Everyone makes mistakes. It is part of being human. Sometime they are simple, small and relatively inconsequential. Other times they are big and fairly monumental. We make them when we are young, and despite the acquired wisdom of age, we make them when we are old. Regardless, your mistakes do not define who you are; how you react to them does.

Some people let the weight of their errors drag them down. They can not see past them, can’t seem to forgive themselves and move on. They relive them, and feel the guilt like an anchor holding them in port, unable to sail on. You don’t want to be one of these people. Their reaction to a mistake compounds the error. If you have made a misstep, whether it be on the job or with your family, the best thing to do is to own it, try to learn from it, and then let it go.

Own it. If an apology is appropriate, then apologize. Don’t try to hide it, pretend it didn’t happen or pass the buck to someone else. If you lost an account because you forgot to write the meeting into your schedule, just own up to the fact that your screwed up. There are few people if approached sincerely who will not forgive a truly contrite person. And to be honest, those who won’t are probably not people you want to be around anyway.

Learn from it. It is cliche, but it is true: everyone makes mistakes, just don’t make the same one twice. Every time we make a misstep there is an opportunity to learn something, to become a better person tomorrow than we were today. To stick with our example from above, maybe now you realize that your fancy scheduling and note taking app on your phone looks great, but is too awkward to really use on a day-to-day basis. In order to not miss any future meetings you need to go back to pen and paper. If your apology is coupled with a lesson learned and a plan not to repeat the error, most people will see that as an overall positive.

Let it go. I know, I’m singing it in my head now too– but it’s true. If we hold on to every time we make a mistake it is going to be a lead weight around our necks. Life is too short to do that to yourself, and besides, rehashing the event over and over doesn’t lead to anything positive. It just makes you feel lousy. If you have owned it, and learned something from it, there is nothing left for that error of judgement to do. It can only be a negative at this point, so just let it go and move on.

Remember, you mistakes will never define you, but your reactions to them will. Own them, learn from them and then let them go. You’ll be a better co-worker, family member and human being for the effort.

“Character- the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life- is the source from which self-respect springs.” ~ Joan Didion

That quote hit me like a punch in the face when I first read it. At once I understood and agreed with what she meant, but I also felt accused and chastised. I suppose that is the point, right? It is so very easy to blame others for my own failures, missteps or lack of success. However, if I stop and look at my life objectively, any mistakes are my own, not someone else’s. And rather than bellyache about them I should just take responsibility for them and push on. Get better. Succeed.

I’m guessing you are not any different.

If you are in the middle of a long job search then I’d guess it is even easier to fall into that place where you’d rather throw a pity party than do the hard work to overcome obstacles and succeed. I get it. I’ve been there too. But the thing is, after a while, that behavior starts to become a habit. Then our whining and complaining about the unfairness of the whole process becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

-There is too much conflicting advice on how to write my resume.
-Recruiters never call me back.
-Interviewers ask unreasonable questions.
-Networking takes too much time.
-HR departments set up hurdles no normal person can get through.

While there is certainly a kernel of truth in all of these statements, eventually this is all you’ll see. How do you think you’ll sound on an interview when you finally land one if this is the kind of interior dialogue you have going through your head?

So the next time I find myself in that kind of cycle I’m going to try to remember that I am not the first person to face such odds or obstacles. In fact, many people have had it far worse than me and still made it through to the other side. What right do I have to moan and complain about how the Fates are set against me?

Am I fighting real religious persecution?
Is disease ravaging my country?
Am I or my neighbors lining up in bread lines?
Am I in a trench fighting over 3 feet of land for months upon months?

No, I just wish my life could be a little easier. I just wish I didn’t have to forgo a newer, nicer car to repair the roof on my otherwise nice home. I just wish my perfectly healthy kid would stop back talking me so much. I just–

Never mind.

Time to get to work.

In times of stress look for the why

Ever have one of those weeks where everything just seems to be falling your way. You sleep great. The kids actually seem to be behaving. Nothing in the house breaks down or stops working. Your colleagues are agreeable and your boss notices the solid work you’ve been doing.

These times don’t happen often, but when they do we feel like we could take on the world. In fact, it is often times like these when our very best work comes out. Most people can perform well when everything is going in their favor.

