I’m not sure who or what created such a big line in the sand for the Millennial generation, but this line established two very different and often-at-odds camps on either side of it.
On one side lies a very fluffy, feel-good, woo-woo philosophy that says, Follow your passion. Chase down your dreams.
On the other side is a way of living born out of the harsh financial reality of the real world for our generation. It sternly says, Build financial stability.
Somewhere along this divide, we were told that these were two divergent paths. We needed to choose which we would follow. We needed to decide between logic and rational action, and dreamy abandon for the sake of what our hearts wanted.
If you were given the choice, which would you choose? Would you focus on doing what you had to in order to establish financial stability? Or would you take a leap of faith and chase a dream while hoping the money would sort itself out as you went?
Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood, and Sorry I Could Not Travel Both…
Along with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost is one of my favorite poets. The Road Not Taken is a an oft-read early poem of his, but it might also be one of the most widely misinterpreted.
Most people read this poem and think, “Here’s the message: when faced with two options, we should choose the less-popular one. That will lead us on to the greatest experiences.”
But that’s not what Frost’s poem says. Take a look (and note the emphasis is my own):
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.
Although the title of the poem may lead readers to believe one path is less traveled or chosen less often than the other, the content of the piece tells us otherwise. Both paths are equally worn. Each is traveled as often as the other.
Why am I sharing bits of poetry with you today? Isn’t this supposed to be a personal finance blog? (Yes, it is; don’t worry, you’re still in the right place.)
Because this poem illustrates a critical concept that Millennials, and anyone wanting to create their dream life, should understand.
When we face two distinct paths, we feel choosing between the two is hard because one must be better than the other. We feel challenged to figure out which is the better path for us — which is the right path.
But here’s the thing. Both paths are equally worn. Each is traveled as often as the other. There is no better path.
It’s not the path that leads us to the right opportunities, the right experiences, the right life. It’s our decisions that make all the difference.
We Fulfill Our Own Prophesies
Another way of looking at this is to consider Harry Potter.
Those familiar with the books will remember that a prophesy was made about “the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord.” Voldemort only received part of the full prophesy, the part that lead him to believe that Harry was somehow the individual that would be able to defeat him.
The full prophesy could have referred to two boys: Harry or Neville, both who fit the description of “the one.” But in acting, in making the decision to find and attempt to kill Harry, Voldemort himself created the one person who could bring about his defeat.
In turn, Harry’s decisions enable him to fight and eventually end Voldemort. It’s Harry’s decision to attempt to sacrifice his own life — and his decision to return to the final battle.
The prophesy by itself meant nothing. The players involved made their own decisions, and carried out their own actions — and that made all the difference.
As the highly quotable Dumbledore explained,
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
Our choices define who we are. They say important things about us. The cool thing here is that our choices are our own. No one, no prophesy or destiny or fate, overrides our free will to choose.
In making choices, we get to define ourselves.
Practicality vs. Passion
Now, let’s get back to the opening of this piece. Millennials are often asked to choose between two different paths: build financial stability or chase down a dream.
I hope you know where I’m going with this now. We might feel pressured to choose the better way, the right option. It may seem like a tough choice.
But both are equally worthy of our attention. Neither is better than the other and we’re not destined to walk a certain way.
In the end, it is our decision and our choice that will make all the difference.
My Choice to Build Financial Stability
Of course, I don’t think this post would be complete without sharing the choice that I made. It’s easy to sit here and talk about my favorite poets and my favorite fiction books without tying them to anything grounded in real life experience. It’s quite another to back up the assertion that “there is no right choice” by explaining my own decision.
When these two paths diverged for me, I chose to build financial stability over following my passion or chasing a dream. Establishing strong financial foundations was important to me.
My choice defined me as someone who believed a firm financial footing was essential to achieve before exploring my passions. It didn’t mean that I turned away from dreaming forever.
I value my financial security because it allows me to reach higher for those lofty ideas I have than I would be able to do without that stability. The foundation I built is strong, and therefore allows me to reach far greater heights than an unsteady, insecure foundation would make possible.
I believe creating an amazing life, one that allows you to achieve big goals, starts with building financial stability. But it ends with chasing down those dreams as soon as you can.
In making a choice, I defined who I would be.
My decision to choose a particular path is what lead to the right experiences and opportunities for me. It wasn’t the path that defined life. It was my choice to act that made all the difference.