A long time ago—probably the spring of 1984—I was driving along McFarland Boulevard in Tuscaloosa, Alabama with my friend, Sharon, in the passenger seat. I can’t recall where we were going and it wasn’t a momentus occasion, so I don’t know why I remember a snippet of our conversation in full panoramic detail.
In the context of the moment, nothing about this chat would have seemed remarkable.
The vivid part of my recollection begins about the time we reached the I-59 junction, approaching the intersection with Skyland Boulevard. If I remember correctly, it was just the two of us in my car.
Sharon made a comment about some success I’d had as a college student. I don’t remember what, exactly, she was referencing. I had been a leader in the Panhellenic system at my college and had, over the years, received some noteworthy honors, and I was all set to start law school a few months later. She had broached the subject of success, goals, something like that—that’s the broad context I remember.
It’s the next bit that lives on, captured in a mental Kodak® moment that pops up every now and then, like a Facebook Memory notification.
“I’ve just been lucky,” was my response.
“No, it wasn’t like that. You know what you want to do and you make it happen.”
“But if I wasn’t a DZ I wouldn’t have had a chance to do some of the things that I did.” Again, I focused on luck and circumstance.
It was true that I’d landed in Delta Zeta unintentionally, an outcome that created opportunities that I probably would not have had if I’d gotten what I thought I wanted at the time, but it was also true that I seized the opportunities when they came to me.
“It wasn’t luck. It was you.”
I like to think that we went on to talk about something profound, that maybe I offered some sage guidance to Sharon, who was a couple of years younger. The truth is that I really don’t remember any more about this beyond what I’ve shared, so I don’t know where the conversation went next.
I never had the chance to follow up with Sharon about this, to tell her that her words have both inspired and haunted me for decades. Sharon died unexpectedly a few years later of a brain aneurysm.
Please know this: The rest of this blog post is about detours, self-respect, courage, luck. The other examples of disappointments and setbacks (whether my own or those of others) are trivial in relation to the loss felt by Sharon’s family and friends. I chose to use this story of a brief conversation as a way to honor her memory—to celebrate in a small way one example of how her life and influence lives on. Sharon’s words touched me deeply and have stayed with me as a signpost all these years.
The ambitions and dreams I had in 1984 for what I would do and achieve in my life have certainly played out differently than I expected. In 1984, I was certain that I was going to be the first woman president of the U.S. Today, well…….
A few years ago I was teaching a social media marketing class and had included Pat Flynn’s short ebook, Let Go, [Amazon Kindle affiliate link] as a required reading. That semester, the Friday class sessions focused on entrepreneurship. I wanted to spend some time each week talking about ways the internet let individuals and small organizations bypass media gatekeepers and make a living through blogs, YouTube, etc. Some times I had guest speakers come in, some Fridays we watched TED talks or videos on YouTube featuring people like Seth Godin. I would then to try lead a discussion about these ideas and opportunities.
On the designated Pat Flynn Friday, I asked students to talk about Pat’s experience, triggered by getting laid off from his dream job in architecture a few years after finishing college. I thought Pat’s story of disappointment-to-massive-success would be something they could relate to and be inspired by. Turns out, I was wrong.
Sidebar: If you aren’t familiar with Pat’s story here’s a quick overview. Before getting notice of his pending layouff, Pat had started a blog to study for the LEED certification exam. Others who were also studying for the LEED exam began to find Pat’s blog and he was seeing a steady flow of website traffic. On the advice of a friend, Pat turned the blog posts into a simple PDF ebook study guide and sold it for a fairly nominal price—maybe $20 each. The book sales started to take off around the time he was laid off. Since there were no jobs in architecture at the time (this was the midst of economic meltdown caused by real estate bubble), he focused on developing a stronger internet presence and business. Within a short time Pat was making more from his ebook sales and commissions on sales of website hosting, etc. than he had been making as an architect. Today, Pat’s story is legendary.
“He was just lucky,” proclaimed the most vocal opponent to Pat’s message in Let Go, which is that you, too, can build an online business doing something you love—if you work hard enough, etc.
