Jonny Wilkinson – a rugby player – is retiring. I know this may not immediately interest many readers here, but to me he was an amazing and complex character, whose story has relevance for all of us.
Wilkinson was such a perfectionist, that he could never be truly satisfied. Stories of his practicing kicking on Christmas Day and until the lights went out in the training ground are common. He would practice 50 kicks and if the 50th did not sail over, he would start all over again until it did. He was, and is, driven to the point of obsession and compulsion.
Off the pitch his frankness about his struggles made compelling – and at times sad – reading. No sporting ‘over the moon’ type platitudes from Jonny. He was a more tortured soul:
‘I couldn’t figure out how to avoid death: it was like a game I could not win. The closer I got to family and friends and the better things got, the more I had to lose”.
And there in a nutshell is the deal that life gives you. The more you love, the more you stand to lose. The harder you try, the harder it is to fail.
Many people shy away from the value to avoid the feeling that comes with it. You could argue that his perfectionism was a way of controlling these feelings.
But in fact, as relentlessly driven by goals as Jonny seemed, it was always something beyond goals that drove him. Goals were certainly achieved along the way, but Jonny’s story is really about values. What mattered to him was the kind of man he was:
“I’m not necessarily proud of the World Cups and the grand slams won or lost, the amount of points I scored, this record or that. What I am proud of is I have searched for the best of me and I have been a team man without fail.”
Of course, what he achieved mattered. He gave us some great memories. But his real achievement was having the courage to live his values, fully and without compromise.
And that will be his most enduring legacy.