Every now and then, I’m privileged to witness a moment of genuine growth in another. Today was just such a day. After weeks of hectoring and prodding by me and by his own conscience, a dear friend of mine took the very significant step of ending a serious — and seriously complicated — long-distance relationship.
The details aren’t relevant; the only salient point about the story is that I’m very proud of what my friend did. The direct way that he addressed the situation took a lot of guts — it wasn’t easy, but it needed to happen, and he deserves credit for his courage.
I think, on reflection, that the hardest thing he had to do wasn’t to end the relationship, per se, but to close the door on an option, on a Plan B.
I’ve been churning around in my head some of what Tony and I discussed recently, the gist of which is that I’m not “grabbing the gold” with my business goals because I’m too comfortable with my hospital employment. He said that people only live once, and that sometimes you’ve just got to take a calculated risk — without a safety net, and with the very real chance of epic failure — if you want to win big.
Tony’s right. His counsel dovetails nicely with the experience of my friend today, insofar as both are pervaded by an interesting theme.
We all know the admonition to “keep our powder dry” — that is, to prepare for any eventuality by keeping one’s options open and declining to commit to a single path until circumstances require such commitment.
My relationship-ending friend found comfort in knowing that even if his local romantic pursuits fizzled, he still had “someone” — even if this person were hundreds of miles away and seen infrequently. The comfort of having a backup plan is perhaps even more important than the actual person involved, and his breakthrough was in getting rid of the long-distance safety blanket, so that he had to put all of his energy in his current (and local) relationship.
As for me, I like having options. I like to plan an escape route. I like having a general knowledge of many things instead of a deep knowledge of few things. In short, I’m temperamentally inclined to keep my powder dry, to split my energy to preserving multiple lines of advancement, instead of committing all of my forces to one decisive battle.
I think a great parallel is the battle strategies of the Union and the Confederacy. The CSA, lacking materiel, tended to fight in larger formation, and to commit a larger share of forces in order to win a battle. The Union, especially under McClellan, didn’t; most generals before Grant split lines and formations, blunting their numerical advantage for the sake of theater flexibility. But what need is there of flexibility when you only have to defend against one, massive hammer strike? Hence an early string of Union defeats.
It takes time, energy, and resources to keep multiple options open. In life, as in warfare, the strategic price for this thoroughgoing flexibility is a slow advance, and in an emotional sense, it’s a great inducement for excessive caution.
I’ve advanced slowly. I’ve suffered setbacks. But, I’ve always had a Plan B. And oh-so-coincidentally, I’ve rarely won a major victory on life’s battlefield.
Today, I did something a little different. There is a person whom I know, and admire, for whom I feel a not insubstantial attraction. So, I made a point of disclosing this information this afternoon — an act which was respectfully received, even if not entirely reciprocated. Instead of keeping my options open and admiring from afar, I acted with more decisiveness than usual and put the issue on the table. I feel good about it; I set aside the ambiguity and reduced my options, but secured an emotional victory that was worth it. And even if my disclosure were rudely rebuffed (which would have shocked me), it still would have been worth it.
Tony’s point is well-taken: When life gives you but a single shot, it’s foolish to live in so guarded a manner that the best one can summon is an uneasy stasis, with no real progress but no real regress. The bold sometimes lose — and lose big — but they’re also more likely to win big, too.