A few years ago, my boyfriend lost his awful job. It shouldn’t have happened. He worked hard, came in early, left late, powered through sick days and rarely took lunch. This workaholic, counterproductive behavior was highly encouraged by his Lumberg-esque boss. Like I said, it was an awful job.
It wasn’t a good time for Brian. He was in debt, he lived in a 400 square foot studio apartment, and he rode around town on a $400 Craigslist scooter that broke down so often it could barely be considered a mode of transportation. And now, he didn’t even have a crap job. He had no job, as no one was hiring in his industry.
But not long after he lost the job, I witnessed what would become one of my favorite of Brian’s traits: his resourcefulness. He made do with the scooter, riding around town to talk to various businesses in his field. While none were actively hiring, he convinced one of them to give him a job. It turned out to be the best job he’s ever had, and, years later, he’s been promoted (to a position he suggested), his finances are in order, and the weight lifted from his shoulders is palpable.
I do think there’s a certain amount of good luck in success. But there’s also a certain amount of bad luck. Resourcefulness has always been a trait I’ve admired, respected and tried to cultivate. And it seems that resourceful people learn to capitalize on the good and don’t bother focusing on the bad. They focus on what they can control.
There’s a system, right? And it’s supposed to work, right? Of course. But nothing is perfect. Sometimes, maybe even oftentimes, you do all the right things — everything you’re supposed to — and nothing works out the way it should.
When you complained about this injustice as a child, your parents likely said, “Life’s not fair.”
This phrase always annoyed me as a kid, and it continues to irritate me as an adult. While true, it implies defeat. It’s important to understand that, yes, sometimes the proverbial system is broken. But I’ve always felt an urge for that phrase to end with “…so do something about it.”
If you work your ass off more than anyone else at a job, take your boss’s bull on a daily basis and avoid taking lunch because you don’t want to seem lazy, you shouldn’t be laid off. But it happens. And, rather than throw up our hands and say, “Well, I did my best,” it is probably more useful to focus on what we can control in picking ourselves up from that situation.
A while back, I wrote about women and the confidence gap/gender-pay gap. A couple of readers commented that, yes, it exists, but I should get over it and stop dwelling on it. I don’t think that’s a very productive answer. Accepting that reality and turning a blind eye to it is something I have done most of my life, and it hasn’t served me well. As I’ve learned more about the issue and how it may actually affect me, I’ve also learned to speak up for myself more. I’ve forced myself to stop being afraid to ask for raises. I’ve stopped being intimidated by investing. Addressing the issue has been much more productive, and lucrative, than simply accepting it.
It’s easy to say,”Life’s not fair, there’s nothing I can do about it.” It takes a great deal more effort to say, “Life’s not fair, but what can I do about it?” You might not be able to control a huge social issue; but you can control how you respond to it. You might not be able to control employer layoffs, but you can control how you search for a new job.
It’s not about dwelling on the fact that life is sometimes unfair. It’s about focusing on what you can control to make it a little more fair for yourself.
The power of resourcefulness
Everyone knows that nothing gets handed to you — anything that is worthwhile usually takes discipline and hard work to achieve. Still, I’m always surprised to find just how true this is. In most of the success stories I learn about, accomplishments aren’t made strictly by any textbook process. In most cases, the successful person did what worked for him or her, manipulating the plan based on the resources he or she had on hand.
For example, I recently interviewed an author who, with her very first manuscript, was published by Simon and Schuster. Yes, she went through the textbook process of writing her fingers to the bone and pitching her story. But she also used what she learned in her past career as a publicist to help land an agent.
It’s easy to say, “I wasn’t a publicist; I can’t do that.” But that’s missing the point. The point is that she wanted to be a published author, and she used her resources to make it happen. Maybe you don’t have a PR background. But maybe you have connections. Or maybe you’ve been writing your entire life, and you have an especially solid manuscript. Maybe you have an agent who says she might be interested in the future. It’s a small resource, but I bet a resourceful person would do what they could with that “might.”
As I see it, successful people don’t seem to focus on what they don’t have; they focus on what they do have and how they can use it to their advantage. It may sound obvious, but I often don’t realize how true it is in my everyday life. I often overlook things that I can actually do something about. I often squander resources that others may see as opportunities. I’m slowly learning just how much power there is in being resourceful and focusing on what you can control.