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Focus on Success

If at first you don’t succeed…

Celebrating a year of Focus on WHY; a podcast that has been considered a great success but what is the meaning of success?

Success is evocative. It is personal to the individual yet it is a general term which encapsulates so much and is used so often. In its dictionary definition, success is simply ‘the accomplishment of an aim or purpose’.

Therefore, success can be found in many different forms along a scale; small wins such as meeting a work deadline or winning a new client to substantial wins such as getting a man to the moon or receiving the Nobel Peace prize for human rights advocacy.

Curiously, the dictionary cites failure as a ‘lack of success’. Is this why we fear failing as it is put on the opposing end of a scale from success? Is this why failing is perceived as so undesirable?

On Wednesday this week, I attended Steve Bustin’s Speech Club where together 35 of us critiqued the commencement speech that J.K. Rowling gave at Harvard University back in 2008 where she spoke of the benefits of failure, of her ‘knack for passing examinations, and that, for years had been the measure of success’ not only for her but for her peers too. Then she shared her understanding of the importance of failure in life.

“Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.” J.K. Rowling

Why are we so fearful of failing? What is the big issue in making mistakes? After all, it’s how we learn. It’s how we improve and adapt. As children, we teach ourselves to walk. We fall down over and over but we get back up again. So why does falling down become an issue when we get older?

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela stressed that to fail and fall were both essential requirements needed before success would arise and that true success is attributed to the qualities of resilience and persistence from coming back from the fall, not purely to achieving success. Failure and success are not opposing, they are intrinsically linked.

Early in my life, success came to me like J.K. Rowling in the forms of gaining good examination results, and through my sporting achievements. Rowing was my chosen sport and my passion. From my failure came my success. Aged 14, I capsized dramatically in the National Rowing Championships; the following year, aged 15, I returned and won it. Pursuing my love for 'messing about in boats', I chose a university with a decent rowing history. James Cracknell, OBE had just graduated from Reading University as I arrived.

On the 7th April 2019, the Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge took place and history was made when James Cracknell, OBE became the oldest member of a crew to compete at 46 years old. Watching the Boat Race took me right back to my time on the river and I got those familiar goosebumps tingling all over my body, butterflies in my stomach and hairs standing on end.

I remembered how it felt waiting at the starting line with my heart pumping so hard I could almost feel it pushing against my ribs. Gritting my teeth, grimacing as I took every stroke, edging ahead as the momentum of the boat carved through the water, the steady rhythm up the slide between each stroke, blood pounding in my head, the sensation of knowing that I am nudging into the lead, putting everything I’ve got into every stroke, just staying clean in the water, focusing on what is needed to get over the line in front, nothing else mattered.

Watching Cambridge and Cracknell cross the winning line I remembered what it meant to punch the air in celebration, to slap the back of my team mates as the jelly legs set in and the need to plunge my wrists deep into the water to cool me down. Every part of my body hurt, I couldn’t get enough breath into my lungs but at the same time my dream had come true as I lay bent double over the oar. I remembered what it meant to be a winner. This is what success feels like.

When interviewed by Sir Matthew Pinsent after his Boat Race win, James Cracknell, OBE said he had really missed being in the boat. He said that just being selected for this crew had been his greatest achievement in life because of his experience and age. Clearly, Cracknell is a midlife beginner!

“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” Henry Ford

So, what defines a winner? Here is a double Olympic gold medallist who had just become a Boat Race winner at the age of 46 having overcome a truly horrendous accident in 2010. Whilst attempting to cycle, row, run and swim from Los Angeles to New York in 18 days, Cracknell was hit by a petrol tanker in Arizona. He had been wearing a cycle helmet which he attributed his survival to as the accident left him with a brain injury to the frontal lobes. He now suffers from epilepsy and an altered personality. For me, James Cracknell is a winner but perhaps the true winners that got him over the line were those of resilience, courage and devotion.

Winning a boat race takes great courage! It demonstrates commitment, motivation, perseverance and perfection of technique. I remember watching Cracknell race in Athens 2004 and before that in Sydney 2000 waking up to watch that race and screaming at the television with excitement. It was phenomenal. A fifth gold medal for Sir Steve Redgrave CBE DL, the most successful male rower in Olympic history. Another true winner in my eyes, Redgrave has always been my sporting hero.

Redgrave is the epitome of showing just what it takes to win as part of a team to achieve success; how to overcome obstacles such as living with colitis and diabetes injecting himself six times a day to keep insulin at bay and yet still compete at the highest level. The path is not always easy but it is there to tread and the key is to keep going no matter what. Those who don’t quit reach their goals.

“A quitter never wins, and a winner never quits.” Napoleon Hill

Staying with the rowing theme, back in 2003, I was inspired by Ben Hunt-Davis when he came to speak to a company I was working for. I remember this being the first time I heard a professional motivational speaker and I was awestruck. He spoke with such passion and energy and there was a connection, not just because he spoke of rowing but because he spoke from the heart sharing what it really took to achieve success.

In his book co-written with Harriet Beveridge, ‘Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? Olympic-winning Strategies For Everyday Success’, Hunt-Davis discusses the importance behind the simplicity of the question ‘Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?’ It seeks to focus your attention on the processes that achieve the result. In order to be successful, focus on the process and the results will take care of themselves. It’s not about the final race, it’s about all the years and years of training that take place beforehand.

Obviously, the ‘Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?’ question struck a chord with me as a rower. I identified with the key driver behind the question, the importance of getting emotional about how much you truly desire your goal. The ‘emotional rocket fuel’ which drives everything; goal setting, motivation, beliefs, teamwork, momentum, process, risk taking, ‘bouncebackability’ and change.

