When I finally left school, I was happy because, at the tender age of 18-years-old, I thought my days of learning were done, and that I knew everything I needed to know. If you are a parent of a teenager, you will understand what I am talking about. They think they know it all! I certainly did. What I didn’t realise at the time, was that my education was only just beginning and would continue every day I am upright and looking down on the grass. Some are fun lessons, some are annoying lessons, and many are hard lessons, but all need to be learned.

The first hard lesson I learned, just as I had left school thinking my education was over, came on a football field as I played my first senior level game of professional football. The game started with high hopes and finished with me in a hospital bed after being knocked unconscious, carried off on a stretcher, and taken to hospital in an ambulance. As I lay there with a bashed in head, feeling sorry for myself and my parents begging me to give up the dangerous sport I had chosen, I realised I had a choice to make. Do I give up because it’s dangerous, or get up because in the pursuit of any dream, there is a chance of getting knocked down in some way? I chose to get up, and let me tell you that was the best choice I could have made as it has positively impacted every area of my life since. It was a hard but critical lesson I needed to learn.

That was about forty years ago, and this week just gone by, I learned another hard lesson. I had got myself into the habit of not answering phone calls if I didn’t recognise the number. If I am being honest, it’s because I didn’t want to have to deal with sales calls or other uncomfortable situations. My position and justification have been always, if it is important, they will leave a message. So, many calls happen every day that I would ignore and choose not to answer, never knowing what they were about or where they may have led. Big mistake! I would wait for the message to come through, and if it didn’t, I would just simply forget about it.

On Tuesday I had a call come through, and it was a mobile number I didn’t recognise so I left it. No message came through, and I simply forgot about it. Two hours later the same number called. I assumed it must be a sales call, so again, I left it. No message came through, and I forgot about it. On Wednesday, I looked at my phone and noticed a message I hadn’t seen before, so I listened, and as I did my heart sank! It was a message left by the person who rang twice on Tuesday, but for some reason the message hadn’t come through, or I hadn’t seen it until Wednesday. The message was from the representative of an organisation looking for a speaker, on short notice, for an off-site meeting happening on Wednesday, the actual day I was listening to the message.

I immediately felt sick in my stomach as I had missed a paid speaking opportunity because of my reluctance to answer phone calls. I beat myself up for a few minutes, I had a tantrum and pity party and then I asked myself the question, what is the lesson here? The answer came straight back at me, Andrew, you need to answer every single call that comes and return every single call you miss, even if you don’t recognise the number, because you don’t know what amazing opportunity may come from it. For a few seconds I stopped to think about the thousands of calls I had missed and how many of them may have been incredible opportunities if I just had the courage to answer the call. I stopped that thought trail pretty quickly because it was futile and would just depress me.

I have vowed that I will answer every call no matter what. If it is a sales call, I will simply say no. If it seems a little dodgy, I will just hang up. If it is an opportunity, I will jump on it. I am now excited every time the phone rings because I am expecting something great to come from it. It was a hard but incredibly valuable lesson to learn.

John Maher, my guest on this week’s podcast called, One more cuddle, learned the hardest lesson there is. Twenty-six years ago, he lost his 18-year-old daughter in a car crash when she fell asleep at the wheel. Since that time, with a broken heart he will carry for the rest of his life, he speaks in schools and to companies about the devastatingly hard lesson he learned to help people avoid the same tragedy. He is an inspiring man, who has just published his first book, and is impacting lives all around the world.

As you move through your day, and do what you need to do, hard lessons are going to come your way. They may seem horrible, even heartbreaking, but they can be the greatest blessing in your life. All you need to do is take the time to understand what happened, learn the lesson, and use it to enhance your life and the lives of others. Learn the hard lesson today.