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i am starting to experiment with audio blogs…check out my first attempt from a recording on my phone

Irish Film Institute- Stranger than Fiction Documentary Film Festival 21st June

It is not everyday one gets to star in a documentary film festival at the Irish Film Institute. Before I come over as a lovey, I’ll remind you that unlike Andy Warhol, my moment of fame only lasted 5 minutes. My friend Ross Whitaker had created a short film about my relationship with my former guide dog Larry. Unfortunately, as many of you know Larry was forced into retirement and has been smelling the roses with my Dad Johnny in Northern Ireland for over a year.
With the festival starting at noon, there was a minor hitch. My Dad travelling up from Belfast had forgotten to pack Larry. I only realised this when he was halfway up the motorway, leaving Larry unable to walk up the red carpet. Still, there were 8 films to get through before mine, so I settled down in my seat with my family and friends eager to see what was on offer.
Despite an economic downturn that has hit the Irish film industry extremely hard, it was great to see the determination that keeps great short films being made. A short film is incredible, purely because it provides a unique snapshot of life. We saw intrepid swimmers at Dublin’s 40 foot and the tragic stories of families of Irish prisoners. Each film was a maximum of 10 minutes long, so there was little time to take it all in.
There was one film that really stuck in my head though. Tom Matthews, Waiting for Goldfish. Despite the quirky title, it was a fascinating look at one of Ireland’s best known cartoonists. Today we are all under pressure to live responsible linear lives. 9-5, a wife, maybe kids and 2 weeks holidays every year perhaps. Tom is certainly different. He gets up, goes to the pub, and hopefully in that time, he’ll be able to come up with an idea that will appear in the Irish Times. Wonderfully eccentric, stocks and shares just aren’t a part of his lexicon.
He said one thing in the film which struck a chord. “It’s fine to good enough most of the time, but sometimes you can be brilliant.” It struck me that it is indeed fine to good enough if it achieves your required goal …but it depends what your goal is. For Tom it is getting his cartoons into the Irish Times, for some people it could be getting a promotion at work or beating their personal best in a sport.
When I first went blind, my goal was as simple as working out how to tell the time. That was good enough in the beginning. Then it was finding my toothbrush and trying to cook my own food. My goals were about being independent. A few years later my goals changed and reaching the South Pole was my goal for most of last year. Yet, now that I’ve returned successfully with a 5th place finish, I realise that reaching the South Pole was good but not brilliant. This could be interpreted as negative but it is not. In the beginning I wasn’t sure if I could live any sort of a meaningful life as a blind person. Ten years on I am glad to be back competing and disappointed with anything that isn’t brilliant.
It is important to be satisfied to just be good enough, but it is equally important to keep moving the bar upwards and keep searching for your best.

It’s Decision Time

The problem is, it’s also indecision time, for a lot of people. Economic uncertainty is clouding our collective judgement, and causing people to freeze in fear. Uncertainty is stopping us from taking necessary decisions to move us through the tough times when nobody seems to know what is happening or what the future holds.

But uncertainty is not a reason for avoiding taking decisions, quite the opposite. Uncertainty must provide the impetus for bold decisions to be made. Uncertainty is challenging but consciously taking decisions transfers control from the challenge back to us and offers a way forward. Its decision time!

For me, it’s time to take some of my own medicine and make some decisions following my return from the South Pole, which marked the end of a period of constant and critical decision-making. It has been over two months since I got back and the highs of that moment are fading fast. An emotional slump has replaced the buzz that surrounded our successful arrival at the Pole, the result of a string of well-made decisions, and the memory of the subsequent homecoming are disappearing into the distance.

But I have been here before, at the emotional slump, where I find myself asking ‘What will I do now?’
It happened when I lost my sight, it happened when I lost my job after the dot com bubble burst in 2001, and it happens when I lose direction after every adventure race.

Following the South Pole I am again struggling to deal with the uncertainty of what to do next. Last year seemed so simple. The immutable goal was getting to the South Pole. There was clarity around what the goal was even if the project was filled with uncertainty about how we would raise the funds to get to the start line in the worst economic climate for decades. We struggled with who should be on the team and the question of whether or not I could realistically get over the terrain, skiing blind. We wondered if we could actually put the project together in time to make it to the inaugural South Pole Race.

Of course things changed nearly every day on our journey to put the project together but we knew the direction that life was taking. The goal was set in stone even if uncertainty peppered the day-to-day operations of the project.

The race itself provided nearly two months of focused effort without any distractions from the outside world. In Antarctica we had a single goal of reaching the South Pole and since we got back life has been so busy with the aftermath that thinking about what’s next hasn’t been an issue.

But now the question is valid. What will I do now? And the answer is, I don’t know! I’ve got to work out what replaces the void left without the South Pole consuming my every waking moment, as it has done for the last 14 months.

Of course, the problem is not a shortage of opportunities – it rarely is – the problem is picking one option and focusing on it. Hanging around in a world of uncertainty isn’t doing it for me so its time to do something about it. I’m once again in search of ‘the feeling’ that I wrote about in the last blog post and it’s getting close to decision time. What do I do now? Another adventure race? Launch a new business? Get involved with someone else’s business? Explore the world of media? Hmmm, what’s next…what’s the new South Pole?

It is the uncertainty surrounding what direction to take that is tough, not the uncertainty of putting the project together. And so, its decision time.


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