What I learnt from Joel Thompson
The words don’t judge a book by its cover couldn’t be truer when I got to host Joel Thompson on the podcast. From the outside looking in, Joel is tall, strong and is one the best back rowers in the NRL. But behind the muscle and speed there is a genuine story.
Joel is a country kid from Ivanhoe who experienced more in his early life then we will ever. Born to a single mother, he didn’t even know his biological father until he was 13. By that age, Joel was doing break and enters, was in trouble with the law and was headed for the dark side of life.
Things changed for Joel when he went to Boarding school and found Rugby League. It gave him passion, purpose and drive. But it’s funny how despite all his success at the top level of Rugby League, his true purpose can be found in the work he does with the community now.
Joel is one of the often rare breed of professional athletes to do something for the community without being told to. I understand that the life of a professional athlete can be tough with media and sponsorship commitments but it is pleasing to see those who are engaging with community on their own dime. Professional athletes have the rare gift of influence and to do it in a positive manner is where my respect is gained.
Many athletes don’t realise the potential for them to do something great for others while others like Joel understand the responsibilities and the opportunities to give back, share his story to inspire others to believe they also have a chance in life.
My conversation with Joel had some inspirational messages for us to reflect on and potentially add to our own lives.
Listen to the entire episode on the player below or continue for my key takeaways from the powerful chat.
THE ACT OF GIVING BACK
“A mate got in contact with me to say they were doing a trip to a remote cattle station and taking a group of young men going through a tough time and needed some mentoring and helping out, so I went up and did 5 days up there with those guys and it honestly blew me away, the way they opened up and shared things they haven’t shared before and start to speak about their feeling and also to give them tools and strategies moving forward to prepare them for life. I find that important, I’ve been in their shoes, I know what’s it’s like to have a tough start to life. The things that happened to me which I’ll have to deal with for the rest of my life, I can give back and inspire others. No matter what your circumstances are, where ever you come from, you can make it”
It all starts with giving back. The act of sharing your story and experiences for the good of others is one of the most powerful tools you can do. To show vulnerability and ask for nothing in return is one of the true measures of a person.
THE INFLUENCE OF A STRONG INNER CIRCLE
“I share my story, a lot connects with the kids, I come from a remote community, I had tough start, born to a young mum, moved around lot and witnessed a lot of alcohol, drugs and violence at times which has probably scared me today. I connect with kids that have similar circumstances. I think my story is powerful, I didn’t always want to share it, I had to seek help at some stage of my career, I was going downhill, the lowest of the low, I didn’t know any way out. My partner at the time who now is my wife encouraged me, actually forced me to see someone. That probably saved my life, the lady who gave me some advice helped put some things I needed to put in place. One of those things was giving back and helping others and that lit a massive fire inside of me and I started volunteering in Canberra”
We all have struggles and triumphs from a professional athlete like Joel, to you and I. The struggle can be made easier with a great inner circle. Having great people around you (for Joel it was his wife) can help you when it all seems down and out. Choose your inner circle wisely and also be there for others in your circle.
THE POWER OF SHOWING VULNERABILITY
“I did my presentation to a group of girls and it was very emotional, I had a tear. I had girls who opened up about their child hoods and it was very raw, but we all got alot out of it. I gave them some tools and strategies that they can go to when they are feeling low. I found my purpose by giving back and sharing my story, if footy wasn’t there it would still get me out of bed. Sometimes I like getting away from the bubble of the NRL and giving back. You come back and feel so refreshed”
A brilliant story comes from showing some form of vulnerability. Even Superman had Kryptonite. Vulnerability shows your human side and can be such a powerful tool in helping others open up about their own issues. Letting people in all the time is something I struggle with but have a think on this one, from my experience showing your vulnerable side can really build connection with someone.
“A big thing I believe in is Gratitude. I didn’t know what it was till later in life, I think we tend to look at the negatives we have in life instead of things we do have and be appreciative. I know as a youngster at school going to bed hungry in the struggle. You grow older and take these things for granted, having food in the fridge, shelter and having a safe environment”
Gratitude is coming up as a key ingredient of success with high achievers. I’ve interviewed hundreds of people and as a key to success this must have come up 95% of the time. Joel provided a simple and effective way to start practising gratitude.
