Success: What Price Will You Pay?

The question that has always vexed me most is when a subscriber writes and asks:

“Should I become a freelance copywriter?”

“Should I start an Internet marketing business?”

“Should I [fill in the blank here]?”

Now, if you ask me HOW to do these things, I can give you some solid guidance.

But if someone asked me SHOULD they do this or that, I used to throw up my hands and say – “How can I tell you that? It’s entirely up to you!”

However, when I was reading the New York Review of Books last week, I came across a quote in an article by the late Isaiah Berlin that I think gives a useful answer to the question of “Should I?”

Berlin wrote: “One chooses as one chooses because (1) one knows what one wants, and (2) is ready to pay the price.” (I added the numbers.)

As for the first reason, (1) choosing because “one knows what one wants,” I would argue that you already know what you want or you wouldn’t be asking me if you should do it.

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Conversely, if you have spent years thinking about a thing and have taken no forward action, you probably don’t want it that badly.

It reminds me of a story about Mozart.

Supposedly a young man in his late teens or so approached Mozart and said “Maestro! I want to write a symphony! Please, please teach me how to write a symphony!”

Mozart looked him over and said “You’re too young to write a symphony.”

“But Maestro Mozart, you wrote a symphony when you were twelve years old,” the teen pointed out.

“Yes, but I didn’t have to ask how!” Mozart replied.

If you really want to do a thing, you will pursue it and do it. If not, then not. You won’t have to ask me or anyone else whether you should.

The second part of Berlin’s statement says that you will choose something if you are (2) “ready to pay the price.”

This price may be:

** Long years of education, practice, or apprenticeship before attaining your wish.

** Facing the possibility that, after all that time and effort and investment, you may not succeed.

** Taking a financial gamble as you invest in your new venture or dream – a gamble you could lose.

** Sacrificing time with family, leisure time, and other activities in the relentless pursuit of your vision.

** Risking the disapproval of friends and family who do not support you in your quest and say you are foolish to do it.

** Becoming so successful that you alienate those friends and family members who are less successful and resent your accomplishment.

** Taking so long to reach your goal that by the time you achieve it the other pleasures of life have passed you by and now you are too old to enjoy your success anyway.

If after reading the above list with your eyes wide open, you agree that these are prices you are willing to pay to achieve your dreams — then I encourage you to go full steam ahead.

On the other hand, if you quiver with fear after reading this list or want to put your head under the covers, you may not have the constitution required for entrepreneurial or artistic ventures or similar grand aims. And perhaps you are better off staying where and as you are.

One other observation: a psychologist once told me people do not take action until the pain of their current condition – whether poverty, boredom, fear, or unhappiness — exceeds their fear of change.

I think his observation is right on the money.