Saturday, March 15, 2014

Two Roads Diverged In a Yellow Wood

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Robert Frost

We have all read the poem by Robert Frost about the choices we make in this life. Maybe we read this poem for the first time in junior high school. Not too many years after that we begin to make those kinds of choices; some are difficult to undo; some dramatically alter the outcome we call our life. Of course I believe there is hope. God has a hand in all this. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Then take personal responsibility for your decisions and for your life.

As you choose a career, there are four paths you can follow.

As you make your selection, remember nothing is perfect. If someone is willing to pay you money to do something, there is something wrong somewhere. If it was all that great you would be paying him to get to do it.

Remember, nothing lasts forever. Layoffs happen. Plants close. Entire industries vanish into history. Record stores were the perfect business. The sale of vinyl discs at obscene profits without any competition was a perfect business model. Then, with the advent of inexpensive tape recorders, AM pop radio stations, long a corrupt ally of the record industry, put the first nail in the coffin of the perfect business. The Internet, iPods,, and Youtube, have nailed the coffin shut. The once common “record” store” is now a curiosity, often run by eccentrics from my generation who are still lost in the 60s. Yes, you can still buy popular CDs at Walmart and a few other big box stores, but the perfect business is gone forever.

Follow Your Dreams

This is the most common advice preached by motivational speakers. This is because we want to believe it is true. If you love mathematics, geology, and the sound of oil coming out of the ground, petroleum engineering is probably a safe path to follow. If you are an artist, even if you are a very good artist, it is possible that no one will want to buy your paintings, at least until after you are dead. If you choose a career for love, be sure and be ready to live with the consequences. The world does not owe you a living.

Heed the Hardhearted Realists

Look at the numbers. Who is hiring? What are the projected futures for different industries? Make your decision based on the facts. Accept the fact that you may spend 40 years in a soul sucking cubicle in order to feed and care for those who you love. By definition most of us are mediocre. 68% of us fall within one standard deviation of the mean. 99.7% of us fall within three standard deviations of the mean. What makes you think you can be an outlier like LeBron James or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? Maybe there are things that are more important that fulfillment or success, like caring for your family, living a life of integrity, serving your God, and extending mercy in a fallen world?

The Great Compromise

This is the path I followed. I split the difference between the dreamers and the realists. I tried to find the least objectionable career path that would support a lifestyle acceptable to me and to my wife. Believe me, if you follow this path you will have regrets. Choosing to major in U.S. history and English literature, landed me barely acceptable jobs in dying American factories for nine years. Deciding that I did not wish to spend the rest of my life as the night superintendent in some smelly noisy factory, I set my sights on an engineering degree and a job in a research laboratory with coworkers who did not find it necessary to use the services of a root doctor. There were some good years and there were some really bad years when I struggled as the proverbial round peg in a square hole. I spent 32 years working as an engineer 5 years in a factory without a degree and 27 years in a laboratory with a degree. Most Americans would consider me a success. They might even envy the career path I have chosen, but I must live with my regrets, always wondering if somewhere in the forest, there could have been a better, more suitable path.

Light a Candle

There is a fourth way, the way of the entrepreneur. Look around you. Is there a service or a product that you can offer to others? Rabbi Daniel Lapin asks the question, what if making money was not like cutting a cake? When a cake is divided into pieces; some get a larger piece; some get a smaller piece; some don’t get anything at all. What if all you were; your money, your skills, and your life was a candle? What if you choose to take the light and fire from your candle to other people who are waiting for someone to light their candles? What if you could find a way to serve others without working directly for an employer? What if you could view wealth as nothing more than a medium of exchange that facilitates your ability to serve others in a mutually beneficial exchange? If you have the skills, ingenuity, and drive to follow this path, I think it more likely that you will truly end up doing the things you love. Successful artists are also men and women who have learned how to run a business.

I have seen people who did what they loved only to come to a bad end filled with regrets and bitterness, blaming the results of their own folly on the banks, politicians, or macro-economic forces beyond their control.

I have seen people devote their entire lives to the pursuit of worldly success only to be discarded by the world they served or left alone to face old age hated by their own children whom they neglected while pursuing money and power.

I tried to find the best course between these two extremes, an acceptable career that would support the lifestyle that my wife and I wanted. I too have many regrets.

Can we do more than to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God, knowing that He will bring every work into judgment, whether they be good or evil?

The Road Not Taken By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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