Tobias Mol has won three times National Judo champions, a European cup and World bronze medal while taking insulin for Diabetes type 1 since the age of two.
After his competitive career he started to coach and train professionals in the area of performance management, engagement, personal leadership and development. He holds an MSc title in Management and has worked for organizations like Yacht and Accenture before focusing completely on the support of inner balance within men.
This is his journey.
On a spring day in 1996, the clock had just hit eleven o’clock, three boys from third grade of primary school ‘de Montessori’ in Purmerend sat on a rug in the hallway. They had no punishment but were allowed to work on an assignment together. Two of them knew each other already and started singing a song; “Girls are stupid, lalalala.” The third boy, he was five years old at the time, made a choice; “Let’s join them, I don’t want to be alone anymore, it is too hard to be myself.”
In 25 years that followed he encountered many challenges and he regularly remembered that spring day in 1996.
Youth: Being different is a big responsibility
The 5-year-old boy from this story decided at that moment to discard his own truth in order to be able to connect with his peers. What he did not know then, but what we can now see, is that the connections one make that way are not real. How is that possible? If you don’t really express yourself, how can you make a real connection based on this?
It is striking what can happen when we look for something as essential as connection and belonging outside ourselves; we often do things to stand out more, to be seen. Sometimes we even get sick to get attention and love. On the other hand, we might hate ourselves for what we do to ourselves this way, or there is shame that makes us think we don’t even deserve a connection with others to begin with. This all can be reflected into not following your passion, missing out on chances for pleasure in life or forgetting the connection with what you really want. The boy from our story never became a follower. His way to survive was to fight for what he thought he was worth, and to defend this with all he had. In this case, that meant that he had to be ‘extremely good’ at everything he did in life, taking an enormous amount of responsibility for himself and others and to be very serious. You could say that the qualities of the lion were showing early, but that at the moment these qualities were still very isolated*.
*See the manpower-model.
It is lunch break on the other side of Purmerend. It is another location of the Montessori school and the boy from our story is now about 8 years old. His classmates are playing soccer or hide and seek but he is standing behind a large tree on the edge of the schoolyard. He does not want the teacher to see that he is alone. He is ashamed of it and does not want to be a burden to others either, his sense of responsibility is too great for that and also a burden to him. In the remaining years of primary school, he makes new friends, but keeps them at a distance, which is partly facilitated by the diabetes he has had since he was two years old. Regularly, one of his classmates is having their birthday and is treating; things such as cakes, cookies and sweets come along. Sometimes parents have taken the exceptional effort of bringing him something that is sugar-free, but usually he goes to a broom closet where is a special box with his name on it. It contains sugar-free candy, of which he takes some. Two sweets, no more. Because that is proportional to what has been treated to the rest of the class. He is different but also there.
In this way we see that responsibility can also lead to loneliness.
Puberty and young adulthood: from hard to heart
We are making a leap to the year 2009. The boy from our story is in the 5th grade of pre-university education and has just won a bronze medal at the World Judo Championships, after he first became Dutch champion earlier that year. An achievement that stemmed from an iron discipline and will but was also due to self-analysis and attention to the mental aspect of winning. The belief that when you put everything aside, fight hard and are “in the moment,” everything is possible. Looking back on this period you could say that the boy in our story started to combine the lion with the owl *. He was primarily fighting, but the first steps towards analysis and objective viewing were also taken. In this phase this was particularly reflected in the reading of books about self-development, affirmations and visualisations.
*See the manpower-model.
Paris, 2009. A random restaurant. His father with his girlfriend, the national coaches and the Dutch judo team. There is a jubilant mood because, unexpectedly, for most people, the only Dutch male contender to the World Championships has won a medal. He himself is in ecstasy, time does not seem to exist. He has been in a flow all day long and is now enjoying his time and accepting congratulations. Then comes his food, a large piece of meat. He notices that his cutlery is not clean and goes to the bar to change it. ‘I have to take good care of myself’, he thinks. I have achieved something now and want to keep it up. And he did, a year later at a European cup in St. Petersburg he was the only Dutchman to win a medal again. However, the training camp that followed became an agony; Physically he had gone so deep during the tournament that his body was aching everywhere. He did not want to give up, until two weeks later he broke his ankle and a plate with 7 screws had to be used to fix it.
