My friend sent me a link to David Cain’s blog post today entitled “Most lives are lived by default”, and it blew my mind. I read it at work, and I kept thinking about it all day because it was exactly the post I wanted to write but couldn’t put down into words. I really don’t remember the last time I read something that so articulately and completely expresses my thoughts on a subject that is so relevant and about which I feel so strongly.
Cain argues that our lives — career, friends, location, and hobbies — are largely determined by circumstance. More importantly, we rarely make conscious choices to change this. I think this is largely due to a combination of fear (of not wanting to step out of our comfort zone), resistance to uncertainty (of not knowing what might happen in the future), and most chiefly of ignorance (of the rest of the world we haven’t yet seen or experienced). Alas, we are content to spend many years of our lives taking the most natural path, even when there is a much better one out there.
The reality is that making a change to some aspect of our lives (location, career, lifestyle) can change the quality of our lives significantly. For me, it was all three. I went from living in Hong Kong to living in San Francisco, from working in finance to working at a tech startup, and from maintaining a steady, routine lifestyle to juggling a far more exciting and unpredictable one. The improvement in my quality of life was big and immediate. People are always worried about making the wrong decision and talk about preferring the safer option. What is more often the case is that the risky route is less risky than we think, and the safer route more risky than we are inclined to believe. It’s really a matter of perspective, something we can only find once we see the other side first. Sometimes the grass really is greener.