Are you living life to decrease downside or enable upside?

Image credit: Simon Gardiner (NYC)

Image credit: Simon Gardiner (NYC)

I’ve been trying to tweet more, and as many bloggers must have learned, it is a great way to kick off blog posts. Today, I tweeted this:

I was thinking about relationships, as well as career, and it felt true to me when I tweeted it. Whenever I have a thought like this, I try to be careful about it. I believe that for the most part, the world is a big gray area, and that often choices presented like this end up being a false dichotomy.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that for some big things in life, this dichotomy exist. Again, lately I have been thinking about relationships and career.

Relationships.

In real adult relationships, you have one real choice to make: are you going to open up and trust this person?

Really, the issue is whether you will ever make yourself vulnerable.

The surest way to minimize your downside in a relationship is to never fully trust someone. If you never place your heart, hopes, and dreams in their hands, they will never have the chance to squash them. And you will never really get hurt. However, the result is that you will never have a relationship anywhere near ideal. There is no upside. You have just minimized the downside.

If you allow yourself to be vulnerable, and to trust someone, you have placed yourself in a different game. You have the potential for a beautiful relationship, but are also vulnerable enough to be seriously hurt. Here you enable upside, but include the potential for a large downside also.

Career.

To some degree, your career is your life’s work. Yes, you’ll probably raise a family, and hopefully that will be awesome. But we also spend so many hours a day working. All of these hours make up a significant portion of our lives.

So how are we going to spend these hours of work? What will be your life’s work?

The surest way to minimize your downside in a career is to do the safe thing. Go to school, study a topic that teaches employable skills, take a stable job, and save. Along the way,  you’ll probably be able to buy that car, that house that you’ve wanted to raise your family in, and hopefully have a good nest egg so that you can retire by 65. However, you’ve also minimized your upside. You’ve minimized your ability to dream, and potentially do thing that you think you were meant to do.

On the flipside, you could follow your interests and follow your passions. If you love music, double down on it. If you want to be a artist, find a way to become an artist. Figure out what you want to create for the world, and work away at it until it happens. By doing this, you enable two upsides. First, you allow yourself to have passions, and create the world that you want to create. Second, you open up the possibility for huge upside with respect to salary. If you create something of great value, the world will trade money for your creation. That is massive upside. Of course there is a large downside: you risk never make a good living, as well as never creating something of value (it is hard!).

What do you choose?

There may be a middle ground, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

For example, for relationships, you have to decide whether you really want to become vulnerable and open up with someone else. You can’t go halfway.

For career, there is more of a gray area. You could be risky for a few years, and then take the safe route as you get older.  I must admit I haven’t experienced enough of life to know how things work, but I can speculate. And my gut instinct tells me that those which change the world are those that go all in. Following your passions and creating isn’t something to just dabble. You will fail over and over and over. There is a reason that only the passionate ever really change the world — the rest quit.

So what is it going to be? Are you going to minimize downside or do what you can to enable your upside?

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