The Most Undervalued Skill of All…

The Most Undervalued Skill of All…

I find it unfortunate that some of the most important human characteristics are the ones that get talked about least. They never make it on to a CV, they don’t go into a recruitment pitch, yet without them, we could most probably be replaced by a machine (which, unfortunately, is what is happening to many jobs that don’t feature this requirement).

What I wanted to write about today is the most undervalued skill of all, a forgotten art… the ability to listen.

All people really want, beyond their basic freedoms and financial security, is to be heard.

The caring mother and wife, the labourer, the crying child, the angry pupil, the “uncoachable” player, they all just want to say “Hey, I’m here”. And in today’s world of social media, the same goes for the PR manager of a brand, and the entrepreneur, albeit in a somewhat different context.

Everyone has a different outlet to make themselves heard. Some people cry, some people vent their frustration through social media, some demonstrate a different show of emotion, but ultimately, they all yearn for the same thing: attention. Ironically, attention is something most people can’t afford (or won’t afford themselves), as concentration spans have been reduced to seconds and minutes as opposed to hours, days and even weeks in the age of apprenticeship and pursuit of mastery. Even when we are physically present, we are often unable to be present mentally, as our thoughts are constantly jumping on to the next errand, worry, job and deadline. For most people, being present, listening and empathising have become unattainable characteristics or skills. Yet without them, we are a dehumanised form of ourselves and the mantra of self-improvement starts smelling of bullshit. I hear the Japanese term Kaizen, or continuous improvement, being cast and thrown around far too easy, but how can we improve if we can’t tap into our basic human skills?

When we talk of listening, one should note that hearing and listening have quite different meanings. Hearing is a passive occurrence that requires no effort. Listening, on the other hand, is a conscious choice that demands your attention and concentration, and it is the latter that our environment, our choices and lifestyles have starved us of. It is a skill, once lost, that requires substantial focused and deliberate practice. I have found that meditation can help a great deal when it comes to regaining the skill of listening. Once regained, this is one of the most important skills that can help you help others. There is no better way to build relationships than to listen, as it transfers focus from yourself and places it on another person. It allows you to detach yourself from your ego.

I’m no guru, but with the benefit of hindsight, and with enough time (and willingness) to look, I now understand this, and I deliberately try to listen, devoting a part of my daily meditation practice to strengthening this skill. And believe me, it works. It builds relationships with everyone: friends, family, and clients. However, just like all other skills, it requires constant practice and evaluation. In order to remind myself, I’ve written a note of this on my wall, and it reads:

Coaching rule no. 1: It’s not about you!



Building Bridges

After another multi-segment, trans-Atlantic trip that ended with attendance of the Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar in Eric Cressey’s Massachusetts facility near Boston, and given the regular astonishment of people who think that traveling long distances to briefly see someone or attend an event is strange, I have been prompted to write a blog post that is long overdue.


Now anyone who has travelled extensively will probably identify with what I call the “precarious traveller’s syndrome”; and for anyone raising an eyebrow, let me elaborate.

This is the feeling I get when getting on a plane (train, bus, etc.) and embarking on a long trip that at first doesn’t seem rational. As you sit there waiting to take off, you might be thinking: “why am I doing this?”, “surely I could be more productive staying at home and working on (insert job or project at your discretion)”.

Over time, after attending numerous education, networking and business events, the answer to why I keep making certain trips has become clearer. For me, the most important part of my life (which transfers into my line of work and business) is to build and maintain strong relationships with people who I respect and whose values I align with.
Perhaps a good analogy is building a bridge.

Bridges are firm structures, but without maintenance, they will break down over time.

Every time I cross a bridge, I make sure its foundations remain strong. I could easily stay in touch with people like Eric and Mike Robertson, two people whose values, personalities and work ethic I can’t but admire, by way of e-mail or social media, but that doesn’t make for a sound relationship. Moreover, I’m genuinely interested about their lives and families, as well as passionate about learning from them and making myself better.


To come back to my analogy, what I have also found is that people remember and value the time you take to cross their bridge. I may not see some people who are both my friends and mentors for extended periods of time, although when I’m in their company, I make them know I appreciate them and I make sure I’m present.

