Monday, January 28, 2013

No Risk, No Reward

Over the last few days I've done a lot of thinking. Maybe too much thinking, if there ever could be such a thing.

Maybe I'm starting into a mid-life crisis already and I just don’t realize it. That in itself is kind of a sad thought but that’s not what it is. It’s a stark realization – somewhat prodded to the surface – that I'm 36 and don’t really feel like I have any meaningful direction in my life. There’s nothing I'm working toward. Just working.

A radical departure might just be what’s needed to shake things up. I’ll have to talk to the bank or someone “in the know” about how I could go back to school full-time for 6 months and still be able to feed and clothe my family, pay for school, and still be able to fund my mortgage. Skills training doesn’t get enough play and if I was able to be awarded a Mulligan I’d probably have given much more thought – hell, any thought – to learning a trade of some kind. Like a lot of trades in Canada, there’s a standard that’s transferable to any province so it doesn't really matter where you end up, you could always find work. Building codes, etc. might be different but you’d be using the same skills everywhere.

And there’s something innately satisfying to stepping back from a day’s work and having something to show for it.

Seems like nowadays – oh man, I'm getting old! Who uses phrases like that except the aged and elderly? – most of the workforce merely has a digital folder of emails and a drawer full of paper to show for their work. And the paper part is becoming less and less important. Now, it’s pushing 0’s and 1’s, bits of information back and forth across a digital highway that could be wiped out by an EMP or a simple mistake. (“I pressed Y, when I should have pressed N!”) Most are soft and doughy and toy with the idea of drinking at work just to make things more interesting.

Step back from a wall you've just framed or a building you've painted and you have something to show for it. “There, look what I did today!”

Too many of us work in jobs that are just that, jobs.

There also seems to be fewer and fewer people following a calling. I know that if I was truly doing that, I’d be making a living with my words. Advertising, story telling, scripting movies and plays, writing video games.

I don’t think enough people do it anymore and too often the people held up as “Doing what they want” seem to be failures. Maybe it’s the fact that kids are hanging on at home for far longer than they should. Maybe it’s the diminished attention span Western culture seems to suffer from. Maybe it’s focus on the trivial and meaningless. (“Stars Without Make-Up! They’re Just Like You!”) Maybe it’s a combination of all those things plus some more subtle aspects I'm missing. Too much meat and not enough roughage? I don’t know.

For me, it’s my willingness to play it safe with almost everything I do. The known, even if I hate it, is preferable to something I don’t know. Moving to something wholly new – and on the face of it, almost dangerous, possibly reckless – is almost unthinkable. But it’s a risk that absolutely needs to be taken, I've realized, or I will die without realizing my full potential.

With no risk, comes no reward.

With no risk I feel half-dead inside and it’s not a good feeling. And it’s damn hard to admit to myself that I've tried to take the easy path when presented with an issue. It’s the path of least resistance and less likely to cause friction with anyone in my life. It’s weird though because up until this weekend, I didn't actually want to fully admit that to myself.

Going back to the “full potential” line. When I was digging through a box filled with old memories from elementary school, I came across a number of old report cards. (Remember when teachers wrote those out long hand in cursive?) One of the running comments year-to-year was “If Aaron applies himself, he will excel in whatever he chooses to do.”

I guess the long term problem is that I didn't really “choose” anything. I then compounded the problem by not applying myself. Didn't excel. Haven’t at a lot of things.

That’s not opinion or self loathing talking, that’s a verifiable fact.

"self loathing 1940" nets some weird image results from Google.
Every once in a while, there are flashes of what my elementary school teachers saw in me. This weekend I really thought about things like that. There are moments, but too often they’re transitory as I look to easier, known paths, thinking it was the result of blind luck more than anything else.

It’s time, if it’s not too late (and I pray that it isn’t), to start sticking my neck out rather than ducking and swerving.

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