Last month, I attended my first reservist training back with the Navy since coming back from the US. It has been a number of years since I left the service
and I was filled with a mix of apprehension and excitement approaching this event. This training stint was going to last close to two weeks and we
were going to be spending a number of days out sailing and training together.
So off we went sailing.
One day, while we were out in the ocean, I went up to the bridge early in the morning. The sun was rising and most of the crew was still resting. The sky
was a blend of blue and red; the sea was calm with a gentle breeze sweeping in. There was no land in sight, yet we had seagulls keeping us company.
A group of them were hovering in front of the bow of the ship using the ship’s movement to claim their “catch of the day” – flying fish.
They say sailors get paid twice a day, during sunrise and sunset. So true! As I savoured this peaceful moment on the bridge, I couldn’t help pondering
my transitional journey from a naval officer (leading combat teams to achieve mission success) to a performance psychologist and coach (training leaders
and athletes to realise their full potential).
I had always wanted to join the Navy since I was a child. I remember when I was a kid asking my parents to take me to visit the USS Enterprise, an American
carrier that was in town. Before Changi Naval Base, the ships would anchor off East Coast Park when they visited Singapore. Getting tickets to go on
board was impossible, but that didn’t deter us. We ended up renting a bumboat and cruised around the ships. It was a memorable trip and I knew I was
going to join the service.
Fast forward many years later, after joining the Navy, and the time came when I was deciding what to do about my career transition. This period was fraught
with soul-searching and uncertainty.
The turning point came when I was speaking with my golf coach and he introduced me to Bob Rotella, a world-renowned sport psychologist. Listening to Rotella’s
materials sparked a series of pivotal “aha” moments.
The first: I’ve always had a passion for sports from my days as a national sailor. In those days, you would focus mainly on physical and technical training.
I wonder if things would have been different if I had paid more attention to my mental preparation in a more holistic and integrated manner. Maybe
things would have been different if I had a Bob Rotella providing support.
The second: In the Navy, we were introduced to The Inner Game of Performance by Tim Gallwey. Through reading this book, it became clear that while
we are our best allies and worst enemies, we all have an innate capacity to master ourselves. I was also fortunate to experience the organisational
shift as the Navy transitioned from a top-down approach to a “coaching for performance” approach – i.e. Gallwey’s approach delivered in the form of
a coaching intervention. This coaching approach is inquiry-based to enable a person to learn from his or her own experiences, set effective goals,
ignite ensuing motivation and take committed action.
As a young naval officer grappling to raise the performance of my own team and ship, applying this coaching approach opened my eyes to how we are touching
on only a fragment of our true potential. And that’s when I discovered the value and purpose of being able to support people to be at their best, individually
and collectively. It was exhilarating.
And so connecting these dots, I realised that the heart of performance is underpinned by a strong mind and that it can be coached. Resonance is when you
move from head to heart knowledge. The decision was made and the rest is history. Today, here I am coaching business leaders and professional athletes
on their mental game at work and in the arena.
Looking back, there were four factors that supported me in this transition.
- An environment that empowered me to make my own choices. My wife, my parents and my close friends were all supportive of my “reaching out”. I did not
feel compelled by societal expectations or cultural norms to follow any trends. In fact, I was embarking on the road less travelled.
- Information interviews.
I knew what I wanted to do, but I had to figure out how and where to receive the right training and qualifications. In doing my research to design
my own development and education program to be a performance psychologist and executive coach, I spoke with a ton of industry players, some who
were strangers. Some rejected me, others gave me solid advice. Was it worth it? YES! I don’t think I would have scored some of the great opportunities
I’ve had without putting myself out there.
- The internet provided a wealth of information, from reading up on interviews and reviews to researching specific schools and programs. The world is
really your oyster if you put in the time online. Soul-searching is about preparation and reading up. There’s homework to be done!
- The most important factor was looking back at my own background. What was I passionate about? What were my values? Only when I took the time to review
the past with an open mind did the patterns emerge and then the decision became clearer. Now I don’t think it is possible to be absolutely sure.
There will always be an element of uncertainty and risk. That’s ok. We embrace the uncertainty and don’t allow ourselves to be consumed by a need
to know everything. For me, one way to know is to do. That’s when we discover and ultimately grow.
So that is the story of my transition and a glimpse into the thinking and strategies that helped me on my journey. If you are currently in the midst of
your own transition, I hope that hearing about my experiences will spark some fresh ideas or provide a new perspective to help you find your voice.
And remember, while you look into the future, don’t forget to appreciate the “seagull” moments around you happening right now. Trust me, it’s worth