Continuing with our series using the acronym LIFE and on the “I”, let’s explore Inspiration.
I have had the privilege of meeting many inspirational people in my life. Victor Vermeulen, the Transvaal cricketer who dived into an empty pool, is memorable. Constrained to his wheelchair and cared for by his amazing mom, he had us in tears and stitches as he spoke of his life and times. He paints by mouth and even coaches cricket in his spare time. Think about it… coaches cricket… from his wheelchair.
Similarly, Nick Vujicic, the Australian evangelist, who was born with tetra-amelia syndrome and therefore with no arms or legs, is also one of my most inspirational human beings. He struts up and down the stage and then falls over. Flat on his tummy in the video clip, he then tells the kids who are fixated on him, that you may fall and things look impossible, but you can always find a way to get back up. Slowly, he turns himself around and with his head on a firm cushion, he finds his balance and “stands” again. Love it!
When I watch and listen to these kinds of guys, the question: “So what’s your problem, Jack?”, pulses through my mind. Huh?! Fat flab – then do something about it! Relationships – sort them out! Petty issues like taxi drivers – get over yourself! Nothing that worries me day by day as things currently stand, even matter. Really!
Have a look at YouTube if you don’t believe me…
So why do I focus on disabled people to now? Perhaps mistakenly, in your opinion, they personify the courage of the human spirit. Victor: no legs, where once there was a batsman, no arms where once there was a scholar, no independence where once there was transport and venues, no privacy where once I showered and changed myself and then, in the hidden corners of my soul, all the doubt and hurt and “if only’s” and anger and self-un-forgiveness and all of that put aside in favour of life and love and others’ inspiration. What about Nick? He’s never had anything of Victor’s life before the accident; not one iota, but over the years, he has developed his mind, found a lasting Christian faith and journeyed with probably millions of people in audiences around the world lifting their spirits and sense of wellbeing. Wow! So what’s your problem, [your name]?
The other day, the Stormers came to train in our gym. Eben Etsebeth is larger than huge, larger than life and his bicep is bigger than my thigh. Flippen’ huge! If he’s not your hero, tough; when you see him you will be in awe and if you don’t know who I’m talking about, shame on you!! Jy watch seker nie rugby nie – Skandaal… He’s an inspiration and like Kolisi and others, we scream them over the goal line every Saturday in season. Just by playing the game, he’s an inspiration; in my gym, well, he changes the ambience of that sweaty place, but everything is in the right place and he had everything, and then honed it, to make him the great rugby player he is.
What about Nelson Mandela and so many other great leaders? You want to know them. You long to be known by them. You hang onto their words – you YouTube, TED and Wikipedia them. They inspire you and lift you up when you’re down and raise your sights when you’re up. That’s what inspiration does, but then, the other day I get this clip of an ant pulling a spider up a wall. I have no idea of the weight variance and, in case you wondered, the spider was dead, but, my goodness, was that little ant strong and determined. No wonder the Good Book says: “Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones.” – [Proverbs 6:6].
Big and small, human or otherwise, they inspire us. You could say, we are surrounded by inspiration. So what’s wrong when you and I cannot lift ourselves out of sadness, worry and agitation so many times? When finding things to be grateful for seems to be a trick of the motivationalists to detract us from our own weariness and problems. Ellende!
So what about you and I? Can we be an inspiration? We have all our arms and legs so there’s nothing to overcome. We have all of our faculties so we cannot be modern-day Helen Kellers who said: “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing, and, blind, she lived it; way before Facebook and YouTube and TED and TV – just newspapers, radio and a world stage with enthralled audiences whose hearts were quickened. So what about us? Educated and able to be, relatively wealthy, well-travelled with more holidays planned. Married with children and able to make them. Employed, some self-employed and connected to do our work better. So what about us? What about me?
One of my favourite quotes is that by Martin Luther King,
Not everyone can be famous, but everyone can be great. And then there is another that I have come to love sharing repeatedly [Longfellow: Psalms of Life]:
The lives of great men all remind us
That we can make our lives sublime
And departing, leave behind us
Footprints in the sands of time.
Rather than set the bar high focussing on what everybody else does and says, “Let’s get a little practical with our own lives…”
1. You have Influence
Whether you’re up or down, we know it. So, be up. My misery, problems and hassles worn on my sleeve may be real to me and based on Agrizzi’s evidence; my posture may be because I have synthesized the facts and I’m going to do something about it, but darn it, making my problems your problems always, in-depth and continually, affects you. I can have whatever, I can confide my deepest thoughts which hurt with a confidante but when I step out of the room, my influence makes or breaks your day. Make my day, please. I want motivated, I want enthusiastic, I want whatever hope is left in you and I want my kids to believe the world can be a better place because they’re in it. Leaders, your people don’t need sweat on your brow. Be scared, be real scared, but then get out and display confidence.
