Don't Wait For A Crisis

Originally published 12/30/2015

During a conversation with a friend recently, he mentioned that the Chinese word for crisis is the same as that for opportunity.  While this is a bit of an etymological fallacy, it got me thinking about why we often wait for a crisis before we are willing to make changes in our lives.

A few years ago, I got divorced and left a PhD program, all in the span of a year.  It was a time of great upheaval in my life, and the experiences made me very introspective.  At first I questioned how my life had gotten to this point, confronted with failures at every turn.  Were there things I should have done differently?  Mistakes I shouldn’t have made?  Something I should have seen coming?  The more I thought about what I’d gone through, the more I realized I could learn about myself, my life, and my relationships with others.  By choosing to learn these important lessons, I no longer view the experiences as failures, but rather opportunities for growth.  When people hear that I’m divorced, their first response is to tell me how sorry they are, but I am quick to correct them and let them know it was one of the best things that has happened in my life.  It was an incredibly painful experience at the time, one I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but I chose to make the best of it and make sure to never end up in a similar situation in the future.  I received the push that I needed to make changes, but by sharing my experiences, I hope to save others the time and pain of having to learn these lessons the hard way.

We often use the phrase “ignorance is bliss,” which immediately reminds me of this scene from The Matrix.  The basic idea is that sometimes we are better off not knowing something.  I respectfully but whole-heartedly disagree with this notion.  I absolutely believe that more information is better than less, and knowing is better than not knowing.  In some cases, people withhold information from us, but often times, I think we hide insights or realizations from ourselves.  In Philip Broughton’s book Ahead of the Curve, he describes a formula for change learned in business school: unhappiness leads to change, and more unhappiness leads to more change.  Similarly, Chris Guillebeau describes an experience in The Art of Non-Conformity about a flooded apartment.  The flood was not his fault, but he was forced into an annoying situation where he had to sleep on a mattress in his living room and deal with construction workers coming and going at all hours.  It wasn’t until the water in his apartment turned off for an unknown period of time that he reached his breaking point and began looking for a new apartment.  He notes that we often stay in a situation until the pain of change is less than that of staying in our current situation.  Why do we do this?

Change can be scary, and taking a bold step in the direction of the unknown can be intimidating, but should we really wait for a crisis that upends our life before we are willing to take action?  What if that crisis never comes?  Will you doom yourself to a life of mediocrity and false comfort to avoid taking risks?  Aren’t we risking more by refusing to act? Fear of failure may paralyze us, but if you are willing to learn from your experiences and make better decisions in the future, is anything really a failure?  What’s stopping you from taking a small step each day toward the life you want?