In general there are two types of successful people I meet. The first type know at an early age what they want to do and do everything they can to get there. The second type have a goal in mind and work hard to get there, but change goals half-way to finish in an entirely different place. Where they end up isn’t anywhere near where they wanted to go, but in the end it is still a successful accomplishment.
Both types of people would be considered successful. The only real difference between the two is that the second type abandoned their original goals even if they had been held for a long period of time. So what does this mean for success in your life? If you might end up in an entirely different place and still be successful, does the path you take really matter?
Figuring out the direction you want your life to take comes up most frequently after graduating from High School. You’re no longer confined to just thinking about working in fast food and are expected to make something out of your life. This is the point when people start making important life choices about what direction they want their life to take.
But it is here where people seem to put too much pressure on themselves. It’s as if the decision you make at this point will determine the course of the rest of your life. To some extent this is true. After all, if you sit all day in your parent’s basement watching movies instead of taking significant action in the real world you’ll get nowhere. Beyond that though it doesn’t matter all that much.
Importance of Setting Goals
The future is inherently difficult to predict. That’s why I think the direction you take in life is almost unimportant as long as you just have a direction to head towards. It’s the experience you get as you’re chasing your goals that matter most.
Setting a goal and working towards it is important because you build skills and confidence as you work to accomplish it. Many major skills such as interpersonal communication, writing and critical thinking can be learned in a variety of places. These will be beneficial to you no matter where you end up.
For example, I have many friends who went to school to become airline pilots. However, after they graduated they all ended up doing other things such as HR and other office work. Even though they all ended up in places that didn’t use their degree directly, the skills they learned along the way were still very useful.
Other Skills that Guide Direction
If you know how to be flexible and adaptable, you’ll find more opportunities and paths to take your life. If you’re narrowly focused on reaching one of your goals, you might miss an opportunity that comes up along the way. Persistence is an admirable quality to have, but if you‘re rigid and unable to change, you won’t see all the other potential paths you could take. Knowing when and where (and if) to change directions in life is extremely important.
Most big goals such as graduating from college or starting up your own business take years to accomplish. You may not actually finish, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are successful college drop-outs. But before you think about dropping out, just remember that they first recognized a great opportunity in computing and took it. They were flexible and adapted well.
If you go to college, you have the opportunity to change your major at any point. Even after you graduate, you can always go back to earn a different or complimentary degree. It isn’t unheard of for people to go back to school when they are in their 30’s or 40’s. I’m in graduate school right now and many other classmates are of that age. And for those classmates, grad school was not a part of their original plans.
Being flexible in your life direction can even save you some trouble. I knew someone who trained to be a police officer for a couple of years. During that time, he was offered a very lucrative position in a beer distribution company. On top of his income, he would have access to all types of beer. He was so dead-set on becoming a police officer though that he declined the position. This was a decision he soon came to regret when he found police officer jobs difficult to come by and he was forced to take a low-paying job elsewhere.
Keep Going and You’ll Get Somewhere
Patience, planning and persistence are important areas to success in any area of life. But seizing on opportunities by being flexible and adapting is just as important. It reminds me of a quote by Allen Saunders, “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”
Just make sure to not be blind to the life going on around you. Be flexible and adapt to the opportunities that come your way or those plans of yours might just end up making you miss out on the success you’ve been searching for.
photo credit: Lori Greig