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The Wooden Nickel:  You Can't Always Get What You Want

The Wooden Nickel: You Can't Always Get What You Want

February 18, 2021

Have you ever failed to get something you really wanted?

Maybe you had your heart set on a college acceptance letter from your “top” choice, only to be rejected and had to settle for a different school. Or you thought you wanted to pursue a specific career, but when you started studying for that major, you realized you had no aptitude for it. 

Perhaps you applied for a job that sounded just perfect, only for them to tell you they found somebody else better suited for the task.

You asked somebody out on a date, and she had a kind excuse for why she couldn’t go, but what you really heard was “no, not you”. 

You gave an absolutely perfect sales presentation, and you knew you had nailed it. Still, the prospect didn’t buy.

Most of us have experienced at least some of these things. If you haven’t yet, you will. If you have, you know when somebody tells you “hey, it’s not personal,” that it most likely is personal, and IT HURTS!

Now that you’re looking back on those not-too-great memories, think about what happened next. Presumably you picked yourself up, dusted yourself off, and moved on to something else. 

Turns out the college you wound up attending worked out great and you made lifelong friends you’d never have met at your “top” choice. You missed out on the great job, only to discover a better career path in a different industry. You found a different house in a better neighborhood.  The person you wanted to date turned out to be a miserable spouse…for somebody else.

Of course, not every missed opportunity was a dodged bullet. Some things you didn’t get were really great and you still wish you had gotten them. Things don’t always work out!

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”  Note that the Rolling Stones qualified this with “sometimes” and “might”; those are important qualifiers. They weren’t saying it always works out in the end, but it might!

My own career path went very differently than I had hoped and planned. As a banker in my prior life, I had always thought I wanted to be promoted to Bank President. I never got that promotion, and lucky for me because I would have been terrible at it!  Instead, in frustration I went searching for a different career and found one that better suited my skills and interests (this one!).  I would have never tried to find a new career if I had been promoted to be an ok Bank President.

There are other examples, but I don’t want to give the impression that all has been perfect.  Nor do I want to just blithely say that “hey, don’t worry, it all works out!”  No, sometimes you just plain fail, and there’s no getting around that. 

We must plan, dream, and work for goals, but often there are lots of other factors in our successes or failures that have nothing to do with us. We dodge obstacles and try to move forward, but sometimes obstacles flatten us, and we just can’t return to our chosen path.  We must adapt, change our perspective, and yes, sometimes give up on one dream and pursue another.

Planning is not about writing a script to follow.  Our lives are not plays for which we memorize the lines, recite them, and then bow for the applause.  Planning is about giving ourselves the ability to adapt to the changing conditions that life throws at us. If we don’t have the ability to deal with changing circumstances, we are doomed to let the waves of life bash us around. 

Workplace issues, unexpected illnesses, the economy, the weather, maturing relationships, technology, career obsolescence, or plain bad luck:  these problems are not our fault, but they can knock us around. Some unintended failures will make us worse off, but some will lead us to better places. Planning is about preparing for both outcomes and dealing with the next obstacles thrown our way.  Plan for success but learn from failure.

Here in my fifth decade of life, I realize that the world will do what the world will do.  I can fight it, or I can deal with it. Either approach can be the right thing to do at different times. The main thing to remember is that some days I won’t win my heart’s desire, but sometimes that winds up being a good thing.