Success? Here’s What It Is

Success to me is being able to seize opportunities now because your past decisions placed you in a position to take advantage of them. Future success is having the decisions you make in your present put you in position to take advantage of opportunities in your future.

Let’s be honest here, we can’t know with absolute certainty, exactly what our futures hold. Furthermore, the further we gaze into the future, the odds continue to get lower and lower that what we imagine, guess, hypothesize, or yes – even plan for – will actually turn into our reality.

So if this is true, some people would take this to mean why plan anything? Indeed, why plan at all if what we do in the future can’t be predicted with absolute certainty? I found myself cooking hamburgers last evening instead of chicken breasts, rice and vegetables. Why? Because just as it was time to start preparing the evening meal, my wife had a change in what she wanted and having both options available, she surprised me and opted for burgers. What I’d planned at 11:30a.m when out shopping wasn’t what I started preparing at 6:00p.m.

Now yes, it is only dinner. But what about the big stuff? You know, choosing courses in high school that lead to College or University? What about planning on graduating and getting a job instead of post secondary education? These choices to be made and more importantly, decisions to be made, have consequences years down the road. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said, “I wish I’d stayed in school”, or, “I wish I had my degree.” Then again, less often but now and then, I also hear, “I wish I’d just got a job after my degree instead of getting my Masters.” Additional schooling isn’t always the right choice.

Yes, we can’t know with any certainty that Life (with a capital, ‘L’) will turn out exactly like we envision it will when we look ahead. That being said, I don’t advocate just throwing up your arms in submission and winging it until you die. We’ll all have regrets in the end; choices we made that we wish in retrospect we could go back and alter. Some of our regrets will be larger than others, and I suppose the best we can hope for is that our regrets tend to be minor and not major ones.

As good as the burgers were, I’d rather have had the chicken. However, as I bought both when out shopping, I still get the chicken tonight; a day later than I had planned, but I can only do so because I had the foresight to buy both. A minor delay in getting what I want most. However, we can’t always have it so. No, some of the choices we make send us down roads that never seem to have a U-turn; and there’s no going back. That person you should have told how you felt but never had the guts to do so moved away, married someone else, and you just wonder ever so often, ‘what if…?’

Education is a great example of this whole concept of putting yourself in a position to succeed further ahead in life. While you’re only in your early teens now perhaps, school officials are on you to choose your courses – the university or college stream. The choices you make either keep both doors open or close the university option. Sure you can always go back and upgrade courses later in life as a mature adult, it just means you take a longer route to get to University.

Keeping doors open sounds like a reasonably smart thing to do though, especially when you can be influenced by so many things between now and when high school is done. By the time you’ve finished with school and you’re in your late 20’s, you’ll either be happy or disappointed with the choices you’re being asked to make now in your early teens re. those course selections. The jobs you are considering in your 20’s require some level of education. If you opted for the degree, you have more options than the college diploma; the college diploma more options than the high school diploma and the high school diploma more options than dropping out without finishing high school.

Now some make a wonderful life without having finished high school. The jobs they hold and enjoy doing don’t require post secondary education, so let’s acknowledge them. However, many more people are happy they stayed in school, graduated and went on to get a degree or diploma, and a lot of people wish they had. Even the ones who lie on their resumes and say they have their high school when they don’t are demonstrating they know it is an advantage to have it.

Whether we’re talking education, volunteering, working or relationships etc., the principle is exactly the same; the decisions we’ve made in our past either allow us to take advantage of opportunities in the present or they don’t. The thing is, our past decisions can’t be altered.

What we can do is think about the decisions we make today and moving forward. It’s these decisions that will put ourselves in position to seize opportunities in the future; some of which we can’t possibly even imagine now. The good decisions keep the doors open.

Making Bad Choices, Then Feeling Bad

Out of control; moving from one chaotic event to the next, over thinking things and then having everything you do questioned, analyzed, evaluated, summarized and judged; these the things you do to yourself.

Sometimes the one who judges us the hardest isn’t a stranger, family or friend, but rather the one who greets us each morning when we look in the mirror; ourselves. After all, we know ourselves more intimately than anyone else. Only we know each thought we have, why we do the things we do. Check that last one… there are times we haven’t got any explanation for the things we’ve done. Could be we often ask ourselves, “Why on earth did I do that? What was I thinking?”

Living daily in chaos and under constant pressure and strain stretches our resources to the point where our thinking becomes skewed so the decisions we make are flawed. We end up making bad choices we then regret; lowering our opinion of ourselves and feeling worse than before. Rather than learning from our mistakes, they get repeated, and later repeated yet again, and how we perceive ourselves sinks each time. The pattern of feeling bad about ourselves a lot of the time can lead us to make even poorer choices.

The funny thing is (only it’s not funny at all), when we make all these bad decisions, they seem so right at the time. That’s the hardest part for us to understand later. Trying to explain this or justify this to someone else who questions us is just impossible. We can’t help feeling so small; like a child being scolded by an adult who catches us doing something dumb. But as a child, at least we could be forgiven for not knowing better. By now, we should have grown up, matured, learned to make better decisions and have our stuff together. Instead, we can’t even make simple decisions without a struggle; like what to pack the kids for lunch.

You’d think that asking for help would be easy; a logical step to make sense of all the chaos, but think about that – if it was easy, you’d think you’d do that – so is not asking for help just another thing you’re doing wrong? Figures!

If everything above sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. If you struggle to do things that others find simple, like find something on the internet, open a bank account, file your taxes or get your child tax credit, don’t feel you’re the only one so there has to be something wrong with you.

