I wake up sometimes in the quiet of the early morning and have a conversation with myself. I prong life and the issues surrounding it with a three-point fork, attempting to understand it, its trade-offs and grasp deeper meanings.
One of such mornings was the aftermath of conversations from a Friday night hangout with the boys. It was a fairly large meet-up of twenty men (no women) with conversation switching rapidly from the economy to sports to politics to jobs, then to new opportunities, money, and finally really to nowhere in particular.
Some were in jobs they disliked but stayed on because the pay was good, others were pursuing their dreams but admitted they could do better financially, and the rest were lucky to be doing what they really loved and were doing well financially.
I have met many young persons who had dreams and had the courage to pursue such dreams but end up getting burned. One hears the anger and resentment in their voice; some resign to fate, many blame the government, and others pick themselves up and try harder.
I have also interacted with old persons who seem to be doing well financially by many standards but they tell me that they wished they had had the courage to follow their dreams. They wished they had not allowed the lure and trappings of financial gains to box them into a corner career-wise.
I have met a bank managing director who told me he wished he were a career diplomat, traveling the world and maybe even working for an organisation such as the United Nations. I have met a female professor of pharmacy who said she wished she didn’t live up to the high expectations of her parents and had followed her dream of making beautiful clothes for beautiful people; to make the world a more beautiful place. I have met a senior ranking officer of the Nigerian Air Force who told me he wished he had pursued being a university lecturer.
While I can’t advise the old (I mean, what do I know?), I definitely can advise the young. I can advise youth in this regard on how to be centred and to avoid extremism. Youth is bold, brazen, and beautiful, but it is also stubborn, disdainful and prone to errors of judgement.
My advice to someone going after opportunities with high financial rewards versus following the path of their dreams and passions is to have a game plan. I will delve into this specifically shortly. This game plan should take three things into consideration – your support system, social circumstances, and risk appetite.
On support system, if you have rich parents or uncles who are ready to bankroll your dreams and ideas, then I would advise that you follow the path of your dreams but if you have a weak support system or you have to support several other people financially, then I would advise you take the part with the highest immediate financial returns.
Social circumstances include your age, marital status, whether or not you have kids or are in debt, etc. Be candid with yourself and answer this question: Can my dreams pay my bills now? Bills are real and dreams don’t pay them, real money does. So unless you can monetise your dreams quickly enough, my advice would be to go after opportunities that offer the highest financial returns.
On risk appetite, understand where you rank. If your risk appetite and comfort level with uncertainty is low, you may be unable to bear the rigours that come with following the paths of dreams and ideas without first building a tangible support base to help navigate the path.
I will tell you the story and draw some lessons from a man I think balanced properly the trade-offs between following your dreams and following the money. Follow your dreams too early without taking into consideration the earlier listed factors and you wind up broke and frustrated and follow your dreams too late and you wind up unfulfilled.
This gentleman who had the dream of being a teacher started life as an investment banker and rose quickly through the ranks. He had decided that at a particular age, he would leave whatever he was doing and start pursuing his dream of being a teacher. When he hit the set age, he had spent just six months in his new appointment as managing director of an investment bank. He nonetheless resigned amidst slight doubt, pressure, and several quizzical looks, and genuine concern about his welfare and mental state from family and friends.
Who leaves a job as a bank MD to go teach? The man went ahead with his plans, having saved some money and deliberately fostered relationships that would later prove useful to him in the pursuit of his dream and passion. He made lifestyle adjustments and guess where I heard the story being told? The man was teaching in a class at the Enterprise Development Centre of the Pan-Atlantic University, more popularly known as the Lagos Business School. He told us he has never regretted his decision.
A few take-aways from his story:
- Be crystal clear about what your dreams and passions are.
- Set a deadline for transitioning between chasing money and chasing your dreams.
- Be ready for lifestyle adjustments. The first few years you spend chasing your dreams would be tough.
- Seeing your dreams and ideas come to pass will take longer than you think.
- The journey is the thrill not the destination.
So back to the Friday night hangout that triggered this trail of thoughts. The question I asked myself was: Were I to be doing something else than what I do now, would I be happier? If I had six months to live and it wasn’t a health-related issue, would I go to work with high energy levels every day? With the benefit of hind sight, if I could go back fifteen years and start again, will I take the same path and if I won’t, what adjustments would I make? Every person would have a different answer because at the end of the day we are personally responsible for the outcomes we produce.
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