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How to get what you want

Too many people just let life happen to them. Getting what you want means scheming, plotting, and strategizing.

The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend I took a bus up to Syracuse, NY. A lot of people were heading there - maybe a hundred plus people were in line for the 10 AM run.

I've been going between New York and Syracuse for years. Bus, train, plane, rental car. Years ago I was writing about it.


Photo credit - Anete Lūsiņa / Unsplash

Nowadays I'll make this trip via Amtrak business class. But my decision to go upstate was last minute. Every seat was sold out, and in fact the economy train prices were doubled for the holiday.

So I booked the Greyhound. This is about the fastest way - even beats flying if you think of the process before and after the flight itself. But I avoid it for comfort. Often the bus is fully booked and someone - ahem - bigger sits next to me, making it a claustrophobic 4-5 hours.

This morning I wanted to sit by myself if it was possible. Not only that, but I strategized to push the odds in my favor.

First, I got in line at my gate 90 minutes early. Three people were ahead of me. This meant I'd get my pick of seats.

From experience I know sitting in the front of the bus is preferable. Obviously it means a quick exit when you reach your destination or a rest stop. But observation has lead me to believe empty seats are usually closer to the front.

A back-to-front shot of a bus full of people in blue and tan seats
Photo credit - Annie Spratt / Unsplash

Logically, you'd think people would fill in seats from front to back. And that's true... for the window seats. Once those are filled, however, later people getting on the bus will still walk to the back before deciding where to sit.

When they learn they'll have to sit with someone, they do so from back to front. More often than not.

My strategy couldn't stop there. If by luck there was going to be one or a few empty seats, I needed people to want to sit with me the least.

Classically, people will put a bag next to them. In order to sit there someone would need to ask them to move the bag.

Also somewhat common - but also risky - is sitting on the outside seat and leaving the window empty. Many people assume there is someone sitting there already that maybe went to the bathroom.

These two maneuvers can be combined as well.

I don't like the rudeness of the bag move or the risk of the outside seat. That's not where I want to sit for 5 hours. Feeling like I'll fall into the aisle, not being able to look out the window.

The other maneuver is to make yourself undesirable to sit next to. If you're - ahem - bigger, you just exacerbate your size. Make it look like you can't help but take up more than your share of room.

You can sleep and lean over onto the adjacent seat. This employs the principle of people not wanting to socialize. In this case to wake you up. It also plants the idea you'll fall asleep again later then lean onto them.

You can also look like a psycho. That was my mood on this morning. I'd just downed a bunch of coffee. I opened my eyes real wide, stared off into space, rocked back and forth a little, pretending to scratch as a new person got on.

Before boarding began, a station employee split the 100 person line. It looked like there were more in the other one. This was the luck component in my scheme. It opened the possibility of even sitting alone in the first place.

I sat second row, left. A - ahem - bigger gentleman sat second row, right. The bus filled up.

It looked like both myself and the guy across the aisle would be sitting alone. The driver got on. Right as the door was about to close, a final girl jumped on the bus.

Moment of truth. Only one of us could sit alone now. And... apparently looking psycho trumps being - ahem - bigger.

I wanted something. I strategized to get it. Is this flawless? No, because randomness plays a role in everything. You need a bit of luck. But you can increase the odds of getting what you want by strategizing. Scheming. Plotting.

Too many people just let life happen to them. I'm sure they want things. They don't put enough work into getting them.

Is the bus thing a silly example? Maybe. How about the job or body you have?

When I wanted to leave boring Lockheed Martin, I studied for software engineering interviews. Then that didn't pan out and I refocused on cybersecurity, which did.

When I wanted an athlete's body, I went to Edge Strength & Conditioning four times a week.

You can't just dream, you've got to scheme. Then execute.

Randomness will always play a role - see Taleb's Fooled by Randomness - but this is more or less how to get what you want.

Two people discussing business over a table with documents
Photo credit - Nik MacMillan / Unsplash