The thing about making decisions is that when you make a good one you feel better. Make a second and a third good decision and you develop a pattern. Repeat the pattern and you start to gain confidence and view yourself as having good decision-making skills. The same however is true when the decisions you make don’t turn out the way you’d hoped. One bad decision on its own is exactly that; just one bad decision. A second followed by a third etc. establishes a pattern and you can easily feel that based on results, you make poor choices.

Decisions we make are always based on the information we have at the time. So when trying to figure out what to pack the kids for a school lunch, we look in the fridge or the cupboards and what we pack is based on what’s available. We can’t send what we don’t have. While it’s clear to someone else we sent something inappropriate, it was at the time the best choice we had, avoiding sending something worse or nothing at all. Unfortunately, other people only see what we sent and judge our decision-making solely based on what they see, not what possible items we rejected. In other words, you may have actually made the best choice anyone could have made based on what you found as options.

The same is true for the big decisions that go wrong in the end. You might choose a job that doesn’t work out and then another; then start to question why you make such bad choices. It could be that you just lack the right information in the first place about how to go about finding a good fit. The thing is, at the time, the choices you made – and continue to make – seem right. You’re not dumb or stupid; you lack the knowledge to make a better informed choice. Without that necessary information, its like a game of hit and miss; with a lot more misses.

Getting help with making decisions from people you trust is not a sign of weakness, but rather wisdom. But I get it; people you’ve trusted in the past, abused your trust and things didn’t go well. That’s led you to only trust yourself, and as things aren’t working out any better, this has you feeling worse, with no one to turn to.

Decide for yourself of course … but you may want to find one person you can share small stuff with and see if they can help you. If they do help you make good decisions, they might help you with the bigger things later.

Good decisions are hard to make in times of chaos – for anybody. Learning how to make better decisions, like any other skill, can be learned and could be exactly what you need.

The Best Advice You Could Ever Get Is To…

Everywhere you go, people are more than willing to give you the benefit of their advice; whether you ask for it or not! Sometimes that advice is actually beneficial and helpful while other times it has worked for others but isn’t just right for you.

The best advice you could ever get in my opinion is to make better decisions. After all, the decisions you and I have made in the past are responsible for where we find ourselves today. Had we made different decisions, we would have different spouses, have different living arrangements, have different levels of education and yes, our employment status would be different.

Rather than dwell on the past however, I prefer you and I look together at what decisions we can make right now, in our present circumstances that can improve our futures. Imagine a future you successful and better off, looking back on you where you are today and saying, “Thanks. It’s because of that decision you made back then that I’m where I am today.”

Now you might be guessing that I’m going down the path that so many have already been ahead of me, advising you to make some monumental decision. Actually no I’m not. I’m going to give you two examples of relatively minor decisions that as it turns out put opportunities in motion for two people. Both these women are currently out of work and want to have a better future, where they have financial independence and a better life.

Let’s start with Gabby. (not her real name.) Now she wants to be a Health Care Aide working in a Long Term Care facility caring for residents. She has an interview coming up with an employer and wants this job a great deal. Working with an Employment Consultant (one of my peers), she took the initiative to ask that Employment Consultant if she would be able to go through a mock interview to better prepare herself for the real one to come. That’s it; that’s the good decision.

What that set is motion was a request by that Employment Consultant to me to see if I would be willing to meet with the client and conduct the mock interview. I agreed to do so, and came up with 10 questions appropriate for that position. I met her earlier this week, and she did exactly as she had been told by her Employment Consultant. She came dressed for an interview, arrived early, brought notes with her, and treated it like the real thing right from our greeting where I took the role of the employer and stayed in character until the end of the interview.

After that 40 minute interview, we spent 50 minutes more reviewing her answers, discussing how she could improve on each one,  as well as what she did well. I gave her written and verbal feedback and when she left she said how good she felt, how valuable the time had been, and she thanked me. Her interview is later today, and she’s promised to let me know the outcome. She is better prepared because she initiated a request for help; a good decision she made.

Example two came just yesterday. I found myself in our drop-in Resource Centre where I was in the last ten minutes of my time there. A young lady of 20 came in and asked me if I had a resume template she could use to make a resume. That in itself is proactive decision on her part. I gave her a template – a basic one for people who need templates to get going and after keying in her contact information she paused. She looked overwhelmed, agitated, frustrated but still concentrating on how to proceed. When asked, she told me how much she wanted to get going, get a job, have a life, and then in quick succession told me about 4 or 5 things that were troubling her, holding her back.

Just then a colleague appeared out of nowhere and asked me if she could take over in the Resource Centre and I had an idea. So I said to the young lady. “What are you doing for the next hour or so?” I explained that I was suddenly available and if she wanted, we could move to my office and work on her resume there. She made a decision to say, “yes” and so away we went.

We didn’t make a resume. Oh we started to, but when I asked her what job she was after, she told me that she had a little experience working in framing and construction and in 10 years wants to be the one owning a company, giving directions to tradespeople, running the show. That led me to give her information on a course we would pay for entirely, plus the transportation to get there and home. The course is all about carpentry, framing, electrical, plumbing, getting several certifications all of which collectively would better qualify her to move in leaps and bounds closer to her goal. She was so ecstatic she actually gave me a hug catching me off guard.

Both women made a small decision that opened up an opportunity they would not otherwise have known about. As for you and I, perhaps we too should keep our eyes open to opportunities around us, initiate requests for help, and jump in with both feet when given the chance. Sometimes saying, “Yes thank you”, is how it starts.