Man, if I only knew then what I know now, I’d be … rich, married to the "right person," successful, happy … You fill in the blank. It seems we all have 20/20 hindsight telling us where we “missed it” and, in my experience, that can be rather painful. Many of those lost opportunities may never come our way again, at least not in the same way, but more on that later.
It’s not rocket science: Saying “yes” to one thing means we are saying “no” to something else.
Unfortunately, we don’t often see it for what it is at the time. For example, have you ever taken the time to review your bank statements to see how much you spend eating out at lunch or dropping by the coffee shop on the way to work in the morning? Most of us would be shocked by how much we’ve spent on those little indulgences over the course of the last month, let alone a whole year! Imagine if you spent only half of that and put the rest in a savings account or used it to pay off debt. Or maybe you decide to get really radical and bring your lunch to work and drink coffee from the office coffeepot instead. How would that simple decision impact your cash flow? We don’t always recognize the impact of “little” decisions.
I envision the impact of our choices as a tree, with the branches representing the various pathways we might take. Imagine a fully mature tree signifying all the possible choices of your life. The roots of the tree are planted in the foundations of our culture, ancestors, and families of origin. The trunk (us) sprouts up and begins to grow. At some point in its growth, the trunk begins to fork out and sprout limbs upon which branches grow and continue to spread out all the way to the ends of the branches where the newest growth exists.
The first major fork in the trunk is like the first big decision we made as a young person. Most of us likely made significant life-changing decisions early in life – some for good, others not so much – but for simplicity, let’s say it was when we decided which career path we would take.
Some dropped out of high school. Some decided to get a job right out of school. Some took the college route, others chose technical or trade school, and a small percentage went into the military for the training and opportunities afforded there. Whichever direction you took at the time determined the direction of your life and, in a sense, eliminated the options that would have been available to you had you taken another path.
We said “yes” to one thing, thereby saying “no” to others.
Unlike a tree, you and I have the ability to think and reason. If we realize that the direction we are taking does not lead us to a destination we want, we can make a conscious decision to go another way. When we make that conscious decision to go in a new direction, we are saying “No!” to the undesirable direction and destination. For example, I went back to grad school in my mid-50s to create career-broadening options. Was it worth it? You bet. Do it again? You bet.
It's really as simple as that: Make a choice to go another way. Simple? Yes. Easy? No.
Let’s be honest: It’s hard to change when we’ve been heading in the same direction for (sometimes) years, but with the right motivation and some good old-fashioned mental toughness, we can begin to forge ahead into new territory. In effect, we can capture lost opportunities and change our destinies by choosing to do so. Sure, some of the opportunities we passed by were time-limited and won’t come ‘round again, but by the same token, new opportunities continue to arise. If we position ourselves, we can capture them instead.
The really important things in life are simple, but the simple things are hard to do because they require concerted, disciplined effort on our part. Simple, but not easy.
That being the case, what can you do to help yourself be more successful?
- First, you have to know where you are in order to know which way to go to get to where you want to be. Once you know where you are (your savings account, weight, skills and education, emotional and mental health, etc.), then you can begin to craft a plan with specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, tangible and time-driven (SMART) goals.
- Second, you need to recognize that, try as you might, you can’t make it on your own. We need help to reach our goals. We need help to change. We need the encouragement and sometimes the chastisement of people who care about us and who will hold us accountable. Until we submit to the reality that we need each other, we will never truly be all we hope to be.
- Finally, “just do it!" Get started. One. Step. At. A. Time. Keep pressing forward while keeping your eyes on the destination. Simple. Not easy. But worth it when you get to where you want to be.
John Trombley retired from The Village Business Institute in 2019. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and a Master of Management degree from the University of Mary, Fargo where he serves as an adjunct faculty member. He is a motivational speaker with over 20 years of experience in providing training programs and consulting services in a wide variety of organization development scenarios. John is registered with the Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota as a Qualified Neutral mediator under ADR Rule 114, and is also certified in Internal Investigations by the Council on Education in Management.
Previously, John served as a Command Pilot, Squadron Commander and senior staff officer in the USAF and Air National Guard, and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel with over 6,200 flying hours.