Given the choice to check in with people through social media instead of embarking on a trip, it’s often easy to stay put and save money, backed up by the justification of maintaining a routine and “putting in work”. Yet deep-rooted, quality relationships are something that money can’t buy, and for me, it is something I will keep investing in. When listening to Eric Cressey’s keynote presentation at the recent CSP seminar, I made a note of a quote that resonated with me and something I firmly believe in and have done ever since starting a business.

That is, that the best investment you can make is in yourself. Stock markets and start-ups will fall and fail, yet knowledge, experiences and relationships endure. Therefore, I would go further to expand those words of wisdom. The best investment you can make is investing in yourself and in quality, long-lasting relationships.

Build the bridge and make sure it stays strong.

Lost Identity

It happens to everyone at some point. You come out of high school, get your first job, have a baby, get married or finish your professional sporting career.

When the time comes to build or take on a new identity, we often come to a crossroads in our life and invariably face some sort of identity crisis. I’ve been thinking about this lately as I work with quite a lot of athletes, some of whom are coming to the end of their careers and are contemplating what to do next. Some will drift into coaching, perhaps because they feel this is a natural progression, while others think about starting out on an own business venture. However, the transition isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s usually very hard. For one, the feeling of importance starts to fade and often goes away completely. As a high-level athlete, you always feel wanted and centre-stage, as your club or national team requires your services in order to get a result. Slowly but surely, however, younger, quicker, stronger players will come in and take your place in the team. You are forced either to step up your game, adapt, or slowly step aside.

To quote Heraclitus: “The only constant in life is change“. This now holds truer than ever before. There are no assured jobs, long-term relationships or successful businesses. In this generation, the people who will best be able to adapt to change and new circumstances and environments are the ones who will prosper. Our ability to reinvent ourselves will ultimately determine our fate and how content we are with our lifestyle.

We may not all need a new identity such as Jason Borune, but reinventing yourself can be a challenge

This reinvention will be easier for some people, partly because of more favourable circumstances but more probably because they have better prepared themselves for the change. My personal experience perhaps provides a decent example. I was 24 and while still harbouring ambitions to play sport at the highest level, I was intrigued about what life beyond the changing room and football pitch could offer me. I was fortunate enough to have parents who promoted the value of education, and ended up getting a university degree. While I don’t think a degree is a pre-requisite to succeed later on in life (personally all I think it can provide is a system to filter information, independent critical thinking and a broader understanding of the world and its workings), it can lead you on the right path by eliminating what you DON’T want to do while adding to your skill set, which is ultimately what will determine what you will eventually be good at. The fact that I was able to find interest in things other than sport, which would eventually add value to my life (financially and intrinsically), helped me to reinvent myself and despite sometimes still being unsure of what my optimal vocation or profession based on my skill set, I have found that people skills and some form of personal interaction will represent the core of my work. After realigning my values and skill set with what I do, I know believe more firmly in the model of mentor and apprentice, whereby you find a mentor or several mentors in your chosen field of interest or profession, learning your trade through practice and applying, practising, repeating and thus gaining useful skills. No degree can ever prepare you for mastery of a certain art or skill. Rather, you have to earn it and pay your dues.

To anyone currently undergoing an identity crisis themselves, I would advise reviewing your values, relationships, personal characteristics and skills (and remember, EVERYONE has a set of skills, some of which may be more technical and some more soft, people-based skills). When you are able to move beyond the stigma that others attach to you due to your past actions and activities, you will be able to reinvent yourself and take the step on to a new path in life, one which may just be on the other side of the crossroads or one that will see you take a U-turn. Either way, the underlying principle to finding a new identity is self-belief and self-worth, that is, knowing that we each have something unique to contribute to the world.

Best at being you

It seems like everyone these days is into some sort of advisory or consulting service. I mean, social media is littered with opinions on how to improve yourself, how to build your CV in order to get a better job, parents are already worried sick about how their kids are going to fare in a labour market that is already saturated, where it’s a dog-eat-dog world. Hey, how the hell are you going to be able to stand out? Learn another language. Hell, make that two, three or even maybe four. Get certified. Doesn’t matter what in, just get that damn abbreviation in front of your name, it will count when the time comes, surely. You’ll be able to charge more, be more credible.

