My story:

How a hug turned my biggest mistake into something I am proud of

I was 19, the first holiday without my parents at home.

I had been living a year on my own as a student, still not going on holiday with my family, felt for me the next step into adulthood.

Although 1991, had been a tough year, by the summer I felt like I finally had control again over my life and everything was about to get better. I had again a girlfriend, my parents trusted me to stay home in their house. I was doing volunteer work with children at a playground. I felt at the top of my life.

Then in the most Belgium way -trying to make French Fries-, I burned down my parents house. Oups, maybe I was not ready for adulthood.


I was 19, all alone, without a number to call my parents, (1991 was before cell phones) no house, wearing nothing but underwear and a pair of jeans. No t-shirt, no socks, no shoes. I went to my neighbor and I called my girlfriend, unfortunately her parents did not let her come to me. Just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do. I felt very very lonely.

I was 19, although my life was not an open book to my parents, I realized then, there was no way that I could hide this from my parents. And even postponing this, would not help me. So I did something that I now consider very adult. I took the first opportunity to talk to them and confessed I screwed up and burned down the house.

The first thing my mother did when she saw me back, was hug me.

For me 1 August ‘91 is forever linked to transparency and feedback.

Feedback because that hug told me, you failed and no you are not a failure.

It was a healing hug and it was the start of a long journey, that makes it possible that I can say that for the biggest part of the next years, burning down that house was one of the best things that happened to me.

No, I’m no advising you to do the same. I’m advising you, to look at the failures in your life and see what you can learn from it.

What do you gain from hiding them? Most people gain a life of fear. Fear for being embarrassed. I had just burned down a house and everyone around me, knew about it. I had no place to hide. not literally, not emotionally. Yes there were (Tons of) people that made fun of me.

I even had a friend who yelled at me. He yelled because, yeah because of what? It wasn’t clear to me at the time, now I would say, he yelled because of his own fear. Today, I’m ok with it, very OK with it. It told me he was not a real friend.

The kids (Jana ) & colleagues I worked with (Koen VH, Kris V, Christophe V) at the playground, and my girlfriend (Katleen VN) at the time on the other hand turned out to be gold. They gave me the time, space to find myself and come clear with what happened. Also the reach out from other friends (Wienke P, Krista O, An U) were crucial in seeing myself as not a failure. The same can be said to the new friends (Yel R, Bruno D, Steven O, Sylvie B) I made the next school year.

Now 28 years later, I have learned to embrace failures, ask feedback and learn from it. Because the failures of my past, is my experience needed for my future.

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That is my story. I'm sharing this, because I'm convinced to effectively help you find your story, I need to be open about mine. I hope you don't feel overwhelmed by it. Everyone's story is different. Most stories are not this dramatic. And not everyone is ready for this kind of transparency. That's fine too.

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