Last week I went to see a coach whom I have been working with for a while now. Over the years, she has helped me prepare me for my next step. The step that has been a deep calling of mine for many years now, however I didn’t have the confidence or trust in myself to take it. The step of sharing more in the space of wellbeing and sport.
As Steve Jobs, said so eloquently in his Stanford Commencement Address in 2005,
“It was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college, but it was very, very clear looking backwards 10 years later. Again, you cannot connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that somehow the dots will connect to your future. You have to trust that something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, what ever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path. And that will make all of the difference.”
Connecting My Own Dots…
Today I am ready to share with you some of my own life dots. In January 2002, I moved to the Gold Coast to take up a position as a Health and Physical Education Teacher at Tamborine Mountain State High School. After graduating from the University of Newcastle with a Double Degree (Bachelor of Teaching / Bachelor of Health and Physical Education with Hons), I felt I needed space to create a new identity. Be in a space where very few people knew my past as an athlete and accepted me just for me and the job that I was doing – supporting students to learn health and physical education HPE.
I loved being a HPE teacher, however in June 2004 a position as the QLD State Project Officer came up with MindMatters – a National Mental Health and Wellbeing initiative. When I read the position description, I knew it was something I could do as it aligned so well with Health and Physical Education (as well as my Masters of Education that I had completed in my first year of teaching). So I applied and after an interview and bit of paperwork, I took leave without pay from my teaching position and dove head first in to that position in September 2004.
One Dot – A Conversation with Jo…
This position ended up helping me cement my passion. Besides learning the nuts and bolts of mental health and wellbeing and how to develop a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing, I was lucky enough to work with and be supported by some amazing people.
I distinctly remember having a conversation in the redevelopment phase of MindMatters (MM) with the National Co-ordinator of Strategic Development, Jo Mason. I had the upmost respect for Jo and was extremely grateful to have been able to work with her. This conversation was on empowerment and I remember like it was yesterday.
As we often did, we were discussing teaching, students and how they learn. This discussion sparked something in me that I didn’t know was there until later. I made a comment along the lines of –
“It doesn’t matter what the teacher does, if the students’ perception of themselves is that they are stupid or worthless, they are not going to learn. The student has to learn to see through or untangle those beliefs themselves. They may even be subconsciously sabotaging (or protecting) themselves.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was referring to me. Yes – I believed I was stupid, worthless, something was wrong with me and would never amount to anything. I had taken on board and believed these thoughts/beliefs from a variety of past experiences. I am not sure if Jo knew I was referring to me (I suspect she did as she was quite intuitive and a wise womxn.
Subsequently – from my own experiences, I can now see I am the only one that can empower me and you are the only one that can empower yourself.
More than likely you will face your deepest fears, be challenged and mistakes will be made along the way, however that is part of the gift of the (un)learning process and adventure of life. It does not mean you’re a failure, something is wrong with you or you are worthless. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it this way –
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
Another Dot – My First Silent 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat
During my time with MindMatters, I started noticing some similar patterns that I had experienced as an athlete. I was pushing and striving to be the best I could be. However, I was also struggling with my energy and looking after myself. Three seperate experiences occurred in quick succession, which led me to my first 10-day silent meditation retreat.
Seriously, I didn’t really know the depth of what I signed-up for. When I went in to this retreat, I was drinking two or three energy drinks a day (yes to help me get through the day with all of the things I thought I needed to do to live up to this person I thought I was). I was so busy, the thought of retreating and chilling for a while was quite appealing. However, this is not how my first experience evolved.
Those 10-days were one of the most challenging experiences of my life. Sitting in meditation for about 10 hours per day was painful. Being with my own mind, without any distractions was interesting to say the least. However, as it turned out, exactly what I needed.
After the extreme pain subsided on about day 5 or 6, I had a very clear seeing. I saw deeply there were other parts of me that I had been hiding and not expressing. And if I chose to, the next step in my personal work was to untangle them. So I have been ever since. And yes, this adventure continues as I practise mindfulness and self-compassion and other habits I have learnt/remembered along the adventure.
“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” ~ Pema Chödrön
Third Dot – Wellbeing is for Everybody and Everybody Supports Wellbeing!
Towards the end of 2020, I got told (again) that wellbeing is the job of psychologists. I have heard this many times before, however know it is not true. Yes, absolutely psychologists support the wellbeing of a range of people within society, including athletes and people whom work in sport. However, the wellbeing of athletes is not the sole responsibility of psychologists.
What do I mean by this? As I am not here to convince you, I will ask you some questions, so you can decide for yourself –
- Do you think someone telling you, that you need to lose weight as a young person can impact your wellbeing?
- If you feel unheard in a conversation, can that impact your wellbeing?
- Thinking you do not have the resources or confidence to do your best, does that impact your wellbeing?
- If you don’t know how to deal with challenges or emotions, can that impact your wellbeing?
If you got this far, am gathering you can see there are many elements to wellbeing and also wellbeing in sport (I wrote an article on wellbeing in sport here).
One of my favourite posters in my MM days, that we used to lovingly adapt is the image to the left. And yes, it still resonates with me today.
Final Dot (for now) – the Girl Who Changed My Life Without Realising It
This follows on from the last dot as well. When I was doing my Masters in Guidance and Counselling (yes I thought I was going to be a Guidance Officer in a school), I did some volunteer counselling on the phone. One night a young girl rang. It turned out she was in quite a lot of distress, so I needed to call my supervisor.
Throughout the call, I made sure she knew what was going on and could hear what I was saying to my supervisor. In many ways, I was repeating what she said to me, back to my supervisor. At the end of the call, when extra support arrived for her, she said to me –
“thank you so much for listening to me, you are the first person who has ever really listened to me.”
I remember that moment as if it was yesterday – it still touches me deeply. And yes, I agree with her – true listening and being present for another human is a gift. This also shows (again) that wellbeing is everybody’s business, as human beings are communicating most of their lives in some way.
Over to You…
I hope this has given you a little insight in to my world and how different experiences have shaped who I am today. Yes I can see now how these dots have helped me to transform different parts of my own inner world, which has allowed me step in to the next adventure with wellbeing and sport. I made a promise to myself a few years back that I wouldn’t step in to the space until I was ready and healed / transformed my own adventure. And that time is now.
Yes there are a some more dots. However for the moment, I sense this is enough (remember I am an introvert at heart).
If you have any questions, please let me know. Also, if you would like to find out more about the work I am doing in sport and wellbeing, please visit the website Life Beyond Elite Sport. I have also started sharing stories from other athletes who played sport as well as you just never know, their story could be a dot for another person 🙂
Acknowledgement – A big thanks to Tracy Zilm for the photo of Jo and I.
Thanks again for taking the time to read and take good care 🙂 xxx