Author: Matt Hutchison
The original plan for this essay was to write about a three-week sprint to some goals I had set. My logic behind the idea was in providing a sound strategy for goal setting and monitoring the progress of those goals. Three weeks felt perfect. It’s short enough to create some urgency and long enough to make some real progress towards whatever intention is deemed important. This was the plan but, as often happens with plans, things didn’t go the way they were intended. They were interrupted by a very serious, paralyzing moment in my life.
The big screen TV was set up in front of my roommate’s bedroom. It took up so much space in the corner of our living room that it almost completely blocked the door to his room. Anytime he emerged it was as if he was coming out from backstage of whatever movie or show was currently being played. One morning, as I sat playing video games, his door swung open, but he did not walk out. He stood in the doorway with a zombie-like, vacant stare. His undead character was not in line with the game of FIFA I was playing. I greeted him and gave the invitation to join me. Instead, he collapsed forward and began shaking on the ground.
My intention within those three weeks was simple. I needed a shift in career path. Everyone has some sense of an internal compass and mine had felt out of balance for a while. I had been working at building my own insurance and financial practice for a year and a half. For months, I’d been experiencing conflicting thoughts on the work.
- It’s not the right fit…
- You’re just going through the rough patch, it’ll all be worth it…
- This isn’t what I want to be doing…
- This is a wonderful opportunity and will lead to amazing freedom…
Stubbornness and persistence are labels of the same trait interpreted from different perspectives. I had the two perspectives fighting for sway over my actions. The back and forth resulted in overthinking and lack of commitment towards any path. I didn’t commit to my work or take the time to analyze myself, my interests, and the interests of those important to me. I needed to make a change but I didn’t want to admit to it.
I took no meaningful action and without action comes a feeling of worthlessness.
Value comes in action.”
When my roommate collapsed (let’s pretend his name is Eddie), I didn’t know what to do but I knew his condition had something to do with his diabetes. Eddie and I never had a conversation about what I should do if anything like this happened. In that moment, I shouted at him looking for an answer to questions I should have asked earlier.
What should I do!? How do I help!?”
Eddie stared at me, still shaking. His eyes were on me but there was no sign that he recognized me or could even process what was happening. There was no sign of my friend, just a shell of him and I needed to bring Eddie back. My first impulse was to call his mother which set her into a panic. Eddie’s mother is a worrier like no other. Now I had more of an appreciation as to why that is, but she still takes worry to a special kind of art form.
“Is there orange juice!? He needs sugar. There should always be orange juice in the house. Eddie knows that. It should be there!!” It was. “Have you called the ambulance!?” Logic might suggest that would be my first call, but I wasn’t practiced at emergency situations. “My goodness! Call the ambulance now and get him to drink the orange juice!” Eddie had moved his way across the living room following me to the kitchen bumping into walls and falling along the way. I was worried about him taking a serious fall and hitting his head.
“Eddie! Just stay put!” I sat him against a wall, but he started to get up, still shaking, while I called the ambulance and went to get the orange juice. I got back in time to push him back into position and then poured the juice into his mouth. The amount of juice that was pouring back out of his mouth and down his neck was small enough to let me know that he was getting some down.
Helping him swallow the juice was enough to stabilize him until the paramedics could arrive to take over. We never planned or prepared for that to happen, but it did. My actions that day were not on par with Superman, but they saved my friend’s life.
Plans are being made all the time and things are always on the way to interrupt plans.
These interruptions can cause a sense of paralysis and indecisiveness when we’re unsure of what to do. We feel driven to call out for help and to ask others for advice and direction.
While I was building my financial practice, plans were being made for me. I’d entered the industry by my own volition and was now following the blueprint for success laid out by my company. Following the plans of someone else isn’t a bad thing. In my case -working for one of the largest and most powerful companies on the planet- it made perfect sense to follow their plan. Those who followed the formula found success within the company. No need for edits.
