5 lessons from Wayde Van Niekerk

This week I had the opportunity to lecture many trainee accountants for the last time. The last part of the lecture was based on SA’s 400m gold medal winner and World Record holder Wayde Van Niekerk.  The trainees are all busy people – coaching 1st years, tackling tough new audit sections and studying for the biggest exams of their lives.

They are only 16 hours away from qualifying as CA(SA)s.  They need to write an 8 hour professional programme exam, followed by SAICA’s 8 hour APC exam.  They write the APC in 76 days’ time and then face an agonizing 93-day wait before the results are released.  If they pass, they qualify to register as a CA(SA).  If they don’t, they need to wait another year before being able to write again.  They need to produce their best under pressure – who better to learn from than a man who was able to produce the World Record of 43.03s in the 400m Olympic Final in Rio!

Here are the 5 lessons that ended my lecture:

1.  Set big goals









Wayde Van Niekerk was the fastest at the University of Free State but he didn’t stop setting bigger and bigger goals.  He became SA champion, African champion, World champion and now is the Olympic champion.  I love this photo of him as a student next to a board saying 45.43s.  He could have stopped at that point.  He had already achieved so much.  But he kept setting bigger goals.  As a trainee approaches the final APC exam they can look back on passing undergrad, postgrad, ITC as well as 20 months of articles – they have done so much already.  Will you settle for 45.43s or set a new big goal and push for 43.03s?

2. It will not be easy









After winning the 4oom World Championship in 2015, Wayde Van Niekerk collapsed at the finish line and had to be stretched off the track.  He was totally exhausted.  Lining up for the Olympic final he knew that his greatest rivals, Kirani James and Lashawn Merritt, would want to take the title from him.  He would need to put even more effort in.  Last time he needed a stretcher, if more effort was now required, what state would he be in at the finish?  Wayde knew that it would not be easy.  Same with the 8-hour APC exam.  It will require every bit of mental strength to keep writing well for the whole day.  Expect to be exhausted at the end.  Hold nothing back.  Anything worthwhile in life doesn’t come easy.

3. To be the best, learn from the best












Did you know that in June 2016 Wayde Van Niekerk spent 2 days training in the West Indies with Usain Bolt?  He was bold enough to learn from the best.  The APC exam allows for teams to work together on a case study that gets released 5 days before the exam.  The top performers are those that are prepared to learn from fellow APC writers over this time.  Sure they do the bulk of the research themselves but they are then prepared to debate their ideas with others.  Being prepared to learn from the best is crucial to breakthrough performances.

4.  Run your own race








Wayde Van Niekerk only needed to come 2nd in his semi-final in order to qualify for the 400m Olympic final.  It didn’t make sense to exhaust himself the day before the final – so he came 2nd quite happily.  The problem now was that his time was the slowest of all the finalists and he was allocated the “worst” lane to run in.  It is described as the “worst” lane because you are unable to see your opponents.  Wayde Van Niekerk would need to run his own race from start to finish.  He did just that and only glanced to his left as he crossed the finishing line.  The curse of comparison impacts all of us.  Am I studying as hard as the other trainees at the office?  Am I safely in the herd?  When it comes to high performers though, they run their own race.   

5. Finish strong







The commentator of the Olympic final described an incredible moment with 50m to go.  Wayde Van Niekerk had raced out to an early lead and it was expected that James and Merritt would come roaring back at him.  Van Niekerk was supposed to be exhausted and slow down.  James and Merritt had conserved their energy and would now power home.  Would Van Niekerk be able to hang on?  The final 50m would decide the race.  The commentator gave his memorable line, “The South African now beginning to tire, or is he?”.  In theory Wayde Van Niekerk was meant to be tiring but in practice he was surging.  It is a moment that gives me goosebumps every time.  The APC is an exhausting 8-hour paper, trainees are expected to slow down for those final 2 hours especially.  Will you follow that script or will you dig deep and surge to the end?

I have written about The power of one sentence and the sentence that I have asked the trainees to meditate on as they prepare and write the APC is the one that the commentator uttered, “The South African now beginning to tire, or is he?”  They write the biggest exam of their lives in 76 days.  Every day before then presents an opportunity to get 1% better.  A chance to make a marginal gain.  They will begin to tire but they each have the ability to surge towards achieving their big goal.  Wayde Van Niekerk has taught us that.  

Click here to watch the 400m Olympic final.

Paul Maughan


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