Gratitude – Embracing The Hardest Part
Image by Jared Rice

The temperature was below zero. The stars were still out.

My breath fogged in the predawn Canberra air.

It had been 25 years since I’d lived at the Australian Institute of Sport and made this walk from the athlete residences to the pool.

There was a beep as the security pass opened the door into the swimming complex.

It was completely empty.

Everything was still. Even the robot cleaner on the bottom of the pool.

The humidity and smell hit me.

So many laps done. So much time. So many experiences.

It felt like coming home but there was also an edge.

I pulled on my swimmers and went through my old man mobility exercises on the side of the pool.

10 mins later I jumped in and started swimming.

After a while I looked up at the clock.

7:02 am.

Time to get out.

I was running team culture workshops with the Australian Men’s Water Polo squad and needed to get to breakfast by 07:15. Decades old wiring told me not to be late.

As I was drying off, taking it all in, a memory surfaced.

Me as an 18 year old. Head bent on the pool deck as I gathered my things to get changed after a swim testing session.

Sad. Frustrated. Lonely despite the people around me.

Wondering if I was ever going to be fast enough, fit enough, good enough.

Wondering if all this effort was ever going to feel worthwhile.

Wondering why I was doing it at all.

It was uncanny how real it felt.

I started to well up.

I couldn’t think of anything else to do other than to close my eyes and try to embrace this memory of me.

A few quiet tears rolled down my cheeks.

I put both hands on my chest.

I reflected on the effort that had gone into it all. This younger self who made the choice to keep going that day and many others.

I told him I was really proud of him. That he did everything he could. That it was ok. That he was ok.

It was an intense few moments – just me and my 18 year old self.

I tried to make sense of it as I changed and went to breakfast. Two hours later I decided to share this experience with the 22 players and 5 coaches in the workshop.

Because the lesson that crystallised for me was this:

Gratitude for the tough stuff and tough times is hard.

To truly open up to it and accept it as a part of life and what shaped me into who I am today can feel really hard.

For a long time I’ve tried to practice gratitude for the people and things around me. I say thank you often. I write notes to my wife and daughters into small books most nights. I was grateful to be back with Australian team in this new capacity. I was grateful for the opportunity to speak about the topics that matter most to me.

I find it easier and more natural to be grateful for the good people, experiences and things around me.

But to truly turn that gratitude on myself?

To be grateful for and embrace the tough experiences of my past and the lessons they’ve taught me?

And to be willing to be grateful for the new tough situations, experiences, emotions and thoughts in the present?

That feels much harder.

But ultimately, it might be some of the most important gratitude for me to express.

Improve your decision making in 5 minutes
Download the evidence-backed Choice Point worksheet