Do you know what I am talking about?
The opening ceremony of a home Paralympic Games, that is what I am talking, and I am talking about it here because I think, as a motivational tool for an athlete, it is one of the biggest. You see, any and every opening ceremony is special, and should be attended as an athlete (if it does not interfere with the preparation process of your competition, of course); but at a home games, when you walk out from under the stands and the crowd goes crazy, is going crazy for you, nothing beats the euphoria that emanates from your chest out to your limbs and out through your skin. In other words, you truly are part of the crowds energy and excitement.
I didn't completely understand the magic of the Opening Ceremony until my first Paralympics in Atlanta, in 1996 (geez that seems like a few lifetimes ago now). I remember feeling apprehensive, but excited at what to expect. I don't really have clear memories of that night, more feelings and colours. When I think of the Atlanta Paralympic Games opening ceremony I think darkness with flashes of light, cheering in the background, the red of the athletics race track, the hum of voices from my fellow Paralympians, and the feeling of anticipation for the weeks ahead. I also remember feeling slightly disconnected from the experience - as though I was dreaming the whole event. I didn't really have anyone to look for in the crowd; Australia was one of the first teams out and I felt a little lost in the whole cacophony of sound and light.
I looked forward to the Sydney opening ceremony more. The main reason being - it was being held in my home nation, home city, and home area (I was raised just down the road from where it was held). There was a comfort there, a knowledge that most of the crowd would be Australian and that they were behind you 100%. It also meant that you would have quite a few people in the crowd who knew you and were cheering for you. I remember waiting in the tunnel under the stands, peaking out and seeing a glimpse of the orange lights, the colourful streamers, the crowd cheering and waving flags. Then, walking out into the stadium, the cheering growing louder, the announcement - "Australia" - the team almost jogging out in excitement, smiles plastered across faces, both in the team and the crowds. The walk around the stadium was like walking on clouds; I spotted my parents and waved like mad, yelling their names. Every now and then, groups of Aussie team mates stopping to get group photo's; the taste of victory already on our tongues (you see we were victorious already, because we were at the Paralympics in our home nation).
It truly was a once in a lifetime experience - as an athlete. Yet, here I am again, living in a country that is about to host the Paralympic Games, I never dreamed that this would happen again. And guess what? I am feeling inspired again, I am feeling the drive build in me again, that energy that curls up from your stomach, enticing you to extreme achievement over physical limitations (whether you are disabled or able bodied). I am thinking of taking up rowing and seeing where that leads. Another sport, perhaps another Paralympics in the future; can you see that once you have a taste for success it drives you to want more, to push yourself, to excel on your own terms.
Do you have a once in a life time experience that keeps on pulling you back to those feelings of achievement and excitement? How do you go after capturing that feeling again?
I have a story to tell you about something that happened yesterday. I was washing up dishes in the kitchen and thinking about the yoga session I had had earlier that day and how much is seemed to have helped me with my balance and muscle strength. Admiring this wonderful feeling through my body, my thoughts were rudely interrupted by the fire alarm going off.
Now our fire alarm is connected to the upstairs flat, and usually it is set off when they let steam from the shower get to their alarms. When it's the steam setting off the alarm it usually only takes a moment for it to stop. Not this time - the alarm just kept on going. (Just to clarify, I live in a basement flat, beneath a terrace house, hence why our alarms are linked).
My flatmate and I left our basement flat and I went around to the front of the upstairs (flat/house) and knocked. I got no reply, so I lifted the letter flap to see if I could see anything; I could see something and smell something, smoke! I dropped the letter flap and hot-tailed it back around to my basement flat to where my flatmate was standing. I told her I had seen and smelt smoke and had to call 999. So, I called 999, calmly informed the person at emergency services about the fire in the house and they told me they were sending the fire brigade immediately. Whew!! So, I went back around the front of the house to wait for the fire engine; yet, what was this?? One of the upstairs occupants had just cycled up and was about to go into the house. I informed him that our fire alarms had gone off and I had rung for the fire brigade and that he probably shouldn't go in . . . but the occupant seemed intent on going into the house, which he did. Stinky, burning food smelling, smoke wafted out into the street. I'm telling you, it stunk, really, really stunk. The occupant rushed through to the kitchen, came back a moment later and informed me that someone had left food cooking on the stove . . . I was dumbfounded. Who would do such a thing? Well, the firemen arrived and surveyed the upstairs kitchen. They then came down to my little basement flat to talk to me. I told them what I had seen and done and guess what? They said I had done the right thing. I know they were referring to my calling for them, which of course was the most important thing, but I think the "right thing" extends further than that.
