How I learned to turn mistakes into opportunities
“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.