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Column: The 8 steps that helped me to turn my life around -- and they can work for you too in 2013

Former All-Star hurler Tony Griffin was inspired to act by the story of a cancer-stricken Jim Stynes.

Image: fhotog via Flikr

THE DARKNESS OF the cinema hid my tears. Their reason became clearer as I heard myself mutter; ‘Tony, you are off track’.

At the time I was co-managing a small company called Sports Academy International. It began when Muhammad Ali announced he was from Ennis in County Clare and was coming home.

Our company had been awarded the contract to manage part of his historic visit to his ancestral home and the event was an astonishing success with an authentic sense of happiness rolling around the streets of the medieval town on the day of The Greatest’s homecoming.

Inexperienced as I was in running a business there were not many other jobs in Ireland at the time and rather than return to Canada where I had lived for the previous four years, building your own business seemed like a good alternative to emigration. Because that is what you are supposed to do isn’t it? Get a good job (or in my case create one) earn as much as you can and then you are free to enjoy life.

I followed this route and our little business grew. We organised triathlon races, adventure races, worked on the visit of Lance Armstrong to Dublin, we even travelled to New Zealand and won the rights to bring the 2011 Singlespeed Mountain Bike World Championships to Ireland.

‘Very soon afterwards my business partner and I sat down and had a very honest conversation’

Back in the cinema, the realisation came flooding over me. I was feeling off track in life and if we were honest our business was beginning to creak under the weight of the growing economic downturn. Very soon afterwards my business partner and I sat down and had a very honest conversation. We had become and still are to this day very close friends but we agreed it was time to wind down our little adventure. Before we did we had commitments to meet. I had agreed to give a talk to a group of runners at a Dublin based medical and training facility. Afterwards a man in his 40s approached me. I had seen him wait patiently at the back of the room. He wanted to meet for a cup of coffee later that week.

A week later I pushed open the door of the Bite of Life cafe on St Patrick’s Street in Dublin and shook hands with Karl Swan. His first question hit me hard. ‘Have you heard of Jim Stynes?’ You see, the previous December while sitting awe-struck watching Every Heart Beats True – The Jim Stynes story I had heard an old familiar voice deep inside me whisper to pay attention, that there was something in this man’s story.

Moved by the documentary I had written a blog about Jim Stynes the following morning but then the process of winding down our company with the attendant niceties of banks and creditors swamped my every waking hour.

Jim Stynes. Pic: INPHO/James Crombie

That morning sitting beside a roaring fire in a busy little Dublin cafe two men schemed and dreamed. They shared their deep concern for a country that had so lost its way that they feared for what it was doing to our young people and their permission to dream. On this morning, unencumbered by limitations, unharnessed by the what-ifs that deny so many ideas becoming a reality, we dreamed.

We discussed the work Jim Stynes had pioneered with young people over the past 17 years in Australia through his organisation, Reach. We agreed that the self-confidence and resilience programs Reach ran for Aussie teenagers were needed now more than ever, like a positive contagion freeing the next generation from that dreaded disease of settling for mediocrity.

But were we going to talk about doing something or were we going to actually do something? We shook hands and parted ways.

As I walked home through the streets of the Liberties I knew that destiny was throwing me a lifeline. It wanted to pull me with it and if I could summon the courage to follow, my life would lurch in a direction that would see amazing things come about.

Very often when you are willing to stand up and claim your destiny life will open doors, introduce people and bring about events that will seem miraculous. This is exactly what unfolded over the year-and-a-half since that coffee on Patrick’s Street. A few months later, through the great support of Etihad Airways we arrived in Melbourne, Australia and charged in the doors of the Reach Foundation’s offices. We announced to anybody that would listen that we wanted to bring the essence of what one Irishman had created back to his homeland so that our ailing country could begin to dream again.

On his deathbed we promised him that we would keep our word. The Soar Foundation was born several weeks later in December 2011 and since then has gone on to deliver self-confidence and resilience workshops to over a thousand Irish young people between the ages of 10 and 18. This is only the beginning.

Our young need to hope like never before.

