Sunday, 9 September 2012

Time is never wasted when you're doing what you love

When ParalympicsGB's Jody Cundy was disqualified from the C4/5 1km time trial last week over a problem with the starting gate, he was denied the opportunity to compete in an event for which he had put in four years of arduous training. And in the heat of the moment, he said some things that he later regretted and apologized for.

One comment he made at the time was: "I've just wasted four years of my life." In the circumstances, his frustration was understandable. But when he'd had a chance to cool down, he got back onto his bike, saying "I guess I'll have to do another four years now because there's a kilo title with my name on it. I want it back."

There are no guarantees in life. We can't always expect to achieve our goals. And sometimes the obstacles we encounter along the way are unanticipated, unreasonable and insurmountable. But that needn't stop us from having goals and striving to achieve them.

We should do what we love and love what we do. If Jody Cundy loves cycling, then it's never a waste of time for him to ride his bike. Time is never wasted when you're doing what you love.

And a goal is only as good as the structure it creates. If the structure is good, then the goal is worth pursuing, but if you don't have any appetite to do what it takes to achieve the goal, pick another goal instead. Because you'll spend far more time training than you will relishing your victory, even supposing that you do succeed.

Life is about the journey, not the destination.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Why I'll always support Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong was a role model for me throughout my cancer treatment. I kept reminding myself that he had undergone chemotherapy, just like me, and then gone on to win the Tour de France seven times. I can’t describe how important this was to me. It gave me hope that there would be a future for me after my treatment was complete. And it made me aspire to be strong, like Lance.

In his autobiography, “It’s not about the bike,” Lance explained that when he was presented with the stark reality of how tough his chemo regime was going to be, he felt confident because it was a physical challenge, and he said that “as an athlete, physical challenges are something that I’m good at.”

The idea of being an athlete captured my imagination. It couldn’t have been further from who I was at the time – I was not remotely sporty. Far from it. I was unfit and very overweight. I'd never run further than 400 meters in my entire life. But I wanted to be strong like Lance, and I wanted to know that if I ever had to face something like chemo again, I would be ready. I wanted to be an athlete who was good at physical challenges too.

After successful chemotherapy treatment, five years later my cancer is still in remission, and I’m fitter, healthier and happier than I have ever been in my life before. I took up running and weight training. I lost 42 pounds, and then put on 14 pounds in lean muscle. I’ve given up alcohol. I’m always in training for my next marathon, and for the first time in my life, at the age of 40, I have a six-pack. From never doing any exercise, I now do a 2 hour workout every day, and I’ve recently become a qualified personal trainer.

And it's all thanks to Lance. His seven Tour de France wins were victories for cancer patients and survivors everywhere, and no one can take them away from him or from us.


Well, I was wrong about that last bit. They did take Lance's victories away from him. It's quite a blow to discover that our heroes are in fact all too human. Lance Armstrong has now admitted that he lied, and that he did in fact cheat. There is no justification for this behaviour. The strange thing is though, that apart from the past paragraph, everything else in this blog post remains the truth. 

What Lance did was wrong. No excuses. It's also true that his actions helped a lot of people in dealing with cancer. This is not a justification or an excuse. It's just another fact. Which I think just goes to show how complicated the world is. Few things are black and white. Bad decisions can have good consequences, just as well meaning intentions can sometimes have bad consequences. 

I'm really disappointed that a hero of mine turned out not to be the saint that I thought he was. But then, perhaps that's my fault for idolising him in the first place. Now, with a clearer perspective, I see a complicated individual with both good and bad intentions. I suspect though that at the end of the day he'll leave the world a slightly better place than it was when he arrived. And perhaps that's all that any of us can hope for.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

NLP and Cancer

Today at Sue Knight's NLP Alumni "Inspire Day" at Bix Manor, Henley, I gave a talk on how NLP techniques helped me when I went through cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy, and during my subsequent recovery. I'm posting an extended transcript of my talk (including content I didn't have time to cover during the event) for anyone who is interested. Check it out after the break.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Why should we live every moment as if it's our last?

In response to my poem on lymphoma, someone recently asked me why I thought we should live every moment as if it was our last. This person pointed out that if we always did that, then one day we'd be right.

My answer is that we're always right. Every moment is our last moment, because every moment is unique. You can't live the same moment twice and each one of us only has a finite number of moments left. We can squander them or savor them. The choice is ours. But the fact remains that there are no ordinary moments and it's down to us to make them meaningful.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma - A Poem

My skin is covered in tattoos.

They're fiery red and constantly changing, like flickering flames.

They tell the story of where I've been and they hint at where I'm going.

My tattoos are what Buddhists call dukkha.

They represent suffering, but through that suffering, they provide fuel to kindle the flames of my spirit.

I didn't choose these tattoos, they chose me.

It isn't easy being marked in this way and sometimes the rashes make people stare.

But I'm grateful that they are there.

As the tattoos on my body wax and wane, brimming with the threat of relapse, they remind me to live every moment as if it is my last.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

The inspiring simplicity of insect strength

I once watched a beetle that had somehow got flipped over onto his back. His little legs were striving away, trying with all his might to right himself. To me it seemed hopeless, and I wondered why he didn't just give up. Strangely this little beetle was engineered in such a way that once he was on his back, there was just no way he could turn himself over.

Nonetheless, the beetle did not give up hope. He kept writhing his legs in an effort to flip himself. He never lost his faith. And he was right to persevere. Because I was watching him and, inspired by his efforts, I gave him the gentle nudge that he needed to get back onto his feet.

Without hesitation, the beetle scurried off, to carry on with his life as if nothing had happened. There was no trace of trauma from the potentially life threatening ordeal he had just experienced.

The insect reminded me of some of the most inspiring people I know. I don't think there's anything so beautiful as when someone responds to great adversity by getting back on their feet, dusting themselves down and gong back to doing what they love.

This doesn't always come easy for us humans. We are more complex than insects - capable of sophisticated insight and reflection. We can lose hope. We can experience fear and self doubt. We can be traumatized. We can give up. Whereas insects are far simpler creatures. They are not capable of any of these things. When they encounter adversity, they fight for their life until their dying breath. They never lose hope. They're incapable of it. Instead they persevere.

Sometimes we make things more complicated than they need to be. We can over-think things and cloud the issue. But when we learn to accept the simple perfection of our life unfolding, we can connect with our own simple insect strength. The results are always inspiring.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The art of running well

There are many schools of thought on how we should run. Some say we should run barefoot, and land on the balls of our feet, while others say we should run heel to toe. Some say we should push our shoulders back, while others would prefer to keep them loose...

Over the years, I've come to realize that our running style is just as personal as our handwriting. Everyone is an individual and everyone has their own unique way of running. Even top athletes, (like Paula Radcliffe and her nodding head,) have their own unique style.

But while no two running styles are the same, I have concluded that there is still one reliable yardstick for judging a good running style, and it is this:

When you run, make everyone you pass wish that they were running too.

If we truly believe that running is a good thing, then we should embody the benefits of running whenever we run, so that others get a real sense of it, and want some of what we've got. And while there may be as many different running styles as there are runners, I've found that there are still some key characteristics that are always present in this style of running:

1. Smile: let everyone know how much you love running by getting your smile on every time you put your running shoes on;

2. Relax: allow your limbs to flow in an easy and graceful way;

3. Focus: zone in on the experience, exist in the moment and become one with your running;

4. Connect: when you're running, you're a part of a global family. Other runners are your brothers and sisters. Say "hi" to them as you pass.

If you want other people to get the same benefit out of running that you do, don't just tell them how great it is. Show them. Embody the essence of running. Be the change.