I must tell you this notion feels fake for me. For many years I never let on I was in pain – that my ear hurt after successive tumour operations. Nobody knew it and I’m fine was my pat answer. Then one day I shared that stance, in a spirit of what we like to call authenticity, with my Coach Supervisor who is also a psychologist, and she said to me, “You need to let go a little, give yourself some slack and share your true feelings.” I started to do that and felt really authentic. You ask me, “How are you feeling?” and unlike my usual, “I’m fine!”, I said, “My ear is hurting me and I’m taking quite a few pills a day for the pain.”
What then followed was hock and horror firstly but then a kind of distancing that was tangible in my relationships. You see, on the one hand, people could not think of Jack appearing miserable [he’s always so positive], and, on the other hand, they just couldn’t face my pain on top of their own issues. So I hear the word authentic and I understand it well, trying always to be as open and honest as possible., but I have learned to limit, once again, my complete honesty around any negative things or physical pain, preferring only to share my deepest opinions with confidantes. Honesty or hypocrisy, you decide! I want to be inspirational certainly without being perceived as fake and those who know me, know that.
2. Mix with Positive People
Allied to what I’ve opened up on above, mixing with positive people rubs off. Don’t be fooled, you are not bullet-proof and inoculated against bad news and often when you’re down, I’m up. It works like that in our relationships and we find ourselves able to comfort each other at different times. Enthusiasm is contagious and being enthusiastic is what people want you to be. They will pick up flakiness by their 6th sense, but they will also rise to genuine happiness and hope spoken out. I have lived with positive people in the business. They exude confidence, they always have a plan or consult to get the plan, they empower you by trusting you with information so that you can feel and be part of the solution, they form bonds with others and “get real” if and when it’s appropriate. Gail Kelly always goes through my mind when I write like this [if you don’t know her, you can Google what an inspiration she is].
3. Get involved
Not sure of that, I hear many of you say. I’ve got enough troubles of my own. Really, if that’s your opinion, go back and read my opening paragraphs. Involvement asks questions and listens to answers, it takes time to reply and not rush out your experience and your solutions, it respects the other person and does not pry. Let me get real about someone I know… He has bone cancer and a friend of his told my wife in confidence knowing that I would get the message. I do not want to breach confidence as I respect the privacy of people, but I’ve just received a call and been asked to go for coffee on Friday and was told that on Thursday he’s going to the doctor. Will he finally tell me about his illness? I don’t know, but I can tell you, I’m involved and waiting to become more so as matters transpire.
People need you at times in their lives; you don’t need to barge in larger-than-life with all the answers. Just stand by, be available and be prepared. To this latter comment, I was intrigued to hear during George Bush senior’s funeral a meeting in which his Deputy President, Dan Quayle, asked him what he expected of him. His answer was: “Be faithful and be prepared.” That’s involvement. In leadership positions, you will often hear me refer to FAT people – Faithful, Available, and Teachable and goodness me, have I been blessed to work with tens of such people in my career. They’re not puppy dogs that roll over when you speak, they’re competent, opinionated, hard-working and committed, but when the chips have been down and a single outcome required, they have been FAT. How grateful I am that I have been able to be involved in many lives of family, friends and associates and then felt their involvement in mine at crucial times – I am indeed, a man most blessed – thank you all who may be reading for being my inspiration so often.
4. Believe in Something Bigger than You
Crimped in the space of your mind, imprisoned but your little woes, even engrossed in your big ones, you can never inspire. In my humble opinion, it is the belief that there is a higher cause for our lives that takes us through and makes our “overcoming ability” an inspiration to others. Myopic behaviour is selfish and self-centred – me, me, me. Expansive, abundant behaviour enthuses others, brings out the best in them and makes them above average and even brilliant. You see, the Pygmalion Effect, having a genuine sense that others are better than where they’re at [of My Fair Lady movie fame], lift them to greater heights. Many classroom experiments have been done when I teacher was told the opposite of the true IQ of pupils. So the teacher gets to the class believing the bright kids are not-so-bright and the not-so-bright kids are really clever. Lo and behold, the grades of the bright kids’ decline and the not-so-bright kids’ grades improve, even dramatically. What causes that? – well, I posit that the way the teacher talks to the kids founded in what she thinks about them raises the capacity of the children to believe in themselves. They rise to her expectation of them.
So, taking that to our own situation, if you believe that there is something big, bigger than you, towards which to strive, upon which to trust, for which you serve and get involved, then just the way you get out of bed in the morning changes and changes dramatically. The Purpose is Power. A Sense of Belonging is Presence and Positivity about someone or something beats misery hands down. Some say that the two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you discover Why. Sitting in limbo wondering and wandering meaninglessly? Find that higher cause and let It, or them, ignite you. You’re better than lounging around mentally and spiritually going to seed. Wake up! Stand up! And Get out! – be the difference you want to see.
As I close, I want to leave you with this quote by George Bernard Shaw that I know you have seen before, but bears repeating:
This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, being a force of nature, instead of a feverish little clod of ailments and grievances that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
We are all on a journey. You and I coupled only by our humanity, but for those who are rich and famous, well done and for those of us who are not, we can at least be great. Be influential, mix with the positive and rub off on the negative, be involved, and live for a cause higher than you and for which you leave a legacy albeit just in the memories of your children. You have what it takes…