I don’t lack self-esteem. On the contrary. But I’ve faced countless situations where I’ve had to ask myself: “Why should they/he/she choose you?”, “What’s unique about you?”,  “What can you offer than no one else can?”. Sometimes, I had a hard time answering those questions. I’m no Michel Jordan or Cristiano Ronaldo. I have talent, but so do many other people, and then some. I’m hard-working, but I see people every day who work their ass off more than me and they don’t have a penny to their name. So I looked back on my experience, the people I’ve met, places I’ve seen and the moments of solitude when your mind is clear enough to answer these questions.


Ultimately, there’s only one thing you can ever be best at: being you. Sounds easy enough, right? But how true are you to the values you hold dear, how much of your life would you change right now, if you had a choice, and how much do you change tone and character to please people? You can call me a liar, but I wouldn’t change much. My journey has been fortunate, I come from a great family, I wasn’t born in poverty and I have a seen places that most people can’t dream of seeing, experienced things some of my closest friends will never know about, and I do what I do because I choose to, not because I have to. Ultimately, I seldom act out of character. If I feel down, I’ll look like I’ve just eaten a turd. If I’m happy, I’ll share hugs like there’s no tomorrow. You see, that’s what I do. I have a ridiculous palette of laughter that I don’t try to hide. Sometimes, I drink whisky on my own. But just the good stuff, preferably Scottish single malt. I don’t do dieting, even though I work in the fitness industry and “I’m supposed to” look like the front cover of Men’s Health every day. What a load of bullshit.

I’m confident in saying that what you see with me is what you get. Hey, sometimes we all need to be diplomatic, but when it comes down to sincere questions and feelings, there never should be any second guessing.

I’ve had to read a lot of marketing material as part f my job and I’ve also advised people on how to lay out their CVs. It just seems like that sometimes the biggest lie will win, the biggest faker takes all. I’m fortunate to own small businesses, and you can’t hide in a small business. Sooner or later you’ll get found out. That’s when your core values and character will stand out. Hopefully, you’ll be the same person that you were on day one during your interview after 5 years into your job. I may not be exactly the same person, but I’m only different in what I’ve learned from my failures, triumphs and the people that have influenced me.

The next time you’re selling something, presenting something, or just saying something: maybe it’s best to just be yourself. After all, it might just be the best ting you’ve ever done.

No man is an island


The title to this blog post is a quote from a movie I once briefly watched and after taking off for some well-deserved R&R I remembered it whilst taking stock of my travelling exploits in the past year.

The fact is, I’ve been travelling solo across the world for the past nine years, with a couple of small exceptions. In that time, I’ve been across all the world’s continents, mastered 5 languages, met extraordinary people and experienced what many won’t experience in a lifetime. I have no regrets and I wouldn’t change any of it. Most of the stuff that I experienced was unique due to the fact that I was travelling alone and I was granted access to places I wouldn’t have seen had I been with a companion or a group. Let me state for the record here, I don’t believe there’s a single thing that can match travelling the world on your own for experience that will serve you later on in life – regardless of your profession. There is an element of personal growth inherent to being on your own while traversing different cultures and being faced with choices on a daily basis. There is no other domain that will allow you to learn so much about yourself, who you are, what your values are, and where you want to go in life. It’s better than any MBA programme and more valuable than any internship in a major company.


Lately, however, I find myself wanting to share my experiences more. Not in the sense of recounting my travels to my friends, as that goes without saying. But it is in human nature to want to interact, and at times I yearn for a worthy travel companion. It will be more and more difficult to find someone who will complement rather than interrupt your libertarian schedule whilst on the road, but perhaps one should give people a chance every now and then, something that I’ve failed to do in the past. Receiving feedback and constructive criticism from your peers or your partner (and acknowledging it) is the other side to personal growth and development that should not be left unobserved. Blindly following your own path without stopping for directions every now and then can also be dangerous, and you have to accept the consequences of always doing it your own way.


