Why Things Don’t Always Work Out

Being human is messy. We say things we shouldn’t, even though we know better. We lose our tempers over the smallest of things. We react to people and events that are none of our business. We are an imperfect breed.

But I think the imperfectness of being human is intentional. If life were perfect, there would be nothing to learn, nothing new to invent, a lack of excitement in any new experience. So, built into our messy, unpredictable and challenging life is the continual opportunity to make things better.

I always struggled with understanding why tough and difficult things happen in life, particularly when you work hard to be good, charitable and supportive. Should it be that when you are good, life just works out? Though that just isn’t true, there is a silver lining: it is in these tough situations that we have the opportunity to find a way to make things better. The tough situations help us make ourselves and our world better.

When I was younger, my father had a rule for my five siblings and me: to learn to be more present and tuned in, to really pay attention to ourselves and to the people, things and events around us. And with greater awareness, we were to look at the situation and ask, “what could I do to make this better?”

My dad shared Chinese philosopher Mencius’ thinking; Mencius believed that the world was fragmented, in perpetual disorder and in the need of constant work. Instead of being disappointed by this, he saw this as an opportunity and obligation for everyone to have a role in continually making things better. This thinking was in line with my Dad’s guidance for my siblings and me – stop and notice yourself and your world, then focus on making something better.

Many of us have been trained to think hard work leads to success and negative things get you punished. But we know this isn’t true for a very simple reason:  there is free will in our world. Because of this, there is always the opportunity – in every situation we encounter – for us to make a positive difference.

It could be within ourselves in how we talk, care, support or engage with ourselves and others. It could be in our environment in how we respect the planet, our efficiency with resources, accommodating others on the highway, sharing what we know with someone who is struggling. There are so many opportunities to make one small difference in our messy, capricious and unpredictable world.

As you start small, you find that your actions inspire others and our world gets better. It won’t ever be perfect, but it can always be better. And that better starts by watching yourself and your world for the places to make a small action that inspires another to do a small action that inspires another to do a small action. Pay kindness forward. Pay concern, care, love and support forward. Though we are imperfect, we are great at seeing others make things better and being positively affected by it. 

Take Action
Stop and really notice yourself and your world. Don’t be upset by the challenges, meanness and disappointments in your life and in our world. These are reminders that our world is always ready for some small actions to make things better. These are for you to do – they are for me to do. And as we do them, we don’t change the entire world, but we change the piece of the world we touch. When we all do this, we do make a difference.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading Is Follow Your Passion Bad Advice?

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Life is the Ultimate Teacher

By Jay Forte

Few of us loved spending time in school. The homework, the studying, the tests – not high on most of our lists. But the daily lessons at school weren’t just about the subjects we were learning. School was also teaching us how to learn from the greatest teacher: life.

Life is the ultimate teacher. Day in and day out, life shares lessons with us, each of which serves as a learning event that teaches us to ask what should I do more of? And what should I not do next time?

In learning this, I believe that life sends us two things – successes and challenges.

Successes come to help us learn how to celebrate. Challenges come to teach us how to connect to larger and more significant things in us. Though the successes may feel better, the real lessons in life come from the challenges. It is as we work through those challenges that we can see life as the ultimate teacher.

So how do you learn to welcome the challenges instead of becoming resentful, aggravated, disappointed or frustrated?

  1. Understand that life is as life is. It isn’t personal when things go or don’t go your way. Life is neither good or bad – it just is. We have been told that good things happen to good people. Sure they do. And sometimes tough things happen to good people. That is how life works. It just comes at you.
  2. You add the meaning and understanding of what is happening. You choose how to be in and with each event of life. You can choose to resent or accept what happens in life. Choosing to accept or approach life’s events with a positive attitude and outlook does two things. First, it improves this moment, preventing you from seeing yourself as a victim of what is happening. When you focus on the negative, the quality of this moment diminishes. If the quality of your life is made by the quality of each moment – choose to focus on the good in each moment. Second, being upbeat opens you to use your energy to actively learn and grow. Don’t fight with the moments because the more you fight, the more they fight back. Instead, catch and release. Catch and learn from the situation, then release it to make room for more celebrations and more learning.

Life is an epic teacher. And as with teachers, though they may have things for you to learn, you choose whether to learn them. No one can make you learn from life – you have to see that by being open to life on life’s terms – to see and appreciate whatever comes your way to celebrate or learn – you become more fully engaged in life. That is, after all, what life is really about: being fully engaged in each of our moments. Anything else isn’t really living.