At this moment he knew that he had outrun himself. In the run-up to those successful competitions, he had put a lot of pressure on himself, so much so that he had become mentally strong, but no longer knew how to relax. It was also easy; to fight, think about the mental aspect of top sport and train. He knew that the result of what he did laid entirely in his own hands. He was responsible and in control, that was, unless something outside happened that he had no influence on. This was cause for a lot of worries and stress because life can never be shaped to your will, no matter how much you want it. In response, he became frustrated and tried to work even harder to make things ‘go well’. He tried to protect himself from life, which was expressed in parties, fights or the search for a sense of self in contact with other people. The harder he fought, the harder it was to let life ‘go well’. On the outside, he seemed certain of his case, but inside he knew he was not himself. The ways in which he tried to protect himself formed an invisible shield that prevented him from really experiencing life, making true connections or having fun.
We now see both the qualities and the shadow side of the lion; Achieving great things by being able to fight and suffer for a purpose, but also getting ahead of yourself when these qualities are not in balance with … with what actually? We know that the Owl* began to emerge slowly at this time, something that would develop further in the years that followed. He became very good at analyzing his own situation and making connections between his own behavior, what ‘trauma’ from his youth would be the basis for this and how this could be solved. Sounds good you would say, but after initial success, it seemed like the distance he felt from ‘real life’ became even greater.
* See the manpower model.
The way home starts on the doormat
One day he made a deal with himself; He sat at home on a red wooden chair and asked; “Show me all the patterns and things in me that stop me from being my true self. Show me so that I can embrace, heal and let them go.”
Not long afterwards he started seeing a girl who seemed somewhat distant. The opposite of how he saw himself. “How can someone come across to me so closed, while I’m so open myself?” he thought. This question come to his mind for a few weeks, until one day he had a “eureka” moment; he had been open intellectually and was willing to talk about anything. He had taught himself that. But emotionally he still tried to protect himself, to lead life in the right direction. At that moment it was as if something opened. As if he came into direct contact with life, which felt both liberating and vulnerable at the same time. At this point the boy from our story learned that seeing things from a distance is not the same as living and embodying the truth. That there is a difference between mental fighting and analysis and embracing, living from integration. But to be able to embrace himself and life in full glory, his own trash had to be fished out of the sea. It was time for the whale*
* See the manpower model.
The years that followed were rougher than expected. Unconscious patterns, boxed away things from his youth such as the responsibility and the idea of having to control things, they all came to the surface. There were things that he wanted to control with all his might but could no longer do. And every time this happened he seemed to be winning something. Every time he lost the fight with himself, he got a bit of his life back. He was more and more invited to trust life, to let go of control and to trust himself.
Learning to embrace and experience life was a very valuable step in his development. But the story doesn’t end there. Because even the whale can’t make it by himself. When we find something in life that brings happiness or seems to remedy a situation, we soon tend to see this solution as universal and apply it everywhere. Even when the situation is not suitable for it. For example, learning to embrace and letting feelings be is very valuable, but when we apply this gift excessively and start to see it as the only solution passivity and stagnation can occur. For example, the boy in our story often let discussions go because he thought that conflict would disappear by embracing it. He also lingered in emotions for a long time because he had learned that acceptance and being able to look at them was the solution. That was not always the case.
When we find a solution for a situation that seems to work, we tend to apply it even when it is not appropriate.
By being fully committed to the art of acceptance, the now young man from our story tried to live out of love and to be himself. In reality, he gave up on his decisiveness, did he stand strong enough for who he was and ultimately had to come to the conclusion that this wan’t working either.
For the past 25 years several times I have thought to have found the answer to my problems and what I was looking for. These answers were either fighting for what you are worth, being able to analyze things as a “neutral spectator” or by embracing feeling. Each answer seemed to be the way to a pleasant life for some time, but in the end turned out to come up short. I gradually learned that there is no one size fits all solution that brings happiness, individuality and passion. Every situation needs something different. The three solutions he had used and which are represented by the archetypal animals lion, owl and whale all work but not always by themselves and in all cases. What works is combining and deploying these capacities in the right way.
I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the trip, because leaving home is not so bad if you can really come home afterwards.