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Take the unsafe path

Posted in the following categories: Decision Making, Life Lessons

After graduating first in her class from Georgetown, Brit Marling got her dream job as an investment analyst at Goldman Sachs.

She had an eye-popping salary and a safe path to a safe future. She knew exactly where she’d live for the rest of her life, how much money she’d make, and the type of person she’d marry.

But there was a problem: She was dying on the inside.

She’d sit in a cubicle all day, stay awake as many hours as she humanly could, and crunch numbers.

Then she’d go home and cry. Not just a few tears, but the type of existential sobbing that comes from deep within to tell you that something is really, really wrong.

She went to see a doctor. He said, “You’re depressed. Here’s a prescription for an antidepressant.” She filled the prescription and put the bottle on her nightstand.

But she couldn’t bring herself to take the pills. She’d come home every night, stare at the bottle, and think to herself, “Something is wrong here.”

Her job was eating her alive on the inside and the advice was: Just pop one of these pills. Numb your body’s natural reaction to an unnatural work environment. Keep participating in business as usual. 

But Marling had a choice.

She could swallow the pill and keep the Goldman Sachs safety net—even though it was suffocating her soul.

Or she could ditch the safety net and begin walking on a high wire into a much less certain future—one that would involve leaving her job and reconnecting with her love for filmmaking.

She took the unsafe path. (Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this post.). Marling became one of the best independent filmmakers of our time—most notably co-creating The OA and starring as the lead.

The actor Jim Carrey’s father, Percy, took the opposite path. Carrey says his father could have been an amazing comedian. But Percy assumed it was foolish to make a living with comedy, so he made a safe choice and took a safe job as an accountant. He was later fired from that “safe” job, and Carrey’s family became homeless.

The safe path can be the dangerous path. Not just because the safety it provides is often an illusion—as in the case of Percy Carrey.

But the safe path can lure you away from walking your path.

The safe path makes you an enticing offer. I’ll give you comfort, certainty, and stability, it says. In exchange, I’ll take a piece of your soul. 

There’ve been times in my life when I accepted this offer—and lost myself.

It was only by taking the unsafe path—leaving my home country of Turkey by myself when I was 17, abandoning a lucrative job as a lawyer, and most recently, leaving my tenured position in academia—that I found my way back to myself.

Close your eyes and picture yourself on your death bed. Really picture it. You’re 30 minutes away from your last breath.

Answer this question: What do you regret not doing?

Now go do that thing.

“You can fail at what you don’t want,” as Jim Carrey says, “so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

The Contrarian Handbook
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