How Unlearning Saved My Life


“The most necessary part of learning is unlearning our errors.” — Zeno

I was hot, sweaty, and sure I was about to die.

Generally on long drives I don’t get a sense of fatigue until the third or fourth hour of driving and even then it’s only minor.

It isn’t until the ninth or tenth hour until things start getting really strange.

On my way from Dallas out to Big Bend Ranch State Park in west Texas, a little over 10 hour drive, things got weird in the desert night. It began when I had hallucinations of rain hitting me on my face on the inside of my vehicle. Not cool man.

Step one: periodically slap myself in the face.

Nothing extreme there, but because of the tame nature of that act, I had little results, other than a more sore face.

I tried the whole open the window bit and hold a dollar bill out. You are supposed to stay awake more because of the concern of losing the dollar. Only problem was that I didn’t even have a dollar bill, so it was more like feel the rush of desert night air on your hand and hope that helps.

It didn’t.

And then there is the remnant of a small cigar burn on my window seal that needs an explanation.
The pastime of smoking cigarillos is a dirty habit I fell into for a few months at this period of my life. Knowing I was heading out on a long trip, I kept one in the middle console at the ready for when I needed a little extra kick. I never have smoked routinely. Mostly it was a waste of money and made things smell. I had tried some different kinds of cigarettes but found them to be too strong of a nicotine buzz. They made my head hurt so I quickly quit them.

The cigarillos, on the other hand, now those where slow burning and more flavorful (and smellier) and did not cause the brain to hurt.

In the middle of the desert night, while momentarily having hallucinated rain drops on my face from my tiredness, window open sans dollar, brain bending music playing, I reached into the center console and pulled out the last hope for alertness.

But this is not how I ended up hot, sweaty and almost dead.

This happened once I got to Big Bend Ranch State Park.

My first mistake was going to West Texas in the Summer. Not smart. My second error was not having the proper supplies for the trip. Carrying 12 bottles of water into the mountains is not the recommended method to stay hydrated. Lastly, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

If you can read topographic maps then this next image will make much more sense.


If not just look at the red dots. That was the path I took. I was supposed to go along the blue dots. But I missed from the start and then never made it to where I want to go. Probably for the best because I might have died out there…

This was one of several short road trips I’ve taken (and mentioned before).

I was “finding myself”.

Also I was having a “religious experience” and was having my wilderness moment. I had not long before came to be saved by Jesus Christ and was now seeking some clarity by getting away from the busyness of everyday life. I was on the side of a mountain with heavy water bottles in the summer.

Looking at the map and my current location I figured I had went the wrong way and needed to head back to the road.

And I realized that my self coming to faith was no good without community.

That the church mattered (more on that in a bit).

The other day I saw this video shared on Facebook: The Backwards Brain Bicycle.

I scrubbed the video without listening to the audio.

What I determined is that the guy had some special kind of bicycle that was unusual to ride, but I didn’t understand why because well TL/DW. Anyways I did turn on the sound near the end to hear an explanation and he was saying how he had to “unlearn” the regular way to ride a bike before he could ride this one.

The brain is a fascinating study.

Seriously when I was in Anatomy and Physiology we had to look at it in detail.

Things starting getting like Inception.

James said, “I told my kids, “You’re always complaining about school. If you don’t like school just don’t go. I don’t care at all.”” in How to Unschool Yourself!

I wish I would have had that option.

James goes on to outline 5 ways school gets it wrong and 6 things we can do about it.

Constant bombardment of facts…

Focus on perfection…


Don’t get me wrong. Without school my life would be different, but maybe in a good way! I have often come to think that most anything I know or remember from school was things I read myself and “taught” myself.

“Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.” — Mark Twain

Anyways, for Day 109 of Claudia Altucher’s book Become An Idea Machine: Because Ideas Are The Currency Of The 21st Century: I get to share 10 things I learned from an amazing teacher.

I have had to up to here with learning.

Hence the focus on unlearning.


My list today is 10 things I have come to unlearn over the years and how they have changed my life for the better.

1) I can’t do that / That’s never gonna happen

For most of my life I have thought about things that “That’s never gonna happen”. Here are a few things from my wife that apply to me too.

What happens when you throw caution to the wind?

I never thought I would: own a dog, buy a house, or go back to school again.