That said, solitude in an alien environment is perhaps the best character-building tool that exists – if you can fathom it. It will sharpen your observational skills, enhance your negotiating power and facilitate your sense of improvisation to unimaginable heights. Perhaps, when this foundation is built, it would not go amiss to find a fellow wandering soul to chisel away at this unyielding character – while there’s still timeJ Like JRR Tolkien said, not all those who wander are lost, and this island may have built the first bridges to the mainland.

We’re all in

Standing in the middle of this new, huge facility, with screws still being fastened, the paint on the wall still fresh and bumper plates and dumbbells lying on the floor waiting to be sorted – it took me back to where it all started, in a small former office that we had converted into a makeshift studio (I wouldn’t call it a gym), with enthusiasm and our love of training and moving all we really had.  All it really took was the belief of a group of guys who thought they needed something they could show for themselves later on in life.

Come to think of it, it still makes the biggest part of our values. However, we now have experience, we have knowledge, and most of all, we have a community. We tried, tested, failed, picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and went back, but did it better. It still isn’t the finished product yet. But Vigor Move&Live now truly lives. And while for some time we trudged along, amassing the experience and know-how that was vital for us to make people realise we are more than a gym, we were soon confronted with the choice of either playing it safe, holding on to what we have and recycling the product, albeit in an improved format, or deciding that this was all that we ever wanted to do, giving our community a chance to make a step up and become even better. So we went all in. The outcome will be evident soon, but I’m convinced we will have one of the best facilities in Europe, and people will want to come here, because there is a certain energy that just pulls you closer.

Full house at the old VigorGround

All I ever wanted when I started training as a kid was to have the infrastructure and facilities to make myself better. The coaches mattered, obviously. But in my mind there would always be this space where you could go and work your ass off, be surrounded by like-minded individuals and thrive on the camaraderie and work ethic, while also having fun. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find such a place at the time. So now I’ve helped create my own. I’m lost for words at how proud I am of the Vigor family that has worked so hard in the last few months to help make our dream a reality. The work ethic, the selfless attitude and the conviction to raise the bar is something you can’t but admire. This means I’ll be able to go to work every day buzzing to get in and see my team, my athletes and my clients, and I know we’re giving something bigger to the local community, something that’s much more than just workouts.

Sometimes the end is just the beginning. Sometimes you see something or someone and you just see the potential. And when you do, you might as well go all in. Thanks to everyone who has made the last five years so enjoyable and becoming part of the Vigor family. It’s humbling., and it has made me grow as a person, as a coach and as an athlete. I’ve committed to learning from the best in order to be the best. Make sure you continue my journey with me. I promise you, it’s gonna be fun!

A taste of things to come

A taste of things to come

Keeping good company

I seldom travel in company. Travelling is generally my down time and I’m pretty protective of my down time, as many people close to me may know. On the other hand, I like making the most of my trips around the world to learn new things, and when learning, why not learn from the best? I always try to combine a trip away with a visit to a top coach or a strength and conditioning facility. It helps me stay in shape when on the road, and gives me an insight into the work and systems applied by top gyms and coaches around the world. In that respect, I’m lucky to have my brother on hand, as I believe he’s developed into one of the top fitness professionals I know. He’s had to take the hard way to get there, as he’s working in one of the most competitive business and athletic environments there is, the US. But he’s made it his job to stick with those who have proven track records in the industry, and he’s been willing to learn from them, which has meant investing a lot of time and money.

It’s these types of individuals that will always hold you accountable, whatever you’re doing, whether business or training-wise. By surrounding yourself with successful, experienced and highly driven individuals, you’re bound to raise the level of your game yourself. Now that’s not to say you should go out and dump your childhood friends by the wayside. Far from it. But you may want to review how many people who are close to you have questioned your lifestyle, work ethics, values and drive lately? Maybe you like being in your comfort zone with people who will tell you everything’s fine even when it really isn’t. There are so many people today struggling for jobs, even in my inner circle, that it would be tempting to blame any failures on the prevailing economic climate. But that would be an excuse and you would be doing yourself a disservice. Consider the people you know who are successful even when the going gets tough, think about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, and you’ll probably find several common traits, and most likely these do not apply to you.

