There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.

William Shakespeare

I’m standing (or sitting), as it were, on the cusp of a major change in the way I work and earn my daily bread, so this phrase, distilled from random data that floats on my monitor right now, is particularly relevant. Aside from proving that Monsieur Willy S. was a philosopher and not merely a man obsessed with a summer’s day, it also neatly encapsulates a dilemma that each of us has faced. Forget global politics and epic history. While Shakespeare’s tides apply just as well to those, my scope is much more local: job opportunities. 

Throughout anyone’s career, doors open. If you’re not a complete idiot, opportunities invariably line up.  This is true whether you begin with a first-class degree and step straight into middle management or whether you start at the very bottom of the food chain.  You get offers that might pay off – and pay off real big.  

But there always is a small catch, isn’t there? The rose has thorns. Maybe you’ll have to go hungry for a week. Maybe you’ll suffer a salary reduction. Maybe you’ll be risking your entire career. And these risks, like octopus tentacles, often wrap around people and sucker them into not taking the plunge. Ignore the tide, they whisper. Stick to safety. Stick to what you know. 

And so all too often people make the safe choice and end up living lives “bound in shallows and misery”. The dream job? Gone. The mansion and the three cars? Gone. The name etched into history? Gone. I’ve seen this happen quite a few times. With my parents, myself and others. Whether it is social conditioning, or human nature to resist being dragged out of one’s comfort zone, I’ll not speculate. 

Instead. I’d like to share something I’ve observed: this instinct basically divides the whole world into two. I say basically, but in reality there are graduations along the differential: it’s a curve, not an of-off switch, but for simplicity’s sake let’s consider it as a binary value.

On one side you have the risk-takers, the people who made the plunge. The risk-takes encompass a huge spectrum, like the ends of a colossal bell curve. Leaders. Newsmakers. Visonaries. Epic failures. The gamblers. With them the promise of better things to come, or a change in position, is stronger than the instinct to hold the cards and pray.  They take the current when it serves. 

And on the other side, you have the people who play it safe. Completely safe. The people who go through the motions established by others.  They end up squarely in the middle, often looking down on the risk-takers who failed, looking up to those who succeeded. If the affairs of men are likened to a tide, theirs is less the sweeping current than the slow, relentless ebb and flow that eventually drives things from the middle of the ocean to the beaches.  They’re the people who believe that a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. 

The only question is, what do you want to be? The man with the bird in a hand, or the man who heads for the bush, knowing that it’s double, single or nothing at all? 

 

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