Shouting from my shed

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On motivation

the future is not a gift

It’s late and I’m tired. I’ve set the alarm for 6 and dug out some cleanish gym kit for the morning. I’m ready to sleep, but I spent this evening speaking to the Sevens unit of the England Rugby Union team and it really set me thinking. Thinking about my ‘job’ as a speaker. It pays the bills (more or less) and allows me to focus on SOUTH. In my ideal world I wouldn’t give talks about my experiences (except to schools which I can see to be worthwhile). I’d far prefer to have ‘“Done things” just for the doing, letting babblers tell the story‘. However, if I can make a living from speaking I am aware that I’m a fortunate guy. I meet interesting people, get in front of potential sponsors, and talk about someone I really love (me!). If I can encourage people, and possibly make a positive difference to somebody’s life or outlook, then that is a fabulous privilege.

What I struggle with is calling myself a ‘motivational speaker’ (cheesy term!), as I am very careful not to come across as somebody who feels he is in a position to preach to others about how they should live their lives. I really try to emphasise in my talks that the lessons I took from my journey are what I am trying to take on into the rest of my life. Nothing more than that. I am an ordinary person; I have not achieved anything that is beyond most of us. We all have the capability. I simply try to explain the importance of chasing your goal, and how much more achievable it appears once you have had the nerve to begin it. If that is helpful for other people – wonderful. But, standing up in front of a roomful of elite athletes -all dedicated, successful men- I felt acutely aware of the question, “what right do you have to be here?” Indeed, I would loved to have listened to them talk about their lives, and I would certainly happily trade careers! So it was a challenging evening. I was excited to be there and determined to offer them something different. But I was nervous offering my experiences to them.

The squad were not an easy audience. They are talented, confident, macho individuals not used to talk of weakness, tears, doubt, and living like a tramp on five continents. I felt that I was speaking from outside their comfort zone. I really hope that  some of them drew something from my talk. I tried to emphasise self-belief, a refusal to allow others to determine whether or not I could achieve something, the value of just getting on with things, and the fact that your perception of something being ‘difficult’ diminishes once you have taken the bold step to actually begin it. Once you accomplish it you may even look back and think “what was all the fuss about?” and find yourself asking, “right, what next?!”

I tried to illustrate how the challenges in my life were different to theirs, which perhaps may help them to think a little differently, or more clearly, about their own challenges and goals. All I wanted to do was to share the lessons that I learnt, and perhaps to prompt the squad to think about things with fresh and open eyes. I hope that I succeeded with some of them. It was an exciting and rewarding evening, and one of the most challenging and rewarding of my brief speaking career. I shall certainly be following their progress at next year’s World Cup with interest. Good luck, lads!

[22nd November: postscript. The comment I received on this entry from the England coach has greatly reassured me about my capability as a speaker. Phew!]

[29th November: this article shows the interesting, innovative work the squad are doing. It also labels me as a polar explorer, something sure to rile ‘real’ explorers! ]

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  1. Al’s talk last night was great on a whole host of levels. Firstly, its just a great story – a real story about adventure, belief and a spirit that refused to be broken. The lads were all pretty quiet and I was a little worried they may not have seen as it as had. But to a man they all said they were initially quiet because they were all fixated by what Al was saying and soaking it all in. It hit a lot of them on other levels – self belief and achieving your goals, however tough they were. They have been talking about all day! They journey and how it was dealt with. The understanding that you were the only one that knew your real potential. Ive already caught a couple of them reading Al’s book and im sure conversations will return to the talk over and over as we travel to our first world series tournaments this week in Dubai and South Africa. I did feel a little stupid as we left, telling him to get home safe! Clapham to Teddington, I dont think, would have proved too much of a problem!
    If anyone gets the chance to hear Alastair then jump at the opportunity. It was fantastic in every way and gave us all plenty to think about. The ripples will keep hitting all our shores – thank you.
    Ben Ryan, England Sevens Head Coach.



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