Category: Personal development

Three lessons I learned from one of the dumbest things I ever did

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. That’s how it is – I’m not perfect, and I don’t think there is any use in pretending that’s the case. What’s important to me is that every time I make a mistake I learn something from it, something valuable, and something which ensures that I never make that same mistake again.

When I was 14 a good friend of mine I played football with, got jumped by a few older guys, and they beat him up pretty badly, which obviously upset everyone who knew this person, including everyone on the team.

Except for this one person who said that he thought he had it coming, and made it very clear that he thought what happened to him was well-deserved.

Now, this is not a very nice thing to say about anyone, and again everyone involved was super upset, and this is where my stupidity started rearing its ugly head, because at this point I started talking to some of my friends about beating up this guy who had been running his mouth, and I let myself get talked into it, not because I wanted to stand up for my friend or because I wanted to live up to some sort of personal code, but because I wanted to be cool and popular.

Let me say that again for emphasis – I punched someone in the face because I wanted to be cool and popular.

That is one of the single dumbest things I’ve done in my life.

But what happened subsequently is more important than the event itself for a number of reasons, as I’m sure you’ll agree in a few minutes.

After the episode, which was incidentally caught on camera, with one of the very first camera phones, I got called into the principal’s office, and she tore me a new one, and decided that in her mind I had crossed the line, and she decided to expel me from the school, which meant I had to find a new school.

On top of that, the person I’d hit or his parents – most likely the latter – decided to press charges, which resulted in a court case, and me having to pay a pretty serious fine.

Throughout all of this, my mom was a nervous wreck, which is understandable, because she didn’t know what the outcome was going to be, and I’m sure the uncertainty got to her.

When I think back to this which happened some 15 years ago, I can’t help but to think that I didn’t understand the severity of it all. I might not have actually been able to comprehend what was really happening or the potential consequences. What still bugs me the most however, is my motive for doing what I did, and that leads me directly to lesson number 1:

Never let your actions be dictated by your perception of others’ opinion of you

We all care about other people’s opinion of us. It’s natural and it’s most likely a relic from the time we lived in hunter-gatherer societies and our survival depended on being accepted in the group. That doesn’t mean that it’s the best course of action however – in fact, in our modern society I’d go so far as to say that caring too much about others’ opinion of you is most likely counter-productive, because it can force you to take actions which go against your principles, or which are downright stupid, as my story aptly shows.

And while that story might be an extreme example, it is illustrative nonetheless, and with that, let’s have a look at lesson number 2: 

Our actions have unintended and far-ranging consequences

When I decided to punch someone in the face, I didn’t give one ounce of consideration to the consequences. I just did it and figured that would be the end of it, but that’s not how the world works. The world works in such a way that every action has reactions. Not only an equal and opposite reaction, but many related reactions which influence and are influenced by an unseemly number of factors, chief among them other human beings and the systems of society. Not in my wildest dreams did I figure that I would end up in court, or that I would have to change schools, but that’s what happened nonetheless.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we put our every action under a microscope and examine everything we do in the minutest of details, but I am suggesting that we take time to reflect on the fact that what we do might affect us later on, and might even affect those around us as well, which leads to lesson number 3:

What we do can affect our loved ones as much – or more – as ourselves

I never knew I could have make my parents – mom and my stepdad – as sad as I did. They were devastated, and I’m sure I would have been if I was in their shoes. If this had been the only consequence of what I did, and I had realized this beforehand, I would never have done it. Not in a million years. But I didn’t think about that, and that’s the whole issue. What we do intensely affect the people we love, and that is all the more reason to give careful consideration to the things we do before we do them – all the more reason to be careful with our actions, because they might affect our loved ones as much or more as ourselves.


What’s your most valuable skillset?

We all have skills. Most of us have more than one valuable skillset, meaning a range of skills which we can utilize to accomplish any number of things. A skill set which sets us apart in a massive way when we use them or where the practice of that skill comes more easily and naturally than our peers. This is sometimes referred to as talent – other times it’s referred to the intersection between work and play.

What I’m getting at is that we all have areas where we have more natural aptitude than others. Some people are gifted with a wide range of areas where they have natural aptitude, and others have a more narrow range of skill sets. Whichever bucket you fall in, rest assured that simply due to the fact that you are reading these words, you have skills that the market is willing to pay for.

I would argue however, that what truly makes a skill set valuable is when we find an area where we enjoy the work itself, and where we do better work than our peers at a similar level.

Maybe you have a natural aptitude for math, languages, writing, solving complex problems, human psychology, sports or any other area where specialized skills command a premium.

My point is that most of us tend to somehow undermine ourselves and work in areas where we don’t use our best skills. On the flip side we try to be good at everything and work on our weaknesses. In sports this is a terrible idea – if Leo Messi all of a sudden tried to become a defensive player he most likely would have never made the pros, but if he had followed the conventional wisdom of working on his weaknesses that would have been the outcome. It works the same in every other area. Focus on your strengths.

Answer the question

what is my most valuable skillset?”

When you answer that question, you will know where you need to focus your efforts.

