Can you remember the last time you started something new that really excited you?
What was it? (Think about it…)
Was it planned or were you steered into it by circumstance?
What inspired you to start?
How did you plan your time to prioritise it?
How did you stay focused on the most important actions?
What did you do to make sure you never quit?
How did you measure the success of its outcomes?
Were you successful?
“…no career choice might have been lost on me”
In 2003 I entered Stellenbosch University as a new financial management student. I had settled on this route due to its ‘more lucrative’ earnings potential, shafting winemaking and marketing into the backseat. This was after my high school aptitude tests recommended that I could be a great doctor. It seems no career choice might have been lost on me.
By the end of my first attempt at a final year of undergrad I was offered a generous bursary to study at the university’s very exclusive faculty of journalism.
This opportunity, rather fortuitously, also earned a place in the rear with the target market and wine glasses when I failed my final year and ushered in a second attempt to finish two of my subjects. (I had also changed my major twice already over the course of my degree). Little did I know that it was the start of great things to come.
When I finally finished my degree in 2006 and up to 2012 I built up a relative list of qualifications and experiences (some of which had overlapped):
- Sports Editor of my campus newspaper,
- Eighteen months as real estate agent,
- An honours in Finance,
- Seven years of rugby coaching,
- A postgraduate qualification in Sports Management,
- Six months of unemployment,
- An incredible month supporting the Fifa 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa,
- Two-and-a-half years as a business consultant,
- Meeting my future wife, getting engaged-and married,
- …and dealing with the deep depression of zero job satisfaction.
“[The] journey into high performance management… would become my first true career pursuit.”
The biggest career breakthrough in my life came in mid-2012 when I was approached to take up a dream job at the Western Province (WP) Rugby Institute in Stellenbosch.
‘The Institute’ was the performance academy and starting point for WP Rugby players who would eventually represent the Stormers in Super Rugby, a relative number of who also make it to test-rugby level. This step started a journey into high performance management that would become my first true career pursuit.
My initial responsibilities focused on commercial management (finances, marketing, operations, admin etc.), but with time I became much more involved in the personal development of players, which included career-and-vocational planning, academics, mental coaching and personal performance planning. I also became WP Rugby’s main junior recruiter for school leavers entering professional rugby, so I managed the scouting, talent ID, recruitment and contracting of players entering the academy.
I was also continuously exposed to but less formally involved in the coaching and conditioning-and-rehabilitation functions. My colleagues were coaches, physiotherapists, conditioning coaches and other sport scientists and I was responsible for coordinating all the functions into a single line of reporting to the director of rugby for WP Rugby, which for the majority of my time there was Rugby World Cup (with the Springboks)-and Grand Slam winner (with Ireland), Gert Smal.
Ironically enough, my job environment was not the primary trigger to start discovering the value of personal improvement as the basis of chasing high performance. It was (don’t laugh) the three years my wife and I spent building a network marketing (aka Direct Selling or Multi-Level Marketing) business from 2013 to 2016.
My lack of real passion for the industry that we were operating in, together with the commitment pressure of my job and a new baby, led to us finally withdraw from active business-building. One area, though, that changed my life and which I still continuously pursue is the obsessive focus on personal development and consistent action as framework for being successful.
Any good network marketing company has programmes that prioritise reading empowering books, listening to expert industry advice and studying the tricks of the trade with religious fervour.
When I left the network marketing industry I at least took this principle with me. Why should other industries be any different?
Performing through the Storm
By the end of 2018 I was managing the WP Rugby Institute with the continued theoretical input and inspiration of thought-leaders on high performance (and associated fields) like Stephen Covey, Angela Duckworth, Adam Grant, Charles Duhigg, James Clear, Carol Dweck, Cal Newport, Dan Pink, Macolm Gladwell, David Epstein, Simon Sinek, Daniel Coyle, K Anders Ericsson, Steven Kotler, Scott Jurek and more.
I became obsessed with building models of high performance that aimed to incorporate elements of all the above experts’ research findings and applying it to the academy. For reasons associated with the numerous challenges within our organisation, however, I was never able to really integrate much of this planning into the management of our players.
