We’ve been talking about getting what you want in life. Sometimes it goes smoothly. Sometimes it goes more like this,”You ask nicely for it. No luck. You lean into it for a while. But it still looks like you aren’t going to get it.” What’s left? It is time to fight for what you want.
Sometimes the more subtle ways to get what you want out of life fail and you may need to fight. But in today’s world, fighting for what you want isn’t so straightforward. You can’t simply whack Gronk over the head with a club and take his stuff. In this post we will talk about when and how to fight for what you want in the modern world.
Once upon a time, fighting for what you wanted entailed exactly that: whacking Gronk with your club or pummeling him into submission with your fists. But there are several problems with taking that approach in the modern world. For example…
Gronk might be an ex-Marine who will kick your butt despite your club…
Or Gronk might have a concealed-carry license and trump your club with a pistol.
If nothing else, the authorities seem to frown on the idea of whacking somebody with a club. Even an old-style fistfight is likely to get you into legal trouble in most Western countries.
So how should you fight for what you want in today’s world? The answer depends on the situation. But before you start fighting for something, you need to…
How did you get to the point where you are considering fighting for what you want? Knowing this will help you decide what to do next. Did you ask for what you wanted and get told, “No!” Have you been leaning into it but not making any progress? Did something totally unexpected happen?
Fighting always entails risks, even when it doesn’t involve physical danger. You may have to make sacrifices. You might fail to get what you want. Or you might lose completely. The stakes are high when fighting for something, so think before you act.
The idea of making lists before a fight may sound crazy. And if you need to act fast, it probably is. But you often have some time to consider your options before getting into a fight over something. Assuming you do have time, you can start by making two lists:
What’s the point of these two lists?
Let’s start with the “What Can I Win?” list. Of course, the first thing on the list is whatever you are thinking of fighting for in the first place. But that probably isn’t the only thing you could win. What about some secondary benefits to doing this? Self-respect for fighting for what you want? The respect of others? Skills or experiences you could benefit from in the future? The more of these secondary benefits you can win, the more “appealing” a fight becomes.
How about the “What Can I Lose” list? Thinking about what you could lose might be harder. You could of course lose (or fail to gain) the thing you would be fighting for. What else? Self-respect? The respect of others? Other things that you could do with the time and energy you will spend fighting? Your job? Your family or friends? Your freedom? Your health?
Think hard about the secondary effects that could result from battling for what you want. You might win the thing you are after but tarnish your reputation or lose a good friend (see Pyrrhic Victory). You might lose the fight but still win big by developing new skills or contacts that will help you later.
Whether this exercise causes you to change your plans or not, you will be making a decision based on what you perceive to be in your best interests, rather than the passion of the moment.
If you will be fighting against another person, persons, or an identifiable group, you should consider making a few more lists. These lists of strengths and weaknesses can help you decide on a strategy to use. They can also help you see whether or not you have a real chance of winning.
Create these four lists:
For each of these lists, try to include as many strengths and weaknesses as you can, even if it isn’t obvious that they apply to the coming fight. The more information you have here the better.
For example, your opponent might be higher in the corporate hierarchy than you (his strength), but most people in the company like you better (your strength). You might be horrible at confrontations and unable to stand up to the woman who keeps stealing your parking space (your weakness) but she might be violating company policy by parking there (her weakness). Anything you can think of here could help you make a decision, so write it all down.
Consider your morals and values too. You might have strengths that would allow you to win the coming fight, but that would go against your morals and values. You might be a trained assassin and able to eliminate the other guy competing with you for the promotion. But hopefully doing so would be against your morals and values!
Once you have made your lists, it’s decision time. You need to look at those lists and decide if this is really something worth fighting for, and if you have a realistic chance of winning that fight. Sometimes it is better to walk away than fight.
Once you have made your lists, it’s decision time. You need to look at those lists and decide if this is really something worth fighting for. Are the things you could win worth the risk of what could happen if you lose?
If the answer is yes, you need to figure out if you have a realistic chance of winning the fight. The Strengths and Weaknesses lists could be very useful here. You may simply be overmatched in this case with no realistic chance of winning. Sometimes it is better to walk away than fight.
What if you decide that you are going to fight? How do you go about it?
This is a tough question, because the tactics depend totally on circumstances. But the lists you made can help you to formulate a plan of attack. Try to devise a plan that takes advantage off your strengths and exploits your opponents’ weaknesses. At the same time, try to minimize the risk of losing things that are important to you.
