Fire and Glass

I mentioned earlier that I had decided to do everything Kurek asked. But there were times when I definitely thought he was stretching the friendship!

How many tasks have you stood in front of, in reality or in your mind’s eye, and thought they were impossible goals, insurmountable obstacles to your progress? Have you looked at the wealthy and wondered why they were born that way and you weren’t, or considered your genetic makeup and decided that you’re just not gifted? Have you run your mind through fearsome experiences, such as facing a fast bowler, fighting Mike Tyson, or making a public speech?

So have I. Many times. As far as beach volleyball goes, though, for me it was the Brazilians. I’ve stood in front of them many times and thought I could not possibly beat them.

“The first and great commandment is, Don’t Let Them Scare You.” -Elmer Davis

If I thought they were impossible, then it was likely there were many other things in my life I thought I’d never overcome, but which were, in fact, achievable. One of them was walking barefoot across burning coals, at a temperature of 600 degrees celsius, glowing with heat and glowering at me, daring me to even think about walking across them. The firewalk is not a gimmick. It is symbolic. In people’s minds, fire is a symbol for the impossible, the perilous. People talk about difficulties using terms such as ‘jumping through hoops of fire’. They talk about danger in terms of ‘playing with fire’. The firewalk is important for participants in Kurek’s seminars and workshops. By the time it comes around, people will already have asked and answered a lot of fundamental questions about themselves: their values, motives, fears and obstacles.

Steve on the firewalk“Everything we did, I did first and this, to me, is what it is all about. You can’t ask someone who is trusting you to lead them to do something if you are not doing it first and telling them they are going to be OK.”

At the start of the day of a firewalk, many people say “I’m not doing the firewalk. I’m not doing the firewalk”. They are missing the point. It’s not about overcoming a heap of hot coals; it’s about vercoming yourself. So Kurek says, “Great! You’re not here to do the firewalk! But if I’d told you we were doing a seminar on communication skills, and personal development, you wouldn’t have come. So I have to call it a firewalk. But you don’t have to do it, and you will!”

By the end of the day, about 95 per cent of people end up walking across those searing hot coals. They come to understand that by doing so, they will have committed to moving forward in their lives and stepping over the fears, doubts and obstacles that they have thrown into the fire. Before we did the firewalk, Kurek taught us about ‘anchoring’—attaching a feeling to a physical act—so that, on command, we could create that feeling any time we liked, just by doing the physical act, which is called the ‘power move’. Once you do this, you go straight into ‘the zone’.

I was scared. I made sure, as we lined up to do the walk, that I was halfway down the queue so I could see how everyone else was doing! I was still wrestling with some doubts when my turn came. Kurek was there waiting. He looked me in the eye and said “What would it mean to you to have a gold medal?” Immediately I felt my physiology change. My shoulders went back, my head went up, my chest lifted. Kurek stepped out of my way and I marched across the coals. In hindsight, it was easy, but that’s not the point. I was nervous and apprehensive one moment; the next I felt like Superman. I had not only firewalked, I had taken the first and most important step toward achieving my goals. The journey had begun. Internally, I would never be the same again, and that’s the whole point of the exercise.

I’ve since guided eight-year-old kids across hot coals, and their lives have never been the same. I keep in touch with some of them, and whenever they think they can’t do something, it’s only  ecessary to say to them “Of course you can! You’re a firewalker. You can do anything!” And their eyes light up. It’s not the sort of thing you learn at school. The firewalk is about leaving our comfort zones. It’s also about taking the first step. Because after you’ve taken that, you’ll take the rest pretty rapidly. Those coals are damned hot!

“Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base with your foot still on first.” Frederick B. Wilcox

I’ll come back to firewalking in a minute, but first I want to say a little bit more about learning. There are many different dimensions to learning, and one of the most important is wisdom. They say that intelligence is the narrow view while wisdom is the broad view. How many people have you met who gain new learning, but don’t carry it very well? They become know-it-alls, judgemental of people who aren’t in the same place. This is despite the fact that the place other people occupy is probably just

as good for them. Even if it isn’t, people don’t listen if you’re bombastic with your advice. What you are yells at them so loudly, they can’t hear what you say. Fortunately for my sake, I realised this early enough to save the precious partnership with Kerri Pottharst that led to a gold medal in Sydney. But it took serious self-evaluation first.