Claiming your Destiny

Over the past 18 months my life took a different and uncertain direction. From feeling off-track and somewhat lost to hearing a call to arms, to answering that mysterious call and following where it led. I have noted the process throughout and am reproducing it here in the hope that if you are feeling lost as to what you should be doing with your life that 2013 will the year you claim your destiny. I have broken this process in to eight stages.

Questioning your everyday life

You find yourself uneasy or unhappy with where your life is going. On the outside it may appear everything is fine, your job might be well paying, you may have all the toys or distractions. You find yourself unable to put your finger on it but you find yourself saying – ‘there must be more than this’. Or your life is so miserable that it has gone beyond questioning and you are screaming for change.  For example my tears in the cinema were my heart calling me to change my life direction.

There is a call for you

Something shakes up your everyday life. This can be done from deep inside of you or from an external force. Your eye catches an ad in a newspaper, a phone call from an old friend spurs you to action or in my case a documentary about a man dying from cancer led me to ask questions of myself. Usually this call causes you to feel something intensely. You’ve been awakened. If you’ve experienced this already you know what I am talking about.

You back away from the call

You find yourself held by the fear of the unknown, almost paralysed. Alternatively a family member or friend (very often those closest to you do not want to see you hurt) will unknowingly try to talk you out of answering your call by asking you ‘Are you sure?’  or ‘How will this work?’ This may just be enough to derail your dreams and you will go no further. In my case my own thoughts to get past the uncertainty around how following my heart to set up Soar would make practical sense were the first challenge to overcome. This is a vital stage and many people stop here and never get to discover what they are made of and the amazing life experience that awaited them.

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Help Arrives

Very often just when you are about to abandon your call a mentor or aide will show up. In my case at the exact moment I was asking whatever is up there to guide me, Karl my co-founder of Soar showed up. Just, as he was asking for the same thing. If your aide does not come from outside of you very often you find an internal source of courage you hadn’t realised lay within you and feel empowered to answer your call. But rest assured when you most need it help will arrive.

You Commit

This stage is the defining moment on your journey where you affirm to yourself that you are not backing down, no matter what and are committing to your dream. Even if you don’t yet know how it will work out. Your following this direction sits well with your heart even if your head is screaming – ‘what about the pay cheque? How will this work?’ Just remember when it is your heart calling you to do something, rational thinking will have to be suspended for a while till momentum builds. Feel your way through the very first steps as opposed to thinking them through. This stage happened for me as I sat on Port Melbourne beach late one night during our first trip to Reach and committed to myself that following this path was the right thing to do.

Challenges, Doubts and Trials

This is the stage that I found most difficult.  During this stage you will be tested to your core, often by people you thought would be your allies. For me it was when I passed a woman on the street asking for change and I realised she had more in her hat than I had to my name. Real doubt set in. I felt lonely, a failure to my fiancee. But something within me welled up and I knew that I had to stay the course no matter what. The following week I travelled to Britain and sold my car.

The Breakthrough

When you follow your heart the breakthrough always comes and the money always follows. It has to because what you are doing is fuelled by your deepest passion to claim your destiny. The example I can offer from my own journey was when a coincidental meeting led to a company called Stelfox recruitment agreeing to seed-fund Soar so as to allow me to concentrate full-time on the project. This came only two months after the day I had met the lady begging on the street and had realised I had to sell my car to keep going. Very often destiny will bring you to the brink before rewarding you. Hold out.

Continuing on Your Journey

As you go along your journey you will see your call to action open up a world that will truly amaze you. It will not always be easy but this is where the growth is. And while challenging, you will know you are on the right road. You will just know. Gradually you will become an aide to others who are where you once were and are trying to claim their destiny. In 2013 listen to your heart and when you hear your life’s purpose calling, regardless of the noise trying to drown it out, listen to it and ACT. I’ll leave you with some words that guided me at the beginning of finding the courage to set up Soar.

“When you are inspired …dormant forces, faculties, and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be” – Pantanjali.

Tony Griffin is an athlete, charity activist, speaker and author. He is a former All-Star hurler with Clare, who now does extensive charity work for organisations such as SOAR. In 2010, he released his autobiography ‘Screaming At The Sky’.


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