Lessons I've Learned

Inspirational personal development warrior

Sometimes the Point is to Take Risks

This lesson was learned in the course of my martial arts training. Training is supposed to be just a safe way to practice skills that you can apply later. You train in a safe, controlled environment, so you can learn what you need to learn. There came a point, however, when the skills I wanted to learn required training that was itself dangerous. Boxing was a good example. You never know what it feels like to get hit in the head until you actually do. No amount of shadow boxing will prepare you for an actual hit. You can be a black belt in any martial art, but unless you know what it feels like, the first time you're hit, you'll be too dazed to stay on your feet. Of course, getting clocked has the potential to cause concussions and other nasties. Gymnastics are the same way. Even with plenty of padding, a lot of practice routines have the potential to kill you, never mind the routines used in actual competitions.

My dad did a solo canoe trip one summer, something I can't really see him agreeing to let me do anytime soon, because it's dangerous. If something happens, there's nobody there to help. But doing a canoe trip solo is a completely different experience than doing one in a group. The reason is the risk itself. You can't childproof everything in life, because in some cases, that defeats the purpose and all the benefit you get out of the activity.

Don't Trust Conventional Wisdom/Credible Sources

Nutrition is the big one here. The USDA food pyramid says to eat plenty of whole grains and skimp on fats. Lies! I'm not going to go into exactly why in this post, but suffice it to say, tons of research and plenty of personal experience and experimentation, as well as lots of evidence from people I know, debunks this claim. Conventional wisdom is just some individual's idea that got adopted by some random council. In the case of nutrition, one scientist came up with a shaky hypothesis that linked fats to heart disease. His theory was adopted without much in the way of peer-review, and before you know it, hundreds of studies have come out to support it. The USDA is made up of people just like you and me and they have an agenda. Because they said one thing, everyone else did too, and now it's 'obvious truth.'

You see this on the intenet all the time. Often, large numbers of websites will take their information from a single, unverified source. Because so many people are saying the same thing, it becomes accepted truth, but nobody's actually bothered to double check anything. Do your own research, on everything. Or at the very least, test the claims of people you decide to trust.

Don't Let Other People Tell Me What to Do

For me personally, this lesson has been learned in the context of becoming independent of my parents. They certainly have my best interests at heart, but their idea of how I can become successful is based on their own experiences. Even though they mean well, in many cases (but not all) following their advice is either impossible or impracticle. Sometimes, it is good advice, but I simply never put all the other pieces of my life in place that would enable it to be a successful idea. The result is that I attempted things that worked for them, in the context of their lives, but didn't pan out for me, simply because the circumstances (internal or external) were different.

This doesn't mean don't take the advice of others more experienced. A lot of the advice my parents give has been useful, but it tends to relate to universal human truths, rather than my specific circumstances. I've also had problems with thinking I wanted to do what they wanted for me, instead of what I wanted for myself. That's just dishonest.

I'm Not Special

Ironically, internalizing this lesson actually does make you unique, since most people think they are special (but you can't let that get to your head. It's very Zen). This one was learned when trying to meet girls. I was kind of shy, and made up all sorts of excuses as to why I should have to step up and approach people, why they should approach me. Additionally, I was a bit resentful of guys who just went up and talked to girls and ended up having a good time. I thought something about me exempted me from that 'game.' Until I admitted that I would have to take the same risks everyone else did, face the same rejections, face the same fears and own up to them, I didn't see much social success. When I finally just accepted that everyone has to deal with the same set of circumstances, I impressed even myself.

This lesson does not mean that we're not unique or that we don't excel in certain areas. It more implies that we are not exempt from any of the judgement in life that others deal with. In less PC terms, "quit whining and get your head in the game. You have to compete just like everyone else and aren't any more entitled to success than the next guy or gal."

Be Willing to Take Risks

I learned this lesson when starting student clubs, and some other leadership-y projects. Basically, I noticed that there were often a number of situations where I new just as little as anyone else about the information necessary to make a decision (or the decision was mostly arbitrary) but I was the one calling the shots. Others would look to me to provide direction, not because they were incapable of doing so themselves, but rather because they didn't want to commit themselves to a course of action or a decision. This applied to even some really pointless things, like color choices or order of names. A mistake in these areas would not have caused any problems, indeed was not really even possible, but still people didn't want to be the one's responsible.

This fact of life makes it relatively easy to become a respected leader of people. Everyone makes mistakes. Leaders make more, but only because we make more decisions. But it is simply by being willing to make decisions that we become leaders in the first place. So be willing to make mistakes. It's not the end of the world, and people will appreciate you taking the responsibility for them, even if you lead them into mires every now and then (just don't do it too often. You must learn when to consult others, and when to just call the shots).

Just Do It

Cheesy as Nike's slogan is, it makes a lot of sense. I learned this one while undertaking to get stronger. It's a very intimidating challenge to undertake, going from a nerdy cross country runner to someone capable of handstand pushups. When I started, my end goals seemed so distant that it wasn't even worth beginning. But as I learned on an Outward Bound backpacking course, mountains are scaled in small steps. Just take the first step, and don't worry about the next one until you get there. Don't stare at the peak the whole way up, because it will get discouraging.

So instead of pondering what to do, how to do it, when to start, etc., I just started doing what I could. When I started CrossFitting, I only did the bodyweight stuff, because I didn't know how to use barbells. I improvised with what I had, and just did something. In a more immediate sense, you can put off that workout all day long, but eventually, you just have to start it.

There's nothing to do but to do it.

Image source: Dido on Flickr