Recently, a friend messaged me on Facebook, asking a question about pursuing his dream. It went something like this:
Friend: What would you consider more noble, right, and helpful for the future: working toward a passion and balancing work or sacrificing a lot of time for an excellent opportunity that will help you in the future (but it may interfere with your passion and work/life balance)? And briefly why?
Me: what do you define as an “excellent opportunity” and what do you define as “helping you”?
Friend: “Helping you” as in stable job and income flow, and “Excellent opportunity” as a competitive internship.
Me: haha as I thought. I mean it’s ultimately your choice.
Friend: I just rejected a competitive internship so I can pursue my research interest in cryptography and systems research, so I am not sure what I did was right.
This is a struggle familiar among all persons of the human race. Everyone struggles at some point with whether they should pursue what they love or pursue what is practical. At the very core, it is a struggle between security and risk.
And the thing is, people are constantly faced with such decisions nearly every day. Almost every decision has an option that appears to be more secure, and an option that appears to be riskier.
To my friend, it seems foolish to reject a competitive internship that is very practical and desired by many, and he is justified in thinking that way. If an internship looks good on your resume, will help you find employment in the future, and perhaps can provide you some money, it almost doesn’t make sense to not accept it. However, the part of being competent and wise person is knowing when to reject good looking opportunities in order to pursue prospects that are more appropriate for them.
My Old Model Airplane Hobby
Yesterday, I rummaged through my closet, pulling out my collection of airplanes that I had built in middle school.
In middle school, I used to build and fly wooden airplanes. It was a hobby that consumed hours of my day, and kept me from having a social life and perfect grades. Building and flying airplanes gave me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that appealed to me, and almost completely consumed me. I loved the feeling of completing a plane, winding up the rubber band, and letting it take off into the air, watching it circle around the gym.
However, by the time I reached high school, I stopped building and flying. It wasn’t because I got bored with the craft, nor was it because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped because I realized that there were bigger and better things for me, and that I had to let go of how much time I was spending on it.
It was a conscious and intentional step for me to say no to something that was extremely attractive to me in order to move on in my process. I don’t regret any of the time, money, or energy I spent on building and flying these airplanes, and I would love to have the chance to once again fly them with someone.
Being Competent and Rejecting Opportunities
Not all opportunities that present themselves to you are ones that you should take. Being able to decisively and confidently reject an opportunity shows that a person truly understands what they want, what their goal is, and how they are going to get there.
In order to navigate the decisions that you have to make and opportunities that are made available to you, there are three main elements to consider.
- Definite of Purpose – I need to know who I am.
- Knowledge of What One Wants and How One Wants to Get There – I need to know what I want.
- A Burning Desire to Possess it – I need to declare that I will get it.
The person who doesn’t know who they are, doesn’t know what they want, and doesn’t really want it is the person that will accept any random opportunity that comes their way, hoping that somewhere somehow, it will lead them to a better place.
But without the intentional drive and passion to get what you want, it’s easy to get lost and confused in the midst of all the tempting, shiny opportunities.
“The words you hear are what you start to think about. The words you start to think about in your mind will form your goals, beliefs, and ideas. These will move from your mind to your heart. These become an outward habit. These define your character.” – Anthony Arnold
Knowing who you are and what you want helps you to filter and process the things that you listen to and the things that you think about. And as these thoughts eventually determine your character, they also determine the way you carry yourself and how you relate to and impact the people around you.
That’s why you can’t just take every opportunity or thought that presents itself, you have to learn to filter and process what actually matters.
One of the major factors of making a decision is security. Oftentimes, one decision is viewed as safe, and the other viewed as a risk.
For example, going to school or work everyday is a choice. One can decide to cut class or ditch work, but often that comes with a risk of a penalty. Or perhaps on a larger scale, one can decide to become a doctor or become an artist. Becoming a doctor seems like a safe path with a lot of money, while becoming an artist means you might starve for the rest of your life.
But consider all of the people who have ever become famous. Consider the ones that have made it into history books, and celebrated all around the world. Practically all of those people would say that they made a difference because of a risk that they took. You can’t make a difference by doing what someone else has already done because they’ve probably already done it. No one can just come out with an iPod in 2012 and impact the music industry the way Apple did in the early 2000s.
But just taking a risk doesn’t automatically make you a famous hero. Just because you have dropped out of college to start a company doesn’t automatically mean that you will be on the next Forbes magazine. Taking a risk, for an extremely large portion, involves failure.
But does the safe, beaten come without risks either? Of course not. There is perhaps an even greater risk that comes with going with the beaten path, that is, regret. Forcing yourself to do something that you don’t really care for and don’t really have a passion for comes with the risk that you will regret life when you lay on your deathbed one day. According to a recent study, the number one regret for people on their deathbed is that they wished they had lived a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them. In the end, people wished that they had honored their dreams and passions, not simply taken the path that was easiest.
It’s a conscious choice that you have to make, and if you are not aware of the difference, it’s easy to subconsciously follow the path that everyone else is taking.