This week my phone reminded me of a very important anniversary.
It was the ninth anniversary of the day I won a quiz show.
In the space of five weeks – from the day I first auditioned to the last episode airing – I went from having only $500 in the bank to more money than I could have ever imagined.
So every year, when the reminder comes up, I sit down and watch that final, winning episode in which I “got the lot”.
Although I still sometimes have to pinch myself to believe it actually happened, what was really life-changing about the whole experience was what it taught me about life itself.
Lesson 1: Opportunity may only ring once
I almost didn’t go to the audition – it was the day after my wife and I had moved house, and I was still unpacking. But as my wife reminded me, the house wouldn’t get unpacked much quicker if I didn’t go. Although I passed the 50 question exam, I didn’t expect I’d get on.
When the producers contacted me about going on the show, I said no – I’d just moved house, I had two big deadlines and an overseas trip coming up. I asked if they could call me back in in a month.
They told me it was my only chance – and as it turned out, it was: a few months after I won, they axed the show.
If I hadn’t gone to the audition that day, if I hadn’t flown down that week, I might never have been selected for the episodes I was, and I might never have won at all.
Lesson 2: Success is often down to luck – but sometimes luck is what you make of it
I wasn’t just lucky to be picked when I was. The show itself had so many variables, such as the people you’d play and the questions you’d be asked, that it was impossible to prepare or predict how you’d go.
Sure, you needed be quick enough to answer the questions correctly, but you needed just as much luck to get through. I saw off a lot of people who were cleverer than me, a couple who were quicker than me, and a few who managed to beat me in different rounds, who just weren’t as lucky.
And because everything happened so quickly, I had to go with my intuition when I answered questions.
Every time I just answered without thinking about it too much, I was right; every time I consciously changed my decision, I wasn’t.
Lesson 3: Today is tomorrow’s yesterday
The best advice I was given by the producers before the show was not to worry about any questions that might be asked, or any I’d gotten wrong, but to clear my mind and focus on the each one.
I knew I’d won a game when another contestant got a question wrong and I could hear them berating themselves about it. It meant that they were still thinking about it while three or more questions were being asked – and usually answered by me.
I didn’t get every question right: I just worried about each question as it was being asked.
Like the old cliché, today is what you make of it. If, rather than worrying about anything you’ve done and can’t undo, or whatever you’re yet to do, you concentrate on today, and what you’re doing now, your yesterdays will become worth remembering, and your tomorrows worth looking forward to.
Lesson 4: You don’t win the race by looking over your shoulder – especially when you run your own race
People worried about who might beat them or what other contestants might be like. They’d ask what their scores were, or checked them on the monitor in the corner of the studio.
I didn’t want to know. All I knew was that I had to get four questions correct each round. As long as I answered four correct questions, I knew I would. I often had no idea what my score was until the game was over.
It’s easy to endlessly compare yourself to everyone else. But the more you worry about other people and what they’re doing, the less time and energy you’ll have to concentrate on your own life.
Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing: concentrate on your own goals and your own race, and you’ll make the distance. Only you can be the winner or loser of whatever race you choose to run.
Lesson 5: Don’t give up!
I didn’t get every question right on the show: I just got more right than I got wrong. It made me realise that the difference between a winner and a loser – even though I hate those words – is that while they may face the same number of questions or hurdles, a winner just answers one more question or gets up one more time after they’ve been knocked down.
The schedule was exhausting. They filmed five shows in a row, and after starting at 7am, I was spent by 5pm. There were times, especially by the fifth episode, where I thought I just couldn’t go on. My arms ached, my mind went blank, I wanted to give up.
Of course, if I had, I would have lost everything and I would have always wondered whether I might have succeeded if I’d just persisted for one more episode.
So whenever you think you just can’t go on, don’t give up just yet. You may just find that little bit extra is all you need.
Lesson Six: Money can’t buy happiness – unless you spend it on someone else
Having gone on a spending spree after I won, the more stuff I bought just brought more worries, more insurance, more expenses, more stress.
But when I started giving to others – whether giving gifts to others or donating to charity – I got a buzz that buying another new thing never gave me. The happy memories I have of helping and spending on others have lasted longer than any of the stuff I won or bought.
Money can’t buy happiness. And if you spend money on yourself, you’ll only get a diminishing return: the real profit’s in spending it on others.
I know I’ve got a lot to be happy about: I have a beautiful wife, wonderful children, great friends, a lovely home, and I’m lucky enough to do the thing I love everyday, thanks to my singular experience.
And winning a quiz show was just icing on an already tasty cake for which I’ll always be grateful.
Of course life is anything but easy, and often for reasons far outside our control.
But if you can trust your intuition, keep your mind and eyes open for every opportunity, be generous to others, and remember who and what is most important – you might not win a quiz show, but in the very untrivial pursuit of a happy life, you can’t lose.
Follow the pressure of competition with Spellbound on SBS On Demand: