I'm always open to meeting new people and I love hearing their stories, but it takes me a long time to trust. I don't just let anyone in. While I know thousands of people, there's a really small handful are in my inner circle and know all my stuff.
So it was unusual to click fast with the phenomenal Emma Murray, one of Australia’s leading mindfulness practitioners and high performance mind coaches. We met the way modern women have in the last couple of months—the ubiquitous Zoom meeting—and two hours later, I was in awe and craving more of her conversation and perspectives.
Put simply, Emma is a force of nature. There are not enough women in the world whose eyes twinkle when they talk about what they do. She is profoundly talented and skilled.
Some of you may have already heard of Emma. If you haven't, you're in for a ride. She's a mother of four with a long marriage forging a new world after moving to Queensland from Melbourne. That's a thumbnail of her personal life, and her professional one is just as rich.
She's built her formidable reputation in what has traditionally been a man's world, the inner sanctum of male dominated sports including AFL and motor racing. Her knowledge and insights were an integral part of the Richmond Football Club's premiership success in 2017 and 2019 (a job she'll go back to when the AFL 2020 season restarts). She works with drivers in a space where her words may help keep them alive in the metallic storm of car racing. And several Olympic athletes have her on speed dial.
She's also a sought-after keynote speaker and laughs recalling what was said to her after she spoke at a particularly testosterone-fuelled major sports club: "I was worried about you coming, we haven’t had a female in this space but you sort of present like a guy."
A former national level netballer, Emma knows how to survive when the going gets tough. But her knowledge and inner grit were put to the test in the toughest way in 2016 when her second child, son Will, dived into shallow water and sustained a spinal cord injury that left him with no feeling or movement from the chest and shoulders down.
"Life got turned upside down in that moment and not just Will's life but ours. It's like being thrown into a hurricane," Emma told me during our 'Bringing Your A Game with Emma Murray' Perspectives podcast, launched on May 6.
"I remember a specific moment very clearly at the hospital where I was taken into a little room at the hospital.
"Will was still in a coma from nearly drowning and they said, 'Emma, with spinal cord injury, the grief is worse than death. It will last a lifetime. The reality is that you will need close to a million dollars a year to look after your son.'
"I remember making a firm decision in that moment that I need to find a way to take action, take my best action, despite the grief.
"I had to find a way to move forward despite what I was experiencing and for the first time ever—despite being a qualified mindfulness based stress reduction teacher—I had this clarity around the role of mindfulness and I used that enormously to get very present."
So while we've just had a planet wide trauma that left people reeling, Emma said Will's injury meant she and her husband Nick, their kids and extended family had had a dress rehearsal for the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown.
She sees parallels between having to manage a trauma that was unique to her family and the individual trauma around the world. Emma—who hasn't had a sip of alcohol since Will's injury because "I need to function, I need to be my best so why would I go out and numb it out?"—also knows there is always a choice in how you show up.
"We sit in our lives hoping, wishing, praying for things to be different: 'I want a different job, I want to feel different, I want a different relationship', but we can't because we're in what I call this B Game loop instead of bringing our A Game," Emma said.
"From the moment we wake up it's just the same patterns repeating, then nature comes along and it gives us this pause that looks really terrible, but it's this most incredible break in the pattern of behaviour that we could have ever asked for.
"I learned I have everything. I feel like spinal cord injury was a gift: 'We’re choosing you, we're giving out something really bad but it's going to make you find your stillness and centre and growth so much quicker."
Our conversation ranged from coaching frameworks and mindfulness to what it's like to sit on the bench at the MCG during a grand final, and how to parent. She shared one very personal conversation she and Nick had the night of Will's injury and the reactions of people around her when she picked herself up and went back to work the next day.
"The world changed for me in spinal cord injury. It wasn’t the change that I wanted but having something come in and change my life in an instant meant I was able to go off on this pathway of growth that I feel guilty about because it came out of such trauma," said Emma.
Post-coronavirus, she's "excited" to see what happens next.
"Everything I've worked for has gone for now but I'm actually looking at the whole thing as awesome. I now get to choose which parts of that are really serving what I want to do, how I will re-pick them up and what parts I am ready to let go.
"I really encourage people to let go of getting it right. The overall theme of the script is everything is going to be alright."
The Coaching Institute is teaming up with Emma to take online her six-part program Being the Best You Through High Performance Mindfulness during these changing times with the support of our community.
This wonderful initiative will launch in May with the first 50 pilot spots open to TCI coaches in Australia and around the world. Details coming soon. You'll learn so much from this innately courageous, brutally honest and funny sledgehammer of a woman.