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Life lessons from the First Prize winner

You can learn life lessons from my experience over the past year. I recently won the first place blue ribbon in the 2011 Southern New England Regional Homebrew Competition. I did not set out to create an award winning beer, and the journey I travelled over the past year is a repeatable model that you should apply to reach your goals.

Warning: This is a long and intense piece. Print it out and read it over a period of days so that it is not an onerous endeavor.

Background: (Bear with me on this it is the foundation for the lessons that follow.)

About a year ago I started brewing beer at home to solve two problems. Firstly, I find the ubiquitous macro-beers in the USA to be undrinkable. I refuse to force myself to drink these disgusting products. Although I have found a few beers from smaller breweries that I enjoy drinking, even these are not consistently good and I sometimes dump them down the drain. Secondly, I despise paying $20 for a dozen bottles of craft beer. I set out to save money and get drinkable beer.

I went online and googled for "Cheap beer", expecting to find nothing useful. Instead, I found youtube videos of people around the world making beer at home. Intrigued, I looked for more videos and educated myself on the world of homebrewing beer.

As I watched a kabillion videos (of widely varying quality) from home brewers around the world, I discovered that there are at least 357 "right" ways to brew beer. You can brew from a can of malt extract on a kitchen stove, in an old stainless steel kettle or purpose-made brewing systems costing $5,000. The configurations and processes of ingenious home-brewers are astounding. And the funny thing is that most of the beer is far superior to commercially brewed beer. Interestingly, the "big" guys are not producing better quality products.

While contemplating the purchase of an entry level homebrew kit, I read a review that recommended "Go to your local home brew supply store and invest a few more dollars to buy the next higher level brewing equipment, because you will get far better beer for the incremental investment."

I said to myself "Hmm. I wonder if there is a homebrew supply store near to where I live?" Again, I googled and found a store in East Hartford and went in. I said to the store clerk "I want to start home brewing can you help me?' Rich spent at least an hour educating me on how to get started, what we would need and the costs to get started. This started a relationship with the great folks at what has become my favorite homebrew store.

My initial investment of about $150 now totals over $2,000 (and increasing) as I have purchased additional equipment to feed my hobby. There is always another gauge, gizmo or gadget that is "critical" for a home brewery. (I am now producing award winning beer, inexpensively, but I doubt if I will ever actually save money on the total project if you factor in the initial cost of brewing equipment.)

Here are the striking lessons that I have learned over the past year on this brewing journey. You can apply them to other areas of life, which is why I am taking the time to capture these lessons.

1.Where do you turn to for adult education, today? The days of going to a public library or purchasing a text book to learn, are gone. We learn from youtube. It is easier to learn from youtube, because:

a.It is more convenient. From the comfort of my own home, on my schedule, I can search for any topic that I want to know about, and find dozens of viewpoints on the topic. The content is searchable and in short clips. I don't have to wade through 397 pages of boring theory in a public library to find out how to brew at home. Instead, I can sit back and be taught how to brew, with demonstrations, for free from people who are passionate about the topic. If you are a good reader and enjoy reading, then video education is a boon. If you don't enjoy reading books, then video demonstrations are a critical channel for education.

The implications for adult education are:

i.  If you want to educate someone, or share you knowledge with people, then publishing your work via books is no longer the Holy Grail. There is no point in writing tomes if nobody reads them. And, as I observed on my brewing journey, the first place people turn is the internet, not to books. Books are a follow-up activity and I now own several books on brewing. Therefore, we need to learn how to create educational videos as efficiently and quickly as we write articles and books to convey information.

ii. Free information is as valuable as purchased information. In fact, it is more valuable because the video content is not edited. People bluntly state their opinion such as "I purchased brand xyz and it did not work, so I purchased brand ABC from elcheepo.com and it works better. Let me show you the results I got ." I have learned from free youtube videos as well as the books I purchased. However, I chose to not buy certain books because of reviews from free videos.

iii. When I watch a video online, I can choose the videos with the most current information. In other words, the video was made yesterday and I am watching it today. This beats an 18-month publishing cycle for commercially published books.

iv. When I watch a video online, I don't need to store the book. Hard copy books and training manuals take up space in my personal library. They collect dust. Youtube videos don't add clutter to my office and don't have to be packed up when I move. I don't feel guilty when I don't watch a youtube video, like I do when I have purchased a book, never read it, and throw it out.

v. People want searchable content, very specific to their need at the time, conveniently. Any knowledge you want to share needs to be targeted to a specific topic, easy to find with a search engine and quick to watch.

vi. People want information in short segments. We want four to ten minute videos, not three hour long educational sessions.

vii. We want information from people like us. Homebrewers are a generous and genuine group of people. They freely share their knowledge on youtube. However, if I see a video on the theory of homebrewing from a guy in pinstripe suit reading his powerpoint slides, then I can't identify with him and I move on, not trusting his content.

viii. If I don't like what you are saying, then I watch the next video. Gone forever and unlikely to come back.

ix. Branding. You start to watch videos and subscribe to people who are your favorites, based on their demeanour, language, quality and content of their video based on your past experiences with this youtube user. You also get to know which videos to avoid, such as people that attack other people through their youtube videos.

x. You learn from people that you don't know and become virtual friends by watching their videos. It is weird, but true that you get to know people by their screen names.