Keeping good company: Carl Paoli, Luka Hocevar and Diane Fu

I don’t think life should be about waking up every day feeling the pressure to improve  on every front; we all need our down time, after all. However, in making the decision on who to look to for inspiration, advice and mentorship, you’ll either pick the easy road or the one less travelled, yet far more rewarding. I’ve just finished one of my many tours this year where I’ve travelled half the world to train with the best coaches, and I feel vindicated as I’ll come back to my local environment ready to apply my new-found skills myself and teach them to others. I think one needs to spend one’s whole life being both teacher and student, how about you? On that note, make sure you keep company with both teacher and student.

The holy grail of performance

Leading up to the weekend the papers’s sports sections were full of SuperBowl previews, columns that dealt with the role of doping in sports and opinions on how far athletes are prepared to go to reach their goals, including the ramifications that sometimes follow. It struck a chord with me and I thought I’d spill my thoughts on the matter, and to include the general population, not just pro athletes.

I could really associate with what Vikash Dhorasso, the former French football international had to say about the limits of the body and doping in his column in Le Monde. He talked about how he respected the limits that his own body placed on his performance, and acknowledged that despite always giving 110% on the pitch, he would often have a bad day, get injured, fall ill and thus find himself on the substitutes’ bench. Let’s not kid ourselves: Dhorasso was a world-class footballer, having represented France at the World Cup in 2006, but few people who are not familiar with (French) football will know his name. Nonetheless, his is a very candid account of the lures provided by performance-enhancing substances, particularly in today’s sports arena, where there is so much at stake. Ultimately, however, whether or not an athlete knowingly takes performance enhancers, depends on the athlete himself/herself.

The NFL is famous for steroid use, but beyond the performance enhancing drugs, American football is a sport that defines modern-day gladiators, where the players (and coaches) will do almost anything to win. This has resulted in athletes whose strength, speed and power are sometimes dumbfounding, as are, unfortunately, the injuries they receive during the collisions that form an integral part of the game. Sadly, the damage many of these athletes are inflicting on their bodies has yielded perpetual brain damage, which leads to deppression, and there have been a number of suicides by current and former NFL stars in the last 12 months alone.


I’ve used the above examples to try to highlight the lengths some will go to in order to achieve their goal. But this is far from a trait that is confined to professional athletes. Thousands of recreational athletes are in search of the »Holy Grail of Performance«, as I like to call it, and sometimes it may start with something as harmless as a New Year’s resolution. Running a marathon perhaps. Maybe deadlifting 200kg or benching 150kg. These days, CrossFit has taken over the online athletic community and has become notorious for its intensity, which is one of the calling cards of their success and claimed results. Weekend warriors are now aligning themselves with professional athletes, and while I would like nothing better than the general population getting of their asses and starting to move (after all, one of my jobs deals with the very same), this sometimes scares me. Why, you may ask? Well, first of all, because many are skipping the fundamentals of sports and exercise, which is (or at least in my mind, should be) fun, sustainability, and safety. If you’re a professional athlete, working out or training is your job.  You’re there to perform and get results, and your time at the top (or at any level where you are remunerated for your efforts) will be short, so you’ve got to make the most of it.

On the other hand, I see too many recreational athletes walking into a gym and wanting to do something that is (or looks) »cool« »badass« or »functional«, without addressing their basic needs of mobility, stability and strength. Surely our role as coaches is to provide them with the tools and know-how to achieve the latter, rather than just to beat them up to exhaustion and let the endorphines bring a smile to their face?

Photo: Uroš Zajc

While training with one of my mentors, Steve Maxwell, a couple of years ago, he said something that resonated with me: »when guys get to 50, nobody will say I wish I’d deadlifted or benched more, but many will say man, I wish I’d had done more joint mobility«. You see Steve is one of those guys who’s done more or less everything in his long career as a strength and conditioning coach (and athlete), and at 60, he is a good reference when it comes to training for longevity. I mean we all want to keep mobile and fit for as long as possible, right? It takes a big run up to jump over the ego that will take your eyes from lifting your next PR to a training regime and lifestyle that is more sustainable in the long-run. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been guilty of the same, but after travelling the world and meeting and training with some great coaches and mentors, I’d like to think my views have broadened somewhat. In my heart, I’m still a competitor, but in my mind I know better which battles to fight and which to let go of.

