It would be great if things just ran smoothly, and we always got what we wanted. Maybe there are a few people in the world who can say , "yes, that's what it's like for me" (and if this is you, please let me know how you do it). For the rest of us, there's just no avoiding the bumps and bruises of life.
I've found that there are three truths that represent the top of the trouble heap. I've also found that there are ways to acknowledge these truths and tame them, and yes, even benefit from them. I'm not saying it's fun having to wrestle with adversity, but knowing there are ways to deal with it and come out better for it helps take the edge off.
Truth #1: Nobody is going to give you anything.
I'm not talking about birthdays or special occasions here. I'm talking about money. Job promotions. Plum projects. That kind of thing. We once had an employee who asked us after about six months for a huge raise. When we asked why we should give her almost twice what she was making (which was a great salary to begin with), she said she needed more money, and she felt like she deserved it. No explanation of how she could have made herself THAT valuable so quickly (and she hadn't), or any other justification. Just, "I want more". We said no.
That's life. People aren't standing on street corners handing out hundred dollar bills. But there are hundred dollar bills to be had. The trick is to earn them. And then ask for them.
I have to keep reminding myself of that. Really--I know it's common sense, but somewhere in the back of my mind is the idea that because I'm such a nice guy, and so want that million bucks, someone is going to just hand it to me. So in the front of my mind I keep a big sign: "no free money". And that motivates me.
Because I realize that I have to go out and make that million bucks. If I work with my talent, my passion, and make my contribution to the world, and the world thinks it's worth a million, I'll get a million. I'll feel like I'm WORTH a million. If I'm really focusing on doing what I love, what I believe in, what makes me feel valuable, I don't need to be handed free money. I don't even think about it. I just want to keep being valuable, FEELING valuable, and the benefits that I get from that make me feel great. it's like eating food that you grew in your own garden.
Truth #2: Shit happens.
It's so true that it's an over-used cliche. And still we are surprised. Last week I was running out to a meeting and when I got to my car I realized I'd forgotten my laptop charger. I thought, "well, it's been plugged in all day, I'll be fine". You know how this goes: I was halfway through the meeting, running through the material on my laptop, and I got the low battery warning. My client asked if I wanted to move to a chair near an outlet so I could plug in. I had to say no, I'd have to hurry through on my remaining battery. I didn't make it.
Lesson learned--again. So, how could I have avoided a crummy showing at a client meeting? By having a Plan B. I could have put the files on a remote server and used someone else's laptop; I could have put them on a thumb drive and brought them with me; I could have emailed them to the client in advance. I should have done one or all of these things, even if I had brought my charger.
It's like that little voice in the back of your head saying, "bring an umbrella", and you don't, and it pours rain. How much trouble would it be to bring an umbrella? Even if the predictions were wrong, and it doesn't rain, you don't have to worry about it. You've got a Plan B for the weather.
Truth #3: Life isn't fair.
This is another cliche that we all repeat without really believing. I mean, fair's fair, right? Yes, in a dream world. In the real world, there's no such thing. Way far from it. Someone will zip into that parking spot you were waiting for; the other line at the store will move faster; the new kid will get that great project you've been waiting years for. And on and on.
We were once called to send a proposal and then to meet for a project we were absolutely made to do. There was nobody anywhere who could do the project better than we could, and our contact at the company agreed. She was thrilled to have us in the bidding, she put together a great meeting with us that was a total love-in, and then told us we would be hearing from them soon with good news. The next day she gave her notice at the company, and left the day after that. We never had any idea what happened. But the project went to someone else who had nowhere near the experience or qualifications that we did. It was not fair.
It was devastating. But as I thought about it, I realized that the "not fair" thing works both ways. Several times a client we've had a good relationship has changed companies and brought us with them. The agency that was there before may very likely have been doing good work, but our client brought us in and let them go.
So I don't look for "fair". I look for opportunities. If something doesn't work out, there's no point in applying a fairness measure to it. I learn--could I have seen that, or avoided it? If so I make a mental note for future situations. If not I move on and remember that sometimes it's my line at the store that's moving faster.