2. Take chances the only way to grow is to take new experiences, all the time. I have made many batches since 2010, and each one is a "What shall I try this time, that I have never done before?" There was always a first time (and it is usually bumpy). The first time I brewed, it was very stressful and inefficient when I tried to follow directions, did not know my equipment or what to expect. When I graduated to all-grain brewing, the first batch was scary and the resulting product was less than perfect. Now, every time I try something new I educate myself, grit my teeth and do it. I know that it will take at least twice as long as I estimate it will take and I prepare myself for frustration along the way. The second and third time is easier.

The lesson is: You can't learn new things by only doing the same things and not taking risks. As tough as it is to take chances and learn new brewing techniques, the reward of additional expertise and accomplishment makes it worth it.

3. It is all an experiment. I have no emotional investment if a batch is a total flop. Just learn from it, and move on. Every batch that I brew runs into some or other problems. The mash temperature is too low, I forget to heat strike water in time, I add the wrong hops at the wrong time, and so it. It all produces beer. Most of it is drinkable. When you approach your projects, personal goals and every day as an experiment, then you are not emotionally distraught when a project runs into problems and turns out differently to what you expected.

Your life and goals are more important than a batch of home brew and you have more at stake than five gallons of beer, but you can transfer the principle. When you can limit your emotional attachment to "This is simply an experiment", then you can think clearly and calmly observe the results of your actions. Then you can make lasting improvements in your approaches.

4. One of the unintended consequences that I found as I enjoyed my hobby is that it is a creative outlet for me. Brewing beer is an engaging activity and requires mental focus to stick to the recipe take the right actions at the right times during the brew schedule. This proved to be a rewarding distraction from the stress of managing IT projects all day. My brewery is labor intensive and brewing a batch of beer is demanding physical work which is a welcome break from sitting at a desk all day. Furthermore, I found that it improved my self-esteem. Drinking a well-crafted beer nourishes the soul and the body. Then, when I identified my Motivational Value System® and the Motivational Value System's of my team, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. I have a Green MVS, which also means that I like to work independently. Making my own beer in my own brewery for my own consumption is a perfect hobby for me.

The lesson is: What you do in your spare time, when you are free to pursue your own activities, is a good indicator of your MVS. Being self-aware is the first step to creating incredibly productive relationships.

5. Actions determine results, nothing else. I set out to save money on beer. I did not set out to win a competition. Yet the actions I took (while enjoying my hobby), resulted in me gaining experience and expertise in brewing and proved valuable in winning the first prize. If you want to win a road race, then take actions that will get you in the running, such as daily exercise routine.

If you can focus on taking appropriate actions, day in and day out, then you are likely to reach your goal. Actions determine results, not visualizing or complaining that other people are luckier than you are.

6. I found a new and supportive community. Friends that look like normal people have brewed in the past, with varying success. I did not know this until I started talking about my new-found hobby. Also, through online forums and brew clubs, you meet new people from the common interest.

The lesson is: You just don't know if the person sitting next to you is interested in your goal and can help you to reach your goal, until you talk about it.

7. "But wait, there's more." You always "need" to purchase another gizmo, gadget or gauge for your home brewery. There is always another "superb" recipe to try or "one more tweak" to make to a proven recipe. The more you spend, the more you want to spend to improve the quantity and quality of your beer. Even though the current beer and equipment (I won first prize using semi-crude equipment) is OK, I am always on the lookout to improve it.

The lesson is: Enjoy the equipment and recipes that you already have, even though there is room for improvement. Your current process and equipment does not prevent you from purchasing new equipment. And the lack of new equipment does not prevent you from enjoying the experience now. Enjoy the present, and look forward to a better future. Have your cake and eat it, not "You can't have your cake and eat it".

8. Back in the days when I used to buy beer, I thought that there were two styles of beer, namely "beer from the liquor store" and "beer from the bartender". I am embarrassed to admit how uneducated I was. I blame it on my South African background. In South Africa you have limited options for most products, including beer. Normally, it is a case of "Give me a beer" and you enjoy a pour of Castle Lager, which is a fine beer. I never had a reason to question where the beer came from or how it was produced.

I used to think that "lager" was a brand name and that all beer is pale and fizzy. Since I started brewing my world has opened up. Now I know about Ales, Lagers, Saison (with proof that I brew the best Saison in New England), Red Ales, Oatmeal Stout, hop characteristics and yeast strains. I did not know any of this information existed in June 2010. I was also oblivious to the fact that I did not know how ignorant I was on the topic of brewing. My homebrewing hobby has also sparked a passing interest in food pairing and wine making which I may pursue in the future.