Not long after that class session, I wrote a blog post about that day and how I felt about it, whether luck or hard work determines success. That was 2 years ago, while I was grappling with choices about which direction to take my career—whether to give up on academia, focus on consulting, attempt to to build an online media empire, move to another city, or try something entirely different.
Does Effort Lead to Success?
Today—right now—February 13, 2016, I’ll honestly admit that I’m ambivalent about what it takes to succeed and about the relationship between luck, hard work, making opportunity, or whether we should stoically accept life as fate or destiny delivers it to us.
The official message we’re all taught is that hard work is all it takes to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and achieve “the American dream.” But the reality is different.
Hard work is a prerequisite. Hard work is necessary, not sufficient, for success.
You also need the right mindset. Mindset (attitude) actually comes before hard work. You must have a mindset that’s open to possibility, open to new horizons, open to growth, and willing to take a risk to move into the unknown—otherwise, you’ll be stuck on the sidelines because time waits for no one.
Attitude is what determines the success of a marriage or other relationship, it’s the foundation for the effort you’ll put into a project, or whether you’ll even pursue a habit or hobby.
But even with the right attitude and a willingness to word hard, there’s still more that’s required.
Over the past few months, I’ve really been grappling to understand where I got off track.
Let me rephrase that, I’m actually trying to understand whether I’m off track or just moving along a path designed specifically for me and encountering the obstacles I need to face to grow into the person I need to be for what’s coming next.
Am I exactly where I’m supposed to be, even though it’s not remotely what I would have chosen or predicted? If yes, why? What lesson have I not learned that I still need to learn? Is it even me? Is it something I can shape or influence or discern?
Are the detours just the way of the world? Is everything a meaningless chasing after the wind?
I pose these questions, not because I have regrets, but because I’m sincerely trying to figure out this journey. I want to correct in myself what needs correcting or simply accept the destiny I’ve been given, if that is it. I’ve been on this quest for 20 years.
I have so many questions right now. I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced a time in my life with more unknowns and greater uncertainty. The only thing I seem to be able to control is my attitude and, at least for today, how to spend the time I’ve been given.
In the past few blog posts, I’ve talked about the Happy Life Manifesto and how it starts with love—Divine Love.
The next thesis of the Happy Life Manifesto is that you must love yourself. I must love myself.
Until we love ourselves, we can’t successfully reach the next step of our journey. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about.Your path to happiness starts with love.Click To Tweet
When I wrote the first version of the Happy Life Manifesto I would easily have said, “Yes, I definitely love myself.” Four months ago, I’m not so sure what my answer would have been.
For the most part, I’ve been able to stay away from fear and anxiousness about tomorrow. I’ve been living in faith that everything is happening to help me grow into the hero I’m supposed to be to carry out the next tasks on my mission. So far, my daily needs have been met. Yes, I’m working hard, but the opportunities and blessings are coming from surprise sources, so I’m not the one responsible for what’s happening.
So—do I love myself? Yes, I do today.
I think I loved myself in the past. I certainly have never consciously hated myself. I also know that I’ve changed, imperceptible to the conscious rational mind, but perceptible within my spirit.
Anyway….the goal is to keep moving forward and I’ve definitely been moving forward. The big question is toward what. That’s the unknown, I think.
Are you moving forward on your own journey toward happiness in the face of disappointment or setbacks? Or are you stalled out at a fork in the road.
Whether you’re moving forward, stalled out or feel like you’re in reverse. Remember this truth about the journey to a happy life, to a life of success:
Stacia Friedman says
I was able to make several childhood dreams come true – becoming a NYC fashion designer and then a professional journalist – not through “luck” but through natural talent, training, persistence and the willingness to keep going even when faced with failure. Luck is a word we use to explain the circumstances that seem to come magically to self-starters who do whatever is necessary, for however long it takes to succeed. Bottom line? We cannot control what life throws our way in terms of setbacks, but we have total control over how we respond. It is our responses, not luck, that makes all the difference.
Such a thoughtful post about the contributing factors, as well as the tendency to minimize achievements or demur praise. My husband and I travel full time, and we are constantly reminded how lucky we are. Well yes, but we work hard and sacrificed our home and most of our belongings to do so. I believe luck plays a part in success, but luck usually resides somewhere near the intersection of opportunity and hard work. Enjoyed this post!