At the start of 2020 I formally ended my relationship with WP Rugby. I managed the transition of the junior academy players to my colleague and continued as a part-time Player Welfare consultant to the Stormers squad. My main focus for the duration of the Super Rugby campaign was going to be to assist individual players create balance in their life, attend to any matters of wellbeing and also help them plan the personal performance systems in their professional and personal lives. I was looking forward to the prospect of working with a strong group of players that included seven recent Rugby World Cup winners. I was ready to learn a lot.
And then the Coronavirus hit, leaving the world a remarkably changed place. Professional sport, in general, has been changed forever and I believe it is going to be a very long time before we see large stadiums filled to the brim with fans again.
As a team we have also been greatly affected and everyone has since moved to a remote performance programme where each player and management member is responsible for their own personal improvement in backyards, garages and small home offices across Cape Town.
Having a role that was very much hands on and personal means that my involvement has pretty much all but ended. The fact that all training delivery, planning, feedback and improvement is happening remotely between a sizable management team and a big squad of players, has necessitated that communication stay uncluttered. I decided to not add to the noise by also trying to deliver information over text messages and performance apps. I try and keep in touch with some of the players I have a good relationship with and that is good enough for now.
Needless to say, lockdown and time spent indoors with the companionship of my own gnawing need to create something, finally (after perhaps three years of thinking about it) led me to start writing on a topic that has become a very dear passion of mine: High Performance Living.
“I’m at the beginning of another new pursuit”
At the start of this article I asked a number of questions related to starting new pursuits. These questions served a number of purposes: to get you thinking about the new pursuits in your life, to loosen your mind to receive this information and to introduce you to the type of process thinking that high performance planning and action requires.
As I’m typing this I’m currently at a new beginning. I’m where I was in 2003 when I started university. I’m in December 2006 when I graduated. I’m in 2009 when I moved to Cape Town for my postgrad. I’m on 11 June 2010 when I watched the opening game of the Fifa World Cup. I’m in 2012 when I said ‘yes’ to a lifelong commitment to my wife and shortly after to the new job that would change my life. I’m also in 2015 and 2016 at the birth of my kids. In 2020, amidst the global Coronavirus pandemic and a South African nationwide lockdown, I’m at the beginning of another new pursuit. I want to serve you with what I have learnt from a great couple of decades in a performance career.
With High Performance Living I intend to not only put some money where my mouth is and actually execute a good idea for a change. I also want to be a source of inspiration for you as someone that really wants to improve the way they do things. I am talking to you whether you are a young professional at the start of a career, already established and growing and in need of a performance enhancer, caught in a rut wherever you might be trying to break through or even if you are a parent, coach or mentor of a future high-performer. Everyone needs a strategy to succeed.
The secret to performing is not about attaining massive achievements, but instead about a system of small but consistently executed intentional behaviours over time. The steering wheel for this system is the realisation that action is always the best form of planning. Get the whole system moving first and it’ll make steering it a lot easier through detail and planning as you progress. Learning how the system worked yesterday will help you make it better tomorrow.
Your fuel source for this system is what happens in your mind. How you see circumstances determines how you approach them. Stephen Covey commits a whole introductory chapter to his most important life’s work to perspective and points of view. I like calling this role of perspective, attitude. And ATTITUDE is not a word in all capitals on a motivational poster with a guy hanging from a rock face, giving you a fuzzy feeling before forgetting about it the moment you look away. Attitude is your relationship to life. Are you active or reactive? Do you make things happen or do they happen to you? Your mindset is the result of how you mentally cultivate this attitude over time and this drives your performance system.
To make an already long story short…the above mentioned self-defined summary will be the basis of pretty much everything that I plan to share with you across a number of different platforms. I want to help you devise your strategy for how you are going to build you performance system.
My wish is that you will find inspiration in my work. I trust that I can help you with tools to implement for better performance; or assist you in developing a way of seeing your place in life that will make you better at living it successfully.
This is the first in a long line of planned articles. Let ‘s hope I can practice what I preach and deliver on them!
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