What is she waffling on about? I hear you say. I am waffling about the fact that the sequence of events that could have been disastrous were dealt with by doing the "right thing." The "right thing" of keeping my cool!! Now don't get me wrong, my adrenaline was pumping and my hands were shaking, but I did what I had to do in an efficient and calm way to achieve a positive outcome. The point I am trying to make is, can't we do this with everything in our lives? Whether that be getting up in front of a group of people to speak, or driving a car, or going for that job interview. We can all see when we have to just get on and do a job, even if we are scared, nervous, or just generally freaked OUT!!!! But we can do it calmly, and by taking on a calm persona, the job can get done in the best possible way. I have proven this to myself time and time again - calmness and confidence gets the job done!
So how can you apply this to your own life? Where does this calmness and confidence come from? Well, I think it's easy to apply calmness and confidence to your life, to deal with situations, by simply listening to your intuition and not over-thinking things. See, easy-peasy right? Maybe not so easy for some people (me included sometimes). You see, to achieve that calmness and confidence in a situation by listening to your intuition is essentially to let go of your control. Controlling a situation can be a good thing, of course!! But it's about letting go enough to trust yourself, to trust that you have the knowledge and knowhow to get the job done without worrying that you can't control all aspects of the situation. It takes practice to get to that point of trusting yourself, but when you do, guess what? You can achieve anything!!
I did a talk on tuesday for some well deserving Occupational Therapy Graduates at their graduate conference. It is always interesting to see where my experiences and skills as a speaker will take me, and even though I have no medical knowledge, I am often asked to speak to those in the medical profession, these graduates being an example. Now, I have actually spoken for these particular group of OT's before, last year I ran a seminar for them and the way that I prepared for that seminar is completely different to the way that I prepared for the conference talk I just did. So this post is to show you an example of learning what works for you and therefore improving your presenting skills.
When I was preparing the seminar to give to the OT students last year I was very nervous and unsure about what approach to take. I knew that essentially they wanted a case study of my life (and heck, we all find it easy to talk about ourselves, don't we?), but my difficulty came in the over thinking of the approach. I felt that I wanted to come from an academic point of view, because that was my background (and in previously talking to medical students I had taken a sociological/academic approach to talking about disability). Unfortunately I forgot that my background was also myself and all of my experiences, and hence I knew everything that I needed to talk about already. So guess what? I over prepared for that first seminar. I remember sitting in front of this small group of students reading from a set talk and feeling that it wasn't working - that there was a natural rhythm missing from the whole presentation. I did what all good speakers should be able to do - I adapted. I decided to leave the set talk aside and just speak from what I know, speak from experience, speak from the heart. This opened up the seminar in a profound way. Everyone felt instantly more at ease, there was more laughter, more interest, a more lively atmosphere in the room. When I finished what I had to say I opened the floor to questions and questions pored in! A discussion was developed from my talk and the students became more invested in the entire seminar. I had found a better way of connecting; both myself and the students learnt things that day. And, I had obviously done something right as I was invited back for the students graduation conference.
So, for my conference keynote speech, I decided to go into the room as unprepared as possible. Of course this doesn't mean that I went into the room in my pajamas, with greasy hair, and unbrushed teeth - I went in there physically and mentally prepared, but speech wise, I was going to talk from the heart, as opposed to reading from a pre-prepared paper. I felt much more relaxed, could sit and enjoy the other talks knowing that I was qualified to present and that I was really wanted there. When it came time for me to talk I stood in the centre of the room (no hiding behind podiums for me!!), and I engaged like crazy. What do I mean by engaged? I mean I looked at everyone in the room during my whole talk, I gestured, nodded, and responded to the visual feedback that the students were giving me - I let them contribute to the direction my talk would take. I hit the "zone" during this talk, I was confident, strong, and open, and this was evident when it came to end of my talk and I opened the floor to questions. Again, I was flooded with questions and became engaged in a discussion about the patients perspective of the OT experience. This talk was hugely successful, and a massive improvement from my previous talk to the same students.
The feedback I had for both talks was positive and exciting - but what is most important for me is that I can see the improvement that I made, within myself, to pull off a more successful talk. This is where the example (above) teaches the lesson. Even as you are speaking to your audience, be aware of yourself, assess yourself, and adapt if need be. Then, take your talk and, as objectively as possible, take it apart and see where you could improve. Come up with new strategies to try next time and do REALLY try them (don't always stick with the same old same old). Being a speaker, I am learning, is to be flexible, organic, and adaptive - lessons I have learnt from both my disability and swimming career already, but are super amplified in the conditions that speaking to an audience creates.
I will talk a little more about my speaking jobs in upcoming posts, in the meantime, let's do an exercise - write down ten ways that you could improve your speaking experience next time and use it as a prompter for anytime you feel the nerves kick in, cause you know what? if I can improve and make changes in the way I present and be stronger for it, then so can you!
I have made mistakes in life. There, I have said it, and I am not afraid to say it. You see, to move forward in your life you have to admit and own your mistakes, because then you can learn from them. To learn from your mistakes is the whole point - I believe - of having the very human ability to make them, because without mistakes we cannot grow into stronger people. Mistakes are a good thing.