I’ve done them all now…

Often times I would and do think “I can’t do that.” Again James has outlined about 10 Things I Learn From Richard Branson. What I want to highlight is the part number 8 “Richard Branson: “When most people think about taking a risk they associate it with negative connotations, when really they should view it as a positive opportunity. Believe in yourself and back yourself to come out on top. Whether that means studying a course to enable a change of direction, taking up an entry level position on a career ladder you want to be a part of, or starting your own business — you’ll never know if you don’t give it a try.””

James goes on:

Another example of how Branson would use “idea subtraction” to come up with tons of ideas.

For instance, sometimes people say, “If only I knew how to program I could do X”. Well, imagine you could program. Subtract that worry. Now what ideas would you implement?

You can always subtract a worry. Whether it’s putting up a sign (“$29 to get to Puerto Rico”) or, asBranson suggests above, taking an entry level position.

When I started my first successful company my job title was, “Jr. Programmer Analyst” at HBO andI had $0 in the bank.

I took an entry level job so I could move to NYC and start making connections. I stayed at that job for three years while building my network.

For more than half of those three years I had my first company on the side, building up.

I was afraid all the time I would get caught doing two jobs at the same time.

But I did learn that these almost insurmountable obstacles were the EXACT reason Ihad huge opportunities.

When people think a problem is impossible they value it at zero. Successful people buy ideas low (zero) and sell them high.

You ask “why can’t I?” as in the following quote from Branson:

“I’ve always had a soft spot for dreamers – not those who waste their time thinking ‘what if’ but the ones who look to the sky and say ‘why can’t I shoot for the moon?’”

Does he really mean the moon here? Or does that sound cliche? Let’s look.

When Branson was a teenager and started his first magazine devoted to music, I doubt he was thinking about shooting for the moon.

But who knows? Now his biggest investment is Virgin Galactic. That magazine (which he started despite severe dyslexia) literally turned into a company that is now shooting to land a ship on the moon.

Why not? Why not?

2) I don’t have the time

This excuse is everywhere. And the answer is too…

“Everyone has the same 24 hours each day…”.

Yeah but I’m busy!

Sure, but it comes down with planing, having goals, maybe even just a general direction of what you want to do. Mostly for me it comes down to “I do have the time, I just don’t want to do anything.” Once I swallow that hard truth, I gotta figure out how to get my butt in gear and do something.

3) Healthy food doesn’t taste good/ is too expensive

Healthy food tastes great! That is if you have an awesome wife who makes awesome food! Or sometimes I cook, but it comes down to having good recipes or spices to add. Fresh spices and herbs work best and less ingredients let flavors stand out more.

Getting good quality products is the key.

I also thought it was “too expensive” to eat healthy.

We spend an average of $3 to $4 a meal. The trade off is planning and cooking it ourself.

Try to eat out at that price…

Also the saying “you are what you eat” is true. Your body is made up of the nutrition of the intake. Better intake means a better life. Or the opposite “garbage in garbage out”…

Plus not taking care of yourself by eating healthy can lead to cancer, now which is more expensive?

4) I can’t be happy until I am out of debt


People struggle to be debt free.

I understand why because I have and do. However for me I have noticed it is just another thing I have been chasing to feel like my life is all together. Which I am not sure it can ever be in the way I might want because there is always uncertainty. For me it was an object of focus and attention and a major distraction.

I think we live in a different world than the minds that encourage us not to be in debt and being debt free will be harder each and every year. Unless we institute the Sabbath Year or even the Year of Jubilee.

We are born into debt. We live in debt. We die in debt.

Debt is life.

What happened?

More and more things are being financed. The question no longer is “will you be debt free” but rather “how best to manage your debts”.

Financing is here to stay.

People make too much money off of it to have it go away.

I do have fears, worries, and doubts… but I just find ways to work around them because the show must go on.

Or because what the hell else am I gonna do?

5) Christians are all hypocrites / All about rules

When I was a kid I thought Christians were all hypocrites. Some are. But mostly they are broken people who are trying to do the best they can in this messy world.

Some are all about rules. And they are wrong.

They missed the whole Romans 6:14 “For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace.”

Bottom line is that I was letting other peoples short comings get in the way of my need for salvation.

Other people matter. More on that in a minute. But when it comes down to it, your life is between you and God.

6) College will lead to a job

College might open doors.

This comic sums up how I feel about it…. The Truth About College And Getting A Job. This Is Perfect.