After our history-making result in Atlanta, Kerri and I sat down and mapped out where we wanted to go from that point. We were excited about the year ahead, and thought we could become the best in the world and take the number-one ranking. Despite all our best intentions, things began to go wrong: our performance was not meeting our expectations. We started finishing fifth, seventh, and even ninth in some cases. We began pointing the finger at each other and not enjoying our journey.

Kerri was 10 years older and trying to fill the roles of sister, friend, business partner and volleyball partner. At the age of 21, I may have resented Kerri’s role and experience, rather than according it the

respect it deserved. Kerri and I needed to split up; we needed to go our own ways and I needed to go out and learn things on my own. We realised that if there was any chance of us playing together in Sydney and achieving our dream of turning our bronze into gold, this was our only option. We went our own ways wishing each other luck and agreeing that if we got back together, it was meant to be. But on some level, I think we believed, sadly, that it would never happen. I was a little ‘freaked out’ when we split. I realised I was on my own more than ever before. One enormous revelation I had when I was with Angela was the way that teaching other people reinforces your own learning. I realised what Kerri had been trying to do with me. Angela was new to the beach, with loads of potential, and I found myself filling all the roles Kerri had tried to fulfil with me.

I realized that I had been looking at my relationship with Kerri the wrong way. Acting as a mentor figure to Angela helped me to clarify the lessons I was trying to impart. Imagine reading a book and trying to remember every detail of what you’ve read. Unless you have a very good memory, it would be very difficult. But imagine that you have to deliver a lecture or lesson about the book’s contents. You will be much more likely to organise the information in a way that that helps you to understand it and make sense of it for others. After a while, you become what you teach. My experience with Angela was like that. I consider it a major stepping stone for me and an invaluable lesson.

In July 1999, when Kerri and I got back together, we agreed on one thing: we were destined to go on and win that gold medal. The next step was to find the best way to do it. I immediately wanted Kerri to experience everything I’d been through, as it was such a powerful and effective experience for me. I really wanted her to experience the inner changes that come about as a result of the firewalk. I may have pushed too hard at first. Kerri chose not to do the firewalk, and hesitated at jumping blindly back into the team. In her absence it had become, by default, my team, and naturally she didn’t want it that way. In order to be successful, we needed to come back together as equals.

I tried hard to let her know that she didn’t have to imitate me and take my path. There was no need. Kerri knows her own mind and she was already a huge success. She probably didn’t need any help. She had the fastest serve at the Atlanta Games and had been playing both forms of volleyball for a long time. She felt she didn’t need to do the firewalk, and she was probably right. People find their own paths. But initially I was resentful of her decision and perhaps a little judgemental. I had to change those feelings. I was so anxious to share my new learning with her, and we had so little time left, that I decided the best way to do it was to lead by example; to demonstrate the learning I had gained, and not just spout the theory.

A lot of fortunate things happened along the way to Kerri’s eventual participation, on her own terms, in some of the teachings that had been so important to me. Kerri uprooted everything for the sake of the team, moving to Brisbane from Sydney. Following a serious knee injury that ended her indoor volleyball career, she has always suffered from problems with her knees—and there was a growing concern that she may require more surgery. But after working with our trainer, Phil, and some of the team doctors, she chose not to have surgery. She was beginning to see that she had re-entered a good team, and that it wasn’t my team; it was our team.

I trusted that when the time was right, everything would fall into place. As the saying goes: ‘Let go and let God’. After struggling to convince Kerri of the value of Kurek’s teachings, I eventually let go, and everything did fall into place. Kurek was around so often, and Steve and I had come so far, that Kerri felt a little obliged to participate. At first, she didn’t take a whole lot of notice of me doing what must have seemed like crazy things. She thought I was just learning new life skills. But when it began to translate into performances on the sand she became seriously interested in teaming up with me again. After a while, she started going along to the meetings with Kurek and eventually worked with him on a one-on-one basis.

Our reunion wasn’t without its initial hardships. Not long after we had regrouped, we almost fired Steve as our coach. We felt that he wasn’t giving us what we needed. In Switzerland, after a ninth-place finish in the Gstaad tournament, we sat in the stands to discuss our performance. It ended in a fight. We were shouting; Steve was kicking chairs; everyone was watching. It was ugly. We decided we didn’t want him as our coach any more. We were so close to the line, and so focused on our goal that we didn’t realise how close we were. Steve was just pushing our buttons and we didn’t like it.

