Sometimes You Have to Let Things Happen to You
I just wrote a story about how I’m done with letting things happen to me.
It was literally the other day. Like, just now.
And not even a full week later, I’m here to say that letting things happen to you is a good thing. No, I’m not contradicting myself. Just hear me out.
When letting things happen is a good thing
My professional life has been build on things that happened to me. It’s been build on overheard conversations that resulted in gigs, on friends recommending me for short-term projects that became full-time jobs, on accidental meetings that turned into exciting ventures.
In a way, that’s what I get for never really having stopped to plan my “career”. (In quotes because I have serious qualms about what having a “career” really means.)
In another way, well, I have to say I love how everything turned out and I wouldn’t change a single thing.
The fact that I never had a list of dream companies to work for, or a set of “career” milestones I wanted to achieve by age X, Y or Z, meant I was open to the unpredictable opportunities that came my way. These opportunities took me to places I never thought I’d be, and allowed me to learn things I never expected I’d even be interested in.
Of course, I had to exercise my better judgment. I had to learn to identify the worthwhile projects from the wastes of time. I had to learn to be selective with what I said yes to while still keeping myself open for new opportunities.
I’m still fine-tuning my discernment, and in the process I have said yes to thinks I should probably have said no to, but discernment is something no one is born with: a lot of it comes from trial and error.
There’s nothing wrong with a little Mr. Peanut Butter attitude
In the series BoJack Horseman, Mr. Peanut Butter is the embodiment of an upbeat, carefree attitude. He’s unapologetically over-optimistic, and things happen to him more often than he makes happen himself.
In season 2, episode 6 of BoJack Horseman, Mr. Peanut Butter finds himself in need of a job. He then decides to do the same thing that landed him his first big Hollywood break: “wander around LA with an open mind and an empty stomach until I get discovered”, not forgetting to “go with the flow and leave everything up to destiny”. It’s not a major spoiler to say that Mr. Peanut Butter’s upbeat, “can do” attitude eventually pays off.
Of course, Mr. Peanut Butter is a very over-the-top character in a very over-the-top show, and sticking your head — eyes closed, tongue outstretched — out of a moving car as you speed down the highway is not a way to lead your life. That’s for dogs. Having a bit of a Mr. Peanut Butter attitude means to relax a little, to trust that life is full of opportunities and to keep your eyes and ears open to them when they come.
Maximize what happens to you: talk to people
As I reflect back on everything that happened to me, I find one common thread: people.
Opportunities only came my way after I had conversations with people near me. The more I engaged, the more I was perceived as someone they might count on for help with a project, or for a potential partnership in a venture. That doesn’t mean going out to people and talking yourself up until they hire you. It means forming real connections with those around you, allowing them to get to know you and your aspirations as you learn about them and their aspirations.
Don’t restrict yourself to people in “your industry”. Opportunities have come my way from the most unexpected places.
Talk, engage, have open conversations. You never know who the person next to you is best friend’s with, or what kind of secret projects they may have up their sleeve that needs a talent just like you. And don’t forget: it’s a two-way street. If this person can’t get you your next job, maybe you can get theirs.
Shape what happens to you
The tricky part of life is to find balance.
Having a set of goals and a plan to achieve them can be fantastic, but letting life take its course can also lead you to many unexpected, happy destinations.
The best kind of balance it’s when you can use your goals as a guideline to sort out which opportunities to take and which to pass over, but never as a limitation of which places to go or who you talk to. Bring yourself to an unusual place every once in a while, engage with someone who has “nothing to do” with your line of work. You might be surprised at what may come out of it.
Don’t forget to take responsibility
Never allow your openness to letting things happen to you morph into a passive attitude that never takes any responsibility. Make your choices and own them. If an unexpected opportunity comes your way, it’s still on you to take it or let it slide.
Saying yes to everything, then blaming others for having put you up to it just doesn’t cut it.
Going back to my original story, things will happen to you whether you want it or not, but you can position yourself to shape them so they’ll be the consequences of what you choose to take on rather then random crap life throws your way.
Being open to things happening to you can be very rewarding: it has for me. Just never forget to perfect your discernment as you go, and to take responsibility for your choices.
You don’t have to keep your whole life plan a blank page, just try not to fill up every available space so that you still have a margin to improvise on when opportunity strikes.