One evening when Pete, my first son, was only four years old, the two of us walked past a shop with a fish tank at the window. I noticed one of the goldfish in the tank was belly-up. I exclaimed, “Oh no, this fish is dying!” Little Pete looked with his eyes widened, slightly disturbed, leaned forward and gently whispered to the fish, “Don’t worry, mommy is coming.” He looked confident that the fish will survive when mommy fish comes along. At that moment, I realized my role in his life – my job as a mommy is to ‘save’ him and support him. It’s a sacred responsibility.
Pete provided an unexpected extension of my anchor. I had always thought of myself as an achievement oriented professional. I lived my life ticking items off my to-do list and zip around in blocks of 15 minutes to get as much done in the shortest time possible. My anchor was achievement. However, with Pete, my anchor was broaden and deepened.
Just as one tiny seed contains the possibility of a majestic tree, our anchor captures the essence of who we are.
Why is anchor relevant in today’s life? Change is faster. Workload is higher. Stress is higher. Job security is lowest. A manager described his day as being spun around in a washing machine. Disengagement, disempowerment and disillusionment sets in. None of this make us whole. For me personally, my super efficient, task oriented and hyper achieving ways eventually led to my fragmentation with a life threatening bizarre bacterial infection (see the first post here).
As I was recovering from my illness, I realised that wholeness is an alternative to fragmentation. In the article last week, I explored what is wholeness and introduced the ABCs of wholeness – Anchoring, Balancing and Clearing. Why these ABCs?
In face of whirling change around us, we need to anchor ourselves and stay rooted.
In this post, I want to go deeper into Anchoring. Through my research and interviews with numerous professionals and leaders, I discovered that there are two dimensions to our anchor:
- Who am I, as an individual? This relates to our identity and values. What matters to me? What do I want? This is also about being comfortable with who am I as an individual.
- Who am I, in relation to our community? This refers to us in relation to the people around us, our responsibility and purpose.
Let’s hear from Uncle Siong about his anchor. Uncle Siong is also the world’s fastest swimmer in 1982, founder of a swimming club and former head coach of Singapore swimming team. His club played an integral role in promoting paralympics and nurtured swimmers such as Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh, Singapore’s Paralympics 2016 medallists.
Seated in a meeting room in the swim club with the coaches’ sharp whistles and water splashing in the background, I asked Uncle Siong, “You have achieved much in your life. Why do you do what you do?”
With a sense of gratitude, Uncle Siong said, “My father was my first coach and also my inspiration. I remember bringing breakfast to him in the early morning. He would be coaching at the pool at 5.30 am. In the evenings, he started his second shift as the coach and president of the Judo Club. Even though we didn’t talk much, I saw the years of dedication and the impact he had on the club and the judo players. In him, I saw dedication to sports.”
Despite being the fastest 50m freestyler in 1982, the Olympics medal eluded Uncle Siong. In the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, there was no 50 m freestyle event. In the 1988 Seoul Olympics, while every athlete was training hard, he was in National Service (compulsory military conscription for all Singaporean men). He was 9th in the heats, just 1 place short to qualifying the finals. He was so sad that he cried.
“Everything happens for a reason,” quipped Uncle Siong with a distant look in his eyes. This experience has made him committed to developing the future athletes and sports eco-system.
“We are not here to create champions but an environment where champions are inevitable.”
These were the words of Forbes Carlile, Australia’s first post World War II Olympics swimming coach. “These words represent the purpose of my work,” says Uncle Siong. This is a responsibility he carries seriously.
“Not everyone can be an Olympic medalist, but we can all be champions in our own life. So our work is to create an environment for everyone to be champions in their own ways. A champion trains hard, learns from failures and examines how we can do better.” Sports had built their character and habits to be successful.
“Sportsmanship is a value we hope to cultivate in our athletes.” To which, I asked, “What really is sportsmanship?” Pausing for a moment, Uncle Siong replies,
“ Sports has the potential to bring people together as fellow human beings – put our differences aside and bring out the best in humankind.”
He looks at his watch, a subtle signal that he has to get back to coaching. I thank him and watch this tall muscular man with his sun hat on the pool deck yelling, “Go” and the swimmers plunge into the water in unison.
Uncle Siong anchors his world through sports. He is an athlete, a coach and builder of sports culture. Having received guidance from his coaches inspires him to nurture future generations of athletes. The disappointment in missing the Olympics medal in his career strengthened his sense of responsibility to build a supportive eco-system in sports. His values in teamwork and sportsmanship guide the culture in the club and character development of the athletes. This is an example of wholeness in our anchor, the coming together of one’s identity, purpose, responsibility and values, creating congruence and commitment.
Now, let’s pause for a moment and turn it over to you. What anchors you? What are your values, identity, responsibility and purpose? What keeps you rooted despite the hurricane of change around us? Reflect for a moment. Are you living your life based on your anchor?