Top 3 Life Lessons from a Hero!

This is re-Post now that I have finished Mark Donaldson’s Bio – Crossroads! Great read, raw, honest, and entertaining!

Serendipity: noun

1. the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

Mark Donaldson

Corporal Mark Donaldson, VC, on the right. Serendipitous guy on the left! Photo:

OK, this Post is not about a totally serendipitous occurrence as I did plan to attend the AFR Boss Emerging Leaders event! However the timing, the messaging, and how I met Mark Donaldson, VC*, was pretty cool!

Who is Mark Donaldson?  And what does the ‘VC‘ stand for?

If you’re an Australian, you most likely know his name! Mark Donaldson is a Corporal in the Australian Army, having served several tours overseas. He is currently a Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) instructor in Perth in Western Australia. The SAS are like Australia’s version of the Navy Seals. So yes, pretty hardcore. And Mark teaches these guys. Dwell on that for a moment…


The VC stands for Victoria Cross, and is the highest military award one can receive in Australia when in actual combat. The official definition is “…decoration for according recognition to persons who in the presence of the enemy, perform acts of the most conspicuous gallantry, or daring or pre-eminent acts of valor or self-sacrifice or display extreme devotion to duty.”[1]

So no, you don’t just order one of these from Amazon!

Mark received his VC when:

“…he was involved in an incident in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan that resulted in him being awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia and become the first Australian in almost 40 years to be awarded the nation’s highest military honour”.[2] 

In risking his own life, he saved the life of another. This guy is the real deal!

In addition to still instructing in the Army, Mark is on the public speaking circuit, something that you should imagine would evolve from being a nationally recognised hero broadcast on every form of media. And I gotta say, for someone who most likely did not have much public speaking experience apart from telling his fellow soldiers to ‘get down’, and ‘get to the chopper’, he does a fine job!

Mark’s presentation in front of over 150 Managers, Directors and business owners at the AFR Boss Emerging Leaders event was conducted with style. Confidence mixed with humbleness, Mark told a great story, bought pertinent points to the fore, and related what he had learnt in his life and the military back to business strategy and overall life lessons!

The Top 3 that really stood out for me being a new business owner in an industry directly concerned with wanting to make people better in all forms of their life were:

1. “Champions aren’t made in the ring; they’re made before they get in the ring!”

When you get to the main event, no matter what you do or where you are in life, you better be ready. How do you ‘be’ ready? You train. Then train a little more. Then train some more. Then repeat. Mark told a story of how when he was posted to Townsville, in Far North Queensland, after joining the army, he would regularly get up at 2am to do a four hour hill run with his backpack. Even if his mates were peer pressuring him to go out for a drink, he would still commit to the run. He already knew then that he wanted to join the SAS, and wanted to throw himself into torturous training so he could both see if he could cope with the physical and mental extremes he knew he would be tested on, but also to go above and beyond what was expected in the SAS testing (which lasts for three weeks incidentally).

The same principles hold true for any of us. It can be physical, mental, emotional, financial, spiritual, etc. What ever it is, train like you’re already ‘there’! Then when you do get ‘there’, wherever ‘there’ may be for you, it won’t seem so daunting.

2. “You can absolutely change who you are!”

There was so much conviction in Mark’s tone when he said the above, I wish I recorded it in his voice so I could play it to my Clients.

My Client’s come to me because they have a challenge, usually physical, that they need to face and overcome. I want,no, need, them to know this – “You can absolutely change who you are”!

‘Ratbag’ and ‘Destructive’ was how Mark described his teenage and early adult years. For reasons unexplainable even to himself, he was on a mission to cause trouble wherever he went. Minor issues with the law, more issues with people in general, we all know the sort of guy Mark was describing: someone you try to stay away from unless you want trouble! Then one day he overheard a mate, who was already in the army, talking about the SAS, and how crazy they were, and what they had to do day in day out, and how extreme it all was. That was it, Mark was hooked, and immediately dropped all of his bad habits and vices. He wanted to join the SAS, and for that he knew he had to absolutely change who he was.

Have you ever wanted something so bad, had a goal in mind that you wanted so much, that you had to change yourself? If so, it changed your life and many of those around you, mainly for the better, right? If not, just know and believe this – ” You can absolutely change who you are”!

3. Timing + Luck = Opportunity!

This wasn’t one of Mark’s lessons, but more how I ended up in the photo with Mark above. However it was a highlight, and reinforced the timing and luck principle!

A simple Door Prize where I dropped my business card into a bowl for attending the event, which I subsequently won (the door prize, not the bowl!) allowed me to shake Mark’s hand and receive a signed book. We had a quick chat where I invited him out for a surf when he is next back on the East Coast! He took my card, so who knows? I even said he can borrow one of my boards…maybe…

To be honest, I was exhausted on Monday, having been awake since 4.45am for an early training session, and literally non-stop all day. However if I hadn’t attended, I would have missed out on some great advice, not to mention missed out on some major inspiration, and not had the opportunity to shake Mark’s hand.

So call it timing. Or call it luck. Or call it serendipity. Either way, all three are never bad things to have.

And doesn’t the saying go that ‘good things come in three’s’?

3 pearls

Photo courtesy of:, and Go Ideas.

Sources and Notes:

[1] Commonwealth Gazette No. S25, 4 February 1991, page 1.


* Mark’s Biography, The Crossroad, published by Pan Macmillan, is available now.

Thanks to Alex for providing permission to use his image:

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