“Want to make God laugh? Make plans,” goes the old adage.
The best stories are those where the main character makes plans to do something and then the unexpected happens. The ship sinks, aliens invade, the wedding is called off and an assassin shows up. We like that, happily grabbing a bag of popcorn and munching away hoping the director heaps more grief on the hero while we root for him to come through.
Except we don’t like it when it happens to us. A flat tire on the way to work? Derails our whole day. Skiing injury? The month is shot. Unexpected layoff? Kills a whole year.
But life is all about dealing with the unexpected. A fantastic lesson in this is “Life of Pi,” if you haven’t seen it, (or read it) it’s recommended. It’s these challenges—both big and small—that test us, promote us, and cause us to grow and change.
Dealing with the unexpected becomes particularly important when someone is paying you to deal with it. Now you not only have your own challenges but those of colleagues and clients.
You’re a character in your own movie, and the screenplay still has a lot of pages to go.
If that sounds weird or outlandish it shouldn’t. The past hundred years have shown us that. Tubes of metal that fly people across the Atlantic in a few hours? Outrageous. Buildings with over 160 floors? Impossible. Ten-year-old kids with communication devices far more advanced than anything portrayed on Star Trek? Absurd.
If you could be printing your own meat via an ink jet, then you might be doing anything a few years from now. That includes what you’ll do for a living. It’s very possible the job you’ll be doing doesn’t exist yet. It may not have been thought of yet.
How to you prepare for that? Embrace the weird and outlandish. It’s the new norm.
Plan “A:” You can do something you might dislike (deal with angry customers) and get paid.
Plan “B:” You can do something you enjoy (watch movies) without getting paid at all.
You can do “A” as long as you can put up with your circumstances and you need the money.
You can do “B” as long as you can go without a paycheck.
You probably can’t do A or B indefinitely. So you might opt for Plan “C,” falling into a life working a job you don’t like and augmenting it by zoning out in front of your flat screen during the off hours. You can get away with this for years. People understand.
Or you can make a new plan, Plan “Z,” and put on paper how long you intend to stay at your job, your options for moving within the organization or moving on, deciding where opportunities are and how you can leverage your skills, experience and interests to take advantage of them. But that takes some work, and you could fail. And the TV has 900 channels.
The great Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz famously said, “90% of people don’t care about your problems and the other 10% are glad you’ve got ‘em!”
It’s not that the 90% are all rude, it’s that they’re living in their own heads, it’s the only reality they know. The people you see walking around are fighting their own fights. Every morning they put on their armor–clothes and a smile–and face another day.
If you want to connect with someone the key is to listen, especially to their challenges. (It’s not easy, and it’s more cathartic to share your own problems, but resist it.) If you make a point to genuinely listen to others they will be amazed. That’s because no one listens to them. Their spouse and kids don’t, their boss doesn’t, politicians don’t, and even their friends tend to focus on what they’re going to say next instead of listening.
If you truly listen you will be remembered. Go listen to someone.
A pet dog is an eternal optimist. He’ll check his bowl several times during the day, looking to see if bacon, liverwurst or some other tasty treat has appeared. The bowl itself represents limitless potential. Just wait long enough and somebody will put something in there.
A trained bird dog is an eternal optimist, too. But instead of waiting around his bowl he has work to do, locating game birds. (A good, trained sporting dog is not a “pet.”) Despite doing more work than his pet counterpart, the bird dog may actually get less “reward” in terms of handouts (and he doesn’t get to eat the birds he flushes).
Both dogs are happy, so which is the better life strategy? Granted, the dogs don’t have a choice, but you do.
You can wait around checking your phone or laptop for incoming business opportunities, and sometimes you’ll get some bacon. And it’s real comfortable relaxing on the couch.
Or you can get out there, relentlessly working the terrain, risking burrs and brambles as you enthusiastically seek out possibilities around each hill and dale.
Both dogs have their day. What will yours look like?
There are unlimited choices. But you have limited time, resources and attention. There are a lot of marketers interested in helping you figure out what you want. If you know what it is that you want, well then a salesperson can help you more finely narrow your options and you’ll enjoy the process.
“I want a Ford F-150 XLT Supercab with 6-inch chrome step bars.”
“Great, Ruby Red or Tuxedo Black?”
But if you don’t know what you want, that’s a source of stress. Continuous, nagging, soul-sucking stress. To combat this, you might look to others to see what you want.
Look at the Audi he just bought. Maybe I should get that.
Look at the job she just took. Maybe I should work there.
Sometimes others inspire us so looking to follow their lead is a good thing. But too often, the road others are traveling isn’t the one we ever really wanted to be on. Deep down we know it.
Deep down you know what you want, and probably always have. The trick is making sure those are the things you’re working toward.