What to Do When You Screw Up

Egg Shell

“No. F***ing. Way.”

I sat on the floor in the bedroom at my buddy’s place on Long Island, staring at the spot in my backpack where my laptop was supposed to be.

The laptop I needed to run Nerd Fitness.

The laptop that was going to allow me to make a living despite spending nine days up in Massachusetts with my family and friends.

At first, I assumed the laptop had to be somewhere in the room.  After five minutes of panicked searching, it hit me like a ton of bricks:

“I left my laptop in the security line in the Nashville airport, three days ago. I am screwed.”

Let’s take a look at my screw up and how the Rebellion can learn from it.

How could I have been so stupid?

stormtrooper stuck

At first, I started by calling myself every colorful expletive I could think of.

I think at one point I swore at myself in Russian, and I don’t even speak Russian.  I started sweating profusely and freaking the hell out.  I paced back and forth for ten minutes, asking myself how I could have been so stupid. I’ve flown on an airplane with a laptop, probably 200 times in the past three years, and never once been so dumb.

I then thought of the ridiculous number of anomalies in my day at the airport that day that lead to my screwing this up so badly:

  • I normally get to the airport 90 minutes early. Because I didn’t want to miss my workout that morning, I only arrived at the airport 45 minutes early.
  • Because I was running late, there was a massive security line. Plus I was flying Southwest and in “A” boarding group, time was of the essence.
  • I was traveling with a container of protein powder in my bag which then required the TSA agent to pull all of my stuff to the side, and stack my bins up (laptop in the bottom one).
  • A cute woman sat next to me on the airplane and we talked the whole time; I didn’t open my backpack to use my laptop on the flight, which I normally would have done (poor me, I know!).
  • I was with friends all weekend, and never ended up hopping on my computer until sunday.

Had ANY of one of those things been different, I would have either A) had my laptop or B) noticed it was missing immediately and take appropriate steps.

However, because all of those things went wrong, I essentially threw $1800 down the toilet and screwed over my teammates at Nerd Fitness who were depending on me to get a lot of work done for a few key projects.

Luckily the story has a happy ending…but not without taking care of business and scaring the daylights out of me.

Here’s what I did, and what you can learn from my mistake.

Sh** happens. Take a deep breath

calm rocks

Rather than dwelling on the fact that I was an idiot (which took me a while to do so), I accepted the fact that mistakes happen.  Live long enough, and you’re gonna end up in “crappy” situations.

I put “crappy” situations in quotes because more often than not, the “catastrophes” that we think are life changing are in fact minor blips and speed-bumps on the road of life, which is a pretty swell road.

The fact of the matter is: the very fact that I am able to have things like a laptop means I’m afforded more opportunities than a vast majority of the planet.  There are REAL problems in the world and real people struggling with really really horrible things.  I quickly forced myself to put my “catastrophe” into perspective.

I realize that all catastrophes are relative, and some more life-changing than others. For some, losing a laptop may seem catastrophic. While for others, a car accident without insurance or your house flooding may be what creates panic.

Regardless of the ‘situation,’ no matter how small or large it may seem, we often react the same way:

  • Freak out and blow things way out of proportion
  • Blame ourselves or the unlikely situation that caused the issue
  • Wonder why could have been done differently
  • Dwell on the past

I quickly forced myself to put things into perspective.  Doing so snaps you out of the “woe is me” attitude and instead into the “Are you still alive? Do you have your health? Good. There isn’t a SINGLE THING you can do about what already happened.  Shut up and fix it” attitude.

Want to know another way to keep things in perspective on a regular basis? Volunteer at a homeless shelter or children’s hospital.  My time spent calling bingo numbers at the Emory Children’s Hospital in Atlanta was a constant reminder of how very lucky I am.

So, to borrow a quote from my dad, when something goes wrong, tell yourself this as quickly as possible: “If this is the worst thing that ever happens to you, you are going to be okay.”

When I found out last year that I had a genetic spinal condition, I had to tell myself the same thing: I woke up, I’m relatively healthy, and I get a chance to live better today than yesterday. I’m a lucky S.O.B.”

You might be thinking, “Steve, you might have lost a laptop, big whoop. I screwed up and lost my job and my wife.” or “I was in a car accident and I can’t afford to buy a new one.”

Short of death, there’s nothing that can’t be fixed.  I remember a NF reader who lost everything and then looked at the catastrophe as an opportunity to reevaluate his path and turn his life around.

No matter how bad things are, it sure beats the alternative!

Quickly think of three things for which you’re grateful


When you do something wrong, it’s standard practice to sit there and think about all of the things that you could have done differently:

  • “If I had only done this, then that wouldn’t have happened.”
  • “I can’t believe that happened, that never happens.”
  • “What was I thinking? Why was this time different?”
  • “If that person hadn’t done that, things would have worked out.”

Whether it was your fault, or the fault of somebody else’s, it’s your responsibility to fix.  Spending more than three minutes thinking about “what could have been” is a great way to mess with your brain and make the situation even worse.

The main thing to remember: no matter how bleak the future might seem, today is an opportunity to live a better day than the day before.

