another stinger in front of the group.

There wasn’t much point staying in Canberra by myself. So I organised a lift and one of the Sydney squad offered me a bed at his parent’s place. We’d be able to get to the sessions and the official games together.

One of the assistant coaches put me on video duty in Sydney so I recorded the training sessions and practice matches.

Then it was time for the first official game.

A minute, a few words and an old t-shirt

We were out at Homebush Aquatic Centre, built specifically for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. This was an important Olympic preparation event. The whole squad was in a room beside the pool running through game strategy. I stood up the back listening.

Dry land warm ups were done then it was time to go poolside.

As I left the room, one of the most senior players grabbed me in the hallway. I’d only known him for about 3 months since he’d returned from playing professionally in Europe. He was at the AIS too and had been in the Australian team for 4 years. He was considered one of the best players in the world.

He took me aside and handed me a shirt with the Australian Water Polo logo on it. It was an older version, but very similar, to the ones the squad had been given.

“I want you to have this. I think you deserve it. I know one day you will be a part of this squad.”

Then he walked out to the pool deck. It was all over in less than a minute.

What stands out is the impact this had on me as a person first and foremost, and by default on my water polo career.

It wasn’t something that I sought out, or could control at all. I couldn’t ask for help with it.

At a time when I just kept on showing up, seriously doubting what I was doing, and seriously doubting whether I would ever be good enough, he took a minute, a few words and an old shirt to inspire me forever.

I didn’t make the Sydney Olympic team, but revisiting that gesture kept me going in the next 6 years in the lead up to Athens.

Paying it forward

I’ve kept looking for the chance to do the same for others whether that’s through a t-shirt or some other modality. I’ve become increasingly aware of the responsibility of the privilege of my experiences and opportunities.

In fact, it’s how I see this writing.

It’s definitely not easy. Sometimes writing feels like open heart surgery. I know I can’t please everyone, every time. But if I hear it’s had an impact, then I’m stoked.

And even if no one reads these articles, then at the very least they force me to reflect and clarify my own thinking. In a way, that means I can’t lose.

So thank you.

I appreciate the fact you’ve read this far. That you might let me know if you found it useful, or share it with a friend or colleague who might, or challenge my thinking.

I plan to keep showing up because I’ve found it’s a way to take a gift, a lesson or a moment in time and pay it forward.

“Who Am I?” (v15,493) – How To Regain Momentum In 3 Mins

If you’re anything like me, you might like to just get straight to the “how to” part.


So here it is.


I’ll explain the backstory afterwards.

Regaining Momentum

As an experiment, I’ve tried this exercise recently with people feeling stuck in different situations: intense negotiations, family troubles, stepping down from their business and assessing job opportunities.


They found it useful. I hope you do too.



Do What Matters Exercise [3 mins]

  1. Open up a new note on your phone.

  2. Title it Daily Practice.

  3. Write in a sub header: Do What Matters

  4. Then allow yourself only 30 seconds to write your responses to each of the 6 questions below in the note you just created.

[NB: I say 30 secs for 2 reasons – firstly to stop perfectionism taking over, secondly to get you up and running as quickly as possible. You don’t need perfect answers here. If you don’t know an answer just write something down. Something is infinitely better than nothing. In my experience, you’ll have a very good gut sense of what matters to you. You can always refine it later.]

Questions (copy these directly into your note)

  1. What are your values?

  2. Who is important to you?
    It can be specific people or groups of people. An important note: I find people often don’t include themselves. This is an exercise in self awareness. Without you, there are no other relationships. So please make sure your name is on the list.

  3. What is important to you?
    This can be broad or specific. They might be goals or more generalised concepts. Up to you.

  4. What is your purpose?
    If you don’t have one, take a guess.

  5. What would you willingly do for free?

  6. What energises you?

Then check this note ideally every day or, if not, then at least whenever you’re feeling stuck.

Add to it and edit it as you see fit. Then use it to guide your decisions and actions.


That’s it.


[If you choose to give this a crack, please let me know how you go in the comments or contact me directly.]



I’ve found that connecting to importance is a pathway to regaining a sense of momentum. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed. Other times acceptance and mindfulness are a required part of the process too.


Bringing some definition to who I am and then reconnecting with it helps me create an internal locus of control and helps me distinguish between my reaction to the situation (which I can’t control) and my response (which I can).

The Backstory

When I resigned recently, I was trying to decide what to do next. I had identified so strongly with my role in my business that when that was removed, I felt I’d lost a part of my identity. I felt stuck.


“Who am I?”
wasn’t a question I could easily answer.


When I did begin to think about it, there was a risk of my response becoming a philosophical swamp.


I opted for extreme utility instead.

Decoupling

I drew this sketch one day and it helped me to think about the situation.

Obviously, the circle in the middle represents who I am.


The radiating lines represent, at a macro level, the expression of who I am into the relationships I have in the world as a husband, father, friend, coach, founder, colleague and into various areas of my life – work, spirituality, health, fitness, social, leisure etc.


At a micro level, a line might represent the expression of who I am into very specific situations like a difficult conversation or my choice to do my work outs at home rather than going to a gym.


(I realised through COVID that the opportunity to train at home was in service of role modelling exercise for my daughters. This has been the single most important factor that has helped me stick to my strength and mobility program.)


Seeing things in this way allows me to decouple who I am from what I do.