Now, mistakes can range from the teensy (such as a spelling mistake on your test at school) to the kind of large and significant (you robbed a bank . . . now that is a HUGE mistake, and if anyone reading this has ever robbed a bank, well, please own it, and admit to your self that what you did was wrong . . . then go hand yourself into the police and LEARN from your big boo boo). What I'm saying is no-one is exempt from error-making, and I am going to share with you one of my "oopsies" and how I have grown from them.
This blog post topic arose from a discussion with a friend where I related this story -
"When I was about 13 I competed in my first ever multi-disability swimming race. I remember that it was at Warringah Pool in Sydney, a big, 50m pool. The stands were tall and imposingly white on either side of the pool deck. There were a few people speckled about these stands, including my parents. I was standing at the end of the pool, my hand sweaty, and my mind circling around; the room spun slightly. I knew that I was to swim breaststroke for 50m - just one lap. Standing on the diving block, I waited for the instruction to get set . . . beep! I dove into the water; cool and slippery; glided, and then surfaced. Raising my left arm, I started stroking . . . then it hit me, I was in a breaststroke race, but I was doing freestyle. I quickly dropped my left arm back into the water and continued on with breaststroke - but I was mortified. Even as the water slipped passed and cooled my skin, I could feel my cheeks burning in extreme embarrassment. I knew that I would probably be disqualified at the end of the race, but I also knew that I couldn't give up. To stop in the middle of the race, in the middle of the pool, would be even more embarrassing than the error of doing the wrong stroke.
At the end of the race I got out of the pool. My dad was there with a towel, an official was next to him, I knew what was coming. I was disqualified from the race and guess what . . . I cried. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried - I was a 13 year old child having embarked on her first step towards her major life goal and had made a HUGE mistake. Now, I could have let the discouragement and embarrassment overwhelm me. I could have decided then and there that I didn't want to try anymore, that maybe I wasn't meant to be a Paralympic swimmer. But I didn't."
I didn't quit - I made a huge mistake and yet I didn't quit. This is the significant part of the story - to quit is the lazy way, to learn from is the active way. Do you know that not to quit was the biggest lesson I learnt from that race! I knew that I had let nerves get the better of me, but my dream to swim at the Paralympics was in my grasp and I knew that if I quit than all my dreams would be lost.
I also learnt that perhaps breaststroke wasn't the stroke for me . . . I never swam another breaststroke race after that one (but I couldn't do the kick properly anyway, so no loss!!). Which also taught me that you can achieve your dreams no matter what, it just might not be in the way that you originally expected.
I still make mistakes in my life, I make them everyday, every week, every year, and yet I keep on going. Mistakes are a part of life and if we cannot learn from them than what do our lives become? What mistakes have you learnt from in life? How has making that embarrassing error actually improved your life?
Happy New Year everyone! Are you ready for the adventure that will be 2012? I know I am. It is set to be an exciting year (particularly with the Olympics and Paralympics coming up in London) and I have many exciting plans and hopes and dreams - how about you?
This post I am going talk a little about the goals that I am setting in place for the next year and why I like to set goals instead of making resolutions. You see, resolutions, for me, are about denying yourself or making an unachievable promise to yourself without considering the steps involved in achieving the life that you want. You know what I mean right? You "resolve" to never have chocolate ever again, and then you go chocolate-cold-turkey and BAM! next thing you know your body is craving sugar crazily and you are chucking huge blocks of chocolate down your throat!! Trust me peeps, there is another way, and this other way is "goals."
Resolutions are seemingly made to be broken as there is no well thought out plan to keeping them - they are made on a booze filled night of revelry when we are not in the best frame of mind to be making such decisions. I say, leave the life planning till after the party and then a few days after New Years sit down, decide what you want to achieve this coming year and plan. This peeps is called making goals.
So, what do you want your 2012 to look like? Do you want to get to the end of 2012 and be proud of what you have achieved or tried to achieve? Goals are important to make your life happen the way that you envisage. Do you want to know what some of my goals are?
Goal 1: to get fit and healthy. This will involve slowly starting up swimming again, and cutting (most) junk from my diet (I cannot and will not cut chocolate out - we are all allowed exceptions).
Goal 2: Build my client base to a sustainable level. To do this I will work continuously on networking and looking for opportunities.
Goal 3: To improve my writing/blogging skills and to blog on a regular basis. Writing, for me, is affirming for my goals, it makes them concrete - and to write about them provides me (and you) with a growing record of skills and experience surrounding motivation and inspiration.
I have many more goals in mind, but over the next week I am going to sit down, write down what I want to achieve this year and figure out the steps that I will need to take . . . much more exciting and interesting than trying to make and sustain resolutions don't you think?
Let me know what goals you are planning and setting?
"Your Determination is Limitless"
- Elizabeth Wright