100 Things I wish my Dad Taught Me. Episode 15. “Achievement starts with a single great thought.”

Today, in 100 things I wish my dad had taught me, we discuss this wisdom. “Achievement starts with a single great thought.”

There are two words that provide the lives of every human being from the very start, mine included. Those two words impact everything. When there is a quote that says achievement starts with a single great thought, that great thought leads back to those two words.

I watched a documentary called Lance. It’s about Lance Armstrong. You might subscribe to the every day belief that he is a cheat but I don’t. Lance did what it took, whatever it took, to win. When you hear the story in context I have great compassion for the dilemma of either being a champion or not based on taking substances that kept him at the top of his game. Everybody else was taking them, in someway or another, had he not won the Tour de France, nobody would have ever known or cared. But winners face scrutiny because there is an opportunity to gain press out of a celebrity. What I admire about Lance Armstrong is that he took the celebrity along with the crucifixion. But there is one word, a word that existed throughout the entirety of his life that Lance used and made him different.

I was taught that word from a very early age and it made me different too. My sister and my brother heard the same word and it impacted their lives in the same way. Have you guessed what that word is yet?

I think I have shared with you previously the story of me finding my life purpose. Apologise if I’m about to repeat something you’ve heard before but in this context it makes a huge difference. I had just gone through the most tumultuous divorce, my children had sailed off on a yacht and the chances of seeing them again in the next five years were minimal. They were four, six and eight years old and the apple of my eye. Most of what I did in the years from their birth was based on them not having the same childhood experiences I had. Therefore I was stuck in reactive mode and it was inevitable that I would lose contact with them as I was living a life of false expectations. Anyway that’s another story.

As a reaction to the turmoil of this divorce I was searching for a better way to be as I was now a single man and had a different viewpoint on living. As I walked along Manly beach with a heavy backpack on my back preparing for a long walk in the bush in Tasmania I bumped into a lady who changed my life. Sorrell was the most amazing and creative spirit I had ever met and had completed a journey in Tibet and written her book, a most powerful book, A Lone Woman’s Trek Across Tibet. It’s hard to find that book now but it is really a an edge of your seat book. Anyway Sorrell was training for a expedition on Mount Everest as the photographer. We joined forces and train together on the beach and sometimes her husband Chris, a cinematographer joined us. I became inspired to be an adventurer just like Sorrell.

Just like Lance Armstrong, Sorrel used the same language, that same one word. Have you guessed it yet?

Over the next six months I spent over $400,000 preparing to be the first man to explore a hidden area of the Nepalese Himalayas. The entire preparation was in its self a courageous investment that required me to spend the entire time out of my comfort zone in environments that in someways I had no right to be. But I hired the best of the best to teach me.

After six months and with Sorrels help I arrived in the Himalayas ready for this 30 day expedition. Accompanying me was a guide I had hired. We were loaded with massive backpacks and I was carrying the heaviest camera gear you can imagine. I wanted to document this trip and sell the result to the National Geographic. The trip began, and three hours into a 30 day expedition I gave up. The reason I gave up is because of that one word we are talking about.

Parents use this one word over and over again and they don’t realise what a massive impact that one word is making on a child. There are many derivations of that one word that one single word that causes “Achievement, and the single great thought that follows it.” Have you guessed it yet.

During the course of my childhood and my teenage years my father spoke this word over and over again, not always verbally. During the course of those years my father turned up to major sporting events that I was participating in and that I had invested my entire ego in, only once. By his action he showed what he thought, by his action he demonstrated that one word. However, when it came to things he thought were important, such as my Boy Scout career, my wilderness skills, and my academic results, he spoke the word frequently. He also turned up to events that included those topics he thought were important.

One circumstance stands out as an icon to me of this one word. My younger brother was an extraordinarily talented musician. He was the leader of the Australian boys choir and until his voice broke was a globally recognised choir singer. My dad was heavily invested in my brothers singing as a hobby for my brother but my father’s aspiration for my brother professionally was to become a senior sales Clerck for a furniture department store. My brother had other thoughts. My father’s aspiration for my sister was even more humble and for me it was less than both. So in someway dad use this word over and over and over again for us all for good reason. He wanted for us what he didn’t have, security.

So have you worked out the word yet, the word that impacts our entire life, the word changes everything every day?

Well I’ve delayed it long enough I will share it with you now.

“Achievement starts with a single great thought.” And that single great thought, the word the triggers that single great thought is “can” and its partner “can’t.”

The word Can, triggers in our brain either a sense of defiance or an ambition to pursue something. For me, when somebody says I can’t do this, it makes me agitated to the point where I’ll probably go ahead and do it just to prove them wrong. But it’s not so much now these days that I am impacted by what other people say I can and can’t do that by my own internal dialogue, myself talk.

Somebody wisely once told me that the day you use your age as an excuse not to do something or a reason to do something, you become that age. I have remembered this for the last 20 years since I was 50, and I never justify my can or my can’t based on any measure of my age. But I confess I used to base it on what other people thought or would think. I was always a renegade and didn’t so much do things to get approval but to get rejected or to antagonise the normal expectation of people. I’m still that renegade by the way.

