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You’re Exactly Where You’re Supposed to Be

This is our first article of 2024. This time of the year, it’s natural to reflect about what happened over the course of 2023. Hopefully, you had some great successes you can build on. But I’m sure you had some frustrations as well. Even in the best of times, there are things that continue to cause us stress. Sometimes those frustrations feel so big, you wonder what you’ve done to deserve it or what you can do to escape. Whether you’re focused on your achievements or frustrations of 2023, I want you to know that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be and have everything you need to create the 2024 you want. Let’s talk about what that means.

Over the break, I watched the movie, Elf. Now, if you haven’t seen it or it’s been a while, basically Buddy is a human baby that Santa brought to the North Pole many years back. As he grew up, he felt increasingly out of place. Eventually, his adopted elf dad told him who his biological father was, and Buddy set out to find him in New York City. This leads to many hilarious “fish out of water” situations, as well as struggles for our hero, Buddy. The climax of the movie is that Santa’s sleigh runs into trouble and crashes in of all places, Central Park, right smack dab in the middle of New York City. Now when we got to this point in the movie, I skeptically thought, “Oh sure, Santa crashes exactly in the place where Buddy is who happens to be the only person trained to fix his sleigh.” I mean isn’t this how all movies end? The hero is in the right place at the right time with the right skills to solve the problem. It’s a nice wrap up for a movie, but how realistic is that in real life?

Well just as soon as I thought that less than Christmasy thought, my brain interrupted me, “Yes, Anne, that’s exactly how life is. Your struggles are what lead you to the places you need to be to learn, grow, and overcome them.” As I reflected on that thought, I realized that the only difference is that in our own lives it’s just not tied up nicely with the closing credits. We continue to grow and evolve over the course of our lives. That is, unless we choose not to.

Now, this thought didn’t come to me in isolation. Over the past few years, I’ve had to change how I look at myself and my environment. One of my own coaches taught me, “Life isn’t testing you; it’s reflecting you.” In other words, it’s not that there are external factors that mysteriously show up and get in your way. It’s your own identity – who you are – that creates much of the stress and frustration in your life. For example, if you’re the type of person – aka who you are – who isn’t good at navigating conflict, then what are you going to be challenged with in your life? Conflict, right? You’re going to notice it more and be more sensitive to it. And it’s going to increase your stress. But if you’re the type of person who IS comfortable with conflict, then that same exact situation wouldn’t be stressful for you, right?

I had to learn this lesson about sales early in my shift from campus life to running Strengths University. I’d always believed I was bad at sales. I remembered being a Girl Scout back in the day when you literally had to knock on doors to sell those cookies. I hated every minute of it. I was a shy kid, and it felt like torture and thus I didn’t get very good results. Since I believed that I wasn’t good at sales, I avoided all aspects of sales, including learning how to become better at it. This wasn’t a huge deal when I worked on campus. Sure, we had to “sell” to students in some sense to get them to come to programs or be engaged in certain things. But it didn’t feel like sales. If no one came to an event or a program, it was a bummer, but I still got paid. On campus, the admissions folks were the real salespeople.

But when I left campus, I no longer had a captive audience. If people didn’t listen to my podcast or register for my programs, it meant I couldn’t earn a living. I needed to be able to sell and I was frustrated because everywhere I looked, all I saw were sales that I didn’t get. Even more importantly, those examples reinforced my belief that I wasn’t a salesperson. Do you see how my identity, in this case as a person who was not a good salesperson, directly impacted the challenges and stress I faced? Many folks would simply take this as a sign that I needed to either pay someone to do sales for me, which I couldn’t afford, OR go find a job that didn’t involve sales. I mean if I’m not good at sales, what other option is there?   

