I was talking to my sister the other day, and she found herself in a bit of a quandry. For the past three years, she’s put considerable time and effort preparing for a course of action that would lead to her future. Then, only days from cementing that move down the path, an email appeared out of seeming thin air that offered a different path, one that, on its surface, looked to be attractive, possibly more so than the one she was all-too-ready to take. “So what should I do?” she asked. My answer to her was , “Ignore it. It’s an illusion.”
How do I know that, you might ask? Well, because I am fresh from making a similar choice myself, and I did pick the path that appeared out of nowhere at the last minute, and it ended up being, undoubtedly, a distraction. Let me explain.
I picked up the term Fatal Distraction from this piece I read online a week or so ago. In it, Salon CEO Richard Gingras used the term to describe the iPad’s allure to publishers: “I think the iPad is a fatal distraction for publishers. They have this view that it will save them and help bring back the old model. That’s not going to happen.” When I read that, I couldn’t help but compare it to my current experience.
Almost a year ago to the day, I was preparing to head down a new path. I had been working toward it for quite a while, and was quite literally a few days from making the final preparations, putting out the cash for the initial expenses and moving in the direction where I best thought my future would be found. Then, out of the blue, I got the phone call. “Would you like to come do some work for us?” I was asked, by a publication in my previous area of expertise. The job subsequently offered appeared to have better financial security than the path I was heading down, and it seemed to include the professional challenges I needed to stay interested. I debated the pros and cons, and took the last minute offer, tossing my previous plans aside, and putting a roadblock on the path I had been all-too-ready to walk down.
Well, one year later, it is painfully obvious that the professional challenges never materialized, the financial security was anything but, and the last minute, seemingly attractive offer was a temptation of the worst sort; a comfortable, familiar way to earn a living in a manner I had been used to. The problem is, I had already psychologically moved past those ways, not to mention that the industry itself, and the world in general, had severely mitigated the value of those ways in the first place. All of the reasons I had for starting down the path I had ignored didn’t disappear with a more regular paycheck or a job that was similar to past employment. It just allowed me to pretend like I was still moving forward when, in fact, I was re-living yesterday. It was the worst kind of distraction; one that didn’t give me any real tangible benefits and one that took a year of my life away when I would have been better served making the riskier choice. Would that path have led to success, either financial or professional? I don’t know, but there is no doubt that it wouldn’t have been a waste of time.
Which brings me back to my sister. Her chosen path involves some risks and insecurity. She will incur a large amount of debt, and have to relocate far away for years. But the possibilities for the future are great. The last minute choice doesn’t involve the massive debt, nor does it involve moving, and on the surface, it appears to offer some pretty intriguing professional benefits now and for the future. It’s a similar circumstance to the one I was in. But look a little deeper and the immediate risk and security issues that seem to be avoided with the new choice doesn’t really avoid them, it just pushes them back a year or two, and the potential long-term benefits pale in comparison to the riskier move. There’s little doubt in my mind that the seemingly secure choice that so suddenly appeared is a distraction from the path she should be on, just as the safer and more secure choice for me was a distraction from the path I should have been on.
At the end of the day, the safe choice is rarely the correct one. It can be if you’re willing to accept less than what your potential can offer, but she’s a lot like me in that regard. If it’s not a challenge and it’s not interesting, then it’s not really secure. It’s just a distraction. And a potentially fatal one to your future, at that.