What is your dream? Does it make you emotional? If not, then it is unlikely to be a big enough dream. Think bigger. Think goosebumps big, think hairs standing on end Olympic Gold big!

A year ago today, on 30th April 2020, I launched my second podcast, Focus on WHY. This was a big dream that I turned into a reality. I had no idea how the show would be received and what the long term plan would be. All I knew was that this podcast was needed and that it would be of benefit to so many people providing them with inspiration, direction and uplifting conversations in uncertain times.

A year later and it has been worth all the effort, the time and the energy. It clearly struck a chord. The podcast has since become a go-to show for many around the world as listeners are tuning in to 167 episodes from 85 countries. Focus on WHY has been in the Apple Podcasts charts every day since launch and is currently in the Top 1.5% of all podcasts. It was worth the risk of me stepping out of my comfort zone. It was a risk I could afford to take.

What was the risk though? The dictionary defines risk as ‘a situation involving exposure to danger’. I was in no real danger here, only perhaps the fear of failure. In ‘Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?’, four different types of risks are discussed as part of the process needed to push harder to achieve:

• Risks we can afford to take

• Risks we can’t afford to take

• Risks we can afford not to take

• Risks we can’t afford not to take

“If you want to win, you need to forget about winning. In order to win, you have to risk losing.”

Ben Hunt-Davis.

Understanding how to take intelligent risks when pursuing success, recognising that failure is a necessary part of the process, that fear is not prohibitive and allowing the goal to be your guide will inevitably take you forward.

I’m an advocate of midlife beginnings using this phrase to describe people in their 40s or 50s who set about reinventing themselves, creating a new lifestyle and taking control. I am a proud midlife beginner and am building a new business around the concept of my podcast. My Focus on WHY is to shine the light on people’s purpose, to enable them to create fulfilling lives and opportunities.

With a fascination for understanding WHY people do what they do in life, I am on a mission to help entrepreneurs become values-based, purpose-driven and people-centred. I help people launch (and relaunch) profitable and purposeful podcasts focused on increasing their visibility, credibility and impact whilst inspiring, entertaining and educating a global audience. I am just building a new group programme around podcasting so reach out to me if you are interested in joining the first cohort.

At the heart of what I do is simple, I help you to Focus on WHY with clarity, uniting your passion and purpose with a plan to create the life you truly desire. My passions for teaching, coaching and podcasting are driving me towards success on a daily basis. I am learning from the challenges I face. I try new things all the time. I have made and continue to make mistakes. It is acceptable to fail, to fall down. What is important is that I get back up again and keep trying. Failing is learning and it is part of the process needed to succeed. If at first you don’t succeed, get up and go again. You are a winner by simply not giving up.

“Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” Muhammed Ali

Many people are wanting to make changes to reach success and are willing to make the changes necessary to achieve them but very few people actually make these changes. They resist them. ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ by Dr. Spencer Johnson, highlights this indecision, the resistance to change and shows us how to achieve success and happiness through his simple and effective fable. He describes the importance of embracing change and being able to adapt quickly.

Today’s world is rapidly changing. The pandemic has humbled us. We have been required to work outside of our comfort zones more often than not. Who moved the cheese? The cheese keeps moving, we have to move with the cheese. We have to move out of our comfort zones, stretch ourselves, challenge ourselves to make our lives extraordinary.

So why not row the Boat Race aged 46?

Why not launch a new podcast and build a new business at 45?

Why not have a big dream?

People don’t like being uncomfortable or being stressed however understanding that pressure and living with pressure is an important part of winning. Working under pressure is key and stands as a mantra for Sir Clive Woodward where he advocates that you need to “think correctly under pressure.”

In a rugby match, there are moments of split second decisions that will win or lose a game. Remember the 2003 World Cup game where Jonny Wilkinson, CBE kicked the drop goal to win 20-17 in the final seconds. There go my goose bumps again! Woodward says that his three favourite words are What, Why and How as he believes that you should be questioning everything you are doing at all times. Ask yourself these three questions; What are you doing?

Why are you doing it?

How are you doing it?

Three simple yet critical questions to ask.


So how could you achieve success? One of the quickest routes to success is to find someone who has already achieved what you desire and emulate them. Ask them for advice and aspire to adopt the habits they have. Jim Rohn said “If you really want something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” I follow Rohn’s advice, particularly one of his findings that you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

The theory behind the Law of Averages proposes that the result of any given situation will be the average of all outcomes, such that we become the average of the five people we spend the most time with in terms of our wealth, health, lifestyle, personal development, values and philosophy.

“Surround yourself only with people who are going to lift you higher.” Oprah Winfrey.

As a result, I choose my close circle wisely, spending time and surrounding myself with people who will encourage and challenge me to reach my goals. That’s why networking meetings are so productive because people who attend them have made the effort to meet others, share their knowledge and their time, and take action to further their career. Surround yourself with people in all areas of life who will spur you on to achieve your goals, encourage you, challenge you, support you in the ups and downs of life.

“Where you are is a result of who you were. But where you go depends entirely on who you choose to be.” Hal Elrod

Never stop learning, pick yourself up when you fall, share your knowledge, have fun, be creative, apply deliberative practice that is specifically focused towards achieving the results you desire. Have your “Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? question. Check your progress, give yourself feedback, adapt and move forward. If you truly desire it, you will achieve it. The focus is not just on the winning, it is on achieving the best you can possibly achieve and who you become as part of the process in doing so.

It is never too late to be what you might have been. If at first you don't succeed...



Give yourself the ‘Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?’ question and apply it to your goal.

What is your specific question? What risks do you need to take to achieve the success you desire?


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