Skills that will help you achieve your big goal (& might hurt you in other areas of life!)

Everything in life is a skill.

Steve Mesler
Classroom Champions
4 min readAug 17, 2021


Originally published on by Steve Mesler

Unfortunately, as we learn skills, we don’t always learn where and when to use them. You wouldn’t bring a hammer to do the job of a screwdriver, and social and emotional skills (also known as soft skills) are the same way. We’ve got to learn how to use the right skill at the right time.

Here’s my take on how some of the skills that have served me have also gotten in my way at times. My hope is that by sharing my experiences, you might get some new ideas about which skills are right for you at the right times.

A challenge for athletes like myself (and probably a lot of super-achievers outside of sport) is that we become the best in the world by using certain skills. So naturally, we assume that those same skills are going to help us be successful in every other aspect of life.

Sometimes they will. But sometimes they won’t — and it pays to know the difference.

Here’s an example from my life.

As an athlete, I excelled at executing a plan. I loved the structure and the rigor of waking up every day in pursuit of being better.

In fact, it’s one of the things I miss most about sport. When you enter what an athlete would call the “real world,” those lines aren’t drawn for you. It can be really hard to figure out how to get better.

Think about it: what precisely should you be doing right now to get better as a leader, or a parent, or an educator, or an entrepreneur? Do you know exactly what to do, every minute of your day?

Well, if you were training for the Olympics or Paralympics (make sure to watch the Paralympics, by the way — they kickoff August 24th!), your answer would be “yes”.

At high levels of sport, every minute is accounted for. You know if you eat that extra egg, you get six extra grams of protein, vital for muscle recovery. If you get six extra grams of protein on a daily basis, you’re going to get better. If you finish the last rep of the last set, you’re going to get stronger, and that will make you better. If you can sleep that extra hour, you’ll be more rested and recovered, and that will make you better.

Not only that, but your teammates and coaches are focused on the exact same goal. You all have the same priorities. So every single thing you do, 24 hours a day, is focused on that goal.

When I retired as an athlete, my life changed. I co-founded a non-profit organization, got married, became a parent. My priorities — and my roadmap for how to get better at them — became more complex.

And even though all these things are great, at a certain point, I fell into a depression. I felt like I couldn’t quite put my finger on how things had gotten so out of control. I was the most planned, meticulous athlete and all of a sudden the elements of my life were careening down the track with a feeling of no one behind the ropes. (Think: steering wheel, but in bobsled terms.) I had been using the skill sets that had gotten me so far but they just weren’t working. Nothing was helping.

And then it hit me:

The very skills that had helped me succeed before were hurting me now.

I couldn’t just focus on executing a plan perfectly, because real life is much messier than that.

I couldn’t devote myself to just one goal because I had multiple priorities, and other peoples’ priorities to consider.

I could compartmentalize sometimes, but not all the time, because pushing all your emotions and complicated parts aside is eventually going to hurt you.

It took me a while to figure out that this particular set of skills were no longer serving me. I had to do things differently.

Of course, I still strive to get better — I am all about getting better at stuff. (And goal setting is a fundamental part of our SEL curriculum at Classroom Champions.) And I often don’t get their use right … frankly, I probably get it “wrong” more than not. But I’m trying.

Now, though, I’ve come to see these skills as tools. They’re helpful sometimes: I can compartmentalize in important meetings, I can push hard before a big deadline, I can help my team develop and follow an ambitious plan.

And other times, I might just put it all aside and go fly fishing. Spend a day without plans or goals — other than catching some fish.

- Steve

PS — Two of my favorite books on the topic that we have the power to control our social and emotional skill sets as adults are Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There and the classic by Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People. An old teammate, Olympian Lorenzo Smith, who now straddles Wall Street and education reform put me onto both. Both of these books my 25-year-old self would have found cheesy — or at least the titles would have turned me off. Now, I quite literally listen to them each at least twice per year. Go figure.



Steve Mesler
Classroom Champions

Co-Founder/CEO, Classroom Champions; Dad of the 🐝; Olympic Gold Medalist - run fast/sit, aka Bobsled; US Olympic & Paralympic Committee Board of Directors