In 1998, my best friend, Schaefer, and I spent a month in Europe. We truly went to watch five matches at the World Cup but we also traveled to England, Spain, Germany and France. In many ways you could not have picked a more perfect vacation for me: best friend, Europe and soccer.
We actually arrived prior to the Cup starting and did some traveling in England and then headed to Barcelona, Spain. After spending about three days in Barcelona, we were scheduled to take a train to Paris on Sunday in order to pick up our ticket and start the soccer part of our trip. That Saturday, we were taking the Metro down to the Las Ramblas area. We sat on the bench waiting for the train. Schaef was rearranging some things between his money belt and backpack when the train arrived. Thirty seconds after the train pulled away, Schaef realized that he’d left his money belt on the bench with his passport in it. (Don’t judge Schaef here, out of character moment.) At the next stop we turned around and went back but the money belt and everything in it was gone.
We figured out where the US Embassy was and took the train to get there. Please bear in mind that the internet was not as widely accessible at the time. Upon our arrival we were hit with the next problem, it was Saturday and the Embassy was closed. The only person at the Embassy was a guard who only spoke Spanish. I explained the situation to the guard and he put me on the phone with an official from the Embassy. In order to cross the border into France (pre European Union), we needed a copy of his passport (we had) and a police report explaining that the passport had been stolen. My Spanish abilities were put to the test by filling out a police report. So the next day we went to the train station with our flimsy documents and a great deal of hope. Luckily we made it across the border.
On Monday morning we had our next hurdle to clear. We needed to pick up our tickets before 5pm at a hotel on the outskirts of Paris. Since the tickets were in Schaef’s name, we needed his passport first. We went to the US Embassy in Paris and spent hours waiting. I don’t recall what time we got there but I know what time we left 4:30pm. As fast as we could run with our large packs on our backs, we got to the Metro. We found the street we needed on the Metro map. There were two stops on that street but we had no idea which would be closer to the hotel. 50/50 chance and we blew it! The hotel was about a mile up the road and it was 4:55. So again, we ran as fast as we could and with our packs on our backs did about a 7 minute per mile pace. At 5:02, we reached the hotel! Upon entering we were informed that the pick up time for tickets had been extended two hours.
From a month long trip to Europe with my best friend, going to the biggest soccer event in the world, this is the story that I’ve told the most. I remember who won all of the games that we saw but I can’t remember the scores. How is it possible that my favorite part of the trip is when everything went wrong?
Life is not a spectator’s sport. It is intended for people to take what God, Allah or nature has given to them and do the most that they can with it. The times when you are going to figure out what you are truly made of are the times when things fall apart. ANYONE can take the guided tours at the Louvre or Prado. It takes little thought or ingenuity and it teaches you very little about yourself. The limits of you are not found on the guided tours. Easy, comfortable and failure-free are the lives of spectators.
We spend much of our life avoiding something that we call “failure”. Usually failure is associated with mistakes and we try to avoid making big ones at all costs. Schaef made a pretty big mistake. It wasn’t fatal and it allowed us to live in a scenario with an outcome that was uncertain. Uncertainty is something that we need at times in life. Balance between certainty and uncertainty is what makes life interesting. The thing is that we spend so much time trying not to fail that we often fail to live. Anything that is truly worth having is a gamble on some level.
Life is a scenario where the outcome is uncertain. That is part of the deal. If you are looking for a life without failure, discomfort and difficulty, then you are looking for boredom. Don’t go looking to fail but don’t avoid it either. Failure is often where you learn the most about yourself and what you’re made of. Make yourself better by learning from failure.
Get out there people!