6 Life Lessons That Apply To Everything

This post was inspired by reading Mike Vacanti’s 12 Life Changing Lessons My Dad Taught Me

“How’d that compare to the rest of your class?”

It was a question I’d heard before.

But I didn’t really know the answer this time, nor most times for that matter.

It’s not like they list off the test scores from best to worst in front of all of us to see in junior high.

But, since it was a history class, I figured I’d rattle off some names…

“Better than Chris Columbus, Marco Polo, and Lewis and Clark. Top two in the class,” I said.

He didn’t catch on right away, so I continued on…

“An 84. Even beat that Neil Armstrong this time.”

After a pause, I knew he had me figured out, so I confessed to the whole charade. I had scored well, but I didn’t know how I compared to others, and what did it matter?

“An ‘A’ is good, but if everyone got an ‘A’ you should aim for an A+,” Grandpa replied.

Well, some 15 years later, I understand how much truth was hidden in that statement. Life is a competition. A friendly one in today’s modern world (we aren’t killing each other for food), but a competitive one all the same.

Today’s a tough day.

It marks the anniversary of the last time I spoke to my grandpa on the phone before his passing seven years ago on Oct. 16, 2008.

The day we let his ashes free at "the rock" behind his farmhouse. Beautiful spot.
The day we let his ashes free at “the rock” behind his farmhouse. Beautiful spot.

Man, how time flies. I was just getting started in my career then. And I realize now, as I’ve matured, that Grandpa Stu, or “Poppy” as we called him, left a lasting impact on me.

Here are six life lessons he taught me that can be applied to ANYTHING you pursue in life (but I’ll loosely stick with the fitness theme because that’s what I do).

1. Winning Still Matters

We give up too quickly when challenged these days. There’s always a “good try” or participation medal to be given out, even when you didn’t actually try that hard.

But Poppy instilled the opposite mindset in me.

He’d reward my brothers and I for REAL accomplishments like acing a test (‘A’ or bust) or scoring a goal. He didn’t hand out rewards for finishing last.

I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but he was just preparing me for life outside the comforts of my parents’ sheltering.

There are winners and losers in life – that’s how it is and always will be. I know I’d much prefer to be on the winning end. Why play if you’ve accepted defeat before you start?

Of course, setbacks and losses are a part of your journey, but they DON’T signal the end. Winners use them as a launching pad toward success. This winning mindset is the root of most accomplishments in my life: losing 50 pounds (then gaining back muscle), career success, good relationships, starting (and failing) to build businesses.

Failing is a sign you’re trying.

But don’t start something if you’ve accepted defeat before you start. All in on black, baby.

2. Care

This one took me a while longer to figure out, but truly caring for people will get you further in this world than any book smarts, inherent skills or family ties.

When you come from an authentic place of helping people, that’s the secret to success. There’s a theory (law of reciprocity) that says if you treat people well, you’re more likely to encourage them to do what you want, making all the effort pay off.

But, a better way to approach things is to do so without expecting any guaranteed return. I honestly believe my grandpa treated people with kindness merely because he could.

For anyone who knew my grandpa (and there were lots), he always made people feel welcome, loved and cared for.

We used to cringe when he’d share intimate details with random restaurant servers, cashiers and gas jockeys, but they felt like they knew him afterwards, and that’s the secret sauce.

Listen to people, whether it’s a customer, friend or some random on the street. Don’t just prepare the next line you’re going to say while they’re talking: truly listen to the other person and let their words sink in.

When you listen and CARE, people will like you.

Old school photo of my grandpa (the tall guy in the back)
Old school photo of my grandpa (the tall guy in the back)

3. Dance Like No One’s Watching

I used to envy his inhibition.

The fact he could talk to anybody about anything. And there’s something to be said for this attitude in life. Truthfully, no one cares.  They’re too busy in their own heads anyway, so why not dance like no one’s watching and enjoy life for what it is?

He had this move – the “Poppy Shuffle” – that everybody fondly remembers. It wouldn’t win him a spot on Dancing With The Stars, but it was badass all the same. Not to be duplicated, he was one of a kind.

So be your own one-of-a-kind. There’s no other YOU, so own it.

4. Honesty Is The Best Policy

Poppy and my grandma, Linnea, owned a Tea Room (Swedish themed restaurant) for years. My new baby girl has Linnea as a middle name in fact. It was a labour of love, and anyone who’s worked in the restaurant industry knows what a grind it is – and they were retired from their day jobs (my grandpa was a high school teacher) at this point working long into the night.

So, how does this relate to honesty? Well, the story that stands out the most is Poppy addressing a packed Sunday Brunch crowd: “We buy the cheapest meat and Linnea makes it taste like Prime Rib!”

And, you know what? No one stormed out in a fit of rage or filled out an angry comment card. People respect honesty. Honesty is a lost art these days in an era of faceless communication, Internet trolls, sales funnels, upsells, downsells and pop ups.

Start from a place of honesty and build your future the right way.

5. Embrace Failure

The wrong question to ask: “But what if I fail?”

You will eventually. That’s life.

But what if you’re OK with that, as long as you keep moving forward?

Poppy wasn’t afraid to take chances. Some worked out, others not so much. But as Seth Godin says, if you’ve chosen well, after you fail you will be one step closer to succeeding.

So embrace the failure – whether it’s in career, fitness or approaching that girl at the bar. The alternative to potential failure? Doing nothing. Which is the worst kind of failure there is.

6. Confidence Is A Choice

This is a tough one to overcome.

Past life events and circumstances can force you to see the world through a distorted lens.

But you create your own reality.

I let my weight hold me back from experiencing life in my teens and early 20s. It took getting in shape to fully realize my potential, but that confidence was always inside of me.

I just needed to bring it out – and fitness was the spark to do that.

You are worthy of feeling confident. Own it.

Of course it’s easy to feel confident when we’re on a roll, when the cards are going our way.

But confidence needs to be built from a solid foundation within so it can withstand the ebbs and flows.

I’m sure my grandpa felt down at times, but I never saw it. He was able to self-manifest confidence and it enabled him to live the best version of himself most of the time.

You’ll succeed because you’ve chosen to be confident and believe in yourself. So own it now, regardless of your self worth in the moment.

A mindset shift has to be your first priority. You’ve got all the tools you need already, but if your mind doesn’t believe you’re capable, the house of cards crumbles. Get that mindset right, narrow your focus to the things that matter and you truly want in life, then work your ass off for it and you’ll suddenly wake up one day exactly where you want to be.

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Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based fitness coach for men and women like his former self. Heavyset in his 20s, he lost 60 pounds and now helps clients find their spark and lose the weight for life.