Transition & Australia’s Forrest Gump

“Times of transition are strenuous, but I love them. They are an opportunity to purge, rethink priorities, and be intentional about new habits. We can make our new normal any way we want.” Kristin Armstrong (American Cyclist)

With the Olympic Games just finished there will be hundreds of athletes that will be coming face to face with the prospect of retiring from their sport. Some will be ready to hang up their shoes, others will be already balancing another professional life, but for some starting their journey into life outside sport will begin with a shock awakening.

Regardless of how prepared many of us think we are to take on a major transition, the bumpy road to change is often scary, uncertain and anxiety-filled (even for those who are prepared). For you, your major transition may be having your first child, changing careers, the death of a loved one, moving countries or leaving a relationship. We thought we would explore this topic by sharing our favourite story of transition and some insights it provides, as you embark on your next transition.

This is the story of Australia’s Forrest Gump. At the age of 88 after the death of his wife of 60 years Marj, Alan Waddell sat in his doctor’s office being told that if he didn’t start moving he would lose the use of his legs. So Alan started walking. First he looped his local suburb of Lane Cove, but before long he had started to adventure into neighbouring suburbs. This is when the Lightbulb came: 

“I wonder how many suburb of Sydney I can walk every street of?”

From this Lightbulb “Walk Sydney Streets” was born. When Alan passed away at the age of 94 he had walked every street of over 292 suburbs in Sydney, kept the use of his legs, conquered his fear of public speaking, became a celebrity featuring in national and international media and was sponsored by the Heart Foundation. He found his second wind and a new sense of identity. Most importantly, he was able to spend the final years of his life in daily contact with his sons who all contributed to making Alan’s walking, website and book possible.  

This story is the perfect example of a very difficult transition being transformed into a Lifechanger through a simple daily habit. We both had the chance to walk with Alan at multiple points and were always struck by his youth, warmth and humour. In this story lie so many great lessons. What are some of the simple things we can learn from his story of transition?

What we can learn from Alan about transition

Identity Lens

  •  Are you willing to learn and adapt? Perhaps the most important thing to note in Alan’s story is his resilience and how he responded to his doctor’s pleas to get moving. He spotted this important signal or ‘coachable moment’ and used it to redefine his transition after the death of his wife.
  •  Do you have an open mind to new possibilities? While he wouldn’t have anticipated having such wide acclaim, his open mind allowed this opportunity to blossom.
  • Do you deeply believe in the possibility of new beginnings? Transition requires hope and belief that even though today may be tough, new possibilities are waiting to be found. “If you are brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.” Paulo Coelho
  • Is there a way of channeling your strengths and passions into a new beginning that can help others? Alan's story inspired and captivated thousands of people. Can your next chapter involve sharing the lessons you learnt through your transition and channeling that into something that can positively impact others? 

Opportunity Lens

  • Is this transition the opportunity to get in touch with a new part of you? Inside all of us is so much untapped potential. Alan never thought he could be a public speaker or that he would feature on national television. Does your transition present you with the opportunity to get in touch with some of your untapped potential?
  • Have you considered the multiple dimensions of this transition on your life? While this story at its foundations is about a daily walk, the impact was much broader. Have you considered the true breadth of the impact of your transition?  
  • Is this an opportunity to set new and clear benchmarks in your habits and mindsets? Transition often offers the chance at a reset button. Alan set the consistent objective of one daily walk in new streets. It was attainable, while also allowing him to explore new parts of Sydney - a smart plan to keep it simple yet interesting. 

Impact Lens

  • Can a simple mindset or habit transform your transition? Walking for Alan created a virtuous circle as hew enhanced his health and wellbeing, walked with new people, saw new things and developed ‘Walking Sydney Streets’. Similar to Alan are there one or two simple habits or mindsets that could make your transition easier and more successful?   
  • Are you letting others help you? Alan’s story would not have been possible without the support of those around him, especially his sons John, Graham and David. While it sometimes takes courage to ask, learning to tap into the resources and support of those who would love to help you can drastically alter your transition path. 

Sustainability Lens

  • Is the beginning you are choosing sustainable for the long haul? If Alan had chosen an activity he did not particularly enjoy or that would take a large toll on his body he could not have continued to walk for the rest of his life. Can you pick a new path that will be both sustainable and fulfilling?
  • Can this new beginning feed positively into your other life roles? We all play a range of life roles. Transition offers the chance to rebalance your life to make the time for those roles that really matter to you. For Alan this transformation offered him the time to develop his inner explorer, while also investing time in being a father. What life roles do you play that matter to you and how can this transition offer you the opportunity to invest more time in those people and things you love? 

 ‘Alan Waddell...proved you are never too old to change the world.’ - Think Big magazine

‘This site has turned a simple idea into a real treasure’ - The Sydney Morning Herald

This article is intended as inspiration for how to look towards a new beginning with optimism and hope. It has not touched on the grieving process that accompanies many major transitions. If you feel like you need help dealing with a transition it may be worth seeking help from friends, a counsellor or psychologist or you can always call Lifeline on 131114.

Thanks for reading and we would love to hear what you think. If you would like to hear more about Alan’s story, you can explore to his website Walking Sydney Streets by clicking here. We will be back next Tuesday with our weekly exploration of the Lenses in your Life.