What Learning To Row and Te Reo Taught Me

By November 19, 2018 Food for thought

It’s been a year of learning – I can’t claim that it was all a seamless unfolding of a master self-development plan … but self-directed learning I have done.

First it was Te Reo 101 at the local Marae.

At the very first session, I discovered how racist and ignorant and impatient I was. Eeek. Hard for this ‘do things right and well’ addict to write that down. But it was true, just a bit. Over and above all the anxieties of learning something new, I felt I should have not been as awkward as I was that first session. Yes I was there to learn and to try – but if I am really  honest with myself, it was about me.  I wanted to be able to pronounce and to understand the common basics and context of Te Reo to help me be better in my roles. I hadn’t really thought about being better for the sake of others.

What learning another language, the language of Aoteoroa taught me, was to learn about other people, to learn about another culture, a different history. I learnt about truth, and to connect at deeper and heartfelt place with people. It was a stinging reminder that without first seeking to understand, our judgements of others are the normalised screams of judgement that carve a such narrow bandwidth of knowing.  We close ourselves down, and therefore others down, to the connectivity , to the cohesion, to the community – to the creativity and energy and solutions that come from open hearts and open minds. Nga mihi Nga Hau E Wha, Cambridge Community Marae. I now appreciate with awe, the deeply connecting traditions, protocols and ceremonies. I can now pronounce every Chiefs player’s name correctly and wholeheartedly endorse the NZ Rugby ‘say it right’ campaign. I am not pronunciation perfect, but I damn well try, and try again. For others, not just for me. Especially not just for me.

Learning to Row also taught me I was how impatient I was. With myself. Woah. Old habits die hard when in the awkward zone. I’ve spent almost two decades with rowing. No! In fact I’ve spent my entire life and pre-life, with rowing. A Mexico Men’s 8 Olympic rower and rowing coach of decades (still holds the Maadi Cup record time) for a father, I’ve managed and adored two of New Zealand’s most prominent and double gold medal winning Olympians Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell through their athletic career, I’ve served on the Rowing New Zealand Board as an independent director for more than 6 years, and now with a daughter rowing at school you’d have thought I’d picked something up along the way. Like an oar. Nope. Jaffa. Zilch. Nip. Never. Oh -there was that one time we got in an 8 on the Harbour in Physed class. It was horrid. Anyway. I’ll make this snappy: Give a learner one direction at a time to put into action. They are being hard enough on themselves already. Use a clear and kind tone, from one person at a time. And let them try and fail and work it out. And then tell them one more thing to help. And all of a sudden the boat goes along the water, all together, and we’re rowing!

So go learn new things. If you are a recovering perfectionist it’s a hugely valuable therapy. Do new stuff! Get awkward, get out of kilter, start at the ‘ not good at this’ place. And watch yourself learn. And when you’re back being the teacher, as you so often are as a leader – remember how it feels to be the one trying so hard, trying to make your words work, your body bend or not bend. Remind yourself  how we all learn in different ways – do they need to see it written down, role modeled, drawn in models / pictures, talked it through. Remember that with meaning it sticks, that with practice practice practice – and feedback and reflection they will get it, and celebrate that progress. Cultivate the desire to learn and be patient, with yourself and with your team.

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