You will often have to trade off, losing some things to gain the things you want more. Don’t be surprised if your first few plans turn out to have some fatal flaw. You’ll probably go around several times before you find your best plan of attack.
At this point, it would be great to give you a pep talk about how you can’t lose, or feed you a bunch of examples of how this plays out in real life. But a pep talk would be irresponsible and I don’t have too many examples for you. Fortunately, I haven’t had to reach the “fight for what you want” stage too many times. Hopefully the following examples will help.
Here are a few examples of fighting for what you want from my own life. How you would go about it depends on your specific circumstances, as well as your own morals and values.
Sometimes, simply continuing to work toward your goal despite circumstances is fight enough. For example, I came from a family where everyone’s goal was to get a job in a big corporation and retire 45 years later with a gold watch and a fat pension. I hated that idea and wanted to be self-employed.
My parents and my friends told me I was crazy, and tried to convince me to give up such a dumb idea. But I persisted. I worked a regular job during the day, 40, 50, even 60+ hours a week. Then at night and on weekends I worked on my side businesses to move myself toward the self-employed life I really wanted.
It took several years of too little sleep, and many sacrifices to do it, but I eventually reached my goal.
Many of us have to fight for what we want at the office. This involves some kind of ritualized corporate combat. You might be competing with a co-worker for a coveted position and have to work smarter, faster, or harder to get the promotion. You might have to go golfing with the boss, or start hanging out with the “in” crowd after work. This kind of thing is fairly common in the USA. It can be stressful but is usually pretty straightforward.
Or you might have a boss who wants you to do something you think is unethical or immoral. Then you have a different kind of battle on your hands.
I once had a boss who insisted I do exactly that. She wanted me to help her shift the blame for her own failings onto another part of the company. The business was dying, and she wanted to be sure that the fallout from her bad decisions landed on someone else. It was sleazy, and not the kind of thing I wanted to be a part of. When I refused to help her, she banned me from the office and gave me an ultimatum. Agree to do what she wanted or lose my job.
I put a lot of thought into this one and eventually decided that it would be better to lose my job than to do something so dishonest. Fortunately, I didn’t have to. I won the fight to both keep my job and do the right thing. But to do so, I eventually had to violate the usual corporate rules of behavior and go over my boss’s head to get help from her boss. As you can imagine, it was a highly stressful few days, but after an internal investigation, the company backed me and terminated my boss.
Sometimes you have to fight for what you want in life. Even though “fighting for it” probably won’t involve physical danger in today’s world, it is still a messy, risky situation to be in. Hopefully the ideas I’ve given you here will help you decide if fighting is really your best course, and help you to win if you do go for it.
I started this series planning to do three posts. But along the way, I realized I was skipping one of the most important steps and needed to change my priorities a bit. It is one that I would credit with most of my success in recent years. You have to “lean into it” to get what you want in life.
I know it’s a very catchy phrase and all that, but you are probably wondering what exactly it means to “lean into it.” I wish I could remember where I first read about this approach but I can’t. Looking it up online didn’t help either. I did find a definition in the Urban Dictionary, but it isn’t what I mean at all:
In fact, this usage is the opposite of what I mean. My definition is much more traditional. When you lean on something, you put your weight or some other pressure on it. You don’t apply all the force you can. You simply put steady pressure on it. And you keep the pressure on for a while.
You can apply this same kind of approach to getting the things you want in life. There are times when you can simply ask for what you want. And there are times when you have to fight for what you want. But there are also times when the best approach is to simply apply pressure in the direction you want to go, and keep that pressure on for a while. You lean into it.
Here’s an example from my own life. I knew years ago that I wanted to live in Latin America one day. But given my life situation at the time, it wasn’t something I could do right away. I didn’t need to ask anyone for it, and I didn’t need to fight for it. I just couldn’t do it right then. Instead, I leaned into it by constantly keeping the idea of living in Latin America in the back of my mind.
Whenever I had to make a decision, I tried to choose the path that took me closer to what I wanted. When I was deciding where to vacation, I chose a Latin destination. When I wanted to work on self-improvement, I chose to study Latin American Spanish instead of any of the other options. I was still stuck in the USA because of circumstances. But doing these things helped me prepare for life in Latin America.