But how about when the opposite is in effect. How do you perform when the kids are sick and you’re sleeping five hours a night? Can you still deliver when your boss gives credit to another team member who is only riding your coat tails? Is your performance still on target when you are worrying about how to pay for that leaky roof?

It is in times of adversity that we reveal who we really are. I for one often find myself lacking. It doesn’t take a lot to throw me off my game and when it happens I can almost stand outside of myself as an objective observer and see it happen. But that doesn’t change the fact that stress does a number on me. So I know this is something I know I need to work on.

What I try to do is to personify adversity. I look at it like a teacher. This isn’t a new idea. People like Plato, Marcus Aurelius and even Yoda have taught the same. But tried and true methods become cliché because they work. When I see adversity as a teacher I can more easily pull myself out of the situation and look at it as a lesson that I can learn from.

For instance, if a client is really unhappy with a given piece of work even though I have provided exactly what they asked for, I look at it as a lesson in patience. I could get a bit upset and explain how I am delivering on our agree upon project. But instead I step back and realize that as someone who works with people looking for work, I am also working with people at their most vulnerable. Sometimes when people lose control of one aspect of their lives, in this case their job, they try to exert control over something else: our project. When I look at it from this perspective I can see the why, not just the what of the client’s actions.

This is just a small example, but I think it illustrates the point well. When we look at adversity as a teacher trying to help us build character it causes us to look for the why when trouble happens. Why is this happening to me now and in this particular way? What can I learn from it? If nothing else it helps you break the cycle of stress and look at the problem from a different perspective. And for me at least, any strategy that lessens stress is a good one.

Things happen. It’s the way of the world. As much as we’d like to be able to go back in time and remake the world according to our likes and preferences that just isn’t possible. (At least not yet. I’m sure Elon Musk must have something cooking along these lines.)

So now what? If we can’t rid the world of accidents, mishaps, back luck and utter catastrophe, what do we do?
Rather than remake the world, it is in fact far easier to remake ourselves. We need to become resilient. This way when the inevitable happens, as Seneca would say, we can “let fate find us prepared and active.” That’s all well and good you may say, but how do we become resilient? Luckily there are concrete steps you can take, especially when it comes to your career.

The first step is to imagine the worst. What are some horrible things that could happen to you in regards to your career? The most obvious is losing your job entirely, but what else? Demotion? Transfer? New boss? New mission? New vision for the company? Make a nice big doom and gloom list. Once you see it in black and white in front of you it will be easier to prepare.

Next, imagine how you’d deal with each one. Remember, we are thinking about what we can actually accomplish, not what we wish we could do. We may wish we could get upper management to see they should never have reorganized our division, but that won’t happen. What we can do is learn the new game and play it as best we can. We may wish we could turn back the clock and not be let go. But we can call on contacts to get an interview in another firm. Sketch out a quick response to each career catastrophe.

Now, prepare for the worst. Some career hiccups are easier to prepare for than others. A new boss for instance requires a shift in attitude and perhaps a little relationship building. Being prepared for that is more about keeping your state of mind open. Losing your job and thus looking for a new one is a large undertaking and there are things you can- and should- have in place well beforehand. [References, well developed connections, a ready-to-go resume etc.]. Create your plans and then get to work. If you need to write your resumes then do it. If you need to save a month’s salary to put aside, then do it. Even if it takes a long time to have your contingency plans in place, the very act of working towards them will strengthen your will if anything should happen. The more prepared you are the better your reactions will be.

This is where resiliency really kicks in. You’ll never be caught flat-footed because you will have thought about this before. You thought about, acknowledged it, prepared to deal with it and put a plan of action in place. If you have a plan in place for all the possible worst-case scenarios then when some of them inevitably happen you’ll be ready and prepared to meet that fate with action.

The year:1992

The place: Assumption College, Worcester, MA

The class: Comparative Literature

That is where my love for the classics first began. I can remember sitting in that room like it was yesterday. I had never had a proper introduction to the works of ancient Rome and Greece in high school, so it was up to college to stoke that fire. And it has burned brightly ever since. (OK that make have been a too cheesy a metaphor. Must be an undergrad flashback.) While I went on to become an English teacher, I try to bring in the classics when ever I can.