There was still the burning desire to win. We knew we were close. In order for us to get back to our path, we had to respect each other; we had to regain the certainty and the team vision. I went back to that fundamental question: This is happening for a reason. How do we make it better? Once we decided to keep Steve on as coach, we began to realise that everything we had gone through with him could help us and make us stronger. If we wanted it to.

Now, back to firewalking. Kerri decided that she should do the firewalk. But even when she was standing in front of the fire, ready to do the walk for the TV cameras, she was saying “I don’t have to do this!” Eventually we walked together over two lanes of fire, hand-in-hand, which meant that when one of us went, the other had to follow. We both had to be ready at any time. We had to be there for each other. Kerri got off the other end with tears in her eyes. Kerri is a champion and a very strong woman. I’d never seen her react like that. She said “I feel I can do anything now!” The fact that an accomplished athlete like Kerri could say that made a huge impression on me. I’d overcome my own barriers, but that doesn’t mean I was in no need of reassurance.

Walking across glass was a different matter! I’d never been burned before, so walking on fire was something new to try. But Kurek had another trick up his sleeve. Everywhere he goes, Kurek carries with him, wrapped up in a sheet, a pile of the most frightening, jagged broken glass you have ever seen—made up of broken beer bottles and wine bottles. For effect, he tosses it on the ground as a joke and says, as the sound of smashing glass fills the place, “Careful, it’s fragile”. He then spreads it out and challenges people to walk on it.

One day, he spread the glass on his balcony and challenged me and Angela, who was still my partner at the time, to walk across it. To my surprise, Angela and Steve did it without hesitation. It seemed to be nothing for them. I was amazed and horrified. I had a real problem with this test and this fear was all about my history, again: I had cut my foot before. This was different to the firewalk. There was a script that I hadn’t discarded, and it read like this: “When your skin comes into contact with jagged glass, you get cut”. Who wouldn’t believe that? It seems logical. To walk on glass, I needed trust. I needed blind faith, and I didn’t have either. This is what I meant earlier about belief. It’s not just a concept; it’s something that has to be proven and practiced. Kurek’s point was this: you have a dream; you need to act as though you’ve already attained that dream. You need to be in your dream, as though it’s real. He challenged me to come along for the ride, to step into that dream.. But to do that I needed to get rid of the last traces of fear and doubt, and the path would be so much easier to walk.

I stood there in the corner of his balcony, terrified. I hung onto the rail, tears streaming down my face and said “I’m not walking on that glass. You’re all crazy! I’m going to cut my feet”. Kurek responded with a question: “Do you trust me?” I said “Of course I trust you! But if you told me to jump over that balcony, I wouldn’t do it. And I’m just not going to do this”.

I don’t know how he managed to persuade me. He asked me “What is it going to mean to you on the other side?” He knew that this was going to be a huge turning point for me, and after a while, he convinced me that it was imperative, absolutely essential, that I do it. My own fear was the precise reason that I needed to go through with it. That core belief I thought I’d been developing was nothing but fluff if I didn’t attempt to walk on that glass. Somehow, he convinced me that there was no turning back.

I was scared. I broke into a sweat. The Voice was saying “You’ll get cut, you’ll get cut!” I tried to combat it by replying “I know, you idiot. But if I don’t, I’ll still get cut somewhere in life”. I was standing half-way up the mountain, and needed to make a decision. Step forward into growth, or back into mediocrity. I knew that on the other side was my budding belief in myself. When I let go of the side of that railing, I let go of my fears and doubts. When I walked across that glass, I was walking some of the final steps of my dream. Following the glass walk I knew there was no way that I was ever going to just have a dream without knowing quite what it meant or how I was going to get there. Kurek had laid a definite, deliberate path to the dream, and each step worked. After that, how could it not be achieved? The whole thing was beginning to make powerful sense. I realised that when I was just idly dreaming—hoping for the best, trying different things and ‘failing’—I was proving to myself that my ambitions were beyond me. I hadn’t really been serious about those dreams in the first place.

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was beginning to understand what it meant to do things for myself. I had been aspiring to win an Olympic gold medal, believing that somehow I would find a way. But at the same time I was also closing doors, saying “I’ve done that and it didn’t work”; or “I’ve tried to tell myself how good I am and it’s pointless”. I didn’t have a structure, and I didn’t have a teacher. To stay deliberately ignorant is to stay in your comfort zone. I was still comfortable believing negative things about myself, because it meant I would never have to take the risks necessary for success. Success is a risk because it emans doing things that you’ve never done before. And, as Morpheus said in The Matrix, once you know, you can never go back.

