Justin Langer: How Steve Waugh and Alan Jones taught me how to ignore the critics with one ‘look’

Justin Langer
The Nightly
Steve Waugh's was a mentor for the 2018 Ashes series in England.
Steve Waugh's was a mentor for the 2018 Ashes series in England. Credit: AAP

It was the look.

The stare.

For a second it was like ice, but when it sunk in, it made so much sense.

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In the last few years, I have seen this look twice. Both from high-profile people who shared with me some advice that I have found incredibly valuable, if not tough to administer. If you are strong enough to adhere to their counsel, their words can change your life.

The first time I was sitting on a team bus in London with one of my past Australian cricket captains Steve Waugh.

Steve was with us as a mentor for the 2018 Ashes series in England. Through my life, his leadership philosophies have been instrumental to the person I am today. Of that I have no doubt.

We were talking away as usual, and the subject of criticism came up.

(Clockwise from above) Shane Warne and former Australian captain Steve Waugh, with whom he had an at-times frosty relationship, the spinner makes his way home after being banned for taking a diuretic, the newspaper headlines that followed him after the indicent and puffing on a cigarette, one of his well-publicised vices.
(Clockwise from above) Shane Warne and former Australian captain Steve Waugh, with whom he had an at-times frosty relationship, the spinner makes his way home after being banned for taking a diuretic, the newspaper headlines that followed him after the indicent and puffing on a cigarette, one of his well-publicised vices. Credit: Jack Atley/Getty Images

At the time his well-publicised rift with Shane Warne had raised its head again.

Once great teammates, and men who had shared so many battles and successes, it never made much sense to me why they are had fallen out.

A line in the paper about he and Warney prompted me to ask Steve about how he felt when criticism was aimed at him.

At that moment I saw that “look” for the first time.

Expressionless, even nonchalant, he stared me straight in the eyes and said: “I have gotten to a point in my life, where I have learned not to care about what people think of me. I know who I am. I know what I stand for. I know the things I do. Importantly, so do my friends and family. That’s what, and who, matters to me.”

The intensity, but simplicity of this statement, was chilling for a second, but as each second passed after that, I thought that this advice was coming from a person who is totally comfortable in their own skin.

His words hit me like a sharp slap in the face, but I remember thinking to myself, that’s what I want in my life. His confidence in what he was doing was so liberating and refreshing.

He also told me, that we have no control over what others think of us and therefore it makes no sense to spend any time thinking or worrying about it. In fact, a wise friend once told me it is none of my business what others think of me.

Last weekend, I was reminded of this advice from another man who has been an incredible mentor in my life. Alan Jones, popular radio broadcaster, former coach of the Wallabies, and speech writer for Prime Minister Malcom Fraser was in Perth speaking with Australian tennis great, and his friend, Margaret Court.

While his list of accomplishments is vast, I know Jones as a philanthropist, teacher, motivator, breathtaking public speaker and a kind, generous friend.

***RETRANSMISSION - CAPTION CORRECTION FOR THE FOLLOWING IMAGE ID: 20200512001468050683 - CORRECTING DATE*** Australian broadcaster Alan Jones announces his retirement from radio at his home in Sydney, Tuesday, May 12, 2020. (AAP Image/Kris Durston) NO ARCHIVING
***RETRANSMISSION - CAPTION CORRECTION FOR THE FOLLOWING IMAGE ID: 20200512001468050683 - CORRECTING DATE*** Australian broadcaster Alan Jones announces his retirement from radio at his home in Sydney, Tuesday, May 12, 2020. (AAP Image/Kris Durston) NO ARCHIVING Credit: KRIS DURSTON/AAPIMAGE

We met up last Saturday morning for a coffee, and like with Waugh, we talked about all topics, big and small. Halfway through the conversation I asked Jones how he deals with the critics that have torn apart his views over the years.

With that question came “the look”.

Pausing for a second, he turned towards me, stared me straight in the eyes, lowered his voice and said simply, “you have two ears right?

Nodding at him, he continued, “you have two ears so that criticism can go in one and out the other. By doing that it doesn’t affect me. I let it go automatically.”

It wasn’t necessarily what he said, but rather how he said it. You could tell he has had his share of critics and abuse by that look in his eyes, but he has learnt to let it go and move forward; despite others’ opinions of him.

When I was growing up and making my way through life, I often heard that you had two ears and one mouth for a reason. That was to listen and learn, twice as much as you spoke. There was wisdom in this philosophy.

In Waugh and Jones, I see men who are comfortable in their own skin and who are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in.

Not until last Saturday had I heard another reason for having both ears, other than to hear of course.

In Jones’ case he probably talks twice as much as he listens, although his intelligence, preparation and insights suggest he does a lot of listening, reading and learning as well.

The other adage that we were taught from our school days was, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”.

Equally as profound, but experience tells me that this isn’t as easy to achieve as the simplicity of that advice suggests. In one ear and out the other is liberating, if you have the ability and courage to filter the good from bad, beneficial from dangerous.

But it’s not easy.

In Waugh and Jones, I see men who are comfortable in their own skin and who are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in. Waugh is much more private these days, but his brilliance as a captain and batsman were moulded on his mental toughness and ability to eliminate, or at least control outside distractions.

Jones in contrast is a very public figure, whose views are at times considered controversial.

That said, I have great admiration for him because he knows what he stands for, he questions subjects without simply accepting another’s opinion, and you had better be well-researched and know your stuff if you are going to be interviewed by him.

If you’re not, you can be sure you will be reminded by the man, who is as researched and knowledgeable as anyone I have ever met.

There is no doubt experience has taught these men to endure the public scrutiny of success, but it takes mastery to get to this point of not caring what others think of them.

Last weekend I wrote in this column about following your heart, knowing what you want in life and understanding how others’ opinions or expectations can sway you from walking your own unique path.

During the week I have received amazing feedback from last weekend’s thoughts, but none so powerful as from a man whose name remains unknown to me.

The past few years I have seen this man blowing the sand off the path at City Beach.

Walking the dogs, I often see him going about his work and he always greets me with a smile and a wave. Early this week he called me over with his usual happy smile. He told me how much he enjoyed my column, but then explained that he had the reverse of what I had been alluding to when it came to lack of formal qualifications.

He said: “I am the opposite to what you were saying. I have all the qualifications, but the truth is I love doing what I do here in the morning. The fresh air, the beach, the work. I love it and I don’t care what anyone thinks because it makes me happy.”

What I have learnt is that if you try and please everyone, you tend to please no one.

Steve Waugh and Alan Jones are the epitome of this to me as “that look” testified.

If we can be comfortable in our own skin, learn to let go of the baggage and noise, and do what we love to do, then you will tend to sleep a lot better at night.

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