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What Does The Blazer Mean To Me? Choice. (Brisbane Grammar School Yr 9 Blazer Ceremony Address, 10 May 2024)

Recently I was asked to speak to the boys and parents at Brisbane Grammar School for their Year 9 Blazer Ceremony to celebrate the boys (including two of my nephews) joining the senior student ranks.

The topic: What does the blazer mean to me?

It sparked a reflection for me of high school and my time since.

It once again confirmed the extraordinary privilege I grew up in to even get to go to this school. And that with the privilege comes the responsibility to use it. To make a contribution.

And it highlighted the shift in my perspective from 1993, seeing the blazer as a symbol of authority, to what it means to me now.

Choice.

Because if we have such little control over the world around us and, as the science suggests, such little control of the world inside of us, then this blazer, or any other for that matter, can become a powerful tool.

I used the address to help the boys build a ritual that they or anyone could use with their blazer to remind us of one very important thing.

That we still have a choice.

I’ve included the audio and transcript below.

I hope you enjoy it.


Video

Audio – click link to play or download

Toby Jenkins – Brisbane Grammar School Yr 9 Blazer Ceremony Address, 10 May 2024 >>

Transcript

Thank you captains, thank you teachers and parents and loved ones, and thank you boys.

When Mr. Bloch asked me to come up today and talk about what the blazer means to me, the word that stuck in my mind was choice.

And I don’t mean the kinds of choices I was making in year nine, like the choice I made to shave my head and my body, head to toe, cover myself in Goanna Oil, and then squeeze into a pair of size six togs in order to shave 100th of a second off my time at the GPS swimming.

Nor do I make the kind of choice I made when I handed my latin assignment in to my teacher, who just happened to be the headmaster at the time, printed on a single page in tiny, eight point font. What was I thinking?!

I sure hope you boys are making a smarter choice than that.

No, the choices I’m talking about today are the choices we face every single day – some feel big, some feel small – in those situations where we have very little control of the world outside of our blazer and, as I’ve come to learn and what I want to share today, is that we have such little control of what goes on inside the blazer too.

That’s why the blazer can come to represent the fact that we still have a choice.

Now, it hasn’t always been this way.

Back in 1993, when I first started here at Grammar, I used to think that the blazer was really all about authority. I thought if I could fill my blazer with as many lines as humanly possible, then I would be successful, I’d be fulfilled, I would be important.

Since school, I’ve worn many of life’s blazers in sport: club teams, state teams, the Olympic blazer in Athens in 2004. In business: it’s been suits and ties, shirts, jackets like this one. All of them are blazers in their own way.

Now, as an executive performance coach, I get to work with people, extraordinary people whose blazers appear far more accomplished than mine: Olympic gold medalists, SAS soldiers, leaders and executives in all types of organizations, professionals with decades of experience, wildly successful entrepreneurs.

All of these experiences have shaped my view and crystallised for me the realisation that behind every blazer, no matter how decorated, there is a human. With fears and doubts and frustrations, with hopes and dreams and aspirations.

That’s why today I want to share a story, a sprinkling of the science and a ritual – one that we’ll build together to help transform this blazer from an item of clothing into a powerful tool that you can take with you into the classroom, onto the field, into the school yard, or onto a stage, with the people that matter most parents, teachers, loved ones, your mates.

So then it can become a reminder that even in those situations where we have such little control, that we still have a choice.

Picture this.

It’s Athens. It’s 2004 Olympic Games. This is game three, and it’s Australia playing Greece. It’s a medal critical game.

The winner of this game stays in medal contention, the loser gets knocked out. It’s 30 seconds before halftime, and we’re leading by a goal.

Up here on my, on my right are 6,000 Greeks going berserk in this indoor stadium. The sound is deafening. Scattered amongst the sea of blue and white are islands of green and gold, Aussie supporters who’ve flown all the way from Australia to be here and support us in these games. Amongst those supporters are my family, mum and dad, my three sisters and my brother.

They’re here today, or two of them are: Essie and Cliss and their husbands, Des and Johnny were there too. I’m here because Leo and Zig, my nephews are here in the crowd. I love you boys.

Behind me, a Greek player misses a shot. Our goalie, Jimmy pulls it in and I start sprinting down the field. Jimmy picks up the ball, launches it, and it comes flying over my head and lands in front of me.

So there’s me, the ball, and the Greek goalie where you boys are sitting. Now remember that this is half way into the most intense water polo game I’ve ever played in my life. I’m physically exhausted. At the same time, I’m absolutely jacked on the opportunity of what this represents for me, for the team.

My question to you all then is what do you think goes through an Olympian’s mind in a moment like that?

Let me share.

Get me out of here. I always miss these shots in training. I always miss these shots in games. I wish someone else was taking this shot.

I try to shake it off.

Come on, Toby, this is the Olympics. This is what you’ve trained for. You can do it. Your family’s in the stand. You can do it. You can do it. Let’s go. Let’s go.

All of this experience is running around my mind and my body at a million miles an hour as I sprint in towards the goal, I pick up the ball, I baulk once and take the shot.

Now, this story doesn’t have a happy ending.

The Greek goalie saves it, pulls it in, and I think to the bottom of the pool, mortified by the fact that I’ve just missed this shot. As I bounce to the surface, over on my left, here is Dino, my teammate, five meters away.

If only I’d seen him, if only I’d seen him, it would’ve been easy pass, easy goal. And of course, to make matters worse, the Greek goalie picks up the ball, sends it down the field, a Greek player catches it, shoots and scores.

So instead of going into halftime, two goals ahead, now suddenly we’re even. And that sense of momentum, it’s been sucked out of us. The wind out of your sails, I’m sure you’ve experienced it in some form or another.

We ended up losing that game and finishing ninth at the Olympics.