I’d decided the biggest issue I had with the work of building my practice was in what I didn’t have time for or, in other words, what priorities got pushed aside due to my hours and scheduling. It felt wise to utilize the skills and knowledge I’d acquired over the past 18 months, leave my job, and look for a similar job defined by a regular work schedule and regular salary. Thankfully, the application process and transition into a new career was completed in a week.
This set up a bit of a paradox. During this week, I now had time to commit to the things I felt I had been neglecting. There was time to exercise, write, read, and study Chinese. My wife continued to do long hours of work at three jobs while I was contributing nothing.
Although no guilt was thrown on me I couldn’t help but feel it. There was only so much time I gave myself to catch up on reading and allowing myself some freedom to watch a couple comedy specials before the feeling of worthlessness rose again.
It was around this time I had a candid conversation with a new acquaintance of mine. He’d recently graduated from Hampshire college and the handful of conversations we’ve had, have given me a lot of respect for his intelligence. We spoke about how the paradox of choice in career paths – with so many possibilities- became difficult to decide on which one. He is currently washing dishes at a barbecue restaurant. He knows this is not a career choice and will be an easy job to leave when something comes up he truly wants to pursue. He also brought up a point that impacted my mindset and has stuck with me. Granted, it has only been a week and a half, but I don’t imagine I’ll be forgetting it soon:
Some cultures have placed a paramount on individual accomplishments. In some ways, it has marginalized the importance of communities. Without a meaningful community to contribute to, individual accomplishments mean very little.
It is this, we decided, that creates more difficulty in the decision making. There may be a lot of options, but if one cannot decide for themselves, it is much easier to make a decision based on what will best serve the community that is most important to them. That community might be their family, town, neighborhood, school, a circle of friends, a small business, or just a partner.
This triggered my dive into the analysis I should’ve done long ago. With time alone I was able to map out what was of interest to me, my wife, my family, and what actions would best serve those interests. I’d told myself building my financial practice would serve them because I’d be building a great career for myself, but that would not serve my wife and her family as best it could. My wife is Taiwanese, and while her and her father speak great English, most of her family does not. If I do not commit real time to improving my Chinese language skills I will, by inaction, be deteriorating a genuinely important part of my community.
WHEN A PLAN MEETS ACTION
Eddie and I continued to live together and a year later we are in a new house, now sharing a room. I helped him get a second job at the restaurant I’d been working at. On his first day, he went in early in the morning to open and I got to sleep in. I looked forward to going to work later that day to jump in and join him. Things did not go as planned. Within an hour of him going in for his first day of work, the door to our bedroom was opened again and there he was, back in our apartment. I was still half asleep.
“What are you doing? Aren’t you starting work today?”
He didn’t respond. Instead, he took two steps forward. On the second step his leg stretched across his body as he fell to his side and into a mirror I had propped against the wall. “What the!?” In my drowsiness, I didn’t even process what was happening until I saw him shaking among the shattered remnants of my mirror. After shouting some colorful language, I ran to get the orange juice out of the fridge and call the ambulance.
Aside from the added dramatics of there being a mirror to break Eddie’s fall and the stories I heard about him sitting down to sweep the floor like he was rowing a boat (my manager thought he was drunk), helping Eddie the second time was just a matter of knowing the plan and carrying it out. In fact, there’s a whole mess of things that were terrible the second time around that could have prevented me from helping Eddie. For starters, I don’t even know how he made the 15-minute walk home without seriously injuring himself.
It’s a stretch to draw parallels between the limited planning that was needed to help Eddie and the larger scheme of planning and prioritizing that is needed to guide some of life’s decisions, but the ethos remains the same. We have value only through action. Inaction is proof of ambivalence and inattention. Plans that are properly informed by personal interest and the best interest of one’s personal community (family, spouse, neighborhood, small business etc.) can help drive proper actions.
I’m into the fourth week of what was supposed to be a three-week sprint. I haven’t thrown out the possibility of staying within the financial industry but options have arisen that can give me the opportunity to build a stronger bond with my community in America, the community I have in Taiwan, as well as connecting to new communities with where these next opportunities lie.
Author: Matt Hutchison
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