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Which single habit will give you the greatest progress?

When David Beckham was a kid – starting at age 11, he would do target practice as a way to hone his freekick skills. He hung a tire from the crossbar and practiced putting the ball through the tire every day before and after regular practice and school. This habit helped him perfect his shot and it also spilled over into exceptional crossing of the ball as well as superb passing-technique. The point is, that this one habit helped young Beckham develop a number of skills which massively accelerated his learning curve. He figured out something he could do consistently which moved him forward as long as he stuck to it.

So much of success boils down to daily habits – linchpin habits if you will – and the payoff we can get from these daily habits can be enormous if we choose the right ones. Linchpin habits varies based on who you are and what you want to achieve, but if you are in sales for instance, you will do well to read 20-30 pages in a book on Sara each day, as well as keep a daily journal of what you did well and what you need to improve.

In fact, keeping a daily journal of what we did well and what we need to improve is one of the most powerful habits any of us can cultivate.

Another powerful habit, is the habit of writing out your thoughts and ideas everyday. Not necessarily intended for publication, but intended to crystallize your own thoughts. If you do this every day, you will soon find that your thoughts become much clearer, and the way you think about things becomes clearer as well.

On top of that, we each have linchpin habits which are specific to our own professions – what is your linchpin habit?

What are you afraid of?

A lot of us can get stuck in our heads from time to time. We scare easy – the unknown is especially scary – and we tend to put things off because of it. When we put things off, we tend to talk ourselves out of it, and given enough time we can talk ourselves out of even the best ideas.

One of the best things I ever did for myself was to start a podcast. About football. In Danish. With a friend. We haven’t made a single dime from this endeavor, but our friendship has evolved in leaps and bounds and it’s one of the highlights of my week.

The reason I bring it up, is because if we had thought about how scary it would have been, we would most likely have talked each other out of it – but we didn’t. Instead we just reacted instinctively on the idea, and here we are 18 months later, still going strong and having the time of our lives.

If we don’t let our fears take root, it loses its power, but if left unchecked fear kills. Fear of failure, fear of other people’s opinion, fear of ridicule, fear of not being good enough and fear of making a fool of ourselves can all kill an otherwise perfectly sound project before it ever gets going.

The most illustrative example of this is a family member of mine. He’s hugely talented and could have made an amazing comedian or musician, but his fear of what happened if he really applied himself – his fear of not being good enough – has held him back to the point where he now languishes in mediocrity, and has to live with the idea of what might have been.

Don’t let your fear hold you back. You’re not going to die – and anything else you can do deal with.

Go out there and make a ruckus.

On improving instead of comparing

All too often I get caught up in judging others, and comparing myself favorably or otherwise to other people of all sorts. Random people I see on the street, colleagues at work who are either younger or older, and who have different backgrounds, ideas, values and priorities than I do.

Sometimes I catch myself in the act and I manage to pull myself back to reality, because the truth of the matter is that there are zillion different reasons why I am the way I am, and the same goes for everyone else. Comparing myself to others is the most fruitless waste of time, this side of trying to travel back in time and correct my faults and misdeeds (something I wish I could have done on more than one occasion) – the point is, that I am me and you are you.

The only exercise we can benefit from is comparing ourselves to our former selves. If I am better than I was yesterday, then it was a good day. Likewise if you can go to bed a tiny bit smarter, wiser, more informed, better read or in better shape than you were yesterday, then that’s a win. It doesn’t matter what the Jones’s on the other side of the street – or more realistically in the apartment next door – are doing or thinking or how skinny they are. They have their own challenges that they’re dealing with – you deal with yours. You improve yourself a little each day. Just one tiny flicker of a percent. Barely enough for it to register – that’s enough for you to make tremendous progress over the long term.

But you have to focus on making one small improvement at a time. Focus on getting a tiny bit better today than you were yesterday, and I guarantee that great things will happen for you over time.

On Kindness

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see”

Mark Twain

There is something about kindness. We all have within us the ability to be kind to others. And we can all choose in any given moment to show kindness to other people. We can even choose to show kindness to people who don’t quote unquote “deserve” it. I would argue that this is when kindness is at its most powerful. This is when our true potential shines through.

If we think about it, our most base animalistic instincts are those grounded in the fight or flight instinct – we either kill or we run. If that is true, then our most human instinct must necessarily be those of compassion, kindness and inclusiveness. This might seem like some serious hippie-Mumbo Jumbo in your ears and that’s okay. My point here is simply to rephrase what Seneca said more than 2000 years ago, namely that wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.

Another point I’m aiming to get across is the fact that kindness doesn’t have to be difficult – it can be as easy as a smile to a stranger, an outstretched hand to a person in need or simply making another person smile or laugh for no other purpose than just making that person smile or laugh,

Kindness is not complicated and it is not hard but we tend to forget to show kindness to our fellow men and women. And even if you want to view kindness from an exclusively selfish angle, keep in mind that being kind to others, makes you feel better as well.

So go out there and use every opportunity you can to be kind – it will work wonders for yourself and others.