“A little exercise is to write down 3 things every morning and every night and also I learnt it off a guy who does the resilient program. It is powerful; it makes you appreciative for what you do have. You have to do it over a certain period of time, not one day here and one day there. I put it on my phone as a reminder when my alarm goes off. Goal setting is also important and breaking it down, ticking some small boxes which can lead to other things”
THE TURNING POINT
“Looking back when I was 13, I was doing break and enters. I had my first police interview back then. I was in my Nan’s care and I can remember the shame and hurt on her face when they took me to the police station, lucky enough my cousins took the wrap. It was a turning point for me and my biological dad came into my life around that time and helped me get into a boarding school and I found footy and here I am and it took my anger away, gave me purpose, gave me everything, now it’s time for me to give back"
Every good story has an origin and sometimes it’s not so rosy. Finding your passions can give you key focus and it’s never too late you may find it as a kid, but I see people finding it in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Once you know what you want create your action plan, little steps to that end goal.
WHO ARE LEADERS
“I always looked up to my Grandmother; she’s a respected Elder from where I’m from in Ivanhoe. She’s never smoked or drunk. She worked super hard her whole life. She gave me good values and morals. When I went into my Nan’s care she taught me respect, I was probably angry at the world, didn’t like authority and she taught all of those things to move forward and a big thing was respecting people which has been a massive part of my life and made me who I am, it makes me emotional talking about it”
I love it when we look to our own circles for leadership. People who will influence our choices in life by providing an influence on morals, work ethic amongst many things. If you’re forever looking to famous people for continuous influence, I recommend probably looking closer to home for leaders, then passing on that advice to the next generation or your own circle.
HIS DEFINITION OF SUCCESS
“I remember going to my first pre season at the Melbourne Storm; I was a raw country kid and thrown into the Sharks in my first pre season. Success for me back then was making loads of money and being a famous person and doing those things in movies where they brain wash you. As you grow that mindset changed from a young age and success now is doing what I’m doing. It’s fulfilling, it’s a special feeling. I don’t think footy has ever brought that feeling I get when I’m in the community. Knowing that I’m making a difference out there and can turn people’s lives around for the good, something footy probably doesn’t do, you entertain people and footy’s giving me a platform but success has changed for me over time”
We all seem to know everything about life when we are teens, till we reach our 20’s then our 30’s and we are hit by the reality that we really don’t know much at all. To find fulfilment from our work is a special feeling, something I continue to chase every day and chatting to people like Joel and bringing their stories to the world is my fulfilment. Money can bring some form of happiness and we all need it to live, but if you can get paid for something you love and makes you fulfilled by helping others, well for me that’s true success.
TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE
“I’m a big believer of not letting your circumstances define you and taking control of your life. It doesn’t matter what and where you come from, if you have the right people around you and you take control of your life anything can be achievable, no matter who you are or where you’re from”
While some people are thrown some unfortunate events in life, Joel is a perfect example that it doesn’t matter where you come from if you grab opportunity by both hands you can achieve anything. The advice above is a great starting point to building some great foundations to get you started.
To think this is only the start of the journey for Joel in this side of his life. I’m excited to see him continue to evolve and develop post footy. Former St George Captain Mark Coyne commented on one of my posts the other day that “One of the important lessons as I transitioned out of the NRL is that Rugby League was what I did not who I am”.
I hope other players can follow a similar route to Joel, he’s a perfect example that they can use their profiles and unique stories to be positive influences in the community.
Be sure to follow and support Joel along his journey:
True fulfilment starts through the heart with the act of giving. Use Joel as an example and motivation to touch someone else in your life. It could be a simple conversation or help in some other way, but to give without asking for anything in return can be one of the most rewarding things in life.
If you would like to get in touch with me to chat about this interview or any of the others on the show please send me an email at Tristan@talkingwithtk.com
Love to hear from you