Here’s to all the athletes who have a dream and a goal, but who also have respect for their bodies.

Budgeting for success

I’ve decided to go back to school. Not in the strict sense, but I’ve decided to make this year one of education and training. I’ve always had a strong sense of self-improvement, but I think it’s when you find something that you really love doing that makes you just want to keep on learning. Obviously one of the principal reasons is to add value to my service business, but on a personal level I feel it’s important to adapt to change in today’s business and academic environment by staying hungry for knowledge and being prepared to invest in learning from the best in your respective field.

As an entrepreneur, my head still spins with ideas on a daily basis, but rather than fruitlessly chasing one business venture after the other, I’m currently focused on consolidating my knowledge in the sports and performance industry, alongside my language skills. Helping people move and feel better, as well as working with professional athletes, surely counts as a rewarding endeavour. So why not strive to be the best you can be in your respective field?

That means that this year, I’m considering spending almost all of my heard-earned cash on working with and learning from the likes of Carl Paoli, Mark Verstegen and Eric Cressey, to name but a few. These guys are the best in their business (anyone not familiar with these names should just check out their profiles online), and I’m gearing up to sacrifice my time and money to hear what they have to say.


Visiting Cressey Performance last year

As a kid I was always split between what I wanted to do in life, which made some choices difficult, like what to study, which high school to go to, which university etc. Alas, I had no such dilemmas in sport, as I chose football as my drug of choice until I turned my sights on discovering what the world had to offer as I embarked on my entrepreneurial journey. My choice has so far been vindicated and I don’t really have a job, as all the stuff that I do count as my hobbies.

Where I come from, one of the biggest mistakes people make when growing up is thinking when you make a choice, then there’s no going back. Like choosing your school, university degree and vocation. It’s like there’s no going back. It’s such a wasteful mindset. As I see it, it’s just part of the journey we’re on, and it’s called life. So what if you studied law? You beat yourself up in the first few years at an attorney’s office making capuccino, trying to be the last guy to go home so that the partners would notice you. Maybe there’s something different out there for you. Fuck it, just go and try it. And if you like it, be good at it.

If I had one piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs or even anyone just wanting to start out in a certain field, it would be never save money when it comes to knowledge. There’s no value you can put on knowledge and expertise, and what’s more, no one can take it away from you. However, what you do with it (and how you sell it) is up to you.

The value of service

Providing a service should be a privilege and a pleasure. If it’s not, then you’re probably in the wrong business. However, I feel the value of service becomes diminished when it is banalised into something readily available at the touch of a button. This is certainly something the internet has exacerbated, and as the ever more competitive service industry means the consumer is the end winner in terms of price, service providers should be looking at how to maintain a fair price for their service, not just how to reach users even in the most remote areas of the world.

This post started out as a rant in my mind and was then downgraded after a bit of zen-time. Still, I’d like to share my experience on the above matter.

I remember myself as a budding young athlete with dreams set on stardom. I had a clear (or at least vaguely clear) goal, which was to be in the best physical shape I could be. At the time, I was prepared to spend all my income on getting myself fitter, stronger, and faster. I sought out the people I considered to be the best in the business and spent my hard-earned cash on yoga classes, pilates, strength and conditioning coaches, you name it. Most often, I didn’t even ask for their rates. To me, if they were good enough to get me to my goal, they were worth their fee. Ultimately, they lead me to one of my future business ventures, and I now I find myself yet again investing resources in helping others (myself included) get fitter and better. It’s a worthwhile business, and I’m not talking about the money involved.

However, I feel there is still too much cynicism out there about the value of service and the willingness to pay for it. We’ve become so accustomed to paying for tangible stuff that we may have become ignorant of the value of service provided by skilled, educated and experienced professionals, regardless of the field of business in question.

Think about the sense of achievement that you felt when you learnt something new, when you started speaking a new language, when you got back from injury stronger than ever, when you lost 10kg, when you smashed your first muscle-up, pull-up or handstand. Behind all these feats there was someone there with the patience, persuasion, motivation and knowledge to move you closer to your goal. Someone providing you with a service. Now compare that with something you’ve bought in a store. Doesn’t even come close, does it?