How To Make Things Happen (Instead of Waiting For Them To)

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Ever since I’ve gone over to Europe, the most common thing I hear from people is, “Oh, I wish I could do that!” And, my answer is usually the same, “Why can’t you?” Is this insensitive? Snobby? Bitchy? Because, to me, that’s a ticket out of mediocrity. Those three simple words, “WHY. CAN’T. YOU?” are freedom and empowerment and if you really wanted it, wouldn’t you be going for it?

I think one of the worst things in life is thinking about all the things you wish you could be doing, instead of doing them. It’s a terribly helpless feeling and I’m not immune to thinking this way, but I find that when I’m acting on my desires, that little voice seems to fade away. So, without further ado, I’m going to explain, straight out of my playbook, how I make things happen, instead of waiting for them to.

1. Decide and be clear about what you want
This is the quintessential HOW TO GET WHAT YOU WANT first step. Uh, decide what you want. Clever! And, believe me, I suck at this. I’ll be real honest with you there, because deciding what I want makes me go, “What about all the other things I’m missing out on!? WHAT IF I DIE AND NEVER GET THE CHANCE TO GO IN A HOT AIR BALLOON BECAUSE I WAS DOING SOMETHING LESS EXCITING?!” Irrational. Especially since I don’t even really care about going in a hot air balloon, but whatever.

When I’m feeling particularly restless and I get that feeling in the pit of my stomach, I sit down and figure out what’s causing the dissatisfaction. When I find the root (usually someone has something I want and I’m envious), then I decide what I want from that. Do I want what they have? Do I want something similar to what they have? Once I decide on that, I…

2. …Make decisions that are only in line with what you want
This is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER ON THE PLANET. Ok, no, not really, but it’s really quite important if you plan on ever getting anything that you want. People tend to think that if they scatter their efforts enough, if they have their hands in enough projects, that one of them will surely come to fruition and that’s the one they’ll focus on. This is completely backwards! Where’s your passion? Where’s your determination? When you have a million different things buzzing around, I think it becomes pretty clear that you haven’t found something that works for you yet. Every choice you make should fall in line with what you want. Whenever an opportunity is presented, ask yourself if this will propel you closer to what you want. If no, then decline. Simple as that. Don’t waste your time.

3. FOCUS
For example, when I was starting Shatterboxx, I had a bunch of opportunities up in the air. I was doing part-time Community Management with a tech company, was talking to someone about doing social media consulting for Napa wineries, was doing website design, and was trying to figure out how I could monetize my blog. You know what happened? I half-assed every single one of those things and got nowhere until I focused in on web design. I put the blinders on and devoted myself to becoming the best in web design, not pretty good at print design, web design, consulting, blogging, social media, etc. Focusing will, furthermore, release you from the anxiety of indecisiveness.

The Roman Forum — Roma, Italia

These tips work for everything in life, really. Do you want a healthy and amazing relationship? Well, you should probably be clear on that and then stop taking ten steps back by settling for a mediocre relationship or trying to find someone through one night stands or random hook ups. Do you want to be location independent? Then, only make decisions that are on course with that.

Just, please, for the love of god, don’t waste your life on wishes. I’m not lucky that I’m in Italy. I worked my ass off to start a company, then aligned myself with the decision to travel. Plus, I work with Rome (ROME!) in my backyard. Let me tell you that this is not an easy feat. And, truly, I’m not someone more blessed or lucky or special than you are. I’m just some chick that’s determined to never settle for second best and who truly believes anything is possible, because I can make it so.

So, don’t go on thinking that I’m this crazy lucky person who gets to live in Italy because the stars aligned for me! It’s not true. I MADE this happen by being determined and focused on what I wanted. And, seriously, if I can do it, SO CAN YOU. Now, GO!

39 people added their two cents. Add yours.

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sean October 1, 2009 at 7:45 am

Great thoughts Jamie. I have met so many people that are always saying the same thing “I want to do this” or “Someday I will go there too.” Fact of the matter is, if that is your mindset, someday is never going to come. Cheers to you for actually taking action and doing something worth reading about!

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2 Rey October 2, 2011 at 5:38 am

That’s exactly what I’m telling with my friends. Do what you want and conquer your fear

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3 Carlos October 1, 2009 at 8:00 am

Ohhh, yeahhh…

Don’t waste your time on wishes, you naled it there Jamie. I’m realizing lately that executions is truly where it’s at. We are all capable of dreaming. Fewer are capable of planning. Almost no one does.

