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“The moment the words ‘if I’ come out of your month, a thought in your mind or something you write, you have just made a commitment to probability. As an alternative, ‘when I’ is a commitment to determination in reaching a desired outcome. You get to make the choice. Now’s the time to turn ‘if’ into ‘when.’ Although the outcome may be the same, you’ll have given it your best without excuses built on ‘if.’” –An Ottley-ism

The holiday season and the new year prompt friends, fellow employees and families to reminisce, dream about the future and banter back and forth on the ifs and whens. The fact of the matter is that given the same set of circumstances, we probably would do the same things yesterday that we regret today. On the other hand, no matter how much we are challenged, we’ll firmly hold onto dreams we think will lead to our “happily ever after.” But take care – you just might get what you seek and inadvertently repeat what you thought was left behind. Consider a pair of thoughts:

Thought: “If I” received a promotion at work or had my own business, all my problems would go away.

Not necessarily. Either starting point could offer temporary satisfaction, but ultimately could mean more work, less support and sometimes only a bit more money. If there is more money, the concurrent heightened expectations could be extremely stressful, but hopefully validating.

It might be better to explore what’s causing your problems and determine whether a promotion’s really what you need. Often it’s not a matter of whether you have what it takes to make your problems vanish. Are your interpersonal skills strong enough to make an effective change with your peers, family and staff? Is your understanding of what’s expected clear? Can you delegate without fear of someone upstaging you? Can you criticize for growth, rather than to humiliate? If money – not fulfillment – is your only motivation, you may want to explore other ways to supplement your income, rather than expecting one thing to address all of your needs.

Thought: “If I” had a different network or friends, I’d be further ahead.

Not necessarily, if you don’t know the terms of their endearment. Friends are an asset in life. Some people have many; others, only a very small circle that stay with them throughout life. When you have friends, treat them the way you expect to be treated. Sometimes it may feel as if you’re giving more, but nothing’s constant. True friends don’t have to talk every day or be in each other’s company constantly – they need only be there when it counts. Friends can come in the form of mentors, coaches, co-workers, business associates or merely someone you admire who’s generous enough to give you the time you need.

Just remember, “if I” is a perception of doubt and uncertainty, whereas “when I” is a perception of determination with an understanding that the inevitable is not in our control alone. To quote songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, “What will be, will be.”

Charlotte VM Ottley is a market-development strategist, a “real-time” coach in professional development, an Emmy Award-winning TV producer and an author. She is available for seminars, interviews and speaking engagements. Contact her at

Charlotte VM Ottley is a market development strategist and “real-time” coach. During a career that spans over 30 years, she has been a University Instructor of Physical Medicine; television and radio

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