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The First Time Is Always Hardest

Harry Potter with magic wand

There is a rather obscure connection between the All Blacks being the first team to retain the Rugby World Cup and the Harry Potter series, specifically Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban. And it comes from a line Harry says, “well I knew I could do it, because I’d done it before”, after conjuring a powerful patronus to drive the Dementors away from his Godfather.

One of the enduring memories of the 2011 World Cup was the interview with victorious All Black captain Richie McCaw, when he mused “I’m absolutely shagged”, before going on to explain that the immense pressure his team had been under to win the tournament after 24 years of disappointment meant the only emotion he was feeling was relief, not joy, and how draining the whole experience had been. In fact both McCaw and coach Graham Henry continued to trot out the line that it was pure relief they felt at climbing their Everest - not “yes, we’ve done it”, more “phew, we did it”.

Fast forward 4 years and having just become the first team to win back-to-back World Cups, McCaw has been able to talk about the satisfaction of winning the tournament and the smile on his face at the final whistle was one of youthful exuberance, that of a man genuinely enjoying the moment, rather than just making it through.

In the lead up to the final, McCaw was asked if his team’s experience would help them in the final, and his response was that the only advantage it gave was that he (and they) now knew how deep he would have to dig inside him to win – that it wouldn’t be easy.

In Prisoner of Azkhaban, Harry is able to conjure his Patronus because he’d actually seen himself do it (there’s a bit of time travel involved), though at the time he thought it was his Dad he saw.

In both instances, the initial experience is the one that seems the hardest and where the emotion in the immediate aftermath is more disbelief, relief and awe, rather than satisfaction. It is only in the second instalment that the protagonists feel the sense of accomplishment and get the opportunity to enjoy the moment for what it is.

This pattern repeats itself in our lives on a regular basis. The first time a child negotiates the monkey bars at the playground, they are filled with fear and trepidation – the first time they have to let go and fall is a truly terrifying moment because they seem so far off the ground. But then they do it, realise it’s not all that bad, and it becomes fun (meanwhile the parents suffer minor coronaries every time they see their child do a backflip off the bars to land on their knees).

As the head of a Sales team, I remember the first time we hit $1 million in sales for the month. The last few days were horrific, and when we hit that magical number, we were overwhelmed with a sense of exhaustion. Other team members suggested we celebrate, but emotionally and mentally, we were spent. We’d done what we thought was the impossible.

That was over four years ago, and these days we have bigger targets, which, in the main, we can take time out to celebrate, and actually enjoy. But we only really enjoy this because of the belief that we’d done it before – I know I can do it, because I’ve done it before.

McCaw also described the satisfaction gained from the struggle, the journey to achieve the result, not just the result itself. It reminds me of a quote by Louis L’Amour:

The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail.

Travel too fast and you miss all you are travelling for.

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