How To Be Successful When Nothing Is Going As Expected
We grew up having dreams. BIG dreams. Dreams like:
-> One day being the President of the United States (even though you’re in Grade 1… in Canada).
-> Wanting to be an astronaut who spends all day traveling through space.
-> Wishing to become a young wizard at Hogwarts after you waited ever-so-patiently for an owl to deliver your acceptance letter when you became of age.
And what was going to happen when we achieved those dreams?
We were going to have fun. We were going to be happy. We were going to make a difference. The world was going to remember our name.
Then we grew up a little. We met with Reality, who was a lot like Buzz from Home Alone to our Kevin. Reality slapped us not just upside the head, but straight across the face…
Then, as time went on, plans changed. Dreams changed. Life happened. We still want to have fun, and be happy, and make a difference... we're just not quite sure how to do it, or how to get there. When we feel frustrated like this, more often than not we look back upon the "what ifs" of the past; we start comparing ourselves to the grandeur of what could have been, convincing ourselves that whatever the other path was, it's better than the one we're on.
But it doesn't have to be.
And we know this. Sure, most of us will never be presidents, or astronauts, or young wizards - but that’s okay! Because we’ve dreamed up NEW dreams - BETTER dreams! Dreams that now suit the grown-up versions of ourselves. We have built these versions out of the ashes of our old dreams, and redefined them by living the lives we created ourselves out of the lives we were born into. We're ready to follow that dream, and give something back. To meet a need.
But what happens when you're trying really hard, working really hard, but the dream you've dreamt doesn't seem any closer than it was yesterday? How can you be successful when nothing is going as expected?
First things first: failure sucks and it feels bad. Add to that the fact that (we think) everyone’s watching us these days (thanks to social media) and we suddenly feel a LOT of pressure to succeed. That is, to succeed in the eyes of others. Because your self-esteem values their opinions more than your own. It’s riding on it.
“What, what? I don’t care what others think!”
No matter what you tell you yourself, how independent you are, or how emo/hipster you dress, the opinions and approval/disapproval of others will always mean a lot to you. It will influence you – and your happiness – on a grand scale that will shape your happiness for years to come more than anything you could ever do or say or think while you’re alive.
I don’t like it. No one likes it. But unlike humanity, life doesn’t care what you think. You’ve been made as you are for a reason. Whether you believe God made you, evolution resulted in you, or that you exist for no reason at all, you still are a member of the human race, and members of the human race do not thrive when they try to survive alone. We’re pack creatures. And we feel about ourselves how we think others see us.
To be clear: the opinion of others is important, but the fear of “what others think” is not. Caring what others think can keep you accountable to your dreams and keep you on track with your goals as well. So in the right perspective, it can be a useful tool. Which leads me to my first point in “How to be successful when nothing is going as expected”:
(1) Stop looking at whose grass is greener, and just mow the lawn. (i.e. work hard, regardless of what kind of success others have or that you’ve earned)
The worst thing you can do when working toward a goal is to compare yourself to others. For a couple of reasons:
First, “don’t compare your Chapter One to someone else’s Chapter Twenty” because “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” These are two adages I’ve always liked that reinforce this; if you’re 20 years old, you aren’t going to make a 50-year-old thriving empire from scratch after only one year. Or five years. Or even after a grueling, exhausting, ten or 25 years. A 50-year-old empire takes 50 years to build.
And while you’re working towards it, you need to keep your dream alive. How? Dream of the whole, but work hard at its parts, and the dream will take care of itself. And all the while, have patience and expect failure. Failure, roadblocks, and speedbumps are all obstacles that are part of a dream; it's how you know you're moving forward. The sooner you accept their inevitability, the sooner you can start preparing for them. But put them in perspective: obstacles only slow you down, they don’t stop or defeat you unless you allow them to. There is always another way. Keep working at it. You got this.
