“Life just got ahead of me.” I’ve heard that mantra too many times from members of older generations looking back on their regrets of what could have been. It’s sullen, defeatist, and simply mind-boggling why people let go of their various ideas, dreams, visions, and goals before at least trying. That stagnation is starting to rear it’s ugly head in our generation, and to say the least, it’s stifling.

As humans, we all react to the situations around us. A car cuts us off during rush hour and we narrowly dodge into the next lane. Our stomach growls and then we eat a meal. These are typical and often instinctual reactions. While these simple reactions keep us alive and in motion in our day-to-day lives, it’s the act of falling into what I will term (though claim no credit for) reactive attitudes that can actually keep us from achieving what we are each individually capable of.

That is to say, instead of taking control of our lives in a proactive manner, we resign ourselves to waiting for opportunities. A friend of mine is doing an internship at a local networking/programming company, and they are notorious for not promoting people based on seniority. His department when he started had no direct supervisor and instead was run by the human resources manager. He worked with a guy named John and another fellow named Rick. Both were great workers, but Rick had been with the company for years. Both felt like they needed a direct supervisor available when they needed help. Both wanted a promotion.

Tired of waiting, John decided to recommend that their department needed someone overseeing them directly and went to upper level management to suggest it. The next week, he was newly-titled networking supervisor and making nearly twice as much than he was before. Rick was not pleased – he felt that having seniority over John made him more deserving of that position. He complained more than anyone about how stressful it was to not have a manager on-hand. He finally quit a few weeks later, Rick filed in his two weeks and left the company.

Not making this about business ethics, one can’t help but see the difference. John decided to take a small risk and suggest they create a new position. By moving out of his comfort zone, he completely created a promotion for himself. Rick might have complained about the need for a supervisor (reacting to the situation), but did nothing to change the situation, again reacting by quitting when John was promoted. Sometimes opportunities aren’t there, such as here where the position didn’t even exist, so John proactively created one.

For the more aware, this isn’t specifically an attack of reactive thinking in favor of proactive thinking – those are an entirely different beast, and we all want to be able to react quickly and correctly when life throws us a curveball. It’s having reactive attitudes towards life in general that stop people dead in their tracks. We all have visions. A lot of us would love the opportunity to follow them. The musicians, artists, corporate executives, movie stars, and athletes we all hear about had them to. The difference is that they pursued them. They actively found an opportunity. Too many of us sit around and wait for careers, goals, people, or a significant other to fall in our lap when we could be out there actively finding opportunities.

My dad had a talent for guitar and always regretted never heading out west to try to make it big. Instead of taking the shot, he just stuck around and dragged his feet here with a job – and if I may be honest, a life – that he hated. My initial reaction to that story when he told me it was “He probably would have failed anyway”. Over the years that one has lingered and I can’t help but feel a bit saddened by it. We all walk around expecting failure to the degree that we actively avoid it.

This isn’t some feel-good message about chasing your dreams. I won’t hold your hand and tell you that if you try hard enough, every goal will be met and that you will certainly be a success. Odds are, my dad would have never made it big and moved back home. You probably will too. Life has clear winners and losers. Your vision may just be not as amazing as you think it is. You might lose some money, might make some mistakes, might have to swallow some pride. Welcome to life. Why is failure such a deterrent for us? Why wait for opportunities when they are everywhere around us? Go out, connect with people. Apply at jobs in a field you like. And yeah, you might fail. So you keep going until you don’t. For every successful man, there’s a thousand laid to waste with their less-than-stellar ideas and goals. Good for them. Those failures have a leg up on our increasingly-resigned generation – they took a chance. A failed dream is still a dream. They can sleep without wondering what would have happened if they pursued their goals.

Somewhere out there, there’s a faint echo of a world where my dad was some superstar in a hair metal band. If I listen hard enough, I think I can hear the melody of their lead single, “What Could Have Been”. Start being proactive. Stop reacting and start doing. Life doesn’t own you.