Hindsight Is 20-20
The events and decisions we make on a daily basis are usually inconsequential.
However much we deliberate whether or not to order in takeaway tonight, the decision does not really matter. Picking one book over another in a bookstore still leaves open the possibility of someday reading the neglected story.
Occasionally, decisions and outcomes are irreversible, or they at least seem that way. I’m not talking about getting a tattoo but turning-points in life you look back on as pivotal events that could have led things in very different directions.
The significance of these moments can only truly be realised in hindsight and with imagination.
I would describe the decision of whether to go to university as one such example often faced by adolescents leaving school. While not necessarily irreversible or conclusive, it is fair to say certain doors open while others close.
Of course, there are plenty of other routes to high-paying jobs and specialist careers. Many professions don’t require a degree. You could always start your own business or take evening classes. But it’s fair to say that some options, becoming a doctor or a lawyer, for instance, are off the table.
The hardest crossroads in life are perhaps those forced upon us. The required changes of direction in response to unforeseen obstacles out of our control.
Reflecting on my 23 years to date, one event stands out for me if only for the narrow-mindedness with which I approached it. Its outcome has shaped so much of my life since – from my career, relationship, friends, even the books I read.
That event was getting rejected from my dream Masters degree at Cambridge University. Now I know what you are thinking – is that it? Boo hoo.
To appreciate how much this rejection stings, some context is needed…
Cambridge is my local university. Somewhere I regularly visited and idolised as a boy growing up, right through to my Sixth Form years when it might have been on the cards. It was my fantasy. This Masters, in particular, had been my source of motivation throughout my undergraduate studies.
Every time I dragged myself to the library at 9pm to clock in a 3-4 hour study session, I had Cambridge in mind. I pictured it. The dream was my fuel, which made getting rejected midway through third-year all the more difficult to take.
Confronting Failure And Being Open To Change
This isn’t a gloomy post about rejection but rather the doors it opens that you might not otherwise have ever considered.
Because I had been good at studying, I had defaulted to staying on in my comfort zone. I had just assumed that lecturing would be a good fit because I enjoyed researching and writing essays, overlooking the other facets of the job. In hindsight, however, the fact I refused to apply to anywhere but my dream choice suggests that my ambition was really to go there, rather than to study for studying’s sake.
When I was made to come up with a Plan B, I was forced to open my eyes to other possibilities. I had to evaluate the transferable skills I had, analyse my interests and piece together whatever experience I had gained.
I had to write a fresh CV.
After briefly exploring the possibility of a career in publishing, I discovered digital marketing and, in doing so, a passion for startups and business development.
Writing this now, I realise that rejection led to me developing a whole host of skills I would never have acquired otherwise. Almost all of my achievements since would not have been possible on my originally intended pathway, like becoming a freelancer. (Interestingly, I have subconsciously ended up pursuing another childhood aspiration, once forgotten, which was to work for myself.)
The point I am getting at is you can and will have more than one dream.
Success As A Chameleon
When I left my comfort zone to pursue something new, deep down, I was worried that I might not live up to my own expectations in a different arena.
I was scared of wasting my potential.
But I now appreciate that the most satisfaction is to be derived from challenging yourself and that the challenge itself is somewhat irrelevant.
We aren’t all just gifted a very narrow skill-set or role in life. Each of us has the capacity to be successful in different areas, to constantly adapt and learn new things.
I would be lying if I said I had laid my boyhood Cambridge dream to rest. From time to time, I do wonder if I would be happier continuing to study. Whether I would be a different person. But the main thing is, I am happy now.
I believe you can find success and happiness in any number of opportunities. The fact we can all fit any number of jobs and lifestyles is a cause for relief as the odds of anyone finding their one true calling, especially in a generic education system, are slim indeed.
Even if you achieve your childhood dream, I would encourage you to constantly reevaluate it and to be open-minded about other pathways.
There’s nothing to say you can’t be more than one thing and often reconciling seemingly disparate passions or ambitions can have the most creative or successful results.
In a way, blogging reconciles the essayist in me with the marketer I am today.