Business lessons from a Baltimore childhood

Growing up in Baltimore, I got in a lot of fights – more than I’d like to admit, but probably fewer than my memory serves. One particular fight, at age twelve, stands out in my memory.

In my neighborhood there was a pecking order. And I, a skinny kid with an undersized stature, needed to cement myself at the top of my crew, a group of five to six boys my age who lived on my block.

As leader, every now and then someone would challenge your standing among the group of sandlot kids. I would typically use a sly putdown, but occasionally it led to fights. One particular kid, I think his name was Marcus, was a bit out of line. He lived a few blocks away and had a habit of …. well, if I’m honest, I can’t remember what he had a habit of doing, other than whatever it was it got on my nerves. He was about my size, and having fought many boys bigger than me, I wanted to fight.

As the antagonist, I sought every opportunity to provoke a fight. I escalated minor issues into confrontations. Marcus ran away each time things got heated. At some point, after playing street football or some other concrete sport, we had the right mix of spectators, instigators, and egos. Marcus, still attempted to prevent the altercation, “Mikal, I’m not trying to fight you.”

I wasn’t hearing it. Beating him up was going to give me another few months as head of my crew.

Also our dukes were up. Based on my understanding of the world at that time, putting your dukes up was the same as throwing the first punch; no turning back.

So here we are, two skinny kids with the same undersized build, circling each other on a wet patch of grass. I moved forward, but he got to me first and punched me in the eye. “Wow. That hurt.” I thought, a bit dazed at how hard I’d been hit. I grazed him with a punch but slipped the wet grass.


He hit me twice. Once on my lip and again on my eye.

At this point I was flustered. This fight was not going as I had planned. Unrelenting I got up and circled again. I  landed a punch.

e landed a combo.

And probably five more punches afterwards. The fight ended with some adults screaming at us, Marcus running and me giving a half-hearted chase.

My friends crowded around me with a look of concern—baffled at how this much damage could be done to my face.

In hindsight, I can give you a rundown of excuses as to why I lost the fight.

I under estimated my opponent. He was a more experienced fighter (he ran with a slightly more mischievous group). The grass was wet. I lost my game plan when he landed the first punch. I lost my balance… etc.

I could have also studied the lessons from that fight, (and provoked another fight later when I was better prepared.) Or better yet, I could have made him a lifelong enemy, vowing to get him back for beating me up.

I thought about it, and the first week all I could think about was the next fight. But I thought deeper about the lessons of the fight that I provoked. And I came away with a lesson that I now apply in business and my personal life.

Win or Lose, there are some fights you really have no business fighting.

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about the author

Mikal is a reformed startup CEO and experienced Product Executive based in Austin, TX. After years leading product teams at Microsoft, Nordstrom and most recently VP of Product at RetailMeNot, he now serves as a product coach helping teams in growing tech markets work their way up The Product Team Ladder.

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