HOW TO DEFEAT A GIANT
My thoughts on Mental health, anxiety, and societal norms.
Growing up, I had two very contradictory images of a giant. Jack and the Beanstalk riled up thoughts of a hungry and aggressive beast who loved to leave chaos in his wake. Later, this image changed when I read the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) by one of the most wonderful children’s authors ever – Roald Dahl.
Once I entered my teens, I realised that giants were not living, breathing physical threats but rather social pressures, expectations, and the need to belong. After marrying my wife, Jackie, and starting a family, these giants, the FIGURATIVE GIANTS, started to develop in my mind. They morphed into monsters demanding respect and were to be always obeyed. The overwhelming thought remained: DO NOT DISTURB THE GIANT!
These FIGURATIVE GIANTS manifest themselves in every one of us in the ‘big bad adult’ world. They appear in front of us Financial Giants like house mortgages, electricity bills, school fees, credit card debt, monthly car lease payments and many, many others.
They also appear as Emotional Giants, overwhelming us in moments of daily conflict, whether it be with spouses, friends, bosses, or even complete strangers. The list of figurative giants is long, and their impact differs for each of us.
I think it is critical to acknowledge the presence of our own giants that hover over us, seemingly, at times like ravenous scavengers, waiting to pick on the carcasses of our defeat or failures.
Having spent a lot of time watching TV streaming channels over the past 2 years, I recently came across a documentary series on Netflix called, ‘LOSERS’. Okay, in all honesty, the title put me off at first but, being intrigued, I read the introductory write up which painted a different picture to what I had assumed. ‘Losers’ is a documentary series about sportsmen and women who had failed dismally in the eyes of the world when they had an opportunity to become legends. These failings, mainly through mental fatigue or ‘brain fog’ have some quite inspirational turnarounds – their stories really teach us so much.
The one episode called ‘The 72nd hole’, was about a French golfer (Jean van de Velde) who made a couple of horrible decisions while on the verge of winning the most prestigious trophy in golf – the Claret Jug – awarded to the annual winner of the British open. Not only do I remember these 30 minutes of horror unfolding in front of me on live television, but I felt an incredibly overwhelming sense of pity for a man who seemed to disintegrate mentally in front of the entire world.
What happened was the equivalent of a soccer player missing the goals completely while taking a penalty kick with NO GOALKEEPER present.
More about this story later, but it is a good way for me to voice my own opinions on an intangible threat that has been in the spotlight recently, the topic of Mental Health. More specifically noted and highlighted in the arenas of sport – Naomi Osaka has spoken about it a lot, as have Simone Biles and many others. But obviously the topic of mental health or more specifically, battles of the mind are not felt by public figures alone. We all face moments where we struggle to control where our mind goes as we battle with things like emotional burnout, fatigue or even worse, depression or bipolar disorder. Now, as a kid growing up in the 1980s, adults of this era were almost trained to refute such so called ‘nonsense’ and became infamous for their insistence that ‘cowboys don’t cry’ or ‘if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger.’ Man-up or suck it up and move on was the bottom line. The world has no place for ‘drama queens’ or moaning-minis.
Mardy Fish is a name that most of you have probably never heard of before. He played tennis as the second ranked US professional in the shadows of his best friend, Andy Roddick. A man who was not regarded as aggressive enough at the best of times. The moment that defined him and the pressures placed on professional sports(wo)men was when he pulled out of a US OPEN quarterfinal match against the GIANT of tennis at the time, Roger Federer. While the world scratched its head at this decision hours before they were due to step onto the centre court, Mardy revealed that he could not handle or manage the pressure he felt from everyone around him.
In an interview, a few years after his retirement, he mentioned why he never took time off the game before this moment: He said that the pressure to NEVER show any weakness was constantly drummed into him. But his statement that followed speaks loudly ‘… Showing weakness and showing fear to those closest to you, and letting people in, was the best thing I could possibly do…’
While it is easy for me to identify a few people in my past, like many teachers from school, that consistently refused to accept any ‘silly excuses’ for any kind of non-participation, I was amazed a few years ago when the high school that my daughter attended allowed one MENTAL HEALTH DAY per term. I feel a little embarrassed to feeling a strong objection to this at the time as it went against everything that I had to endure as a child. But the proverbial penny dropped a year or so into her high school career when I noticed, quite shockingly, how many of her friends battled all sorts of ailments that I never knew ever existed.
The pressures that our teenagers face is, in many ways, the same as any of us have faced when we were teenagers, although the pressures of social media must not be under-estimated and add another level of pressure that we could not even have imagined growing up. I am horrified at what the pressures of the digital/social media have caused, and I am going to make a somewhat controversial statement here…
Our kids battle tougher ‘games’ of social acceptance than any other generation before them.
Now, we all know what an auto-immune disease is, but this is a medical term rarely known or heard of before the turn of the century. But why is it everywhere today? In my family alone, four of the five of us have been diagnosed with one. The answer is that it remains a silent enemy that has a genetic link but is triggered once stress takes a grip on one’s life.
At this point, I would like to get back to the story of the golfer, Jean van de Velde. As he almost literally threw the British Open away, making one questionable decision after the next, he was dreadfully labelled by the world, most notably the French media as a complete failure – one newspaper calling him Jean van de Flop! The part that really made this documentary was the way he managed life after this ‘failure’. Not only did he repeat my life motto: Everything happens for a reason, but a famous commentator who admitted his complete confusion while watching the events unfold in front of him, said the following of Jean: ‘I think he is somebody to be admired. He has shown through the years (since his hiccup) what kind of person he really is….’ We all encounter adversity, and Jean is a stunning example of how to behave the right way when things go wrong.’
‘It’s a game – nothing more and nothing less…’ Jean concluded in his interview. Today, he is an ambassador for UNICEF and the most loved and admired coaches of young golf lovers in France.
I believe he overcame a huge hurdle of feeling insignificant following an attack of GIANT proportions.
Jean is a classic example of HOW TO DEFEAT A GIANT…
· Acknowledge its unwelcome presence inside of you – like a guest with no intention of leaving.
· Let the ‘guest’ know that there is a limit to its presence.
BE AWARE that forcing it to leave prematurely could ‘feed’ its intention to destroy you.
· Then, let the ‘guest’ know that you will not become its perpetual target.
Like a bully, the Giant will lose interest when it feels you will not ‘take the bait’ that it constantly sets for you.
In other words, by not feeding the giant inside, it will eventually starve and die.
· Finally, never underestimate the freedom that comes with talking about your experiences.
Almost all of us have been under the spell of a giant, but the more we hear from those who have banished their own giants, the more we can do the same.
Also, by telling others of your experience, by bringing it out into the light gives you a liberating feeling that cannot be overestimated.
Focus today on bettering who you were yesterday
The ADJusted Thinker.