Was it all because of that one moment? No, of course not. But some days it still feels like it.

I’ve spent a lot of time learning about and trying to understand how people can work in these kinds of conditions, in situations of stress and pressure, but also to maximize the daily choices that we all make.

One of the things I’ve learned is that we have thousands of thoughts and feelings and sensations in a given day, and we cannot possibly control them all.

Another thing I’ve learned is that clearly the negative thoughts weren’t useful to me, but equally nor were the positive thoughts. They were as much of a distraction as the negative thoughts. Thinking about my family up in the stand wasn’t going to help me score this goal.

So my question to you all again, where do you think my attention should have been in that moment?

If you’re saying to yourself in the moment, in the present, on the task at hand, on your process, you are spot on. It’s called task focused attention.

And had I been able to get that, I would have recognized that the very same checklist that I was taught as a 13-year-old learning to play this game, learning to take shots in these situations, just the same age as you boys, is exactly the same checklist that applies in a medal critical moment of an Olympic Games. And the first step of that is to stick your head up and look around, assess the situation, expand your awareness and then make a choice.

The science of psychological flexibility that I’ve come to love and practice, both for myself as well as with others, says that we don’t want to turn people into brick walls of harder, tougher, stronger.

Because if you hit a brick wall with a sledgehammer, what happens? It cracks.

What we are trying to do is build people into trampolines that can absorb the hits and bounce back, absorb, bounce back, absorb, bounce back.

There are three pillars to developing psychological flexibility.

The first is open up, the second is be present. And the third is do what matters. Open up, be present, and do what matters.

Open up is not necessarily about opening up to other people and talking to them, although that may be something that you choose to do. Opening open up is more about expecting and knowing that these tough experiences will show up on any given day.

We don’t experience them when we’re filling our water bottles, do we? No. The fact that the tough thoughts show up is not because we are weak or broken or inadequate or something is missing.

It is because we care.

And so the more we care, the more important something is to us, the more likely it is that these experiences will show up.

That’s why the exam is harder than the exercises out of the textbook. It’s why game day feels different to the training session.

It’s because we care.

The second step then is to be present.

If we can open up to these experiences, then we can learn to be present, not to feel good, but to come back to the moment to recognize that we still have a choice, a choice to do what? To do what matters, to take action in service of the people that matter, the things that matter, the goals, the hopes, the aspirations, in service of values and purpose and contribution and leaving a legacy. Those kinds of actions, those kinds of choices.

And that’s what we’re going to do with the blazer now. We’re going to build a ritual around this blazer that can help us come back to the moment that can help us open up and be present to recognize that we still have a choice.

The ritual is two parts. The first part is the open up part. We’re going to expand our awareness. The second is be present with a single question. So let’s build it.

I love you to join me. I’m going to talk us through three breaths. We’ll breathe in for four. We’ll hold that breath for seven. We’ll breathe out for eight. And please everyone join in.

Then I’d love you to follow my prompts. I’ll count us through the breaths. So if you can stand comfortably, sit comfortably and bring your attention to your breath, close your eyes, and then let’s breathe in together,2,3, 4, and hold,2,3,4,5,6, 7, out,2,3,4,5,6,7, 8. In 2,3, 4. Hold,2,3,4,5,6, 7, out, 2,3,4,5,6,7, 8, and in and hold and out.

And now boys, I want you to bring your attention to your blazer. Everyone else choose another item of clothing. Bring your attention to your blazer, keeping your eyes closed. And notice what sensations can you feel there? The texture against your skin, the pressure against your back, the weight on your shoulders. What can you notice there in that blazer?

Then take that awareness down into the soles of your feet. Let it rest there for a moment. What sensations can you notice? Texture of your sock, the weight, the pressure against the floor. And now extend that awareness down into the floor, down the sides of the building and onto the land on which we gather today.

Reflect for a moment that for tens of thousands of years, thousands upon thousands of people have walked this land before us. In more recent history, that includes grammar boys just like you, in blazers, just like yours.

And that we stand here in the present on the decisions they made, the actions they took, the contributions they made. Project now into the future, there will be many more people come after us for many, many more years, and they will stand on the actions we take, the choices we make in bringing forward the richness of the contributions of the past to create our own legacy, to make our own contribution for them to stand on.

Now, bring that attention back up off the land, up the sides of the buildings, along the floor, and let it rest again on the soles of your feet. What can you notice there this time? Wiggle your toes if you need to. Then bring that awareness up to your blazer again, is there a difference this time round? What can you notice now on the blazer? A shift in the weight, a slight difference in the texture, and then in your own time, come back to the room and open your eyes.

The second part then of this ritual, boys, is to ask yourself a single question. It’s my favorite one. It’s my favorite tool for getting back to the present. In fact, all of you can ask this of yourselves. The question is, what if this is the last time? What if this is the last time? This question doesn’t just bring us back to the moment it asks of us. How will we act here? Who will we be? What choice will we make?

So boys, on Monday, when you pull on your blazer, I don’t want you to just pull on your blazer. I want you to connect with it for a moment to notice the texture, the sensation, the weight of it, and reflect on the history and the people that have led up to the fact that you, as I did, have the privilege of pulling on this blazer and projecting to the future to recognize that many will come after us, that they will stand on the contributions we make. So what legacy will we leave today? Then consider what is in your day ahead, classroom field, pool stage, school yard. Who is in in your day? Parents, teachers, students, loved ones.

Then ask yourself that question. What if this is the last time? What if this is the last time? How will you act? What will you choose? Who do you want to be?

Because if we have such little control of the world that goes on around outside our blazer, and if as the science suggests, we have such little control of the world inside our blazer, then we can use the blazer as a tool.

As the single reminder that we still have a choice.

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