Now, a question for you… can we turn that attitude “on”? Is it that simple for everyone else? Are you “lucky” to be like that?

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4 Kerri October 1, 2009 at 8:00 am

I really admire what you’re saying here, and agree with you to some extent, but have to be honest, Italian-style — for some of us, it’s not just a matter of being able to do it, wanting to do it, and then just doing it, because unfortunately, reality gets in the way. For instance, heck yeah I’d love to throw my flip flops, passport and Rosetta Stone in a bag and hightail it over to Italy on the next cheap flight out! But, I have a husband, a mortgage, and a baby on the way. So really, I can’t go live in Italy (or France), even though I really, REALLY want to.

Sure, if I were single and held accountable for my actions and my actions only, I’d do it in a second. I mean, why not? But unfortunately, life doesn’t always seem to work that way for everyone. It’s the ideal scenario, yes, but realistic, not so sure.

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5 Rahul October 1, 2009 at 6:32 pm

Kerri – Read this – http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/life-lessons-my-1-year-old-taught-me-while-backpacking-abroad/ or even better straight to the source – http://manvsdebt.com/

He has similar situations and he made things happen. We all have excuses (me too, far too many) but thats all they are…

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6 Kerri October 2, 2009 at 7:49 am

Thanks Rahul, I will check that out!

Also, I think reading Cath’s point below made me think of things from a different perspective — that it’s all just a matter of wanting what I currently have (family, home, stability) more than the things that I “want” (traveling abroad, going where the wind takes me)…but something tells me the article that you’re pointing me too will shed light on the fact that yes, it’s possible to do both and have the best of both worlds. I mean, what, I can’t travel with a baby bjorn AND a backpack? :) Thanks.

7 Ashley October 2, 2009 at 8:07 am

Without being insensitive, your husband, mortgage and baby on the way are the choices you have made. I think what Jamie is saying is that we all have choices; you still have a choice, in all actuality, but you are choosing to stay settled with a husband, mortgage and baby, which is where your priorities lie. If your priority were to live in Italy, you simply would make it happen.

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8 Kerri October 2, 2009 at 9:30 am

Yep, exactly. Makes sense now after thinking about it that way…as I said Cath’s comment below helped me see it in that light :)

9 Cath Duncan October 1, 2009 at 8:17 am

Totally agree. And for me the first step of deciding what we want is always the hardest. The reason why someone might feel they can’t do what they want because they have to do… (fill in the blank) is because they’re obviously wanting what they currently have more than the thing they say they want.

It’s not easy to establish priorities or to undo big parts of your life that have already been “done” a particular way, but we in reality we’re always prioritising something, and it helps to be conscious of what we’re prioritising, so we can decide if that’s what we really want to prioritise. And we never “have” to do anything – it’s always a choice.

Good on you for going after what you want!

Cath

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10 Carlos October 1, 2009 at 8:39 am

Amazing comment. People should remember that “choice” part of their past before complaining about their present.

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11 Sean October 1, 2009 at 9:02 am

This really is a good comment. I have been trying to decide what I want for the last year and a half, and I am just now figuring out what that is. The worst part about that though is that it has taken a year and a half to actually start taking action on what I want.

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12 Chelsea October 1, 2009 at 9:47 am

Wow, great post. I can’t think of anything that I just HAVE TO HAVE right now. But I can relate to the part about putting a little bit into a million diffferent things, hoping to get satisfaction out of one of them. Hmmm, maybe it’s time for me to clear out some of the crap!

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13 Sarah October 1, 2009 at 10:11 am

“Just, please, for the love of god, don’t waste your life on wishes.”

I love this and can relate to a lot of what you said. I have lived abroad for extended periods of time (6 months & 1 year) in Europe and South America and always got the same kind of comments from people who assumed that I was “lucky” and who had already resigned themselves to the idea that they could never do anything like that. The “Why Can’t You” attitude has always been my response too. It is far from easy, granted, but if it’s a priority, you CAN make it happen. And like you said, this doesn’t have to be living abroad, but whatever it is that you are truly passionate about and want from life.

Enjoy Italia!!

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14 Jenny Blake October 1, 2009 at 10:35 am

Absolutely amazing. The other day someone told me I was lucky to work at Google. I guess…but I also worked really hard and to get here. Same goes for you in italy!

One of my favorite Brian Tracy quotes is “I’ve found that luck is quite predictable. If you want more luck, take more chances. Be more active. Show up more often.”

This post was brilliant, and I really like the way you highlight the “player” mindset (vs. the victim mindset) of making things happen – not waiting around for them to happen to you.

