Essays

Making the Hard Choice

A few days ago, Seth Godin (my single favorite blogger by far) wrote the following:

Think about how often your goal at a conference or a meeting or in a project is, “don’t screw up!” or “don’t make a fool of yourself and say the wrong thing.” These are very easy goals to achieve, of course. Just do as little as possible. The problem is that they sabotage your real goals, the achievement ones.

That paragraph really hit home for me. There are often times when I’m writing for The Simple Dollar when I have to make a fundamental choice. Do I say something controversial that actually represents what’s on my mind, which risks alienating a portion of my audience but also engages people? Should I reveal something about myself that could be personally painful, especially since almost everyone I know well reads The Simple Dollar? Or do I put that idea aside and chase the safer idea, the one that won’t alienate anyone, but won’t really engage anyone, either?

I felt this same push and pull at my previous job, too. A large portion of my time was spent on software development and system administration. I was in charge of a handful of servers and I was also responsible for writing some code that had to be deployed on those servers. This led to a balancing act whenever I had to write code for a new feature: should I implement the most robust and complicated version of the feature (which would stress the servers more and make my system administration job more stressful), which would wow the users, or should I implement a simple version, keeping people minimally happy and also making my system administration job easier? It was a balance that I constantly had to walk – and it also wore me down over time, because I felt like every choice had become a milquetoast compromise.

One choice is easy. It lets you more or less maintain where you’re at and enables you to avoid having to choose the harder path. The only problem is that, over time, you don’t become known for greatness. You become known for mediocrity.

The other choice is much harder. Whenever you choose to take the hard path, you not only have to take a more active role in things, you also risk alienating people. Yet, this is the only path that leads to great success in life. You won’t be known as mediocre – but you do run the risk of being seen as a failure.

We are given many of these choices every day in our lives. When we go to a work meeting, we can choose to engage the discussion, or we can sit there and be quiet. When we go to church or to any community meeting, we can go out of our way to talk to others, or we can keep to ourselves and go through the motions. When we work on a project, we can do what’s expected and get the job done or we can go the extra mile and develop something truly impressive that also runs the risk of not being widely accepted, either. When the call goes out for volunteers, we can either sit there quietly or we can step up to the plate and give it a try.

One path leads to mediocrity. The other path leads to the possibility of success, but also runs the risk of failure.

If you want great things in your life, the choice is clear. It’s time to step up to the plate and take that risk.