I spent a lot of time in college doing nothing waiting for class.

But once I graduated and didn’t find a job I had to come to accept what I was fighting.

I thought that if I was smart enough and had enough credentials or merit, then I would get hired.

I didn’t want to believe “It is not what you know but who you know” that makes a difference.

Connections is how people get hired. If you weren’t head-hunted or referred, it’s hardly worth applying for that new job.

@MaxNisen writes:

“If you’re looking for a new job, skip the job boards and online applications. Start by reaching out to everyone you know.

Most new hires don’t come through the traditional application process, according to a new San Francisco Fed paper highlighted at The Wall Street Journal (paywall). The researchers found that about three quarters of people that get new jobs haven’t actively looked or applied for a job in the previous three months, meaning they were probably poached or referred.”

Bottom line: College might help, but it is no guarantee.

7) It’s okay as long as it doesn’t hurt others

In Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Book 3 addresses Christian Behaviour and in the part of “The Three Parts of Morality, Lewis shares the following example (emphasis added):

Now let us go a step further. There are two ways in which the human machine goes wrong. One is when human individuals drift apart from one another, or else collide with one another and do one another damage, by cheating or bullying. The other is when things go wrong inside the individual—when the different parts of him (his different faculties and desires and so on) either drift apart or interfere with one another. You can get the idea plain if you think of us as a fleet of ships sailing in formation. The voyage will be a success only, in the first place, if the ships do not collide and get in one another’s way; and, secondly, if each ship is seaworthy and has her engines in good order. As a matter of fact, you cannot have either of these two things without the other. If the ships keep on having collisions they will not remain seaworthy very long. On the other hand, if their steering gears are out of order they will not be able to avoid collisions. Or, if you like, think of humanity as a band playing a tune. To get a good result, you need two things. Each player’s individual instrument must be in tune and also each must come in at the right moment so as to combine with all the others.

But there is one thing we have not yet taken into account. We have not asked where the fleet is trying to get to, or what piece of music the band is trying to play. The instruments might be all in tune and might all come in at the right moment, but even so the performance would not be a success if they had been engaged to provide dance music and actually played nothing but Dead Marches. And however well the fleet sailed, its voyage would be a failure if it were meant to reach New York and actually arrived at Calcutta.

Morality, then, seems to be concerned with three things. Firstly, with fair play and harmony between individuals. Secondly, with what might be called tidying up or harmonising the things inside each individual. Thirdly, with the general purpose of human life as a whole: what man was made for: what course the whole fleet ought to be on: what tune the conductor of the band wants it to play.

You may have noticed that modern people are nearly always thinking about the first thing and forgetting the other two. When people say in the newspapers that we are striving for Christian moral standards, they usually mean that we are striving for kindness and fair play between nations, and classes, and individuals; that is, they are thinking only of the first thing. When a man says about something he wants to do, “It can’t be wrong because it doesn’t do anyone else any harm,” he is thinking only of the first thing. He is thinking it does not matter what his ship is like inside provided that he does not run into the next ship. And it is quite natural, when we start thinking about morality, to begin with the first thing, with social relations. For one thing, the results of bad morality in that sphere are so obvious and press on us every day: war and poverty and graft and lies and shoddy work. And also, as long as you stick to the first thing, there is very little disagreement about morality. Almost all people at all times have agreed (in theory) that human beings ought to be honest and kind and helpful to one another. But though it is natural to begin with all that, if our thinking about morality stops there, we might just as well not have thought at all. Unless we go on to the second thing—the tidying up inside each human being—we are only deceiving ourselves.

What is the good of telling the ships how to steer so as to avoid collisions if, in fact, they are such crazy old tubs that they cannot be steered at all? What is the good of drawing up, on paper, rules for social behaviour, if we know that, in fact, our greed, cowardice, ill temper, and self-conceit are going to prevent us from keeping them? I do not mean for a moment that we ought not to think, and think hard, about improvements in our social and economic system. What I do mean is that all that thinking will be mere moonshine unless we realise that nothing but the courage and unselfishness of individuals is ever going to make any system work properly. It is easy enough to remove the particular kinds of graft or bullying that go on under the present system: but as long as men are twisters or bullies they will find some new way of carrying on the old game under the new system. You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society. That is why we must go on to think of the second thing: of morality inside the individual.