Beyond gaining specific skills and experiences that were eventually very useful, leaning into it like this helped in another way. It made the whole thing more real. Lots of people say they are going to do lots of things. But few people actually do them. By constantly doing things that took me in the direction of the life I wanted, it became more real. Over time, the whole concept went from “wouldn’t it be cool if,” to “I think I can really do this,” to “when I move to Latin America next year.” Because I continued to lean into it, it changed from a cool idea into something definite that just had not happened yet.
Last night (March 23, 2016) my brother Tom was hanging out at a local club watching a soccer match. Part of Tom’s long-term plan for his life includes buying a big parcel of land and building a house here in Ecuador. While he is retired and not looking to overload himself, he is interested in trying to grow at least some of his own food. While sitting at the bar and watching the soccer, he got into a conversation with the guy next to him.
Tom mentioned his long-term plans to the guy and they started swapping stories about farming and the like. It turned out that the guy had until recently been involved in an organic farm here in Ecuador, is a retired mechanical engineer, and is looking to invest in a new project. Whether anything will come of it is unclear. But if Tom didn’t have an idea of what he wanted to do and wasn’t already “leaning into it,” there wouldn’t even be a chance. Check back in a year and we’ll know what happened!
You can apply this approach too. Use it whenever you can’t get what you want right now. Whenever you need to make a decision, think about which option will help you get what you really want. If none of the options will help you directly, try to choose the option that takes you even a step closer to what you want. If you continue to “lean into it,” chances are excellent that you will eventually get there.
What if leaning into it doesn’t get you what you want? More drastic measures may be required.
NOTE: If you are wondering why I haven’t posted for a while, November 2016 has been a time of leaning into it for me. Between illnesses, a house full of guests, dealing with mom’s estate, and so on, I haven’t been able to write much. I thought that last week things would finally get back to normal. But then a tribe of former headhunters attacked my girlfriend’s company and we had to deal with that (I kid you not). Sometimes all you can do is lean into it and wait for circumstances to change!
Welcome back to our series on how to get what you want in life. Last time we talked about the importance of knowing what you really want. Not what would make your mom happy or what society expects of you. What you, personally, really want in your life.
Hopefully you’ve spent some time thinking about this and have decided what you really want. If so, it’s time to go after it. In this post, we are going to talk about how to “ask for it” to get what you want in life.
We’ll start by clearing up a little confusion.
If you’re like a lot of people, you are probably wondering why your life isn’t already the way you want it. You work hard. You follow all the rules. You’re a loyal employee doing everything the boss asks of you. You’re an all-around good person doing what you are supposed to do. Our parents did this and made out much better than we have. So is there something wrong with you?
I don’t think so. I mean, you could be some kind of screw-off who has wrecked your own life. But the fact that you are reading a blog like this tells me that isn’t it. I believe there are a lot of reasons you are in the mess you are in. And most of them are totally out of your control. Mega-factors like changing demographics and stupid government policies can explain much of why our generation isn’t doing nearly as well as previous generations. But there is one big factor that you can do something about.
To understand it, let me give you a 60-second history lesson.
The Industrial Revolution gave us huge leaps forward in productivity and standards of living. But an industrial society requires a certain type of worker, someone who:
- Works hard
- Follows the rules
Over time the whole of Western society was geared toward turning normal people into hard working, rule following, interchangeable factory workers. Schools trained kids to behave like this. Our parents pounded the idea into our heads too. Employers and the government also extolled the virtues of this kind of behavior. Characteristics like initiative and flexibility could actually gum up the works.
At first, this was a pretty good deal. Sure, working in that manner is dehumanizing. Still, if you did your job and didn’t cause problems you could count on regular raises, the occasional promotion, and a comfortable, company-funded retirement. The system provided for most people pretty well without them having to take much initiative.
But the world has changed a lot in the last couple of decades. The old industrial system is breaking down. The tacit deal of “work hard and follow the rules and we will take care of you” has collapsed. For the vast majority, getting what you want in life is much harder than it used to be.
If working hard and following the rules like you were told doesn’t work, what should you do to get what you want? You need to take the initiative…
If you want something in life these days, you have to ask for it. I know that can be a big issue for people, especially people in their 50’s and older. We had the old way beat into our heads from childhood. It is a hard mindset to break out of.
I spent much of my life living that way. Into my 40’s I thought if I just followed the rules and worked really hard, it would all magically turn out right in the end. No luck there.
