Author: Daniela Luna
“We must love and cultivate error: it is the mother of knowledge.” Friedrich Nietzsche
Mistakes are great teachers, particularly big mistakes, because they hurt. They force you to look at them really hard, pay attention, and remember the lessons we are able to extract. The more we believe this and are able to extract those lessons, the less regrets we have to carry.
Next Stop: Berlin
Sometime around 2007 I was in Europe on a business trip with some stops for pleasure. While on a train from Frankfurt to Berlin, I suddenly realized that I had made a mistake. I had gone to Frankfurt with some people I was trying to bond for some professional possibilities, and they asked me if I wanted to go to the next city with them. I said no, because I had planned to go to Berlin. But then on the train, it suddenly hit me, I should have said yes.
How could I be so short sighted that I didn’t realize the huge chance I was presented with? I could be on my way with them, potentially becoming closer in our relationship, and who knows the amazing things that could have come up from that. We could have been planning the coolest projects together! But instead I was going to Berlin just because everytime I’m in Europe I like going to Berlin. I didn’t have any real plans, not even have a place to stay!
I was so overwhelmed by my massive mistake, that I felt like I should jump off the moving train. I started having what felt like a panic attack. Eventually I sat down again and tried to calm down. I thought: maybe I’m overreacting. It’s true I might have missed out on an awesome opportunity and I’ll never know, but I’ll sure be missing out on other opportunities if on this trip I’m just thinking of what I missed in some hypothetical scenario that is already gone. After all, any choice we make has an opportunity cost. So let’s focus and try to discover what is the opportunity we might have here, right now.
I started by asking myself, why did I want to go to Berlin in the first place? Why does this city attract me so much that it made me unconsciously choose it over the other invitation? I thought, “Every time I go to Berlin it’s the same thing. I don’t have a particular reason. I don’t have a place to stay. I wonder around the streets. I meet people and ask them what parties are going on that night.
Then I remembered that a few cities ago I had bought a book called “Temporary Spaces” that featured pictures and small interviews about nightclubs and parties done in very raw spaces, and they usually were improvised and temporary. I realized that was part of the key of what I loved and why this was happening. I never enjoyed clubs that are run by some corporate dude designed to make me spend a lot of money on drinks, or for guys to spend a lot of money getting me drinks in hopes to get me drunk and naked. Instead this other kind of “self generated” scene, where the ambience were raw and genuine, where people were like tribes, that was something that I felt fervently attracted to. These places that are usually hard to find for outsiders, not advertised, sometimes don’t even have a clear sign on their door, and finding them tends to lead to a night of adventures and unforgettable stories.
And then it hit me. I could have my own Berlin. I grabbed my notebook and started designing what I called the War Club. I drafted how my perfect club would be, and wrote down all ideas of how to make it in my hometown of Buenos Aires. A lot more things made it to my notebook during that train ride, and many of them translated into real life soon enough. Concepts for my new club, phrases that turned into popular slogans and made it onto T-Shirts, and lessons that I would never forget. I went through such an array of emotions, from that initial desperation, to turn it into this excitement that I feel when I have a new idea, and the future seemed to open up in a million possibilities.
That evening I got to Berlin, and I left my bags in a locker at the station. I went to wander around the streets trying to spot who could unlock my next adventure, judging by their dress codes and styles, like a cool hunter. I met some people that took me to an awesome party in some warehouse. Then I sneaked into a hostel room with a new friend that I never saw again, just to sleep a few hours of the morning and then go back to the station to head to the city that actually was on my work-related itinerary.
Never for a moment in my life have I regretted anything that came out from that train ride and that “wrong” decision. Instead, changing focus from despair of missed opportunity to what new opportunities have opened up, has been a great tool to use ever since.
Before you go…
Do you have any stories of mistakes opening up to opportunities? I’d love to hear them! Please share them in the comments or DM.
Embrace the Struggle
Many times thinking of our Big Goals can be overwhelming. Seeing life in terms of whether we are successful or not can cause anxiety and make some people feel defeated if they feel they are not in the place they wish they were or are comparing themselves with their dreams or other people around.
The point of life is not really success, but evolution. Seeing life as a continuous opportunity for growth instead of a race to an end destination help give meaning to every step we take.
We probably all know, have heard, or read a lot of the busyness trap. How do we differentiate real progress from just busyness?
Neil Gaiman says in his graduation speech ”Make good Art”, that what worked for him was imagining his major goals in life as a mountain. He defined on the summit his goal to be a writer, and then he just made sure to walk in the direction of the mountain. When in doubt, he evaluated if what he was doing was taking him in the direction of the mountain, or away from it.