“The willingness to risk creates the opportunity for success.” Steve Anderson

Most people are completely unaware that they possess the courage to do the things they never thought possible. Why? Because if they were aware, they’d have to try it—and that’s a risk. Most people play it safe. They are afraid of venturing into the unknown. The real reason most of us are afraid to make a commitment to excellence is our fear of failure. I lived with this fear of failure for many years. And to stay in my comfort zone I would sabotage my success. Sound familiar?  Subconsciously we pull back when we get close to our goals—just in case you give it everything you’ve got and it doesn’t work. At least then you can tell yourself later that you still had a little something left in reserve.

“The tragedy of life is not that a man loses but that he almost wins.” Heywood Braun

Steve sat me down one day and asked me to ask myself how good I wanted to be. He said to really think about it. I have often asked myself this question. But this time was different. He made me seriously confront the question. Then he asked me if I wanted to be successful. “Of course”,I would reply, puzzled. “Don’t we all?” He proceeded to explain the secret to success in the following way.

Success means different things to all of us, but I think it is fair to say that most of us do want to be successful, right? Do you really want to be successful? Are you willing to what is necessary to achieve your success? These are important questions because even though we want to be successful we don’t always do the things that help us to achieve our goals. We want to, but sometimes—whether it is out of habit, fear of failure, fear of success, or just plain fear—we eventually do things that sabotage our own efforts to achieve our goals. We don’t mean to and we don’t consciously try to do it. It just happens.

I believe that we all have a burning desire to be successful. But no matter how strong the desire, want and desire alone are not enough.I have no doubt that we all try our absolute best to achieve our goals.Trying your absolute best is not enough. Some of us go as far as to sacrifice our health, our happiness, and even our lives to accomplish our goals. I hate to be the one to tell you, but this too is not enough.

You see, success comes at a high price. And it only comes to those who are willing to risk failure. Your success is directly proportional to the amount of risk you take. Are you willing to risk failure as much as you wish to succeed?

Are you willing to be uncomfortable, to struggle, to compromise, to lead, to follow, to understand, to demand, and to sacrifice? You have to be willing to do things that don’t come naturally to you. It is these things that keep you from achieving success.

Don’t get me wrong—you don’t have to be miserable and forever wallowing in pain to accept the challenge of change.In fact stretching your comfort zone should be celebrated as a learning experience that enhances your life and moves you closer to what is most important to you: achieving your goals. We don’t find it comfortable to stretch ourselves beyond what we know or to put ourselves in situations and circumstances that do not feel safe or secure. These are the places in which we discover new things about ourselves that help us conquer our limiting beliefs and the habits that lead to failure. It takes a willingness to do what is necessary in spite of what we feel is our nature.

Now, are you willing to do what is necessary to be successful?

They say that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. Mine had appeared, because I was ready. I was ready to do what was necessary. After Leanne, a very dear friend of mine, first introduced me to Kurek, a part of me said “You have to keep going with this guy”. But there is a vast gap between desire to learn and the getting of wisdom. Wisdom will never come if all the lessons are easy. I also had to be ready to leave the comfort zone well and truly behind me.

After walking on glass, I asked myself “What does this mean to me?” It means that if you do all the preparation and learning and have the belief, then you will be taken care of. If you step with certainty, and don’t panic, you’ll be okay. If I hadn’t panicked doing something I genuinely feared, something that I thought involved physical danger, then I wouldn’t panic if Kerri and I found ourselves 11–8 down in the beach volleyball final of the Sydney Olympic Games.

In fact panic was nowhere to be seen in that match. There was no way I was going to panic. I was ready. I’d walked across fire and glass!

We must travel in the direction of our fear.”

Remember this

Experience will tell us something is impossible. A seemingly impossible act—and plenty have been performed—has no precedent, so naturally experience will tell us it can’t be done.

One of the biggest barriers to success is to say “I haven’t achieved it before”.

It’s impossible to grow and stay in your comfort zone at the same time.

New learning must be carried well. If we alienate others by being arrogant or bombastic, we’ve learned nothing!

Are you willing to do what is necessary to achieve your goals.


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