When I was young, my mother and I were watching an old Western on TV. She made an offhand comment that seemed like nothing at the time, but it ended up instilling in me a take-charge attitude toward life.
It was toward the end of the film when all seemed lost for the good guy. He had no horse, no sidekick, no more ammunition. He looked out across the desert and saw nothing but cactus and tumbleweed. "See that?" my mother said. "The cavalry ain't comin'."
As I reflected on that remark over the years, I realized what it meant: No matter how deserving we think we are, we can't wait for someone else to gallop in and rescue us. Instead, we need to become our own cavalry by observing the following rules:
1. Own up to where you are and how you got there. You can blame outside factors or make excuses about why things didn't work out, but that doesn't change anything. Nine times out of 10, extenuating circumstances aside, I believe that people are where they are by some kind of choice on their part. You need to acknowledge that, "Hey, I'm here because I steered my horse in this direction."
2. Stop waiting for something to miraculously happen. Some people who are trying to reclaim their dreams or reinvent their lives usually have an excuse why that won't work or what the downside will be. Others are waiting for circumstances to change and transport them elsewhere. In other words, they're still waiting for the cavalry to arrive.
3. Take your power back. Sometimes we are so busy helping others that we forget about ourselves. Remember it's okay to say no and to ask others to carry their own weight. I also often hear people say that the deck is stacked against them because of racism, sexism or other oppressive "isms." But once you let go of the blame and excuses you'll see that you can alter your position on your own.
4. Reflect on a time when your can-do attitude worked. Maybe you can recall a time when you didn't wait for someone to help you and you took charge of a situation yourself. Remember, if you did it before, you can do it again.
5. Be patient. Thought patterns often take longer to change than behavior. The key is to start and allow the initiation of action to create momentum. That's not an opinion, by the way. It's the law of physics.
So when the road gets tough and you find yourself gazing hopefully out toward the horizon, remember this: The cavalry ain't coming. It's up to you to rescue yourself!
This article is adapted from Chris Gardner's book, Start Where You Are.