Visualize the Mountain
See the summit? That’s your main goal, your ideal life. Now define the mountain. Everything it takes to get there is part of the progress.
Set your Milestones
Break down big goals into specific actions. If you are not a runner and you want to run a marathon, set achievable milestones, like running around a block once, and then twice, and so forth. Remember that every journey starts with a single step. So take those steps and use the momentum to keep going.
If you’re on a long journey, it’s easy to get bored and wonder “Are we there yet?” Usually this happens because we lose track of our progress. So track it!
Depending on what your goals are, there are many ways to measure progress. It can be with tracking apps, spreadsheets, or writing on a notepad. The point is that it is easy to keep up with, and it’s readily available every time you need it. That’s why for most of us apps are the go-to choice.
At Best Damn Me we’ve tested and used many different tracking apps, and we are developing one to fit our own needs. A very customizable app to track virtually anything. If you are interested, let us know in the comments if you’d like to be informed when it’s released or if you want to beta test it.
A healthy morale is paramount over a long undertaking. Taking some time to celebrate what you’ve accomplished in a day, or a couple hours of work, will help you start again the next day. It makes sense because if we believe that it’s about the journey and not the destination, then we should be celebrating the success of each effort, and not save it till the very end. Do this enough, and you might find yourself having so much fun that the weight of the effort gets a little bit lighter.
Evaluate the Walk to the Mountain Together
I like doing this often, breaking down the strategy for every new big goal, introspecting on my own goals and also discussing with my team, both in professional and personal life. Every month I get together with my team to discuss how we are doing, and to see if we are still going in direction of the mountain, or if we somehow got diverted along the way. We try being as open and honest as we possibly can, with ourselves and each other. We check if something is not working and are able to make adjustments to the strategies when necessary. Doing it often enough prevents us from straying too far from the path.
If you’re working on a solo project, you can meet with a friend that helps keep you accountable to your goals. You can examine and, if possible, visualize your data to figure out what is working and what isn’t. It’s an easy way to see if you’ve actually stuck to your goals for that period, and correct course if not.
Evaluations are also a great time to remember to celebrate each accomplishment. Enjoy this worthwhile experiencing! After all, that is your life. A continuous growth, with some moments of looking back, and hopefully recognize that what sometimes feels like a struggle, are also the signs of a life worth living.
If you are anything like me, when you get excited about an idea, you start the research process. You can spend hours on Pinterest. You’ll read blog after blog. You probably have so many tabs open you can’t even read their names. You’ve added a hundred more books to your Amazon wishlist. Before you realize it, there’s a ton of detailed research but no real execution.
Indulge in research feels safe. It’s easy to convince yourself that there is actual progress in learning or finding inspiration, but that first step into doing is never taken. Eventually you feel frustrated because your projects don’t see the light of day.
Well I’m happy to share with you that this condition is actually curable. Yes! There is hope for us research addicts, to direct some of that energy into actual productivity.
Do research, find some actionable items, try applying something, continue research.
A way to do this is to set time blocks. You can do research for 30 minutes and then implement what you’ve learned until you feel stuck again. You can use an alarm to remind you.
For example, if you are doing research because you want to write a blog post on a subject, after the set time block, start writing, even if you feel you are not ready. You can start by just drafting a few thoughts or some possible titles. Sometimes starting will make things flow, and you will be able to go for a while. Sometimes you will feel stuck. Try another approach, and if you are not flowing, go back to research. Again when the alarm sounds, try again.
Whatever you do, don’t be too hard on yourself if it’s not “perfect”. Eventually you will have something on the page, and that is enough to celebrate and work with. I’m using the writing example because that is what I’m doing right now, but really it can be anything. If you are doing research on decluttering, after collecting a few perspectives, go and get rid of something! If you are researching on dog training, alternate by doing some tricks with your dog.
2. Lower your expectations
Done is better than perfect.
This one might sound hard for type A personalities, but no kidding, people like Tim Ferris and Seth Godin preach and practice this. It’s also one of my favorites. It’s a way of MVPing any idea.
MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is a term that got very popular lately, mostly in the startup culture, but it applies in many cases. It’s basically the minimum effort that would show your idea to be able to get real feedback. So instead of trying to do the best possible version of your idea, you just do enough to test it. This way you avoid investing a ton of effort into something that doesn’t work or nobody wants.
