The past few years were filled with ups and downs, and while I always had my fingers in the clouds, I also had my toes dipped in hell. I made short-sighted decisions in order to solve problems quickly, thinking that was the best approach. I ended up failing classes at school and racked up a formidable debt. For a while, I worked multiple jobs, slept on the floor in a dog bed for a few hours in between work, ate canned food and discounted chocolate, lost a relationship, cracked under the weight of family issues and struggled with emotional and mental instability. I’ve pulled through with hard work and the help of amazing friends, but I’ve paid dearly for my misjudgments. I’ve ruined my health, emptied my savings, and put many important plans on hold. So here’s a very much humbled me sharing one of the most important lessons I have ever learnt in my 24 years.
The quickest or most obvious way isn’t always the best way.
Let’s look at this in terms of fulfilling your goal in life, whether it’s to be the wealthiest person, or to marry and have a family, or to be the fastest sprinter in the world.
Imagine that your one dream in life is to get to the most beautiful beach in the world. There, sun rays race each other through clear waters before resting, exhausted, in molten pools on the ivory sand at the bottom. You believe that your purpose in life is to find that beach. You know that it will complete you.
Now, two paths lay ahead of you. Although they’re very different paths, that beach you’ve dreamed of all your life awaits you at the end of both.
The first path will take you to your destination in just a day, but it’s overgrown with dense, prickly shrubs. Small purple berries, poisonous like most of the truly beautiful things in this world, glimmer like amethysts among the leaves. You take a confident step forward, and immediately cut your arm on a thorn. Just one day … just one day and I’ll get to my goal! You ignore the doubt in you that has wrapped its skeletal fingers around your heart and you take another resolute step. And another.
Suddenly, you feel your feet sinking into sand and that throws you off balance. You fall to your knees and as you raise your eyes to the horizon, you realize you’ve made it. You’re there. You’ve fulfilled that one dream that has left your soul aching and incomplete. But the journey has left you drained, bruised and covered in cuts. The poison flowing through you has kicked in, and you realize a little too late that even though you’re at your destination, choosing that path has resulted in you being unable to enjoy everything the beach has to offer.
The second path, which snakes over mountains and through villages, will take you to your destination in a year. You plod on steadily, wondering if you’ll ever get there. You share a few laughs with those who live in the villages you pass through. You bravely taste every kind of wild fruit you come across, and subsequently spend the next few hours either gathering as much as you can carry or bent over under a tree with your stomach lurching. You watch the sun set against a different backdrop every night, and wake up to different melodies of birds and insects.
A year later, you stumble upon the beach. You’re surprised because you thought you might spend your entire life searching and never get there. You yell out with joy and sprint down to the water, with legs that had grown stronger from all the walking and climbing. You carefully pick some berries off a bush nearby, avoiding those that you now know are poisonous. And when night begins to fall, you watch the sun rays gently light the waves on fire. Your soul is silent with reverence, and you truly understand why this is the most beautiful beach on earth, because you have seen a hundred other sunsets.
In an age where it’s all about shortcuts, instant meals and quick fixes, we’re driven to expect rewards almost instantly and without hard work. That isn’t the right mindset to have, and it definitely isn’t the most satisfying way to live.
Don’t pick a job you hate, just because it brings in money quickly. Don’t marry someone that isn’t right for you, just because you’re in a hurry to settle down and so is the other person. Don’t go on that crazy diet that only allows you three and a half spinach leaves a day, just because you want to lose weight quickly. A few years down the road, you’ll find yourself sitting in your Porsche, dreading stepping out and going to work. When you’ve suffered through a day of doing something you hate, you head back home, only to find yourself pausing on the door step, dreading facing the person you’re stuck in a dysfunctional marriage with. And you look over into your neighbor’s window, and you see a family sitting around a dinner table chatting excitedly about their day doing work they love, to the people they love. And it’s too late for regrets then.
Don’t be the one looking in from the outside. Pinpoint your goals in life, figure out the steps to get there, roll up your sleeves and get to work. Steadily, patiently and happily.