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15 Michael October 1, 2009 at 11:34 am

Yep good stuff. I did that once and made it to the top of my industry. Thats where I thought I wanted to be. Just be careful what you wish for. Things are usually not as they appear.

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16 Tom McKay October 1, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Hi Jamie, I just discovered your blog (via Twitter, of course). Great stuff. Congrats. Gives me a wicked case of wanderlust, though. Thanks a lot. ;-)

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17 Katy October 1, 2009 at 1:37 pm

So awesome! I found this very inspiring. Especially the #2 one. So true. If you want something bad enough, everything you do should be propelling you forward to that.
Thanks for reminding me!

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18 Ben October 1, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Jamie, you rock. I love this post and agree with it completely. Decide what you want, go for it, don’t make excuses.

Ben

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19 Sydney October 1, 2009 at 4:03 pm

“I’m not lucky that I’m in Italy. I worked my ass off to start a company, then aligned myself with the decision to travel. Plus, I work with Rome (ROME!) in my backyard. Let me tell you that this is not an easy feat. And, truly, I’m not someone more blessed or lucky or special than you are. I’m just some chick that’s determined to never settle for second best and who truly believes anything is possible, because I can make it so.”

Now let me rewrite that for myself:

“I’m not lucky that I’m in Chicago. I worked my ass off to build my brand around my passion for and knowledge of the digital/social media space. Plus, I relocated from the warm and balmy Tampa, where there were no opportunities for big-name agency PR, to Chicago, which, second to, if not tied with NYC, is the PR capital of the freaking universe. Let me tell you that this is not an easy feat. And, truly, I’m not someone more blessed or lucky or special than you are. I’m just some chick that’s determined to never settle for second best and who truly believes anything is possible, because I can make it so. And once you settle on what you want to do, and you really, truly believe you can do it, you will. I did. You can too.”

Jamie, excellent post, as always. The last paragraph really resonated with me because I’m tired of people saying I’m lucky to be employed in this economy, that I’m lucky that I started my career at the world’s leading global PR firm, that I’m LUCKY to be where I’m at. This shit isn’t luck. If anyone knows me from when I started this journey – I’ve sacrificed a ton to get to where I’m at.

Thanks for posting. You should probably post 80 times a day. I’m just sayin’.

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20 Eve October 1, 2009 at 4:09 pm

You really nailed it again. Sometimes people say to me, “You’re so lucky to travel!” Most of it is, in fact, calculated steps, not luck. “Luck” plays a tiny, tiny portion. One of my friends said to me recently, “You’re so lucky to have traveled so much! How can you afford to do it?” The thing is — my friend makes MORE money than I do! I prioritized my life so that I could travel. I own no car, no house, etc. I planned my move abroad for about a year before I did it. Narrowing down the limitless choices some of us have to just one is crucial in order to make a dream a reality.

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21 nicole antoinette October 1, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Yeah, okay. I’m pretty sure we should get married.

No? Too much?

:)

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22 Jamie Varon | A Life in Translation October 2, 2009 at 3:49 am

Where’s my ring?

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23 Rubi Torres October 2, 2009 at 5:04 am

Great post! Thanks. I have translated to my Ecuadorian readers … http://bit.ly/2M2xZX

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24 Lance Haun October 7, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Probably the clearest point is number one. People say that to you because they don’t know what they want. Or they think they would want something like that but haven’t actually thought about it.

And while a certain part of me wants to say that people fear the unknown, the uncomfortable and the work necessary to make their desires happen, they mostly fear that their life lacks direction or purpose and that making something happen defines that direction (which yes, certainty defining direction can be scary as well).

I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s. The only way anyone gets there is by living on purpose rather than waiting for life to reveal purpose.

Enjoyed this.

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25 Ari October 7, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Hey Jamie!

Such good advice. As always, you are an inspiration. As someone who has a bunch of fires on the stove, I’ve been trying to really narrow down my focus. My question for you is, when you finally picked yours, what did you do first? How did you start “becoming the best”? Any advice for those of us in this beginning stage?

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26 dummy October 18, 2009 at 11:46 pm

Easier said than done. I always lived pessimistically and it had served me well. No expectation, so worries, just wait for your time to die. I eat all I want, don’t expect any finer things in life and return none as well. I do work just enough to live my life. WHY CAN’T YOU is not for everyone, its only for those who wants more in life than they already have. For those people I wish all the best.

Just in case your wondering why I even bothered to comment at all. Well, its simple answer, I felt like it.