It also helps by lowering the pressure, since you are working not for the final version but for an OK provisional version, you are able to move on more easily, and you don’t have to be perfectly ready for it, therefore you can cut a lot of the research and focus on implementing and getting other people’s opinions.
3. Get out of your head
Beware of Impostor’s Syndrome.
If you are staring at a blank page and that makes you jump into a research binging, that could be because you feel unprepared, and some type of “Impostor’s syndrome”. This is kind of similar to habit #2, except a lot more focused on you personally.
You may be thinking, “Who I am to be talking about this? Why would people listen to me?” You constantly feel like you are going to be judged, based on everything you don’t know, or the mistakes you might make, instead of the value you might be delivering. This paralyzes you and your value is never shared. Take comfort in knowing that highly successful people suffer from this, too.
You most likely won’t become an expert on a subject just from non-stop research, but it sure helps to feel prepared enough. The point is to not do research for the sake of research. So if you feel like you are getting stuck there and are not able to get into doing mode because of these kind of fears, it’s probably some performance anxiety or impostor’s syndrome.
Ask yourself if you would judge so hard someone else as you think they would judge you. We tend to exaggerate how important we are, for better or worse. It might help if you stop thinking about what other people will think of you, and instead focus on delivering value. Dropping your ego and remembering that it’s not about you but about your message may allow you to flow and actually enjoy what you are doing.
4. Allow your subconscious to take over
Intuition is the seat of creativity.
After a while of researching there is a ton of information spinning around your head, and you might feel like there is still so much more to learn, but it’s possible that you are not allowing anything to really sink in. If you still don’t know how to start, try trusting your subconscious and let it do its work.
In western societies we tend to think that knowledge is only gained through focused rationality, but we forget of other, sometimes even more important tools, like “sleeping on it”. Hemingway made a habit of stopping his writing mid-sentence, relaxing for the rest of the night, and would wake up with a fresh set of new ideas.
Particularly if you are feeling overwhelmed by information, I would recommend scheduling a break. Interrupt research and do something that completely takes your mind off of it. Go for a jog or walk, play with your pet, take a nap, or meditate. Whatever you do, avoid thinking of the research topics, or whatever problem you are trying to solve via research.
5. Emotional Resilience.
Hey boy, fetch!
I share the office with my partner’s dog, and every few hours he comes to me with his favorite toy asking me to chase him. I usually tell him I’m busy, but he doesn’t understand human languages, so he keeps insisting. And he usually wins. I chase him all over the office until he gets tired I get tired. But every time, even after I complain, I come back to my desk with renewed energy and new perspectives.
This works for playing with pets and kids, or taking a break to share some love with your romantic partner or friends. And if you don’t have access to any of that, there are always cat videos on YouTube! Just keep this one time-blocked too 🙂
6. Change perspective
There is always a bigger picture.
I have worked closely with artists for over a decade, as a curator and coach, as well as being an artist myself. Do you know what is a very common mistake? Many artists work on a piece, let’s say a painting, and are sitting very close to it for hours. Then eventually they get off the chair, walk away thinking they are doing a masterpiece, only to find out that the painting is completely distorted, or lacking the expressiveness they were going for. Sometimes they are not even able to see that until someone else points it out.
What happens is that we can get very absorbed into whatever perspective we have, and we tend to miss the bigger picture. When we are doing research we sometimes get stuck into particular perspectives, too.
Trying to put the ideas out into the world, even if at first it’s just calling a friend or trusted mentor, may take you a bit out of your comfort zone, but it makes you organize your ideas to be able to explain them to others. The “outsiders” can usually help you see other perspectives by asking questions or giving constructive criticism, or even acting as a soundboard. There will always be things you didn’t think of. Try to see a bigger picture, and trust me, there is always a bigger picture.
7. Change scenario
Take a walk.
Does it ever happen that you get in front of your computer thinking you’ll do a bit of research, and next think you know the sun is completely gone? You turn on the lights and wonder where the day went, and how you never left your place. Unless you are making progress with your work or are in the zone, it’s time for a change of scenario. If you are at the office, or your home (this is the most dangerous one), go to a coffee shop. Go to the park and try habit #4. In this case, if you are writing, you can take pen and notebook to write, or your laptop. It’s a bonus if you don’t have wifi, so you don’t feel tempted to go back to researching.
Rinse and repeat
These are just some habits I work on. Of course, you can always mix and match between them. I just did a few of these while writing this post!
Do you have any stories you would like to share? Please leave your comments below or send me a message!