The Path To Freedom

I don’t feel good about it. It will bother me for the rest of my life and honestly I’m happy about that. I’m embarrassed by how little I knew. I was in the six seat of a rowing eight. One of the two power seats. We were in the Australian Championships final. I was older by at least eight years to everyone in the boat. It was questionable whether I was the right man for the boat but on ergo testing, I was by far the strongest rower over the six minute torture trials. We flew off the start. By 500 meters out of the 2,000 meter race, we were so far in front of the other seven crews we could have stopped for lunch. Then, we slowed down. By 1,000 meters two other crews had passed us. That wasn’t our race plan. We were not gliding through the water – the boat felt like concrete was poured into it. There are two people in an eight person crew who are allowed to speak during a race, the stroke, the coach over a megaphone from outside the boat and the coxswain. There was silence. What should I do? And I did something. And we lost. Would we have lost if I didn’t do something? I’ll never ever know. Did the other crew members blame me? If they did they are still to this day, too polite to say. We lost the race, and Olympic selection. Which was the prize for wining the Australian Champs. I try to tell myself I did the right thing. But I know, in an eight the only people who are allowed to speak to the crew during a race do not include me in the six seat. Rowing an eight is the equivalent to running the 1500 meters at world pace in step with 7 other people. The timing must be impeccable or the boat loses speed. I missed a goal in football after the final siren once that would have won us the game. But that was nothing compared to the public humiliation of this event. It was the first time I remember going into what I now call mental boot camp. I really beat myself up. I had this visceral desire to seek vengeance for our loss by blaming those who should have spoken up. But I knew I was wrong. Maybe there was a secret plan between coach, coxswain and stroke. Maybe we were going to win and my decision to act caused the loss. When they told me that there was a decision by the Olympic selection committee to give our crew another chance, I resigned from rowing. I fully supported the opportunity for my crew, but from that day onward, I raced in a single person skull. I thought my freedom to trust myself in every circumstance was impeccable. But that day, gave me doubts. Doubt was something I’d never experienced. Suddenly everything I’d done and was about to do had a blurry edge. A question mark lingered in everything I did. I’d never second guessed myself before this. Buying houses, getting married, building business, travelling and in all sorts of sport, I’d never had doubt. I thought I was free. I could do whatever I wanted. Suddenly I felt like Lance Armstrong. I felt like a winner who may have cheated. And my whole story became complicated. Things are so easy when they are unquestioned. Like bringing bad people to justice. I didn’t understand the nuances of leadership. I didn’t know anything about the dangers of freedom as a goal. Looking back, from that day, my obsession with doubtlessness (if there is such a word) hurt allot of people, not just the rowing crew. And I feel ashamed about that. I just never stopped to think about how my choices would impact others. In many ways it was the greatest thing I’ve ever done. Taking charge of that rowing crew, stepping up as a leader in what I felt was a sinking ship. But I could have gotten those personal benefits from other means. Beating myself up for a year. Creating doubts about my decisions. And the trauma of that event that will impact me for the rest of my life. It taught me compassion as a leader. But most of all, it taught me that doubt is a horrible friend. And it’s better to make a bad decision without doubt than a good one with it.”

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