(Excerpt from chapter seven of All the Luck: A Guide to Becoming the Luckiest Person You Know)
“Like all weak men he laid an exaggerated stress on not changing one’s mind.” – W. Somerset Maugham
When most people think about getting lucky, they focus on good luck: lucky breaks, happy coincidences, winning big, et cetera. But a huge determinant of how lucky any person will be in their life is how they manage bad luck. Bad luck lands on everyone’s doorstep from time to time. Not everything you try will work out and not every gamble will pay off. Flexibility is critical when handling the fallout. In our culture, flexibility tends to get a bad name. We celebrate those who remain firm in their convictions and “stick to their guns.” But when bad luck comes barreling down towards you, you need to be nimble enough to jump out of its way to escape the worst of its damage. You might not be able to prevent bad luck, but you can prevent bad luck from turning into worse luck.
If the Ship is Sinking, Jump.
“Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.” – George Santayana
Having just read a chapter on the importance of persistence, you might be wondering why I’m telling you to abandon ship. Persistence is a virtue, but only to a point. Persistence is a virtue when you stay with a course of action when there is still the possibility that you can succeed. Persistence becomes a vice when the chances of success are slim to none and you keep on persisting anyway. Flexibility is about knowing the difference and acting accordingly.
Evaluate As You Go Along
“It’s astonishing in this world how things don’t turn out at all the way you expect them to.” – Agatha Christie
Every time you take a risk, there is always the chance that things aren’t going to work out. You can’t know at the outset which way things are going to go. Say to yourself: “Let’s see what happens. If it’s not working out, I’ll cut my losses and try something else.” Instead, too many people say, “I’ve made a decision, and so now I’ve got to live with it no matter what.” A small failure can become a big one if you’re not willing to change course. Let’s say you take a new job and quickly discover it’s not what you thought it would be and you know you won’t be happy there. Someone who has allowed for this possibility would immediately send out some resumes, call their contacts in the industry, or even try to get their old job back. They’ll spend a few weeks or months in the position, and then their ship will be righted and their lives back on course. But someone who feels they must stick with the decision might waste years toiling each day at a place they don’t want to be. And the longer they stay, the harder it is to leave. Suddenly they’re eligible for a pension and a bonus. Can’t leave now, can they? It’s much easier to abandon a bad situation early on. The longer you stay with it, the more entangled you will become.
Make a Mistake
It seems so obvious – if something isn’t working, try something new. But this is very difficult for many people, for one simple reason: changing your mind means admitting you were wrong. Quitting a job you just started means admitting that taking it was a bad idea. Selling a losing stock means admitting that buying it was the wrong decision. Ending a relationship means admitting that you picked the wrong person. No one likes being wrong. It’s embarrassing, it might damage your reputation, and you might anger or disappoint some people. Admitting a mistake can be painful in the moment and can have some serious short term consequences. But it’s a hell of a lot better than remaining in a bad situation because you’re not brave enough to be wrong. Everyone makes mistakes occasionally. Not being able to admit it means resigning yourself to a life full of mistakes you’re not willing to rectify.
What if you moved across the country to take that new job? What if you spent most of your savings on your small business? What if you’ve spent years trying to succeed as an actor? The more time, energy, and money you have invested in a venture, the more difficult it becomes to leave. In fact, research has demonstrated that most people would much rather continue to invest in a losing proposition with a very slight chance of success than stop investing and guarantee their failure. As long as you’re still investing, you’re keeping the hope alive that some miracle might come along and save the day. Logically, it makes no sense. A reasonable person should take a certain loss of $5,000 over a very, very likely loss of $10,000, but few are able to do so in the heat of the moment.
Most failing situations don’t come to an abrupt end, but gradually decline over time. There might never come a time when it’s 100% clear that it won’t work out. There are those who are able to see the way things are heading early on and are able to pull out before all is lost. And then there are those who will keep clinging to the sinking ship until they drown. Be one of the former. When there is no longer a realistic chance of success, stop investing.
Allow For Change
Just because something has worked in the past, it does not mean it will work in the future. A lot of people get stuck on a losing course of action because the course used to be a winning one. Think of it like investing in VHS tapes. At one point in the 1980s that would have been a great idea. But once DVDs were introduced in the 1990s, investing in VHS tapes would have been a very bad idea. People are always changing. The world around us is always changing. It can be difficult to walk away from something that has brought you success in the past, but you must evaluate whether something is working today. Is there a good possibility that things might turn around? Or are you just feeling nostalgic for good times gone by? Make sure you know the difference.
I see this happen most often in relationships. Once you’ve loved someone, either romantically or platonically, it becomes very hard to see them as they are now and not as they were. It’s difficult to understand how something that was once so wonderful could go wrong. It can take time for problems to emerge in a relationship. Or one or both of you could simply have changed. Relationships aren’t all designed to last forever. Some people will be important to us in one phase of our lives but no longer fit later on. Hanging on to a relationship that has run its course will only lead to prolonged pain and heartbreak.
Don’t Expect Imperfection
Nothing is perfect. People say this a lot when they’re busy stagnating in a bad situation. They tell themselves that no matter what job they have they would be bored, so they might as well stay at the one they have. No relationship is ever perfect, so they might as well stick with the one they’ve got. I heard this “advice” a lot when I was getting divorced – every relationship will have problems, so why bother getting divorced? They said that my desire for a more satisfying relationship was unrealistic. “Why should a new relationship be any different? You’re still the same person. You will still have the same issues.” If you’re getting divorced because you are an alcoholic, or you have a gambling addiction, or you are a chronic liar, then yes, you will probably have the same problems in your next relationship. But if you’re simply unhappy with your spouse, and you cannot see any way to salvage the situation, it is wiser to move on. It is true that nothing will ever be perfect, but that’s not a good enough reason to settle for something that you tolerate rather than enjoy. There is a lot of room for improvement between “okay” and “perfect.”
(To keep on reading, All the Luck can be purchased at: http://www.amazon.com/All-Luck-Becoming-Luckiest-ebook/dp/B00E3WTX4A/)
Stay tuned for a preview of Tenet #8: Responsibility