Opportunity or Stability: Which Should You Chase?
I just got to my desk, it’s Thursday morning in June, 10am, I’m about to eat breakfast. I’ve spent the morning at my favorite cafe, drinking coffee, writing and brainstorming and browsing through storyboard notebooks on the Muji website. A rare yet blissful morning, which happens once a week on my day off from training. Now it’s time to spend the next 8 hours at my desk, with a view of Manhattan out the window, which holds a different appeal and represents a different world almost every different day I look out there (depending on my mood). And I’m wondering, if I went on a job search hunt, and threw mv resume out for every exciting role I stumbled upon, regardless of the location..what I might find – what opportunities and new experiences I could allow to land on my lap.
Then my thoughts swing back to my life here in New York, and the lifestyle, routine and security I’ve built for myself here. High-fiving people while running across the Williamsburg bridge in the morning, the baristas at Blue Bottle at Berry Street who know exactly how much water I need in my morning short americano; taking the same two tubs of oatmeal with me for breakfast and lunch every day (I love oatmeal, ok?), the girl working at the shop around the corner smiling when I pop by at circa 11.30am to buy two huge oranges, and probably after work again for veggies and almond milk, and knows I’ll never want a plastic bag or a receipt; I meet with the run club every Wednesday and Saturday morning, we talk about marathon training and minutes per mile; the same trainers at the gym every morning, telling me “you’re no joke, you aren’t;” the same faces at the Whole Foods check out register every morning when I buy my vitamin water and cashew yogurts.
I watch the sunrise over the industrial sections of Greenpoint as I walk at 6:30am from my apartment to the cafe before the gym; I pack the same things in my red Patagonia rucksack with me every day; I live in the Williamsburg bubble, perfectly happy with that, until I occasionally venture into Manhattan every now and again. I have a full time job with a great group of people, a ping pong table in the office, I use a MacBook Pro as just the mouse for my Mac desktop – and there is that panoramic view of Manhattan again, the Chrysler building always right there in the corner of my eye, lit up by different colors every evening. I have vegan friends, photography friends, running friends, coffee lover friends, drinking friends – there is always someone I can contact to hang out with, or a group to join for activities.
Life’s stable right now. But during those 8 hours at work, I have come to admit to myself – my mind has been whirring wildly, is anything but settled, completely unfocused, bored, doubtful, unsatisfied, in another land altogether, distracted, with only a tiny portion of it attempting to pull myself back to the present and trying to convince myself, unconvincingly, to take an interest, put my full effort into the tasks at hand, and forget about everything else. And please, god forbid, stop scribbling notes, plans, ideas and sudden spurts of inspiration down on every notepad or sheet of paper on hand – one day, your boss is going to accidentally end up finding some of these laid carelessly on your desk and find out you’re a crazy person.
It might not make sense, the idea of “chasing” stability. I love my routine, don’t get me wrong. And routine doesn’t have to mean, to live a monotonous life, doing the same thing at a certain time every day. I talked about this with a friend recently – how we can definitely find variety in routine. Routine to me simply means being committed and dedicated to the things you love, finding space in your day to fit them in, outside those 8 hours at my desk (which I was once enthralled by but which, I am realizing, are now no longer leaving me feeling fulfilled, or contributing to how I want to create my life path – at least, not for much longer).
Routine isn’t the same as stability. Stability for me means regularity, having solid elements present in your everyday life, which you can depend on, rely on, require minimal effort to engage with and mechanize, and just flow with you, structureless, through life. Stability is everything I touched on in the second paragraph of this post. I like to think of my parents as polar opposites of leading stable lives in their twenties. My Mum never left Dublin, sticking with the same friend-group she grew up with, maintaining that stability, moving apartment just down the road from her house; she stayed in the same job with the same company for a decade, because the perks were good, the effort minimal, allowed her access to the things she wanted. My Dad, however, was a globe roamer, casually so, working on ships since he was a teenager, visiting every port in every country across multiple continents – although his base was Belgium, his life was at sea, and wherever that brought him. He even spent a year living in the jungle, searching for gold.
I’m wondering how my Mum did it, spending those ten years, all of the golden 20s (and beyond), in Dublin, and not searching or exploring anywhere beyond the immediate job. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, or that I’m criticizing it – maybe that’s what made her happy, maybe it didn’t, who knows: what matters is that she made the choice to follow that path, whether she realized it or not.
A lot of people don’t face the fact that yes, everything is a choice. For my Dad too – maybe he didn’t chase either stability or opportunity, and just went with the immediate choice. I definitely have found myself chasing stability since leaving Australia and my two year post-university hiatus around that side of the world – it’s something I really craved, and always have craved. Now I find that I have indeed slotted into stability, and the opportunity to continue that way is a viable option.
But then again, part of me is starting to wake up, and pokes my brain relentlessly, more and more, in a good way, challenging me to start thinking and improvising again, to take a chance and to let go of all my preconceived notions, and take control. Because stability doesn’t mean you’re in control, or that you’re getting from life what you really need, or achieving your real purpose. Leaving yourself open to opportunity is the exact opposite of stability as I see it. It means being prepared to drop everything and jump into change, and to embrace that transition and look at it in a positive way, not thinking beyond it, without the doom or a catastrophic mindset. Because being stable in one environment can have more negative effects on your growth and stump your potential for development in many ways.
Is it worth it? I don’t know. I try to not take a birds-eye view of my life anymore – but it’s hard not to look at your life like a story book, specially when you’ve grown up reading so many of them. After all, our lives, and what happens to us, and where we go in the world – it’s nothing that wouldn’t fit into a couple hundred pages, just another story of what happened to this and that character, the particulars of their journey, beginning to end and everything in between. We read books and novels and fit the characters into boxes and types, judging their life trajectories, we pity some and we envy others – we form an opinion, but forget that we are just the same, that our live’s are stories too, just as colorful and full of meaning as those we read.
Let someone follow you and tell your story – you can only have one. Whether you chase stability or not, you still have a story. If you chase opportunity, your story might not make the linear editorial cut, and goes against the norms of a regular hero goal of setting up a structured life for themselves in preparation for “the future.” “You have your whole life ahead of you,” people say. But at what point does that lose meaning? Are we just supposed to wait around?
I think we all know what we want from life – not all of us believe it’s possible, or have the energy and motivation to follow through. I’m an observer – and I’ve learned that 90% of us are prepared to compromise.
Opportunity right now is exactly that – being open to change, and something new. Living life according to your goals and instincts and passions, not according to a plan, or settling on what seems right, on the stable option. I’m sort of (sort of) getting over the phase of being attached to certain places and getting a kick out being in specific places at certain times. Now I have other things to achieve – actionable, creative, productive plans.
For now, I’ll get back to work, maybe a little more confident and comfortable with another day at the office, just from having assured myself that opportunity will probably trump stability in the near future. What’s most important for me right now is to realize just how much I am actually learning at my job, and how the exposure and experience it has given me has really refocused and inspired my future career direction, in unexpected ways. But I won’t deny it – I’ll still have immense difficulty staying away from another full hour googling storyboard notepads and my next Nike purchase.