Earlier this year, I was preparing for an industry conference I was particularly excited about. I knew it would bring in a good audience of leaders and marketers, and I'd been looking forward to my chance to speak with them at my marketing keynote for a while.
I got in my car and drove to the airport like any normal person would do -- except it wasn't until I got there that I realized I'd actually driven two hours to the wrong airport.
Honestly, I couldn't tell you how or why this happened. But there I was, looking for my departure info and coming to the realization that I'd just made a huge mistake.
Mistakes drive me crazy, especially careless or avoidable ones, so you can imagine how much this bothered me. But I was too excited for this conference to let it slow me down, so with the help of an extremely friendly Southwest Airlines attendant, I got a new ticket for a flight out of this airport and did my best to not dwell on my mistake.
On my new flight, I sat next to another person traveling for business, and I remember telling myself that even though I felt like an idiot, I just needed to rebound and get some energy going for this next trip. I struck up a conversation with the person next to me, and the person ended up being a sales lead for my company, Influence & Co.
Looking on the bright side and finding that silver lining is one of the easiest things you can do to be successful. Good things can come from less-than-ideal situations; you just have to look for them. I'm convinced that mistakes are actually opportunities in disguise. They don't look like traditional opportunities, but they can still lead to great things, especially when you're growing your company.
Successful business leaders have to constantly find ways to challenge themselves. Figuring out how to let your mistakes slide might be your biggest challenge yet, but it can be totally worth it.
As someone who's made a few mistakes of his own, I've put together three ways to help you stop dwelling on what's wrong and start appreciating the hidden opportunity:
1. Think first; react second.
It's easy to react quickly to a bad situation. Often we think that the quicker we respond, the easier it will be to rebound or the faster the problem will be resolved. That is almost never true. I've found that when I sit for a minute and think about my next move, rather than acting too quickly on the first impulse that comes to mind, I'm able to figure out a better plan.
2. Identify elements out of your control, and let them go.
In every situation, some elements are out of your control. No matter how much time you waste stewing about them or stressing about them, you can't change them. Why put yourself through all that if it won't actually do any good?
For example, when I realized I got to the wrong airport, I could have just focused on how frustrating or kind of embarrassing it was. To be honest, that was my first thought. But I'd already made it to the airport, and beating myself up about it wouldn't change anything. That element was out of my control. Instead, I had to let it go and figure out what I could control and what mattered most: getting a new ticket.
Fixating on things you can't change or control obstructs your vision and makes opportunity almost invisible. Move on and focus on what matters, for your company and your own sanity.
3. Find the moment of opportunity.
Once you focus on the things that are important and that you can control, it's time to look for the opportunity in the mistake. Often, the biggest opportunity is a chance to learn something for the next time; you know more now than you did before, so you can apply that to the future. But sometimes, the opportunity can be even bigger.
Maybe you're running a little late to an event or a meeting or you're staying in a different hotel from the one you thought you'd be in. Plans change, and sometimes mistakes happen, but it's your responsibility as a leader to find the good in them.
Anything like this could give you the chance to run into someone in your network, a potential partner, or even a future client and build relationships with new people that may not have happened if you hadn't made a mistake.
As business leaders, you know that the key to success is pushing forward and being better than you were the day before, and that can't happen if you just remind yourself of all the ways you've screwed up. Now don't get me wrong: We should always look at our mistakes and figure out what we could do differently. But if you concentrate on only what you can't control, you'll miss out on opportunity to grow your business.