Important Questions from a Coach:

  1. Stop and notice: do you fight with life as it sends you lessons?
  2. What is one thing you can do today to be more open to life’s lessons?
  3. How can you look at each moment of life as important and essential to you discovering, developing and living the best version of you?


Consider reading Expect the Unexpected: What’s Your Plan B?

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What is Life Teaching You?

By Jay Forte

You didn’t get the promotion you wanted. Your kids didn’t get good grades. Your flight was interrupted by bad weather. Though it may seem like life is working against you, the truth is that it’s just life. How you interpret and use the information in life is up to you. Knowing this, how can you learn to see life as your best teacher?

I believe life really only sends us two things – successes to help keep our resilience, energy and happiness up, and challenges/obstacles/problems to help us learn what we need to do to be better tomorrow. If we can see the events in life as less personal and just events that present us with information, we can more efficiently use the information to be better and move on. However, many of us get stuck in ineffective emotional states.

Let’s look back at the three situations in the first paragraph.

You didn’t get the promotion you wanted. Stop and notice why. What’s not working about your performance that may have influenced the decision? What is one thing the situation tells you about you that can help you improve your performance to lead to greater opportunities tomorrow? Stay calm to learn what life is teaching you.

Your kids didn’t get good grades. Stop and notice why. What’s working and not working in their study habits? What does this information tell you and them about their abilities and interests? What does this tell you about their adaptability and resilience, two critical life skills? How can you help them learn from this to be better tomorrow? Stay calm to learn what life is teaching you.

Your flight was interrupted by bad weather. Stop and notice your reaction. How can you appreciate the fact that life is in constant motion and adaptability is required in order to be successful? What does your reaction tell you about how you handle challenges and disappointments? How can you use this information to be better tomorrow? Stay calm to learn what life is teaching you.

Life is a brilliant teacher. Like with most teachers, it offers both difficult and easy lessons. Though you may look forward to the easy ones, you will always learn more from the difficult ones – the challenges, obstacles and difficulties that force you to think critically – and sometimes creatively – to find a solution you can own to be better tomorrow.

Important Questions from a Coach:

  1. How will you stop and notice the events of life and your response(s) to them?
  2. How will you get in the habit of asking yourself, “What is life teaching me here?”
  3. How will you use today’s life lessons to be better tomorrow?

Life is here to make you better, wiser, more grateful and more amazing tomorrow than you were today. But for that to happen, you need to show up to class.


Consider reading What defines success?

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Are You a Life Owner or a Life Blamer?

By Jay Forte

Some people take full responsibility for their lives – of both their decisions and the impact of those decisions – while others go through life in blame-mode. The “life blamers” always find some external reason to explain why things don’t happen as they should or why bad things happen to them. They find a way to avoid taking responsibility for the outcome of their decisions or actions.

How do you manage, parent and live? Do you take responsibility or provide blame?

As Jim Dethmer shares in his book, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, conscious leaders take full responsibility where full responsibility means “locating the cause and control of our lives in ourselves, not in external events.” No one makes you do anything. You choose it. He calls it taking radical responsibility.

It is certainly easier to point the finger when things don’t go your way. It may even seem logical to blame someone or something else, like the weather, the economy or someone who doesn’t share your beliefs. The end result, however, is this shifts your attention away from the place of solution: you. When you ask what you can learn from the situation and then boldly own it, you shift from life bystander and blamer to active participant. You shift from victim to owner and, as a result, the possibility of change, improvement and solution increases.

Stop and notice how often you find fault with someone or something else. For example:

  • An employee didn’t do what you asked – did you share clear expectations and provide direction?
  • Your kids don’t listen to what you tell them – how much time do you make to really listen to them?
  • You have too many things going on to truly do things well – is it more important to get something done than to do it well?

Though blaming may make you feel better by shifting the responsibility of a situation to someone else, you don’t learn from the event and miss the opportunity to provide your unique gifts, talents and impact to make things better. When you blame, you abdicate on owning your part of making things better.

Important Questions from a Coach:

  1. In what areas of work or life do you find yourself blaming more than taking responsibility? Why?
  2. What is one thing you can do today to better see your role in all situations or events?
  3. Seeing your role, what is one thing you can do in each situation to own your part?

Life is as life is. Sometimes, things seem to work out beautifully. Sometimes, that’s just not the case. Regardless, you have a role. Stop finding things to blame when life doesn’t go your way by learning to see that every moment includes lessons. When you’re busy finding someone or something to place the blame on, you miss your lessons, lessons you’ll be forced to repeat until you learn them. Step up and be a life owner.


Consider reading Staying Calm and Upbeat (Despite Life’s Frustrations)

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