Second, don’t forget that there will always be someone out there who is better than you at what you’re doing. After all, just look at the food chain. So don’t do something to be the best at it; do it because you’re passionate about it. Seriously. It will make you happier. That way, when the inevitable happens and you meet someone who is better than you at your craft, you won’t be crushed under the weight of inadequacy and question your whole life. You may even learn something new from them if you don’t see the situation as a competition of "who's better?", but rather as a learning experience. Because it is. Everything in life is. Learn from it, but don't let it get you down. And if it gets you down, don't let it keep you there. With that said, whether you do what you do to "be the best", or you do it out of passion, just make sure you're doing something. Even the smallest bits of progress add up over time. Like the African proverb says:
(2) Always seek advice, but don’t let anyone tell you what to do
This might seem like somewhat of a paradox, but the truth is, no matter what age you are, you still can always stand to learn more. Follow motivational speakers like Tony Robbins, read books like Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, follow the blog of Tim Ferriss, or subscribe to whatever it is you find inspires you and coaches you from the first moments of your dream through to completion. You can still read those Top 10, 30-point, or “Five simple rules” articles, but keep in mind one thing: nobody can tell you with absolute certainty the steps to succeed any more than somebody can predict the stock market. Because nobody knows. There is too much “chance” in the world to know that any one method will work 100% of the time for 100% of those who try it. That said, some advisors are more worthy of your ear than others. But when push comes to shove, nobody has the “one size fits all” recipe for success. Remember that. Learn from success stories. Learn from failure stories. And if someone tells you to “Listen up – I have the ultimate guide for you that will have you making $100000 a month!”, turn the other way. Learn from the giants who have stood the test of time. Follow them, and use their shoulders to see farther than you could on your own. Then, as you sit there perched upon their shoulders, take it all in. Get inspired by whatever inspires you. But while you're up there, do not allow the view and the dream of lands not yet reached to swallow your mind and self-image whole. You'll get there eventually, one tiny step at a time. It can be tough to keep content in a hut after seeing a golden empire in the distance, but give it time, keep working towards it, and don't be afraid to fail. Learn from what others have learned and make your story your own.
(3) Let go of all expectation
It’s easier said than done since a dream and an expectation share a very thin dividing line. But the difference between dreams and expectations, is that dreams are the big picture; they are meant to inspire. Expectations on the other hand... they set you up for disappointment. They have a much greater chance of weighing you down, because they are disguised as the ultimate emotional Trojan horse. Think of it this way: you have a chocolate bar. There are two children in front of you. They both want that chocolate bar. But the first is dreaming of how it will taste, and is willing to do something to earn it - work hard, wait patiently... almost anything. The other one, however, is screaming and making a scene. That one's the spoiled brat that everybody wants to smack. He wants it. He expects it. NOW. And he refuses to wait or lift as much as a finger, because he feels entitled to that chocolate bar that he didn't even know existed a second ago, because (enter reason here).
That's the difference between dreams and expectations. It’s good to want something; it gives you something to work towards. But if you think that every little thing you do entitles you to an instant or logical reward, you're wrong. Just because you work hard, doesn't mean you will succeed at everything you work hard at. Just because you're smart or have a good idea, doesn't mean others will feel as strongly about it as you do. Which comes full-circle of why it's important to do what you love - because no matter how long it takes, how much effort, or how others receive it, if you're doing what you love, you will feel satisfied. Your setbacks will be redefined as challenges instead of seen and felt as failures. In short: stop expecting things and you'll stop falling short of those expectations. When you see setbacks as challenges andtriumphs as successes, there are no let downs. There is no dissatisfaction. You will have limited your emotional spectrum by simplifying all possible outcomes into blessings and lessons. And speaking from experience, life is much happier that way. Everything feels like an accomplishment.
So with that said, how can you be successful when nothing is going as expected? In a word? Perspective. If life isn't going as you want it to, don't try to change life. That's impossible. Change you. Change how you see things. No matter what happens, or has happened, or will happen to you, every event and circumstance waits for you in Schrödinger's box as simultaneously something that can make you a better, more understanding person, as well as something that can make you bitter, shut-off from the world, or feel terrible. The choice is yours. And you don't get it right the first try, don't worry, because you'll have plenty of opportunities in a single day to re-train your mind. It's all around you. And the effort you put in is worth it.
If you're *still* not feeling successful after you've mastered that, tell me why in the comments, and we'll see how we can get you back on your feet and running with a smile again :)