I try to live my life like a Chinese farmer

I've lost jobs before. Had business deals go south. I've had clients back out of engagements. I thought I had over $100k in consulting work to close in one month. It turned out it was $0 of work. That was a hard one to deal with.

Like everybody else would be, I was distraught each time this happened.

I worked hard for a deal. I put in the time, energy and effort. And nothing came of it. Or it fell apart at the very end. People would tell me "oh that's tough, but you will get it next time." Inside, I was miserable.

Each and every one of these caused me to question what I was doing. Am I on the right path? Should I give up and do something else? Maybe this is the sign I am looking for to open a restaurant called Mike's Cereal Shack. Then something great would happen.

I land a new gig. I meet an advisor, mentor or colleague to work on a deal together. Or some business opportunity comes up. Or speaking, writing, consulting or something that would make most people excited.

And I would be elated. Over the moon. Ecstatic. The misery of the lost deal or opportunity went away.

Then I read a parable of a Chinese farmer. I'm not sure where I read this or who wrote it. But it has stuck with me for a long time.

There was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.”

The farmer said, “Maybe.”

The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!”

The farmer again said, “Maybe.” 

The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad.”

The farmer responded, “Maybe.” 

The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!”

Again, he said, “Maybe.”

Each time I lost an opportunity, something else came instead. And each time I took an opportunity, I lost out on something else. It becomes an infinite loop.

If I were to lose my job tomorrow, would it be bad? Maybe.

If I were to land a huge client, would it be good? Maybe.

It is impossible to tell until after it happens.

Instead of seeing things as good or bad, I try to think of things as being useful or not. Is it useful to lose my job? It is if it opens up new opportunities in the future. Is it useful to land a huge client? Not if the engagement takes up all of your time and energy and you want to allocate your resources elsewhere.

You can't tell if something is useful until after it happens. Opportunities, deals, jobs, engagements aren't good or bad. They just are.

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