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Birthdays, Gratitude and Living in the Present

My cousin Sergej turns 50 today. Happy birthday, el nefo.


We have always been close (my big 5-0 is coming up in a couple of months) and, over the years, shared some pretty special memories. When talking about him and his two brothers, I always start with the story: “So, my father’s younger sister married her Austrian ski instructor…”


Over the years, we shared epic moments. As kids, as young adults, as older adults… anything and everything ranging from Springbok rugby games at Newlands to Springbok rugby games in Birmingham, to waterskiing on the Breede River, to snow skiing in the French Alps. It’s a long list of cool stuff that we got to share, a lot of it testament to the high privilege of growing up in stable and loving homes where we wanted for nothing.


Our dads were quite different, but also very alike. My father was a giant Afrikaner, his a diminutive but jolly Austrian. They shared a love of people, of family, of good food and even better wine, of the outdoors and of living life to the full. They were great friends, and in the end, they followed each other to the great beyond as well, their passing coming within four months of each other.


Sergej came to meet us in Barcelona on our recent first family European holiday. We built more memories trekking around this amazing city and followed that up with a visit to his new home in the south of France. He is building a yoga retreat with his wife, fully embracing the opportunities that this next chapter of life will bring. Caroline, the kids and I were blessed to join in a town celebration that one night, where we very much felt a part of the rhythm of the place. The next day, we explored the beautiful surrounding hills and went for a wine tasting. As we left after this short but sweet visit, I could reflect on another unique memory built together.


So here’s the point: In a lifetime of epic memories, my cousin’s presence in France has created so many opportunities for amazing experiences. We are both cyclists (although he is much more comfortable up the hills), and he arranged not once, but twice, the opportunity to stay in the resort of Alp D’huez to watch the Tour de France in one of the most iconic locations in the world. There have been visits to St Anton and Val-d’Isère and Méribel in winter, where our shared love of skiing would create those memories.


And I am reminded to be grateful. I’m reminded to acknowledge the outsize opportunities gifted to me in life, I’m reminded to be grateful for my family, my uncle and my cousins, who opened up a world of incredible experiences through their European connection… and I’m reminded to be grateful for strong mind and body, where all these things are still within my reach both financially and physically, and I now get to share them with my own family and my young boys.


I like to look ahead. I like to plan, to scheme, to play Tetris with the blocks of opportunity coming down to me and make them all fit.


And I need to remind myself, every day, to also just take a look around. Smell the flowers, sink into the moment, and breathe in gratitude for all that is in this moment, as opposed to all that will still be.


PG’s Pro Tip:

Strategic Coach calls it the GAP and the GAIN. You live in the GAP, you’re always looking over the next hill, worrying about the next thing, obsessing about what you don’t have. If you stay focused on the GAIN, you acknowledge where you are at, how far you’ve come, and you count all the blessings in front of you. And, unsurprisingly, being in the GAIN does make for a much sunnier mojo. So work it out: If you want to drive yourself relentlessly and never be satisfied, stay in the GAP. You may achieve a lot, you might not be that happy doing it. Or maybe, just maybe, sometimes just give a nod to the GAIN too, and allow yourself a big fat pat on the back.

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