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VOICES

Anna Geary 'Resilience is a mindset and once you realise that, you can work on it'

The sportswoman and media personality shares an extract from her new book, Anna’s Game Plan.

‘The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall’
– Nelson Mandela

THERE IS NO doubt that challenges in our life test our resilience. Adverse situations arise, we can fail at times, we can be pushed to our limits personally and professionally, but when it comes to building resilience, the thing to remember is that it’s not about what happens to you, it’s how you respond and learn from it.

Indeed, it’s important to remember this when you hear the word bandied about: resilience isn’t some magical thing that some people are born with while others have very little. Once you understand that resilience is a mindset – a way of responding to life’s challenges – then you can set out to develop resilience in yourself. That is liberating.

One of my all-time favourite books is What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey. In it she says:

One of my greatest lessons has been to fully understand that what looks like a dark patch in the quest for success is the universe pointing you in a new direction. Anything can be a miracle, a blessing, an opportunity if you choose to see it that way.

I always think of this quote when I reflect on my retirement from the Cork camogie team in 2015. I didn’t leave camogie altogether at that stage, I wasn’t ready for that step yet, and so I still played with my home club, Milford. But my retirement from Intercounty camogie was one of the single most difficult decisions I had to make on my own.

I couldn’t discuss it with my close circle as I knew they would say I should stay. After all, we were the reigning All-Ireland Champions and had a great chance of retaining our title. I had been the captain of that All-Ireland winning team and I was still in my prime at twenty-seven. But I knew, deep down, something was niggling away at me. I felt unsettled.

Anna's Game Plan_hi res jacket

That winter, I was nursing a cracked shin injury and I missed the League campaign. I had gone back to qualify as an executive and performance coach at the same time, and so I was forced to face up to tough questions about my life, including what my life would be like after camogie.

Stepping forward

I knew I had to make a huge life decision, and I wanted to control the narrative. I wanted to announce it formally, that I was planning to move to Dublin to focus on a new career, and I didn’t want to make a half-commitment to the Cork team, missing training sessions, only being around at the weekends.

I’m someone who likes to fully commit, and if I couldn’t do that, it wouldn’t be fair on my teammates or myself. I can’t say I was 100 per cent sure of my decision, but I was sure enough to make the leap of faith. I was lucky enough to get sound advice and support from Marty Morrissey, and he arranged for us to do a quick piece to camera on the RTÉ Six One News.

I didn’t think my retirement announcement was newsworthy until it aired and my phone went into meltdown. I got so many messages questioning my reasoning, as I expected – I was too young, I was coming off the back of being the captain of the All-Ireland winning team the year before, I was at the pinnacle of my career.

I knew there was never going to be a good time to leave, camogie was such a huge part of my identity and my life. Everything was dictated by sport: my relationships, my friends, my career. All of these were influenced by my commitment to the Cork team and I didn’t regret one minute of it. But it was time to step back. I was on a new path, and I didn’t quite know where it started or where it would lead me to. Everything was unfamiliar and daunting, and at the time I didn’t know who I was without camogie.

Steering your own ship

Within a few months, I’d left my job and moved to Dublin. That September, not long after stepping away from the Cork set-up, I was asked to get involved in the punditry with RTÉ for the All-Ireland Finals.

I did feel a pang of envy as the teams ran out onto the pitch, but I also felt a sense of fulfilment that I was where I wanted to be at that moment in time. It all sounds so simple and straightforward, but it wasn’t. It was full of self-doubt, dead ends and anxiety, but it taught me how to have faith in myself and my choices. How to be resilient and persevere. And I’m so glad I did.

It might sound dramatic (I am a little dramatic), but there is a quote from one of my favourite poems, ‘Invictus’, that resonates with me: ‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.’ It’s hands-down my favourite quote and one that I have almost had tattooed on my body twice (on both occasions I bolted from the tattoo shop – yes, I chickened out!).

I find that quote to be powerful because it explains to me how my life can be viewed in two ways: as a life that dictates to me, or one that I can dictate. The captain of a ship has no idea what storms or squalls are ahead, but he is the one who steers the ship to safety when it runs into trouble. This is resilience, it’s in the power behind trusting yourself to steer your own ship and building the skills to deal with issues your way when they arise. I have always admired my mam and the way in which she backs herself in her decision-making. Her process involves mulling it over quietly and then, once she makes up her mind, that’s it.

No second-guessing herself. She is resilient and doesn’t look to blame others if she makes the wrong decision. That’s the most impressive part. The resilience she possesses enables her to recover quickly should she make the wrong decision. She has always had the capacity to deal with challenging situations.

Whenever I have a tough decision to make, Mam is one of the first people I will call to chat things through. She is rational, yet empathetic. She’s a great listener and is both practical and pragmatic. She has instilled in me the courage of conviction to just go for things, and if they go wrong, you can always fix them. She is a great sounding board too. I am an overthinker by nature, while she doesn’t believe in wasting time and energy dwelling on and rehashing details.

Her attitude is, make the decision and then it’s on to the next one. I am trying to adopt that outlook more in my life, and in the meantime, having someone like that in my corner is something I’m very grateful for.

Anna Geary has been an All-Ireland winning camogie captain. Since then, she has transitioned to a successful online and traditional media career. Anna was a runner-up on Ireland’s Dancing with the Stars, coaches on Ireland’s Fittest Family and has nearly 150k followers on Instagram. She lives in Kildare with her husband and baby son. Her book, Anna’s Game Plan, is out now, published by Penguin.

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