On December 18th, Argentina beat France to claim the glory of being crowned World Cup champions in what may have been the finest final played in history. The mental and emotional stamina on display that night, both teams seemed beyond human. Messi, laughing even when under pressure, was the epitome of experience, mental strength, grace and good sportsmanship. Watching the game with my family was memorable and one could draw analogies for life beyond the pitch.
Earlier that day, I had my own great accomplishment. I didn’t win the football world cup, but I proved to myself on that day, that I could do hard things by transforming my thinking.
You might think that growing up the child of immigrants in Sydney, with the odds stacked against me, nevertheless finding my way into some of Australia’s leading creative agencies, working alongside some of Australia’s top talent, then moving across continents and setting up a new life in the Middle East, and being a mother to 3 kids, that I’d know a thing or two about transformation by now, right?
I would say that my conscientiousness, diligence and curiosity has helped me plan a course and follow it (together with lots of luck, fate, synchronicity and a few detours along the way), but these attributes alone aren’t transformative. No, transformation requires something else. Something simple yet extraordinary. Transformation is not linear, it explodes everything we know about ourselves and the rules we’ve relied upon to steer through life. It forces one to dig deeper. Transformation comes after a baptism of sorts.
On that day, we took our two sons for what was supposed to be a nice, easy bike ride in the Dubai desert, on the Al Qudra cycle track. When we arrived, since our 11 year old daughter wasn’t with us, my husband suggested we try a new track (Layan usually becomes tired after a few KM’s). I piped up without much thought “yeah why not” – I’m keen on a little adventure.
Perhaps I should have pondered that question a bit longer!
Because what was supposed to be a short bike ride turned into a ‘spontaneous’ 49km bike ride in the middle of the Dubai desert. It might seem like a small trip for cycling enthusiasts, but for leisure riders like us, it was a substantial challenge.
The ride started out nice and smooth and fun. And so we pushed on. But, without checking a map before hand, nor having researched the area, about 1 hour (and 12km’s) into the ride things started to get a little serious, and I began to feel out of my comfort zone. Though we could have turned back, we didn’t realize how much track lay ahead of us, so we decided to push on, we’re not quitters!
But pretty soon, my ‘mommy mind’ clicked into gear, and I started to feel the pangs of responsibility for my two sons – though their teenage bravado was faring much better than my own panic.
I imagined I was in a film, I kept remembering one of the characters from the animation film Madagascar being “parched” when their plane crashed-landed in the desert – except our desert was for real! I feared I’d be a news headline “unprepared family airlifted to safety, mum in critical condition.” My mind played all sorts of tricks on me!
The idea of being in uncharted territory, needing to use my instinct, harnessing every ounce of energy in my body, it felt like a matter of survival! Perhaps believing that we would die in the desert was a bit dramatic, and this wasn’t the Empty Quarter, but my ‘mommy mind’ starting to think about plan B and C in case we needed an ambulance if someone cramped up!
My husband tried to reassure me, but it was only when we reached a rest area 21km into the ride and we surveyed a map, and identified some emergency numbers, that I felt I had a handle on the situation. Only then was I able to think straight – that the task was difficult but not deadly!
Thereafter, when the boys were complaining that they couldn’t possibly go on, or when we needed to cycle up hill, I remained focused on the next kilometer we needed to cycle – until we passed another sign racking up the mileage.
It was like that for another 24 tough kilometers.
When we reached the final 4km’s, and I realized we were going to make it without serious injury, a sense of relief overtook me. And amazement.
This was the first time I had put my body through physical endurance like that. Short bursts at the gym are not the same. I’ve trekked through caves and forests in Malaysia – but we had a hotel guide and never with the kids, and never over long distances.
Finally, we glided back into the bicycle assembly area, and the three and a half hour journey was over. To my amazement, we had done it! Those nagging teens of mine did it! We made it back safely. No cramps. No dehydration.
On the drive back home – exhausted, quiet – it dawned on me that I had the capacity to do hard things! That I could be resilient. That I could push myself out of my comfort zone – and that was my greatest discovery. For years, ‘pushing past my comfort zone’ meant growth, expansion, excitement, newness, it meant ‘more.’ That’s how the motivation gurus put it.
But on that day, pushing past my comfort zone felt more visceral than that.
I realized that pushing beyond our comfort zone, is not only to be in a state of seeking more – but simply to realize that we already have what it takes to survive and even to thrive, that we are capable of using our innate abilities to design things, to create things, to problem solve and to keep going. That’s the transformation.
That was my transformation.