What Makes Joseph McSwiney Tick

In ‘What Makes You Tick’ I get the chance to pick the brains of some inspirational people from all walks of life, in the hope that by sharing ideas we can continue to progress, push our limits, and inspire each other.

‘I am very much a family person- I know what takes priority in my life.’

In 1999, a fork appeared in the road for Joseph McSwiney’s parents, and their young family. They were faced with a big decision; up-root and move to Co. Wexford, or remain in their native Co. Cork with their family and friends. 

‘I can only imagine they deliberated over it for some time. It showed great character and ambition from my parents; the move was to ensure that their four children would be provided for in the future, and that our family nucleus was kept together. They left their family, their social lives, and their safety net- for us.’

Joseph was unaware at the time, but the following 15 years would feel as if moving was all that he would do; from Cork, to Wexford, to Waterford, then a leap to China, and on to Sydney, Australia, back to Waterford, across to Cork, up to Dublin and more recently, Melbourne, Australia- with the minimum stint in any one of these locations being 12 months at a time.

Not all of these moves have been driven by family needs, as some have been driven by his own sense of adventure.

‘From place to place you make some great friends, some you lose and a small few you will keep throughout the years. I have learned to never be afraid to let go; when you start to hang on and root yourself in the past- in fear of what is out there- you jeopardize all possibility of adventure. Life without adventure in an institution.’

‘With all the moving there is only one thing that has stayed constant; my family. Moving has been the linchpin that has kept my family so close, we have learned to rely on each other in times of despair and to have the astuteness to realize who the most important people are; those who you want to share the absolute joys of life with.’

On his travels Joseph has picked up a Master’s Degree in Engineering, which has led to a career with a Project Management Consultancy firm.

He plays rugby at a very high level, having represented Munster ‘A’, and lined out for prestigious clubs such as Lansdowne, Cork Constitution and Waterford IT.

‘I have played in 7 All Ireland finals and have never lost one, a record even a Kerry footballer would be proud of.’

Each feat has been a huge challenge in his life and he- like many- has felt the pressure along the way.

‘Years upon years of study- or training- builds up to one moment (if you are lucky) whereby you will achieve credit for your accomplishments- whether it is a gold medal or a piece of parchment. Looking back as an old man, will the parchments or medals have more value to me? Right now, they mean nothing. I am only in it for the challenge.’

Joe was kind enough to take the time out of his busy schedule to chat, and to share his experiences and ideas!

Let’s find out what it is that makes this man tick. 

Would you say you are more introverted, or extroverted?

Introverted, and I am very aware of it. There are both positives and negatives to each personality style. I like being introverted (calculated, cold, confident, humble, self-sufficient) however there are times one needs to be an extrovert (talkative, enthusiastic, energetic). People have called me arrogant, rude and cocky because I am quite happy to be silent, and I am very comfortable in my own skin; I enjoy observing and being in my own head.

Unfortunately, everybody needs a sales man in him or her, and everybody needs to be able to network. It took me some time to become aware of this and it is certainly something I have worked on, and enjoyed. A book that really helped me to obtain the inner sales man was ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie; helping introverts suck less since 1937!!

During his Cork Con days

What are you driven by? (What motivates you?)

The fear of being idle.

Imagine for a second- winning the lottery- I mean millions! I can imagine it would be a life full of that feeling you have on Sunday mornings after a heavy drinking session. That feeling of not caring how much you have spent, knowing you have a lazy day ahead with nothing of value, or nothing to motivate you.

The feeling of worthlessness.

I want to try things. I want to enjoy avoiding failure.

How do you measure success?

Individual success:

For me, success can’t be measured in real time. For every goal I achieve there is always one to take its place. I am always failing. That is the great thing about life, I will never see myself as a success. I will always be dissatisfied, as it is a symptom of ambition. On a holistic view of my emotions and why I feel dissatisfied, it actually makes me happy because I understand where it comes from and why I feel it.

Social success:

In my mind, measuring your level of success in society as a given ‘value’, or measuring yourself against other people, is one of the most self-destructive things that people can do to themselves. This exercise only devalues your self-worth. Everyone has done it, and it’s horrible.

Monetary success:

This deserves a title of its own. People can set this as a key success factor in their life; ‘I want to be rich!!’

They spend their whole life chasing this wild animal, some are lucky to capture it and some are not; a life fueled by greed only to gain a higher plateau on social standings. Even if you do capture it and gain the respect of people, quite frankly, you don’t even know you’ve done it. For what expense? Don’t get me wrong, educate yourself and get a career. I love my job, everyday is a challenge and I do it to the best of my abilities. However, I never want my bank balance to consume me; there is a person behind the ‘job title’. I would much rather pass on a will of small monetary value than die knowing that my friends and family never really knew me.