But I do not think we can stop there either. We are now getting to the point at which different beliefs about the universe lead to different behaviour. And it would seem, at first sight, very sensible to stop before we got there, and just carry on with those parts of morality that all sensible people agree about. But can we? Remember that religion involves a series of statements about facts, which must be either true or false. If they are true, one set of conclusions will follow about the right sailing of the human fleet: if they are false, quite a different set. For example, let us go back to the man who says that a thing cannot be wrong unless it hurts some other human being. He quite understands that he must not damage the other ships in the convoy, but he honestly thinks that what he does to his own ship is simply his own business. But does it not make a great difference whether his ship is his own property or not? Does it not make a great difference whether I am, so to speak, the landlord of my own mind and body, or only a tenant, responsible to the real landlord? If somebody else made me, for his own purposes, then I shall have a lot of duties which I should not have if I simply belonged to myself.

Again, Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever. Perhaps my bad temper or my jealousy are gradually getting worse —so gradually that the increase in seventy years will not be very noticeable. But it might be absolute hell in a million years: in fact, if Christianity is true, Hell is the precisely correct technical term for what it would be. And immortality makes this other difference, which, by the by, has a connection with the difference between totalitarianism and democracy. If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or a civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment.

It seems, then, that if we are to think about morality, we must think of all three departments: relations between man and man: things inside each man: and relations between man and the power that made him. We can all cooperate in the first one. Disagreements begin with the second and become serious with the third. It is in dealing with the third that the main differences between Christian and non-Christian morality come out. For the rest of this book I am going to assume the Christian point of view, and look at the whole picture as it will be if Christianity is true.

The rest can be found here for free:

So the next time someone says, “it’s my body, I can do what I want”, they probably will, but it is not good….

8) Resting is wrong

In my book Conspire To Inspire I talk about Stefan Sagmeister who I call “the sabbatical guy”.

From the book:

This is because of his TED Talk entitled “The power of time off”. From the description “Every seven years, designer Stefan Sagmeister closes his New York studio for a yearlong sabbatical to rejuvenate and refresh their creative outlook. He explains the often overlooked value of time off and shows the innovative projects inspired by his time in Bali.”

I have never been a huge fan of living to work. And I have always felt like the traditional story of retirement was not for me. We plan on not being able to work when we are older. Even though we live longer. We should plan on working longer. Stop being so lazy. Stop thinking of retirement as some final vacation or last world tour. Live now. Go places. Travel if that’s your thing. We can’t expect to live off our laurels for 20+ years as we medicate ourselves into the sunset. Take care of your mind and body so it is not so crappy now or in the future.

I like to take breaks.


I would love to get to a place where I could take an entire year off. Ever hear of Sabbath? A day of rest. Interesting as a Christian we are told in Exodus 20:8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”. And Matthew Henry explains “they were to do no manner of work on this day in their callings or worldly business.”

Maybe this is something we all should consider more thoughtfully.

9) I don’t need others

Like I was saying earlier about coming to faith but thinking that the church was a bunch of hypocrites…

Then I realized that looking around me, that I didn’t make anything I had. I had bought it or someone else built it.

Turns out my views on the church were a bit skewed by my jaded teenage decisions. I am one of seven kids so you would think I knew that life is full of help from others… but I didn’t.

I was selfish.

For and through all sorts of life lessons I realized that I need others and that is okay. Good even.

We are interdependent and that makes life better.

10) You have to “be” something / have ONE job or even have a job…

As a kid I was always asked what to I want to be when I grew up.

I still don’t have an answer.

The point is that I am not going to “be” anything.

I am me.

I don’t have to have just one job for the rest of my life. I can have many. I can change my mind.

My work is not my identity.

And ultimately the thinking that I must have a job is now under investigation…

There are other ways to live and earn a living besides punching a clock for 40 hours a week.

So how did unlearning save my life?

That my friends is the story of my salvation in Jesus Christ. I thought I knew something about Christianity and what it was all about. I had to unlearn my misconceptions and prejudices before I could understand what it was really all about.

If this is something you’d like to know more about please ask.

Me. Someone you know. A neighbor.

Without Christ my life would be meaningless.

But now I have hope.


P.S. Want more inspiration?

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When reading Conspire To Inspire, you will find out why I chose to feature Claudia Altucher along with eight other prominent people.

The story will tell how I discovered them, and why you should care.



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