“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.
Sometimes it seems all too easy to lose gumption and get into a bad mood and too hard to get out of it. Over time I’ve worked on being more aware of an imminent bad mood and the slippery slope that takes me there. Below, I’ll share a system that helps me avoid and recover from bad moods.
What is Gumption?
You might call gumption your energy level, mood, ability to focus, good or bad perspective, or all of it. When you have gumption, you are ready and willing to take on the challenges and opportunities that you face. Instead, feeling down, bored, upset, tired, etc. are all signs of low gumption. The word came back into style thanks to Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
“A person filled with gumption doesn’t sit around dissipating and stewing about things. He’s at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what’s up the track and meeting it when it comes. That’s gumption.”
Robert Pirsig – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
I’ve tracked when my gumption drops over time using the Best Damn Me Tracker, and I noticed that my gumption is predictably low at certain times of the day, like when I’m tired before or after sleeping, or when I’m drained at the end of a work day. Realizing this has helped me better prepare in advance to avoid getting down.
Signs of low gumption
We all have our tells that our gumption is drained. When I’m bored or nervous, I’ll crave snack food. If I’m frustrated, I’ll complain about every little thing. Often times, I won’t realize that I have low gumption until I catch myself reaching for cookies or complaining out loud. The best is when I catch myself having negative thoughts since that is one of the first signs for me.
When I lack gumption it’s much easier to think negative thoughts and notice the fault in everything. I may think that everything sucks, and then notice things that suck, which reinforces the idea that everything sucks. Thus a feedback loop is created causing my mood to worsen with each passing experience. Which brings me to the next point.
Get out of your head
I try to remember to not take every thought that passes through my head too literally. Many times a regret, or even a suicidal thought, may just be a bad mood speaking up. If I engage with the negative thoughts, I drive myself into a worse mood. In Eleanor Longden’s Ted Talk, she shares her story of when she became schizophrenic and over time learned to used the voices in her head. Despite their forceful commands, she learned to take them as cues of how she’s feeling and act on those cues instead. You can find the link to her talk below.
Now, low gumption doesn’t mean that you’re in a bad mood, but you are more susceptible. So if you mind your gumption and do something to recharge when it’s low, you can save yourself from an oncoming bad mood.
Listening to music helps me to block negative thoughts. Easy activities like washing dishes or walking the dog lets me focus on something else that also gives me a small accomplishment. I can then build on that small win with another easy success to get enough momentum to get out of a bad mood.
Drink a potion
Sometimes I like to imagine that I’m a character in a video game and that when my gumption is low, I need to take a potion to recharge. So I’ve asked myself, “What are my potions?” And I’ve got a simple list of potions that help me recharge, including…
- Taking a nap
- Dancing or singing to a favorite playlist
- Laughing with a friend
- Getting something small done for a pet project
- Listen to a podcast or audiobook
You can try making your own list of recharge potions so you know exactly what you can do if you catch your gumption slipping.
Allow for spontaneity
The other day I was driving with my partner when she started talking about wanting to move to China. By now, I know that for her “I want to move to China” really means “I’m feeling bad”. On the drive we saw a Greek festival that was happening, and so we took it up as a random adventure. It saved the day. In the end, she didn’t even remember why she was upset.
When I notice that I’m starting to feel bad, I remember that it might just be low gumption and that I can do something quick to restore it. I’ve found being on the lookout for a spontaneous adventure is one of the best tricks. The surprise of it all so fully captures my attention that I may quickly and totally forget why I was upset to begin with!
Many times I get down for silly reasons, like getting bored at work. If the reason is indeed silly, then the previously mentioned techniques could work very well. But if there’s something wrong that is important to me, then the bad mood may keep coming back.
No amount of potions can truly fix a chronic problem. In fact, continuously using recharge potions to feel better instead of facing a true problem will render them useless due to diminishing returns. In fact, one may start abusing them and mistakenly start believing that they need that potion to feel better. That’s called learned helplessness, and it may end up being a harder problem to solve than whatever the original issue was.
In my video game life, facing important issues are what I imagine to be boss battles. You usually can’t get past a level without beating the boss of that level, just like you can’t get over a chronic bad mood without facing the real issue behind it all. I’ve got a list of steps for boss battles, too. It includes…
- Journaling / Talking to a close friend
- Making a strategy on how to face the boss
- Putting the strategy into practice
- Reflecting on that practice to either change the strategy and try again, or celebrate a success.
Try making your own list so you know just what to do when it’s time to get serious!
Before you go…
Do you have your own ways to keep your gumption up? Please share you story in the comments below 🙂
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.