I watched an interview with Sir Mo Farah last evening. Brendan Foster (another great past athlete) was interviewing him and asked Mo whether or not his early life had anything to do with his success as an athlete?
At the age of 9, Mo was trafficked to this country from Somalia, leaving behind his widowed mother and twin brother and once in the UK was given a new name and forced worked as a slave looking after another family’s children. He didn’t go to school in England until he was 11 years old and it was at school his ability as an athlete was spotted and encouraged by a teacher at the school. The teacher then became his confidant and reported Mo’s situation to social services. Mo went through a lengthy process of gaining British citizenship and was entered into competitions where he got noticed as a highly talented athlete. He started winning competitions and went on to win 4 gold medals at the Olympics and 6 global gold medals.
Now aged 40 years and retiring from competitions, Mo is one of the most successful athletes of all time and he now wants to use his experience and drive to help other up and coming athletes find their own self-belief and discover how if you want to be a winner, you will have to be disciplined, patient and committed to the long view, work hard and not give up. He is a family man and family is extremely important to him. He was knighted in 2017 for his services to athletics. He has a website and this article in the Evening Standard talks more about his amazing career.
So how did Sir Mo answer the question whether his early life had anything to do with his success as an athlete, the answer of course was an emphatic ‘Yes!’
Whether you are interested in athletics or not, Mo’s story has much to teach us and has many correlations with the story of how Siddartha became Buddha. Siddhartha was deprived of self-determination as a young man and he gave everything up to become an ascetic and tread the path to finally achieve enlightenment and thereby become the Buddha! Siddartha’s early life was also pivotal in his journey to enlightenment. Siddhartha’ life was an inspiration and he had a strong personal ethical and moral code, as does Mo and like Mo, he was totally focussed on achieving his aim.
Although Siddhartha was brought up as heir to the throne living a life of luxury and never wanting for anything, he was basically kept in isolation away from the suffering of the world. It was, you might say, a form of slavery in the sense that he had to do the bidding of the King and was not free to self-determine. It might sound wonderful that he was given everything on a plate, but Siddhartha didn’t know any different and just went along with it. In a sense, it was a different kind of imprisonment and the life he had was full of luxury, but it was not enough. Something wasn’t right and this empty feeling drew him outside of the palace walls. Once outside Siddartha was deeply shocked to see for the first time ever, a sick man, an old man and a corpse. The charioteer told him that all beings are subject to sickness old age and death and this had a profound effect on Siddhartha. On the way back to the palace he saw an ascetic walking peacefully along the road, wearing robes and carrying a bowl. Siddhartha wanted to know how come this ascetic was so peaceful in the midst of the obvious suffering and so he took a decision that he had to find out and find answers to the problems of the world. So he left the palace and family while they all slept during the night in search of the answer to the problem of suffering. He dropped out of society and spent many years as an ascetic, asking questions, trying out various spiritual paths in pursuit of the answer but none of them seemed to take him where he wanted to be. Eventually, after many years of searching, he was sitting under the bodhi tree where he finally realised the answer and became enlightened, a Buddha. Having become Buddha, he then went on to teach what he had realised and set out a path to help other achieve that same realisation for both monks and nuns and for lay ordinary householders. This path, although 2,500 years old is still relevant and followed today because it is a path of fully realising our potential as human beings.
Like Siddhartha, Mo had to make many sacrifices in order to achieve and pursue his aim. Mo discovered that what it took to succeed was self-belief, unwavering discipline, hard work and learning from mistakes and using those mistakes to spur him on. Mo realised that in order to achieve his aim, he would need to make sacrifices and so with the full blessing and support of his family, he was able to spend long periods abroad to train with top trainers. He had to bear the brunt of many set-backs and rise up again from them learning from his mistakes and using them to spur him on and those setbacks gave him even more clarity and determination. And at all times Mo would keep his focus and know where he was heading while staying true to himself and his own personal code of conduct and ethics and not giving up.
Like Siddhartha, Mo’s determination to put in the hours to train as hard as it gets and to pursue his goal consistently and committedly and to endure and work with the physical and mental pain involved in training and competing is inspirational. As Mo says “I always give 110% to my running, it saved my life! I work and train hard. If you want to succeed you have to train hard. Many people aren’t prepared to put in the time and effort to succeed!” This is significant, because there is a tendency in all of us to want something but not to want to make the sacrifices and put in the time and effort required to achieve it. Often this tendency is due to underlying lack of self-belief and lack of confidence, a fear of failure and comparing oneself to others. It is actually quite a simple sounding formula, but doesn’t come easy to many of us!
In life, we all experience challenges and generally suffer personal setbacks as a result of those challenges. But we all also have the potential to achieve our goals and become fully human, expressing what it means to be fully human. We don’t need to become an ascetic, wear robes or give up anything to fulfil our potential. I would venture further to say that in a sense, Mo’s journey is a gift for us all just as much as Siddartha’s journey was a gift to us all and still is.
We all need to be reminded of our potential as human beings. We need to be reminded of what we all have inside of us if we just start to want to ask the questions and find out how we can change our lives and find true happiness and relief from suffering. There are many role models with good human qualities that we could identify if we look around the world. Positive human qualities such as generosity, discipline and hard work, patience with oneself and with others, exertion and the confidence and self-belief to pick oneself up and keep going and to not give up. But over and above all of those qualities, there is the kindness and compassion that develops from having suffered and used that suffering to fuel and drive us to overcome our short comings and build our confidence and self-belief. That is the real human potential that resides in all of us, in our hearts and minds and is a gift that when realised can be passed on for the benefit of all beings everywhere without exception. That’s all it takes. I would say that to be fully human we could do no worse than listen to the experiences of people like Mo Farah and tap into some of those positive human qualities that he displays. He is not Buddha, but he reminds us all that with hard work, self-belief and when we give our all, we could actually fulfill our potential as human beings and even potentially become Buddha and live peacefully together, turn our lives around, find true peace and happiness and share that with others for the good of all.
May all beings benefit.
Written by Christine Jeffcutt
May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness, may all beings be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
written with love for all by Christine Jeffcutt