I admit to not knowing very much at all about Turkish football. However, I recently heard a story on the radio about the footballer Ilhan Mansiz that really captivated me, not because of its tales of footballing prowess but because of its twists, turns, accidents and the emergence of new possibilities.
Ilhan’s debut for the Turkish national team took place in 2001 at the age of 26, a relatively old age in footballing terms to be making one’s first break into the international scene. He struggled to make the starting 11 for a number of reasons including a recurrent knee injury, however he was selected to represent the Turkish squad in the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan where once again he spent the majority of the tournament on the substitute’s bench.
His luck changed when he came on as a substitute in the quarter-final match against Senegal. The game was in extra time, the score locked at 0-0 and both team’s coaching staff were preparing for a possible penalty shoot out when the referee played an advantage instead of giving a Turkish foul, Mansiz ran through a packed Senegal defence and scored a brilliant ‘Golden Goal’ that instantly won the match and put Turkey through to their first ever World Cup Semi-Final. (Turkey were subsequently knocked out of the tournament in the semi-final by Brazil)
From the ultimate high of scoring one of the most important international goals in football for his country, Mansiz hit a low after the tournament, leading a nomadic footballing life, moving from club to club and being plagued by his recurring knee injury. In 2007 aged 32 his determination to make a comeback was finished once and for all when he was struck by a car on a pedestrian crossing – an accident that tore his knee to shreds and, despite various efforts to try and find his form again, his footballing career came to a rather sad end.
It was a year after the accident that his celebrity status and lack of current footballing commitments saw him offered a place on Buzda Dans – Turkey’s equivalent of the popular Dancing on Ice programme and, despite having never stepped onto the ice before, he seized the opportunity as a new challenge and a chance to regain some self confidence and meaning in his life. He was paired with professional dance partner and Olympic athlete Olga Bestandigova with whom he fell in love with. The strength of their growing relationship helped spur him on, despite the constant irritation of his recurrent knee injury and the determined pair were eventually crowned Buzda Dans champions in 2008. Now a recognised celebrity couple, they have set their sights on representing Turkey at ice-skating in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Mansiz said in a recent interview with The Guardian newspaper “We are not expecting to get a medal but to be a part of the Olympics will mean much more than winning. It is also about encouraging people that no matter what, at any age, you can reach your dreams by believing and working hard.”
I found this a really heart-warming story when I first heard it but what struck me most was how much Mansiz’ future was drastically altered through small changes that unfolded in the split seconds of the present moment. There is no way he could have imagined, as he stepped onto the pitch in 2002, that 11 years later he would be training to partner his girlfriend at Olympic figure skating as a result of a bizarre chain of events. I couldn’t help but wonder as to the multitude of ways the future might have been different for him: What if he wasn’t brought on as a substitute in 2002? What if the ref had given the a free kick instead of playing the advantage? What if he had missed the ‘golden goal’? What if he’d continued as a successful footballer after the World Cup? What if he hadn’t crossed the road at that particular pedestrian crossing? What if the car had missed him? What if he’d said ‘no’ to Buzda Dans? What if he’d been paired with a different partner? What if they hadn’t won Buzda Dans? What will happen at the 2014 Olympics?
Obviously, it isn’t just Ilhan Mansiz who is subject to a future that is continually being shaped moment by moment, it was simply this story that caused me to reflect on it more deeply. Everyone has an ongoing story like Mansiz. It may not be as dramatic or high profile but second by second our actions and reactions in the present moment author our own future and the future of others. The present moment is the domain of change, possibility and opportunity and now is the only time we can effect our stories. Even then we are paradoxically both in control and not in control of what happens next. What is happening to us right now may be unwanted or unpleasant but where could it be leading? Could an unwanted consequence in fact be a door opening to a possibility that we have never dreamed of? Sadly this is also true the other way round, we may be overall content at the moment but we don’t know what challenges may lie around the corner.
Mansiz story reminds me of how important every moment of being is and the importance of attempting to be as deeply present, aware and response-able* to what is going on around us. For me this stretches the idea of ‘Working Live’ from simply being more present and adaptable in our roles as consultants, leaders, teachers or employees to attempting to be more aware and in awe of the infinite possibilities and opportunities of us perpetually ‘living life live’.
* Response-able was a term coined by the co-founder of Gestalt Therapy Fritz Perls meaning one’s ability to have a heightened awareness of choice of possible responses available to us in the moment.
NOTE: For those interested, here is a link to a previous blog I wrote on Kairos time and the present moment.