The first real lesson I remember is the skill of focus I received as a ten year old boy.
We lived across the road from Ernie Pearce, who at that time was the South Africa marathon canoe champion and many time winner of the world famous Dusi Canoe champion marathon between Pietermartizburg and Durban.
Ernie was both a friend and mentor to me for most of my childhood and early adult life. He treated me as an equal and expected me to live up to my end of the bargain. He encouraged me to dream and make me live up to my aspirations. To Ernie I was not a child who needed to be protected, but an embryo of greatness that needed to be developed. This was the complete opposite of the relationship I had with my parents, both of whom tried to smother me with over protection and their perception of what a ‘good child’ should be. Every day I thank the Universe for such an amazing intervention in my life.
One day Ernie asked me if I would like to go with him to find faster portage route for part of the Dusi. I was so excited! But as a responsible adult, he insisted that I go and asked my mother for permission. I knew she would say no. It was time to do some quick creative thinking without lying. I had to go with… I could not miss an opportunity like that.
I ran into the house and shouted, “Mom can I go with Uncle Ernie.” To my amazement I heard her say, “yes, be good and don’t make any trouble.” I didn’t even say good bye, she might have rethought and wanted more information. That was so easy, and I didn’t have to lie.
A few minutes later we were on our way to the river. We ran a short distance before Ernie stopped looked me straight in the eyes and said,” I’m not your friend, we are not playing … I am a South African Champion … if you want to play go home and play with my daughters … if you think you are a champion too, come with me.” He turned and ran away.
About an hour later he stopped and grinned at me; “I see you are still here! ”he said, now count every tree you can see.
When I got to a hundred he stopped me and said: “For ever bush in this valley there is also a mamba, (A deadly poisonous African snake). I froze in fear! “You can look for them if you like, or you can stay focused on the reason we are here and you will probably never see one.” Boy did I focus!!!
So why was this such a profound lesson for me; and why all these years later do I still consider it to be so important?
Well firstly Ernie made me take a good although very quick look in the mirror of my soul and decide who I was working towards becoming and then set some very high standards for a ten year old boy and he made me live up to them. I later worked out that the only person I really had to compete with was myself; that successful people turn their dreams into reality and that it takes real integrity and focus to never give up on oneself.
Secondly; how often do we set out to do something and then let our irrational fears get between us and the thing we really want to achieve instead of focusing on what we want. Or simply let the destructive but well-meant interference and advice from friends destroy our dreams and aspirations?