The lifelong lessons of childhood

On a recent podcast guest spot I told a story from my childhood. It was a tale of adversity and agony. Of loss and redemption. A personal journey with several important life lessons buried inside. It was a day I will never forget, so I thought why not share it here too.

It started with a game. A Game Boy game to be specific. This game was not like the others, whose data was stored in a small grey cartridge. This one was the color of a banana and it was called 'Donkey Kong Land'. .

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I can't remember exactly what age I was on the day that these events took place, but I was old enough to understand and appreciate the value in bringing some reading material whenever you were going for a shit.

I should add that this was pre-smartphone, so you didn't always have something to hand when sitting on the toilet. Many older readers will likely remember reading the back of a shampoo bottle just because it was within arms reach. They were desperate times.

On this particular occasion I had my Game Boy with me. It was my prize possession at the time, not least of all because of the joy it brought to toilet time. I'd been trying to beat Donkey Kong Land for ages and this trip to the toilet just so happened to coincide with my reaching the final boss.

Needless to say I spent a lot longer than was actually needed sitting on the toilet that day.

So there I was, pants around my ankles, fighting the battle of my life. The shape of the d-pad was imprinted on my left thumb and my right hand had cramped from mashing buttons. Tiny beads of sweat materialized on my forehead, a new one appearing with each thud of my pounding heart. I was giving it my all… But King K. Rool was no pushover and ultimately I failed. He got me. Took the last life I had.

I gripped the tiny console hard as a wave of rage rippled through every vein in my body. My jaw clenched and my nostrils released a burst of frustration. My whole world flashed red briefly before I smashed my forehead into the screen of the Gameboy.

It was a moment of pure anger, almost beautiful in a way. Not so beautiful, however, was the huge crack I had left in the screen. My Game Boy was dead. My digital baby.

Just as rage had washed over my body moments before, remorse now followed it up fast and hard.

It's a feeling we've all felt. When you say or do something that once done is followed by a moment of clarity, of realization that you’ve fucked up. There's a specific look that crosses a human face in such situations. A mix between despair and disappointment.

I finished up on the toilet, devastated about my loss and slightly terrified about what my parents might do or say once they had found out what I had done. But they didn't find out, because I didn't tell them. I didn't tell anyone what I had done. I was mortified.

What I did do was grab my brothers Game Boy... I was not yet finished with this game.

A few hours later I was back at the boss fight, ready to avenge my Game Boy. And I did, on my very first attempt. However the moment of victory was not so sweet as I had hoped. Sure, I had finally defeated King K. Rool, but that didn't bring my Game Boy back. It was gone, forever.

A couple of weeks later my brother would go on to break his Game Boy by doing the exact same thing. He got frustrated and headbutted it. It was only then that I revealed that I had done the same thing.

What does it all mean?

So what did I learn from all this?

The first thing is an understanding of just how detrimental frustration can be to performance. There have been many occasions since that day when I've been frustrated and struggling with some problem for hours only to come back the next day and have it solved in minutes.

A fresh mind, free of pent up frustration is a lot more effective than a tired frustrated one. 

In short: If you are struggling with a problem then take a break, sleep on it if possible, and attack it with fresh eyes later.

The next lesson is to do with controlling emotions.

We are emotional animals that are easily swept away in a rush of anger, passion, fear or hatred. We do things that we regret as a result, things that may feel like an appropriate reaction in that instant but yield negative long term consequences.

We are surrounded by fragile and complex things that are easily destroyed in a moment of madness.

Ii think the final thing that I learned was the value in sharing experiences with others. I didn't tell anyone about how I broke my Game Boy because I was embarrassed but if I had told my brother then maybe he wouldn't have done the same thing to his.

I guess that's what this blog is about, sharing my experiences. Experiences that others may or may not find value in, but are there to be learned from none the less.