It also allows me to choose how I engage in these various activities.

Definition

Once the decoupling became apparent, the next step was to bring some definition to answering “Who am I?”. (Some would say there is no “I”, but that’s for another conversation.)


There are a myriad of ways to do that and I’ve tried a bunch.


Values finders, strengths finders, psychometric profiling, vision building tools etc. I’ve always enjoyed these kinds of rabbit holes. Some reports really resonated. But more often, they have ended up buried as attachments in my email, never to be seen again.


The other challenge with these exercises is that they can take a long time. The time investment becomes a barrier to getting started and a barrier to putting the insights into practice. And to me, that’s where all the value is created.


So 8 weeks ago, rather than starting from a blank page, I opted to grab what I had – my values and a vision statement that I’d done in past exercises. I hadn’t created the Do What Matters exercise at that point.


I added them to a note to reflect on each day before I started work.

Editable

I found myself editing that note most days or simply highlighting parts that didn’t sit well or I felt needed updating. I also added some things like purpose and behavioural principles.


By having it editable, I’d stumbled across an empowering insight: I have the chance to change it every day if I choose; to make it more of who I am; to remove parts that no longer fit.

What my note currently looks like

This is different to how your note will have turned out. I didn’t have that exercise structure when I started this.

It absolutely captures the essence of my responses to those questions though. They’ve just been captured and rewritten in a different format.

Feel free to copy this too if you’d prefer to use this as a starting point. I’ll leave up to you.

Daily Practice

Version 15,493 [NB: I’ll explain this next]

Do What Matters

Purpose

  • To build a better world by helping people bring all of who they are to everything they do.

Values

  • Love ❤️
  • Gratitude 🙏
  • Humility 🌱
  • Exploration 🌌
  • Contribution 🌅

Vision

I earn respect by being deeply connected to my family, friends, work and life; by exploring ways to bring all of me to everything I do and helping others do the same.

People say that I am humble and a voracious learner; that I integrate all parts of life; that I’ve connected them with fascinating people and had a tonne of fun together.

I build trust by doing what matters; acknowledging when I’m wrong; listening and asking questions first; sharing my stories; living my strengths and walking my talk.

The highest standards I uphold are characterised by focus, patience, reflection and action.

My legacy will be that I loved deeply and was loved in return; that I impacted the lives of my family, friends and millions globally; that I made the world a better place; that I had an impact on the grand challenges of our time; that I contributed far more to humanity’s pool than I took away.

Behavioural Principles

  • Committed action I am all in. I bring all of me to everything I do. It’s hell yeah or not at all. Pressure, stress, fear, vulnerability are the price of entry.

  • Ideas are free, strategy + execution is everything. I pause and consider then execute fast to test and learn.

  • Do what matters I manage priorities not time. Importance is my compass, as is fear. Time is non-renewable.

Version 15,493

A few weeks after I’d resigned, a friend asked me: “How’s Toby 2.0 going?”.


It was the editability of the note that made me think that this wasn’t really version Toby 2.0.


How many versions had there actually been?


I realised that this note was an imperfect but workable definition of who I am today. And that there have been thousands of versions prior and hopefully many more to come.


I really like the idea of being an architect of who I am, so I found a calculator (link below) that would tell me how many days I’ve been alive.


Turns out it’s 15,493.


If versioning happens daily, and assuming I make it, then tomorrow I’ll be at version 15,494.


I realised that the work of being myself is never done, it doesn’t have to be perfect and I can always update it tomorrow as I reflect and learn.


Until death that is.


I find that liberating.



Associated Links

Calculator

Other posts about transition

[Podcast] The Power of Decoupling Identity, Building An Internal Compass, Waking Up At 3am, Filling The Void, My Daily Practice

Jack Ferguson (entrepreneur, host of The Push business podcast) and I caught up recently.

It became clear very quickly that we were in similar situations. Having both gone through big challenges and change in our businesses, and neither of us really knowing what the next step is, it seemed like a good idea to explore this on Jack’s podcast.

In this episode we speak about:

  • How and why I’m working at decoupling my identity
  • What was waking me up in the middle of the night.
  • What recently happened to Jack that has him in a tailspin.
  • Choosing to hit publish on vulnerable content.
  • Becoming more of who I am.
  • Trying not to mentally fast forward through crappy times.
  • How to do the work of defining values to use them to navigate uncertainty.

It’s cool to be able to share this kind of thing publicly, so thanks to Jack for initiating it. You can find him on LinkedIn.

Trailer

Listen on

Stitcher: https://lnkd.in/gwdiQ_8

Apple Podcasts: https://lnkd.in/g4d4Fww

Spotify: https://lnkd.in/gUVRW2x

Google Podcasts: https://lnkd.in/gVA7Rzy

 

Show Notes

Conversation Time Stamps

3:00 What business are you currently involved in?

5:25 Why have you done decoupling work?

8:45 Why were you getting up at 3am?

19:00 Why cutting away is usually superior to addition.

21:25 What impacts achievement more? Personal attributes or one’s environment?

28:00 Why did you decide to post vulnerable content recently?

34:20 What questions do you ask to understand who you are?

39:00 Strategy vs Execution.

42:20 How long did you feel content after the olympics?

45:20 How did you manage identity changes when moving between careers?

50:00 What are your experiences of going all in?

Reference Links and Resources