There you are, walking steadily along your little dirt path through the wilderness, surrounded by trees and forest and the dense randomness of life. You let the path take you where it will. From time to time you arrive at a fork in the road and choose the path which seems to take you closer to your destination. Once in a while the dense trees part, and you see a river moving beside your path which ends at a waterfall that tumbles down a hundred yards into a lake, barely visible in the foamy haze. As you look down, beyond the lake you spot another path, heading straight in the direction you want to take, paved and steady and seemingly easy to tread. It would be fantastic to be on that path but the only way down there is to jump.
The problem is, there is no way to know if you’ll make it.
These sort of moments, or at least less hazardous variants of the same principle, pop up from time to time in our lives. There is the do-nothing status quo option, and there is the high-risk-high-reward option. Often the choice you make directly influences the rest of your life.
I used to think it was ludicrous to even consider jumping. But there is a funny thing about these moments: you create these choices in your head yourself. The only time you would look at a raging waterfall and even consider something as insane as jumping in, the only reason that thought would even cross your mind, is when you aren’t satisfied with the path you’re already on. A part of you desperately stretches and creates the option for your consideration. It may or may not be the right option, but at the very least it deserves your attention.
I’m familiar with both options now. Many times I’ve turned my face away from the waterfall and continued walking down the dirt path, burdened with a tiny nagging sense of regret and curiosity over what could have been. Other times I’ve jumped in the lake, swam out, and taken the paved road. Sometimes it worked out well, sometimes it didn’t. Regardless, it always led to growth, to newness, to learning. And of course each time I jumped with no idea what was going to happen beforehand.
Once you spot a waterfall, you then have to decide if it’s worth risking or not. And you have to decide whether you are deciding based on a sound assessment, good ol’ fear, or, at the other end, rashness and emotional impulse.
And sometimes, when you’re all out of excuses and the only voices still dissenting against the jump are those of fear and apprehension, take the plunge.
And have faith that things will work out.
Steve Jobs said something similar once: “…you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
My path was a PhD program in robotics. My waterfall was to quit the program, buy a plane ticket, and return to Pakistan with no idea of what comes next but a sense that the road on the other side of the plunge would be more meaningful to my life. It has worked out well so far, and has initiated a series of plunges one after another. I now take more plunges than not, considering every waterfall that my brain concocts to see if it would be worthwhile.
I’ve always enjoyed drawing. Once I was back in Pakistan, one such waterfall that I spotted was to begin commercial illustration. I had no idea how to go about this, but I took the plunge. I registered a sole proprietorship, teamed up with a couple of creative sorts, and we offered our services to Save the Children.
They wanted someone to design Eid cards. We had never designed anything at that level but I took the plunge and said no problem. They wanted someone to print them out too, in bulk. I definitely couldn’t do that, but took the plunge and said no problem again. Then we had to have a series of meetings with them in which I was supposedly the creative guy, which was – professionally, at least – new to me. I took the plunge once again and did that as best I could.
I bit off a massive chunk that I couldn’t quite chew and hoped that things would work out anyway. And I put in the hours and effort (and fake-it-till-you-make-it bullshit) to make it so. We got in touch with local printers, started crazy brainstorming sessions and pulling resources online, and began work on what was asked of us.
They wanted Eid cards to be sent to government officials. The front design was to show that children have a right to be heard in decisions which affect them. After a couple of meetings, several hours of brainstorming, and even more hours of drawing, this is what we came up with:
They loved it. Equally important, we loved it too. The cards were printed and distributed. We did a few more projects for Save the Children as well.
This may have been a simple card, but it was a big moment for me personally. It was the first piece of art that someone had paid me for. It affirmed that I could do something I love and make money off of it too. It let me know in a small way that I was on the right path.
And all because when it mattered, I had taken the plunge. Sometimes that makes all the difference.
Eid Mubarik =)