My brother went on to be the CEO of the largest advertising company on the planet. He went on from that to own his own businesses and be a wealthy successful entrepreneur. My sister became a globally respected barrister. So my father’s definition of what we can or can’t do caused a reaction. I think my father’s aspiration for us was genuine and he really wanted us to live easy, relaxed, pain-free, happily married, low trajectory lives. But the most important influence my father had with his can and can’t, was his own life.

Nothing affects a child more than the Unlived life of the parent. Firstly, I have a parent who died when I was very young and therefore was never lived in the classical sense of the word. So I was highly impacted by the Unlived life of my mother. But my father left nothing on the road. He lived every day at his full capacity. He worked, he struggled, he overcame incredible difficulty, and nobody would ever say to my father “you can’t.”

So achievement does start with a single great thought. That single great thought is definitely connected to a single word, can or can’t, but the single great thought that suits within that word, comes from modelling.

All the words in the world will not replace action. The parents action is the greatest teacher. A parent walking around with slumped shoulders, complaining and criticising, and always talking about how good it used to be or how good it could be if only the world were different, is saying more than they think. They are teaching their children how to fail.

Mother and father who are arguing continually and the father who compromises his life all the mother who compromises her life based on the dominant thoughts of their partner is teaching their children something far greater than their words.

Even though, in my youth, there was a lot going wrong. I stole cars and spent a fair bit of my spare time hanging out with dangerous people. But I can honestly say, I respected my dad. He went to work at the same time every day no matter what happened, he owned his own business and celebrated the sale of one car a week, that would pay all our bills. He dug the garden, landscape the property, bought bush blocks, we had a fishing boat that we could ski off the back of, and he dealt with the crazy of an alcoholic wife. Through all this my dad taught me the word “can.”

My dad was an adventurer. Not in the classical sense of going into the Himalayas to explore unknown territory, but he never sat still, was always repairing or painting or digging or exploring different ways to make a better home. And he was always trying to make things better and invested his own physical labour into building a better house against all odds. Some of his behaviours towards my sister were harsh and it would be understood if somebody said he was being cruel. But in some weird way my dad just simply wanted her to be her best. The only question is what best is.

I’m blessed right now to have two little children in my life. The children of my partner. All the theory of parenting gets put to the test every day. But there are a couple of things that I hold sacred with them. The first and most important is that I never let them stress me. Or if they do stress me I never let them see it I go and process it and come back. So when I give them rules or discipline I do it with love and kindness. The second and probably relevant to this blog today, is that I tried to say can more than can’t. And the third sacred principle I have is that they are watching me more than listening to me and at what I do, how I do it, when I do it, is the process they are using for modelling. I have incredible compassion for their circumstances because they have four adults, their father and his new partner and their mum and her new partner to extract learning from. So consistency from my side, inspiration and love, energy and joy become even more important than ever. You may also notice the irony that they are the same age that my children were when they sailed off on the yacht. So maybe, I have my dream come true.

In nature everything matters. Small things matter. Everything is important. Nothing happens without purpose. The single thoughts you have on a daily basis around putting the dishes in the sink, being thankful that the car starts, enjoying and savouring the taste of food, the smile on your face to a stranger, the action you take early in the morning toward your purpose and goals, the way you treat people and talk, the way you tolerate behaviour in others that will cause damage, these things all add up to what is called a life. Achievement, starts with a single great thought. But that achievement will lead to nothing if the whole process of getting there is corrupt.

One of the most important things that I have witnessed is the creation of the Buddhist sand Mandela. Monks take months to create a Mendala on the floor of a monastery, with tiny grains of sand and then as soon as they’re finished, the grand Poobah monk comes and runs a broom through the middle of it. Is an act that we are in the west would cry about. The equivalent of Picasso painting the most perfect picture and then burning it. We would see dollars going down the drain, opportunities lost and an entire waste of great effort. But the monks are demonstrating that the process of creating achievement is as important if not more important than the achievement itself. They are teaching the art of detachment.

We will all learn the art of detachment because eventually people we love will go. They will leave us or die. Our kids will grow up and become their own person and then we will be faced with this challenge of valuing the process of bringing them into the world and letting them go. My third mother, would often say, our children are only lent to us. This philosophy she learnt after losing two of her own children in their teenage years because of accidents. It was her way of understanding the pain. But it was also wisdom knowing that the process is as important as the outcome. Something we have lost touch with.

As we build our vision of the future we learn this process from nature. In every tree, every blade of grass, is the image of its eventual state, the result. And then the blade of grass or the tree gets on with the process. I called this set and forget. Set the vision, know why you going there, know exactly what that looks like and how it will feel, paint that future clearly in your mind and on the wall, and then get on with process. The quality of the process becomes, not your words of can or can’t, but your actions moment to moment.

As you learn in Pilates or yoga classes your body is the first expression of your thoughts. How do you sit how you stand how you walk how are you relax indications of what’s going on inside your mind. They are the first step in the process of life. So, it could be said that your children are watching your posture, emulating your physiological behaviour long before they hear your words of encouragement or not. It is a big opportunity. Sometimes we play sport for a hobby and that sport Ken if we do not keep it in context, change the structure of our posture in contradiction to what we really would love to be living as a process of life. And now you understand the role of the ego. And that is why we need to be careful about letting the ego run free because it might not be building the process or the future we would love for ourselves or others.

That is the end of this episode 14.

With spirit,


    Subscribe to my newsletter and be inspired