I realized I had to change my thinking. Some of the old self-help gurus talked about asking for what you want. It was clearly the way to go, but it was hard. You need to muster the huevos to do it. You not only have to be willing to tell someone you want something from them, you have to face the fact that they are quite likely to tell you, “NO!”
Eventually I learned to ask for what I wanted. It wasn’t fun. Worse, it didn’t always work.
Over time, I learned that there is more than one way to ask for something. It is usually more complicated than simply saying, “Please sir may I have the keys to that Lamborghini over there?”
I learned that the right way to ask for something varies depending on circumstances. Asking someone to pass the salt while sharing a meal is pretty straightforward. Asking someone to give you something of significant value simply because you want it seldom works.
When you want something of real value, or getting the thing is really important to you, you want to propose a mutually-beneficial exchange. You get something you want in exchange for giving them something they want. This way both sides gain. A couple of examples of this might help:
In both cases, to “ask for it” includes showing the other person why or how giving you what you want will benefit them. If you can muster the initiative to not only ask for what you want, but to ask for it this way, your life should start improving almost immediately.
Here’s a third example. My daughter and I were on our way to visit family in Pennsylvania and had stopped at a rest area on the NY Thruway. When we came out of the building, we saw a bunch of people staring from the parking structure out into the access road. They were staring at two guys who were standing next to their cars talking. Their fancy Lamborghini sports cars.
My daughter is a big fan of those vehicles and said she wished she could see the car better. I was in the middle of training myself to ask for things that I wanted, so I swallowed hard and walked the 15 yards or so to the two guys. I told them my daughter loved their cars and wanted to get a closer look.
One of the guys smiled, threw me the keys and said my daughter could sit in his car if she wanted! This was the result:
Once I broke the ice, all the people who were watching from the parking garage came flooding over. There were people everywhere staring at the cars and asking the owners questions. Everyone was having a great time. And then…
…another Lamborghini arrived, and another, and more and more. By the time they were done arriving, there were at least 60 of these super cars there.
It turned out to be a meeting of a group of Lamborghini owners from all over the Eastern USA who were making a run up to Canada. They were gathering at this spot to start their trip and were more than happy to show off their cars to us regular folk.
Bringing this back to the subject of this post, doesn’t this show that you can get the good stuff by asking? After all, I didn’t offer them money or anything like that.
In retrospect, it is pretty clear that these guys loved their cars and wanted to show them off. And they probably wanted a crowd of people in place to “ooh” and “aah” at their buddies as they arrived. They just needed one of the bystanders to get up the guts to come and talk to them. I offered the car owners exactly what they wanted in exchange for them letting my daughter sit in their car.
These days I try and look at things a little deeper. With enough information about the other party you can usually find something they will accept in exchange for what you want. Like everything else, you’ll get better with practice and won’t need to rely on the kind of luck I had that day.
Now realize I am not guaranteeing that this will always work. There are lots of reasons someone might not give you what you want, even if you ask for it the right way.
So what should you do if you can’t get what you want, even after asking for it the right way? That depends heavily upon the circumstances.
We’ll talk about the various possibilities in Step 3 of this series.
In previous posts, we talked about some of the ways you can be freer tomorrow. In the next few posts, I will be focusing on getting what you want in life. Unless you are incredibly lucky, the things you want in life are not going to just drop into your lap. Getting what you want in life isn’t easy. You’re going to need the personal strength to work for them. It is a multi-step process. Happily, each step helps build the strength you will need for the next step. Step 1 is to know what you really want in life.
How do you figure that out? The “follow your passion” approach is quite popular. Unfortunately, it is also quite wrong.
If you’ve spent some time working to improve yourself, you’ve probably noticed something. Most of the “self-help” advice being published these days really sucks. I’m seeing a lot of, “follow your passion and the universe will reward you” crap. It all sounds lovely. Just get that basket weaving degree and get cracking.
You will love what you are doing and somehow, everything will be wonderful. The world will recognize your genius and passion. You will become rich. Your ideal partner will find his or her way to you. Everything you want will materialize for you because of your passion for weaving baskets.
But life doesn’t work that way. Especially when times are tough like today. No one will give a damn about your baskets. You won’t become rich and famous. The man or woman of your dreams isn’t going to miraculously find you and bring you endless happiness. All the passion and wishing and affirmations in the world won’t make it happen.
