Monday, February 10, 2014

Success, Failure, Society ... and Moose

This is a challenging subject to write about, and one that can stir up a lot of emotion in people. But it is important enough in my view that I'm going to plow ahead anyway - here goes.

I just read another of many articles whose narrative goes something like this: "I used to do pretty well. I had an education and a career. But because of the 2008 crash/these evil, greedy corporations/age discrimination/etcetera, I am now poor and stuck. And it's all society's fault."

First of all, I empathize. I've been there. I would agree that Corporate America is not a kind place to be as we age - perhaps as much because of globalization and competition as greed or evil. And bad things certainly do happen to good people. Add to this the emotional devastation of losing a career, struggling financially, and getting older, and I totally understand the worldview of these articles.

So now I would like you to hold that viewpoint out in one hand, while I gently place another view in your other hand.

There is a dynamic that I have consistently seen over and over, for many years, in any community of people who are trying to change their lives - job seekers, entrepreneurs, freelancers, small businesses, or whatever. Let's say, to use an analogy from 80s televangelist Robert Schuller, that they are all hunting a moose.

Some people will learn from other successful moose hunters. With practice, they will eventually go where moose go, show up when moose tend to show up, and learn to sound like a moose. Others will say - correctly - that moose hunting is really hard, that lots of people fail at it, and that it is unfair that society has reduced them to needing to hunt moose in the first place. They are both right.

In my own experience, the first group generally succeeds. Whatever they do. Because of who they fundamentally are, not just circumstances. With a consistency over the years that has come to amaze me. And the second group never succeeds.

I have always chosen to be in the first group. Which means that people from the second group often ask me for advice, which I gladly give. It is rarely acted upon. And if I were to be totally honest with them, their anger, bitterness, and self-imposed constraints often set up a framework where they are probably doomed to setting their sights too low and continuing to fail.

Of course, they don't see it that way. "But I've sent out hundreds of resumes, and no one gets back to me!" "There is too much competition!" "No one pays good rates anymore!" And listen carefully - they are absolutely right. I would also fail if I had their worldview and limited my options to theirs. But understand that in the same moment, the things that do work for me - like exploring nontraditional high-value markets for my skills, having successful people as models, doing lots of homework, networking, and above all blowing people away with great service - often get dismissed as lame or unrealistic in the actual one-on-one conversations I have with people who feel stuck. So we are both right, but I would much rather be me than them.

So in closing, I respect the people who write these articles. There but for the grace of God, I could be one health crisis or economic collapse away from joining them. But once bad things happen, I have learned that people always, always, always divide themselves neatly into one of two groups. I always want you to choose the first group. I want you to succeed.


Patricia Rossi said...

Lets have a First Group Club:) Thanks for another great post.
My best,
Patricia Rossi

Rich Gallagher, LMFT said...

You are a shining example of charter membership in the first group Patricia - thanks and great watching your success grow!