You’re alive. +1 to you 🙂

I forced the negative out of my brain and counted my blessings:

  • I spent the weekend with all of my friends who I haven’t seen in a long time.
  • I’m about to go visit my parents who I haven’t seen in months.  Heck, I’m still lucky to HAVE parents.
  • Not having my computer for a while will force me to remember there’s more to life than pixels on a 13 inch screen.

Immediately put steps in place to fix it.


After you’ve accepted the fact that it happened, counted your blessing and thought of something positive, IMMEDIATELY take a step improve the situation.

This was my plan, and the steps I could put in place immediately:

  • Call the TSA and see if they have my laptop. Leave a message and wait to hear back.
  • Research costs to have a laptop overnight shipped to Boston should they find it.
  • Expect that they DON’T have my laptop, and begin steps for Plan B.
  • Contact Team Nerd Fitness, and explain I might be without my computer for a few days.
  • Reach out to my friend Adam in Nashville, and see if he can send me my back up from my apartment.
  • Find the store hours for the nearest Apple store in Boston.
  • Check the bank account, credit card statements, and see if I can afford a replacement laptop.

When you sit there and worry/complain about what went wrong, nothing about your situation improves. Think about it:

  • Complaining about that flat tire ain’t gonna fix it.
  • Getting mad at yourself about the ticket you just got won’t make it go away.
  • Crying about the project you messed up at work won’t make it magically fix itself.
  • Saying sorry doesn’t put the triscuit cracker in my stomach, does it now Karl?

Sure, taking steps is an important part of the recovery process, as it gets you one step closer to a solution.  However, even just writing down all of the steps you WOULD take has this weird effect on your brain: it makes you realize that what you thought was a monumental, apocalyptic catastrophe…is really only a 3 or 4 on the “Oh SH**!” scale.

You suddenly feel less like a victim (if it wasn’t your fault), or less like an idiot (if it was your fault), and more empowered and proactive.

Remember, Personal Responsibility is the greatest skill we can possess.

My friend Cash jumped in the pool with his iPhone last month (doing a pretty solid flip in the process).  Within six hours, he had found somebody to buy it on Ebay for close to retail, convinced Sprint to let him out of his contract a year early, and had borrowed an old phone of mine to get him through the next month.

Take steps IMMEDIATELY to make your situation better and you’ll feel better too.

Do an idiocy audit.

forehead hit

The best time to fix a situation you screwed up is BEFORE something goes wrong and you’re really screwed. Do an idiocy audit.

Here’s how I pre-planned for something like this:

  • Have my entire computer backed up online. I use Crashplan, and pay $9 a month and have my entire computer and all hard drives backed up online.
  • Have my computer backed up on an external hard drive, that I back up once a week and keep in a separate drawer. For 70 bucks, you have the peace of mind knowing that if your computer breaks, gets stolen, or gets soaked, you can be up and running with your exact setup and files within a few hours.
  • I have an “Idiot Fund” savings account. Seriously.  Hat tip to Ramit for this one. I have a free online savings account with ING (now Capital One 360) that automatically pulls $50 from my checking account each month.  When I do something stupid (break something or lose something), I already have money set aside so the financial hit is minimized.

Do an “Idiot Audit” of your life.  What is something that has got you in trouble in the past or something that would really mess with your life should it happen?

  • Do you get speeding tickets often?  Set aside $50 a month for “speeding idiocy.”
  • Do you always break your phone or drop it?  Buy idiot insurance for $5 a month or start a fund.
  • Have a high insurance deductible?  Start setting aside money NOW for that deductible so if you were to get injured or needed to go to the ER, you’re not financially destroyed should things go south.

Do whatever you can to automate the process and keep your mind out of it. An honest audit of what you can screw up and automated plans to get you back on your feet can really help mitigate that feeling of hopelessness when things go wrong.

Remember, you’re still alive

smiley face

If you get fired, if you get injured, if you lose something irreplaceable…remember that you are still alive.

You woke up today with a pulse.  Put stuff in perspective quickly, and then take steps to build on that!

This study on happiness taught me that human beings are incredibly adaptive in how we respond to negative events in our lives.  As Bruce Wayne tells us, “It’s not who we are, but what we do that defines us.”

Things tend to work out for the best, though there’s no shame in planning for the worst.  After waiting in limbo for 36 hours, I received a call back from TSA: they had my laptop.  I transferred $100 from the idiot fund to my checking account, had them overnight ship me my laptop, and I was back up and running by midday.

I was lucky.  

But had I not been so lucky, I had already put steps in place to fix the problem.

Your challenge today: Conduct an Idiot Audit of your life, and tell me ONE specific thing you’re going to do to help mitigate that risk.


PS: With the chaos of these past 72 hours to scramble and get back up and running again, I had a meeting with Team Nerd Fitness last night, and we’re going to delay the launch of The Nerd Fitness Academy by a few days (new enrollment date: Sept 30th).  I hate missing deadlines, and I know a lot of people are excited to get in there, but I truly feel an extra few days will allow us to make sure this course exceeds everybody’s expectations.

I’ll be sending out an email soon to all women on the interest list (3500+ now!) to ask a few questions about specific things we’re excited to add to the course.  Look out for that email!


 photo source: smiley, stormtrooper, sunrise, box, doh, rocks, eggs, checklist

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