Instead, I focused on upgrading my identity. I challenged the belief I had that I wasn’t good at sales. I set out to learn how to sell in a way that was authentic to me and the mission of Strengths University. Then I slowly began to integrate that new knowledge and skills. Does this mean I magically turned into a master salesperson? Absolutely not. But before, the looming threat of having to sell held so much power over me, it made me feel helpless and spiked my stress. But I decided that my negative experience selling Girl Scout cookies oh so many years ago wasn’t going to keep me from pursuing my dream now. This switch empowered me to feel more confident in myself and my abilities. Yes, I still had to learn how to sell, but I was no longer going to be held back by my circumstances.

I was the Elf in Central Park struggling to find myself and overcome the things I saw as overwhelming. And when I came across Santa’s sleigh, or in this case my lack of sales, I upgraded my identity to someone who was perfectly capable of selling. Now, I may not always make the sale, but I’m comfortable doing it and the stress around selling has decreased significantly.

If there are things in your life that feel overwhelming or stressful, it’s easy to assume that it’s because you’re not in the right job or the right place. Or it might seem like there are external forces at hand that you can’t change, things like your boss does or doesn’t do ____; your team members aren’t living up to your expectations; or you keep getting asked to do too many things.

Yes, sometimes if you look at your Strengths and values, there may very well be a lack of alignment which need to be resolved. And sometimes there are systemic issues in society or at your institution that are working against you. I just want to be clear that when I’m talking about you being exactly in the right place, if you’re in a toxic environment or are experiencing abuse of any kind, then you need to get yourself out of there. You may still need to upgrade your identity to do that, but your physical, mental, and emotional safety need to be your number one priority.

But for most of us, the things that feel like external factors are really driven by our own beliefs, knowledge, and skills. In other words, they’re a reflection of our identity. Getting another job and hoping things are different there, isn’t going to solve your problems. It still puts you at the mercy of other people and their behaviors. If you want to be empowered no matter where you are, who’s around you, or what circumstances you encounter, you need to upgrade your identity. You need to challenge your beliefs about yourself and the world. You need to discover what skills and knowledge you need to upgrade how you navigate these challenges.

  • If your boss doesn’t give you the details you need to be successful, you need to learn how to communicate better so you can get that information and/or set appropriate boundaries. No, you can’t control them, but you can continue to ask for clarification and let them know that you’re not going to be able to complete the project until you get that information. Your boss is going to continue to act the way they do because you continue to react the way YOU do.

  • If your team members aren’t living up to your expectations, that’s an issue. And sure, they are the ones who control whether they decide to do something or not. But if you’re not communicating your expectations clearly or holding your team accountable, then that’s what’s driving their behavior. If you’re not being clear or letting folks get away with not doing what you need them to do, that’s why you’re always frustrated with their results. They have no incentive to change unless you change.

  • If your workload just keeps getting bigger and bigger, it’s because you’re accepting that you must continue to take on all those things. But what if you learned how to set better boundaries? What if you checked in on how your Strengths are showing up to see if you’re adding things to your own plate unnecessarily? What if you learned how to prioritize or delegate? All these things involve challenging the beliefs you have about yourself and your place in the world. When you upgrade your identity and change how you navigate your interactions with others and yourself, you’ll get different results.


So, what will be your story in 2024? Will it be a continuation of the frustration and struggles of 2023 because you let your circumstances control your life? Or will you step up and be the leader that your team needs you to be? Will you step up and be the leader YOU need you to be? Even if the stress around you feels overwhelming, you get to choose how your story ends.  

External circumstances can only control you if you believe they are larger than you. Sales felt larger than me, so for a long time it seemed beyond my capabilities. But when I switched that story and increased my knowledge and skills in that area, my identity was upgraded to one of a person that was good at selling. And with that, the stress and frustration I felt around that area melted away. You can do the same thing with the frustrations and challenges that you face. You don’t need to run away or hope other people change this year. You’re where you’re supposed to be right now. You just need to look at those frustrations as opportunities. Then think about how you need to show up differently in 2024 to get the results and the life you want.

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