Success is all about the ‘I’. ‘If I get this’, ‘When I get that’, ‘If only I’, then ‘I’ will be deemed successful.

Chasing success is selfish.

So how do I measure success? I don’t.

UBL final 2015. Landsdowne v Clontarf. MOM.

Who had the most influence on you at a young age, and why?

My parents.

They are very hard workers, and they both come from dairy farm backgrounds. I am very proud of that, and of them. The message I received was, ‘if you work hard, you will be rewarded’.

What’s the best book you’ve read, and why?

I would have to say ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne. This book changed my life. Not because I put a picture of a Ferrari on my wall and it was outside my house the next morning! For the first time in my life it made me aware of my own thoughts; positive thoughts and the benefits to your life they can bring, and the dreadful impact negative thoughts can have if they are allowed to manifest. Being made aware of the fact that you are in complete control of your mood is empowering, especially if you find yourself in a bad one.

Life is a blackboard, and your thoughts are its chalk.

‘The Secret’ led me to a few books afterwards, one in particular- The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle- whose message is to stop regretting the past, and quit worrying about the future. You only ever get to live in the present; that millisecond of ‘present’ that passes by right in front of your nose; live in that.

Last but not least, ‘The Art of Learning’ by Joshua Waitzkin. I myself had the ‘I can’t do that- I’m not smart enough’ attitude. Josh was a child prodigy in Chess, and by 18 years old was one of they best players in the world, beating masters 50 years his senior. He dropped it all- and from scratch- trained hard, and became a Martial Arts World Champion. He is only human like the rest of us.

Any challenge in my life that I deem to be my Mt. Everest, quickly turns into a speed bump. Difficult situations like exams, problematic work environments, big games and job interviews, is where this thought process comes into its own. You get to portray the real you because you are confident and relaxed, and you end up not being afraid of failure.

Describe your typical morning routine. (How do you prepare for the day ahead?)

A glass of water and a bullet proof coffee.

Describe your perfect Sunday.

Making a list and achieving everything on it.

Good food and better coffee, doing laundry, going to the gym, and in the evening organizing myself for the week ahead.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Traveling. I feel guilty leaving my family, and my parents in particular. However, it is the best thing you can do. You find yourself in situations where you are alone and all you can do is put your head in your hands and cry. It toughens you up and you get street smarts beyond your years.

What are your hobbies/interests outside of rugby?

Coffee, nutrition, traveling, and reading.

I am happiest when……..

Training. The challenges of life seem not so big afterwards. It helps put things in perspective for me. I have never meditated but I can only imagine that is what it feels like.

What is your approach to your daily life?

I am confident in every situation that comes my way, and in roughly 40% of those situations, I am bluffing it. People follow the person who is- or seems to be- in control.

Dominating for Munster ‘A’

What is your approach to training?

Nutrition- 80% of your effort. Take the time to learn about food. What is good and bad for you?

Gym- 20% of your effort. All I can say is listen to your body. I myself love high intensity training with weights.

What was the most significant learning experience you can recall having to date?

I failed a year in college. I realised by attempting to coast through life, I will never achieve my goals.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of being involved in a team sport like rugby?

It has been so good to me. I have gotten to meet the greatest people through sport, and I’ve managed to build lasting friendships. I have a couple of friends that I have met through rugby and I can honestly say that I see it as a great reflection on myself that these great guys consider me in their close circle of friends.

You build bonds with guys; my first real experience of this was in Waterford IT. A bond with no expiry date. If you bump into one of these guys, you are greeted with a smile, a hug and a beer.

What advice would you give to young people, who may have aspirations to play rugby at a high level?

To quote an old coach of mine-

‘Be a c*nt.’

Honestly, that’s what it is all about. This particular coach- who is extremely decorated in the professional game- kept saying those 3 words, over and over!! As you can imagine, it wasn’t the most inspiring speech, but as I got to know his character, I finally came to understand his mantra. I improved as a player greatly as a result.

You need to be ultra-competitive on the pitch and 100% honest with yourself in your efforts. Run, tackle, ruck, maul, and carry with everything you have. Be honest in your efforts, grit your teeth, and do your absolute best. Have this mantra turned on- and turned up- for every minute of every game.

What are your goals for the year ahead?

Build a life in Melbourne.

Continue my working career.

Travel Asia.