What do you do when it just feels like the deck is stacked against you? When you don’t stand a chance against the lucky, those for whom life just seems to work? What happens when playing by the rules doesn’t work?
Well, you have a couple options.
You can whine about, complaining your life away and always finding a “reason” for why others have an advantage over you. Or you can do something about it.
If you’re in the second category, this article is for you. Here are three things to do when you’re feeling discouraged, left out, or upset with the system.
1. Don’t quit.
This is pretty much sums up the best piece of advice for nearly everything:
Don’t give up.
Don’t let go of your most important work just because it’s hard. Keep practicing. Sometimes, when things aren’t working, the answer is just to keeping going.
Of course, it’s possible that you’re doing everything right and it’s just taking longer than you want. We often expect things to happen more quickly than they do, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. In the meantime, keep showing up. Keep doing your work. Keep not quitting.
Good things come with patience and rarely last without practice.
2. Look for hidden opportunity.
Success is about being in the right place at the right time. We’ve all heard that. But what if you had more control over this than you realized?
For many of us, opportunity is staring us right in the face. We just fail to notice it.
How many stories illuminate this truth: the thing you want most is the very thing you are most ignoring? Every romantic comedy, every heroic tale, every great invention reinforces the same idea:
You don’t create opportunity. You recognize it.
But if there aren’t opportunities available, what do you do then? Open your eyes open. There are always options for those willing to look.
3. Go where you’re invited.
Don’t annoy your way into influence. Earn it. And if that doesn’t work, build the community you lack. In other words, don’t force your way in to a seat at someone else’s table. Create your own.
On the surface, this may sound dismissive, like the scene in Forrest Gump where all the kids on the bus say, “Seat’s taken.” But that’s not what I’m saying at all.
Here’s what I’m saying: You can spend your life trying to play by someone else’s rules, or you can realize we live in a world where you get to choose the game you play. So…
If playing by someone else’s rules means you lose, then it’s time to change the game.
This is the only way new markets are discovered and brilliant ideas come about — not by getting invited to the same party everyone else is attending, but by throwing your own. There are real inequities in our world, but working to overcome them is both honorable and possible.
Using the system
Every industry has its own set of rules and norms we have to play by for our work to be taken seriously. But what if that system rejects or just plain ignores you? In that case, you have a few options:
- Get better. This isn’t always the answer, but it often can be an answer. Steve Martin once said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” I think there is truth to that. It may not be fair, but you can work so hard your work has to stand out. It’s not right or necessarily fair, but it’s an option.
- Find a new network. If the people in the system don’t like what you’re doing, create another system. This is what the French Impressionists did when the gatekeepers of art rejected them. They made their own gallery, and invited people to it. A century later, people remember them. The world eventually caught up with that band of misfits. Rejection by the mainstream led to creation of a whole new art form.
- Change the system. This is hard to do if you’re “outside” the system but not impossible. Jim Henson used advertising dollars to fund puppets who made fun of the very ads that were sponsoring the show. Oprah Winfrey climbed the ranks of an all-white media world to educate people on the importance of race (among other things).
We all long for that beautiful moment in life when an unexpected voice says, “You can sit here if you want.” I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for countless of those voices in my life.
My hope is we can all be those voices for each other, that we can increase the size of the table and invite more people to the party, as the world changes and technology makes certain systems obsolete.
Call me naive, but I think there’s always room for more.
Last week, while speaking at a conference, someone asked who inspires me. I think I said Walt Disney. When I returned the question, the gentleman who started a nonprofit helping homeless people, said:
“The voiceless. People who don’t have a platform. That’s who inspires me.”
He proceeded to tell me story after inspiring story of individuals without a platform whose lives are making a difference. He was right. That was inspiring.
Last week, I caught a glimpse of that at the Tribe Conference, where 150 people combined their voices to help each other get heard. Instead of trying to earn the attention of a gatekeeper, they’re creating a new network, a place where together their collective voice is greater than any individual platform.
I think the opportunities to do this kind of work, to create your own network and include those who have been rejected or left behind by the system, are abundant. We just have to be willing to recognize them.