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27 Karina October 22, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Hey there, I’m new to your blog and am digging the visual elements but no surprise there, since you’re a designer!

Have to give out an AMEN to the bit about focus. And it IS hard to tell yourself that you are going to expend your energy/talent/focus on one specific things when there are so many out there just begging for your time as well, but if you spread yourself out, I find that you wind up feeling like NOTHING is getting accomplished or at least, not in the way you want to accomplish them.

Thanks for your work, I’m definitely subscribing. Very new to this blog thing, btw, but I am trying to…focus…on it more :)

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28 Adriana January 23, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Hi! Jamie,
Just want to thank you for this, I was at home thinking on what to read, what book to buy to help me get out of my own mental prison, and I found you.. I am a 34 yrs old woman live day by day, pay check to pay check and I’m a single parent with no family. I do believe what you say we must go out and make things happen but in my case I feel I have no motivation or support to push me to do all things I would love to do, maybe depression or no motivation, or lack of opportunity. I have had a rough life losing both my parents at a young age and not having a family to help me so I depend only on me. I have lots of goals but don’t know how to get motivated to go out and make things happen because of all the things life has thrown at me that discouraged me. Any advice??

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29 Brook March 15, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Ok, so I am trying to figure out what I should do with my life, and it is very hard to decide what I want to do, I mean if it were up to me, I would not even be here right now. I would be in some foreign country studying the culture, language and experimenting with different foods that they have to offer. However, that cannot happen because well I am a kid. I want so many things to happen but “determination” can still get you nowhere. I am one of the best students in my school and I want to do many things, but sadly I cannot. I always try too, but I just cannot make what I want happen. Advice from teachers don’t mean anything if you cannot to use them and learn from them. You are one hundred percent right that if you have the will and strength, you are able to get through anything. However, not everything can go as planned, not everything can happen the way you view it, and if you do follow your dreams sometimes you can hurt the people around you in different ways.

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30 Brook March 15, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Ok, so I am trying to figure out what I should do with my life, and it is very hard to decide what I want to do, I mean if it were up to me, I would not even be here right now. I would be in some foreign country studying the culture, language and experimenting with different foods that they have to offer. However, that cannot happen because well I am a kid. I want so many things to happen but “determination” can still get you nowhere. I am one of the best students in my school and I want to do many things, but sadly I cannot. I always try too, but I just cannot make what I want happen. Advice from teachers don’t mean anything if you cannot use them and learn from them. You are one hundred percent right that if you have the will and strength, you are able to get through anything. However, not everything can go as planned, not everything can happen the way you view it, and if you do follow your dreams sometimes you can hurt the people around you in different ways.

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31 darryl mockridge June 24, 2011 at 7:40 pm

It’s not true what you say. It’s nice to believe that Life works that way, but it doesn’t. I’m not trying to dull your enthusiasm; I’m trying to offer you good advice. For example: all the focus in the world will not get me a job in Asheville, NC, where there are already thousands out of work. Additionally, should we take your advice and simply go there, I’d be without work and the welfare of my wife, her cat, and our dog would be in jeopardy. I’ve remained focused on this desire for more than seven years now. For that time it has been my only wish. You simply can not make things happen that will not happen. Want it all you want, ache for it, yearn for it, pray for it. If there are no jobs available in Asheville, you ain’t gettin’ a job in Asheville. It’s nice to maintain a positive outlook, and probably a good general approach to life, but that doesn’t mean we can make things happen by any means.
It is nice that things work out for those that they work out for. Be thankful.

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32 Darryl Mockridge November 10, 2011 at 11:07 pm

http://estuarypublications.com/TRIALINTRO.html
This is my attempt to make something happen.
It’s about three years work

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33 Pell_de_lluna December 4, 2011 at 10:47 am

Hey!! You really made me feel better reading this! So thanks! Maybe sometimes we just need a little push from someone else to act! :)

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34 Renata February 18, 2012 at 12:41 pm

OMGGG I really needed to read that! Dreams are the start of the journey, but determination, perseverance are key elements to thrive in this world! Thanks for reminding me that.

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35 KP May 7, 2012 at 4:18 am

speed of dream is much more than the speed of light.
BUT
our speed of doing???????
It is the main reason why dont we accomplish things as we dream.
our wishes are overwhelming,we cant stop anymore,we enjoy fantasies.but reality is different
THE MAGIC OF ACCOMPLISHMENT comes from
PERSISTANCE,PATIENCE,PLANNING,PRESEVERENCE
WORK HARD,MASTI HARD
KP(informal student of positive psychology) NEPAL

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