Last month Sir Roger Bannister passed away at the age of 88. He will go down in history as the first man to run a mile in under four minutes. I encourage you to watch the ABC mini-series The Four Minute Mile, in which Sir Roger speaks of the ancient Greek ideal of sport saying "the Greeks believed that sport was part of a balanced life. And so do I."
But what does “balance” really mean in the life of busy finance brokers and executives? How can you possibly aspire to excellence if your work drains you, your family needs you, your community deserves something from you – how are you still supposed to train an ageing body to bring out the best? You may be surprised to learn that Sir Roger was not that different to any of us (except perhaps for being considerably more gifted an athlete), but his training secret:
“I trained for less than three-quarters of an hour, maybe five days a week — I didn't have time to do more. But it was all about quality, not quantity — so I didn't waste time jogging, ever.”
But how much of what we face is physical and how much is really mental and about finding the will to do more and to do it better and to find ways to “stretch” time to do more? Here is how Sir Roger explained it:
“I had always wanted to become a neurologist, which is one of the most demanding vocations in medicine. Where do you stop, after all, with the brain? How does it function? What are its limits? The work seems unending.”
On reflection, it is clear how far beyond that ancient Greek ideal of "part of a balanced life" life is for most of us. When I reflect how, since 2011, my business has grown and how it has meant that at times I haven't slept enough or certainly well enough. When I try to compensate for the increased workload by working harder my productivity usually deteriorates and I get little incremental gain for what seems like vastly incremental effort. By contrast when I find a sporting goal and twin it with a cause that really motivates me, then training harder actually makes me more efficient in the office and as every minute is precious I work with purpose.
To celebrate my 50th birthday year I decided to tackle five endurance events around the world in support of five wonderful charities to aid disabled people. I ran my first (and only) marathon in Israel; climbed the Three Peaks in England Scotland and Wales; drove in an outback rally through country NSW and Queensland; rode a bicycle from Melbourne to Sydney across the Snowy Mountains; and swam a 5-kilometre Ocean Event in the Cape, South Africa.
It felt so good both physically, mentally and mostly emotionally — utilising exercise to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for five wonderful and deserving causes was the icing on the cake. My life felt balanced.
So last year I completed the Kokoda trail to raise money for the Humpty Dumpty Foundation. Yet again it helped me to focus, keep perspective and give my staff the space they need to grow. Now I find myself in the planning stage for the next challenge: a bike ride from San Francisco to San Diego followed by a triathlon – together with some incredible para-athletes in support of the Challenged Athletes Foundation. I honestly can't imagine burying myself in work alone. I need the perspective that these events give me to retain my internal balance.
Life is a lot like an endurance event that needs to be paced, measured and tackled, and from one of my heroes, Sir Roger Bannister, I leave you with this final thought:
“However ordinary each of us may seem, we are all in some way special, and can do things that are extraordinary, perhaps until then… even thought impossible.”
Jeff Zulman is the founding managing director of BBBSA Finance. Jeff studied at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and then read law at Oxford University in England. After graduating, he joined Goldman Sachs, where he was trained on Wall Street, and then worked in their wealth management division in London. Jeff immigrated to Australia where he has founded, run and successfully sold several businesses. Most recently he served as inaugural CEO of Vow Financial which won the MFAA “Wholesale Aggregator of the Year” awarded for 2010 during his term of office. When not slaving at BBBSA Finance, Jeff uses any remaining energy to participate (or try to compete) in triathlons, sing (badly) in the choir, and spend quality time with his loving and ever-patient wife and four kids.