So it has been heartening to see one of my favorite Roman writers getting his due among the popular blogging set recently.

Seneca seems to be everywhere lately. I read about the value of being alone over at Brain Pickings. Someone tweeted out Tim Ferris’ 2009 posting of On The Shortness of Life, one of Lucius Seneca‘s most famous letters. Then I came across Shane Parrish’s take over at Farnam Street where he has had three different posts on the ancient philosopher since July.

So with all the recent love for the prolific statesman who died nearly 2,000 years ago, I thought I would share some of my own favorite selections. Much of Seneca’s works are particularly relevant to those who aspire to be leaders in the workplace, or the community at large. His advice is simple, timeless and true.

The following all come from Letters From a Stoic, a Penguin Classics edition that still sits on my shelf reminding me of college days gone by.

Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one. People learn as they teach.

Having a support network of mutually accountable peers is one key to future success. Following the advice to surround yourself with people whom you can teach, and in turn learn from, will allow you to grow as a leader. I know it has certainly helped my own career as a teacher and writer.

No one should feel pride in anything that is not his own.

In an era where managers all to often take the credit for work down by those they manage this short piece of advice is sorely needed. If you want those who work for you to feel empowered to take risks and help your department shine, then you need to be prepared to fade into the background and give credit where credit is due.

What is required is not a lot words, but effectual ones. 

And:

As it is with a play, so it is with life—what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is. 

After recently reviewing Talk Like Ted, it seems clear that this is something we constantly need to be reminded of. We don’t need to have 60 minute meetings, and endless Power Point presentations don’t have to be the norm just because we’ve always worked that way. The saying, less is more, is a maxim for a reason.

So whether you are an up-and-coming MBA student, or you are a fire-tested CEO, reading a little bit of Seneca now and then is time well spent, and the easy-to-read translation from Penguin, Letters From a Stoic, is a great place to start.

Success: noun 1. the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

Success is one of those slippery terms that seems to mean different things to different people. That is O.K., but if you are going to go after it, you’d better have a clear sense of what it means to you.

What is it you are aiming for?

What is your purpose?

For me, success is built around time. I want to have enough of it to enjoy my kids while they are young, enough to spend time with my wife, enough to pursue passions of my own. As best I can, I purposefully build my life around the concept of time. I continually ask myself, “Is this project/task/work worth the time it will take?”

My definition of success is what lead me to embark on a career as an executive resume writer. If I have to, I can get my work done at 2 in the morning while the rest of my family is asleep. (Luckily that doesn’t happen too often.)

However, your definition of success may be quite different. Perhaps you have a 5-year plan with concrete goals you want to hit. Maybe you have a dream job that you are carefully laying the groundwork for. Maybe your idea of success is helping others reach their goals.

Whatever your concept of a successful life, sometimes it helps to stop and really think about what it will take to achieve your goals. With that in mind, what follows are the 5 most searched quotes on success with a brief explanation of what they mean.

1. In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure. 

Fear of failure is a real, honest-to-god, stumbling block for many of the most successful people in the world. What sets them apart is that they want to succeed more than they are afraid to fail. Cultivating a desire to succeed should be the first step towards becoming successful.

2. The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will. ~ Vince Lombardi

Once you have the desire to achieve your goals, you have to build the will to keep at it no matter what may come. Because trust me, you will hit road bumps, blocks and outright detours a long the way. When that happens don’t think you are too weak or too uneducated to keep at it. It is will more than anything that allows successful people to make it.

3. To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence. ~ Mark Twain

Everyone should have someone in their life who has their best interests in mind and will be straight with them when they need it. But, for the most part, you should hold fast to your goals no matter what others think. Sometimes others will criticize you for continuing along your path. A little self-imposed ignorance goes along way. Don’t let yourself get rationalized out your you idea of success. At the end of the day, this is about your story, not everyone else’s.

4. If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to meet it! ~ Jonathan Winters

Your dream isn’t going to just show up on your doorstop one day. More often than not it won’t even meet you half way. You need to go get it. To succeed requires action, the more the better.

5. Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. ~ Winston Churchill

Finally, keep reminding yourself that each failure is another stepping stone on the road to success. Edison failed over 1,000 times before inventing the light bulb and I am pretty sure everyone would consider him a success.