There are two flaws in the “follow your passion” approach. The first is that passion is enough to somehow bring you success. All you have to do is think this through to see the fallacy. Tens of millions of kids have a passionate desire to be Olympic athletes. And only a few thousand make it.
The second flaw to this approach is built in right at the start. You need to “follow your passion” for basket weaving or you won’t be happy.
Do you really want to build your life around some job (whether you are passionate about it or not)? Do you really want this to be the focus of your existence? When you’re on your death bed, do you really want to look back and say I was the best damn basket weaver in the world?
Or do you want all that other stuff instead? Do you really want the:
And all that other stuff that is supposed to come your way when you “follow your passion?”
Figuring out what you really want in life can be hard. In the USA, most adults know what they are supposed to want. The media tells you what you are supposed to want, and believe, and do. Advertisers use the latest psychological research to manipulate you into wanting whatever $#!+ they are selling. But digging out what you, personally, really truly want can take some serious work.
I’m not the guy to tell you how to figure this out. I wrestled with it for a long time, and I am sure there are more efficient ways of doing it. If you think it will help you, leave me a message at the end of this article. If enough people are interested, I’ll try and reconstruct the path I followed and do a post about it for you.
Your best bet is probably to consult wiser heads than me to help you figure this out. I suggest you:
NOTE: After publishing this post I did decide to post one technique that helped me a lot.
Or perhaps the problem is that you know what you want and it isn’t what you are supposed to want. Society has expectations for us. It puts massive pressure on us to conform to those expectations. And part of that pressure is to like certain things and dislike other things. To want certain things and to not want other things.
An awful lot of us know what we want in life…and we know it isn’t what society says we should want. We might want something that we are unwilling to admit to others because we know they won’t approve. Our parents want us to be doctors, but we want to be video game designers. Society wants us to work our asses off to buy crap we don’t need, but we want to live a minimalist lifestyle.
We know that if we do what we want to do, it will upset someone. We will disappoint Mom. The people around us will rag on about how we’re wasting our potential. If we care about the opinions of others, this noise can make us feel bad about ourselves. It can make us pursue things in life that we don’t really want, in order to avoid upsetting expectations and feeling bad about ourselves.
This is something you need to get over if you are going to be freer and happier in the future. The pain of violating expectations, of pissing off your friends and family, is real. But it goes away. The pain of living a life you don’t want, just so someone else isn’t annoyed, never goes away.
Again, I am not an expert on doing this, but you have to do it somehow. If it takes professional help, go for it. You can wreck your life living this way.
Or maybe you really know what you want and accept it. But you know that others won’t accept your choices. In today’s crazy world, people think they have the right to force you to think, to live, the way they want you to. So you may have to take steps to protect yourself.
For an extreme example, look at the 2016 US Presidential election.
People know they are supposed to want Hillary Clinton to be the next President. The media says so. The government says so. Screaming mobs of professional protesters demand that they support Hillary. If someone says they don’t support Hillary, they are asking for trouble. People might call them names. Their friends might shun them. Their Twitter account will suddenly disappear. Or even worse. As a result, many people in the USA are unwilling to say that they support Donald Trump for President.
So what’s the solution? When friends ask, they say what they are expected to say. When pollsters call, they tell the caller what they expect to hear. Or they hang up. They keep their mouths shut and their true feelings to themselves. They keep their true feelings to themselves to avoid unnecessary trouble.
When pressed, they may have to lie to protect themselves. It sucks that they need to do it, but there is nothing wrong with this. Remember that this is a response to people trying to force them to do what they don’t want to do. To live their lives the way someone else wants them to. To think the way some self-appointed authority wants them to.
You may need to take this approach too.
I know that it is very “in” to tell everyone what you are going to do. It can definitely help you achieve goals when your friends and family will harass you if you don’t. However, where people won’t accept what you want to do, keeping your mouth shut is probably the way to go. Over time, you are likely to end up with a new set of friends that actually agrees with you, and supports you, but that’s a topic for another post.
Once you know what you really want in life, you are facing in the right direction. Are you guaranteed to get everything you want? Hell no. Are you guaranteed to get any of it at all? No! But you at least have a fighting chance now. One that doesn’t rely on dumb luck or supernatural intervention. You’ve taken your first step.
In the next few posts we’ll talk about getting what you want once you know what you really want out of life. Start with this one: Ask for it to get what you want.