It’s Not Luck, Life Just Doesn’t Happen To You

How much of life happens to you versus you make it happen? Your answer will reveal a glimpse at your future. Your success in the things that matter to you depends on your answer to this question. Here’s what you can do to improve.

Does life happen to you, or do you make it happen? This question separates high achievers from the crowd – in every field. It’s a question of personal autonomy, choice, and personal responsibility.

I lived in three countries that have a fatalistic outlook. In Japan, Shikata ga nai (仕方がない) meaning, “it can’t be helped” or “nothing can be done,” is a common response to difficulties. These difficulties are viewed as outside one’s personal autonomy, so move on. The cultural value is to stoically bear the difficulty.

In Indonesia, details of life are viewed as under complete Divine control. Insya’Allah, “if Allah wills it,” it will happen. Therefore, I don’t need to worry too much because I’m only a recipient of Allah’s will.

Fatalism of a different sort is found in the United States. You’ll hear it as people talk about their difficulties. Do they speak of them as results of choices they or someone else made? Many people feel powerless, unable to choose. They feel like victims of the system, the rich, the majority, or the more powerful. Life happens to them, therefore they are not to blame, someone else is.

A life-happens-to-me mentality make us feel better. After all, what’s happening in my life isn’t in my control and my disappointments are someone else’s fault. But this mentality is a dead end.

A happy life isn't a lottery ticket away. It's more a result of your decisions and hard work. Click To Tweet

5 Ways to Make Life Happen

Here are 5 ways to move from a life-happens-to-me mentality to one of I’m-responsible-for-my-own-life. It’s about making personal choices and focusing on what you can be responsible for.

  1. Don’t confuse personal choice with control. There’s a big difference between choice and control. Other people’s choices do affect us. We can’t control their choices. Bad things do happen to good people. We can, however, make decisions and act in ways to further our vision of our lives and work. We can choose our responses. Focus on control yourself, but don’t try to control the world around you.
  2. A better tomorrow requires discipline today. Few overnight successes really were. We notice when someone makes a splash, but often that splash was often years in the making. Discipline your choices to move from immediate gratification to future success. These days that means getting off social media and watching tv and putting that time into activities that will change your future.
  3. Take initiative, now. One very recognizable characteristic of life-happens-to-me people is they wait. They wait for more time, better circumstances, more money, or permission from someone. The reality is: the timing is rarely ever good. I’m-responsible-for-my-own-life people make the timing good by taking initiative and moving forward. Sure, reduce risk where you can, but move forward in small ways.
  4. Expect the road to be difficult. There’s a surprise at the end of trying: it’s not easy. It’s hard to make progress. It’s hard to do your “day job” while building toward your dream. It’s hard to sacrifice time, money, and effort now for an unknown future. Our faith wanes. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Keep going and don’t quit.
  5. Don’t expect to be popular. Your brave decisions to act won’t be commended. Oprah has left the building! Going against the status quo usually produces more criticism than congratulations. You’ll be seen as naive, foolish, a dreamer, or just wasting your time. That is, until you’re successful. Then you’ll be lauded as an example of hard work by those who know you, and considered lucky by those who don’t.
Going against the status quo usually produces more criticism than congratulations. Click To Tweet

Don’t be swayed by the crowd. You have influence in your life. What you do or don’t do makes a difference. Each day you have an opportunity to recreate your life around the things you care about. You do have personal autonomy to choose.

It’s not going to be easy, but it’s possible with an I’m-responsible-for-my-own-life mindset. Keep doing the right things, move forward, and you’ll find.

Guess what? The harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.

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    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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