The lesson is: What are you blissfully ignorant about? Why are you in this state? Don't you need to know, or do you have a mental block about it, such as "Only snooty people study wine characteristics? How can you at least become aware of how ignorant you are, so that you can at least speak to an expert and get a sense of another world? If I did not know anything about brewing beer in June 2010, what don't I know anything about today?

9.There is a strong culture of virtual and actual home brewers across the world. They don't wear uniforms, don't have identifiable markings, and are from all walks of life. They are generous people and take their time to create educational videos to help other brewers. They arrange competitions and volunteer their time to judge beers. The list goes on and on about how the culture of homebrewers is revolutionizing the world of brewing beer and exploding our notions of what beer "should" look like and taste like. I have five styles of Belgian brewed beer in my house as I write this, in addition to the two German styles and two English styles. In June 2010, I had a single brand of beer in my fridge.

With such a passionate group of generous home brewers, most of them experts in their hobby, revolutionary education of all beer drinkers around the world is inevitable. The question is only "When will everyone demand a variety of well-crafted beers at every place that beer is sold?" There simply will be no place left for poor quality beer being sold to uneducated masses. Good brewers inviting their friends to "Have a taste of this beer" will convert every drinker into a beer enthusiast, because "The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size". (Oliver Wendell Holmes). You don't see news headlines stating "The beer revolution is coming". Instead, beer drinkers everywhere are being converted, one at a time, by friends, and the tipping point will mean the end of large corporate dominated beer production.

The lesson is: Strong and revolutionary changes might be happening around you, without you being aware of them. Read magazines that you normally don't read and talk to people that you don't normally talk to. Then your education will increase in ways you don't know about, yet.

10.Great brewers come in all shapes and forms, ages and with widely different levels of education. There is no "stereotypical brewer". Photos and graphics you see on beer bottles come from the marketing department. The lesson is: Forget your preconceived notions about what people should look like for any profession.

11.You find great beers where you find them. I have tasted awesome beers from home brewing friends, liquor stores and my own brewery. I have tasted bad beers from the same sources. The lesson is: Look at the results you are getting. Don't be blinded by the source or an "image" such as "great beer only comes from mega-breweries.

12.You don't know what you can achieve, until you try. I would never have imagined that I can brew award winning beer. It was not on any radar and was never an objective for me. Obviously, it worked out with a blue ribbon. The lesson is: Be open to new experiences. Don't limit yourself to "tried and true" ruts in your life. You never know until you try.

13.Where will you be, this time next month? The batch of beer that I brew today will be ready for bottling in three week's time. Usually, it will be ready for consumption three months from today. Every time I brew or bottle a batch of beer, I think "Where will I be when I drink this beer? What will the weather be? (The beer brewed in summer will be consumed in Fall or Winter).

Lesson: Taking a minute to imagine your life next week and next month gives a fresh perspective on what your probable future is. You have the option to change your future, if you want to. Where will you be this time next week? Today will be gone before you know it, and you have less time than you think you have.

14.Keep good notes. As I said earlier, every batch of beer that I create has problems. It can't be avoided when using semi-crude equipment in a makeshift brewery. Therefore, it is critical to keep good notes of what happened on brew day so that you can learn about the impact when evaluating the beer six months later.

The lesson for you while working towards your goals: Keep good notes. When you tried to change a personal habit, tried to lose weight or exercise routine keep notes such as "What I tried, what worked, what did not work." Then you can try a new approach when you try again. Otherwise, you will repeat your mistakes.

15.People do things for various motivations. Behavior and motive are separate and the reason you engage in a behavior or pursue a goal is probably different from my motivation. Therefore, do things for yourself. I brew for myself. I don't care what you or anyone else thinks of the result. (I discovered that this is a common behavior for the Green MVS® in Relationship Awareness Theory.)

My motives and behavior are offensive to people with other Motivational Value Systems. I don't care. This is who I am. I am not trying to offend you, just stating that I make beer for myself and your opinions are irrelevant to me. Other people brew beer to win competitions and want feedback. I am not interested in your opinion or feedback. I know what good beer is and I decide on the quality of my beer.

The lesson for you is this: People do things to increase their self-worth. They avoid behaviors that jeopardize their self-worth. Your first task is to realize that other people see the world differently and the ignorant person thinks that everyone sees the world the same way. Once you realize there are different motivations for the same behavior, you must become self-aware of your motivations and then learn the motivations that other people have, to improve your relationships.

If you have read this far, then I thank you for sticking with it. I trust that you can apply some of the above lessons to help you reach your goals. I do.


Copyright 2018 Wayne Botha Email Wayne Cell: 860.214.4897