Life: Choose Your Own Adventure


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These days, my blog is focused on the art, craft and business of writing. If you’re not a writer and you’re just looking for content on personal development, it may not be the place for you. (Sorry!)

If you are a writer or a would-be writer, a huge welcome to Aliventures! A great place to start is with my free mini-ebook Time to Writeyou can find out more about that and a bunch of other handy resources here.

When I was a geeky bookworm of a kid (as opposed to the geeky bookworm of an adult I am now) I liked the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. You probably know the ones I mean: you’d read a page or two of text, then you’d get some sort of choice:

If you think you should try to track down the donor of the sword, turn to page 79.

If you think it’s a good idea to go back in time, turn to page 20.

(Secrets of the Ninja – Choose Your Own Adventure #16  – /

It was sometimes hard to predict what choices were going to lead to outcomes of gruesome death, so I used to keep a finger in the book, to flip back to where the choice went “wrong”. Other times, the choices would end up forming a loop, and I’d have to pick a different path.

(I found this while researching this post, and it was too funny not to share; an adult spoof called “Choose Your Own Adventure (On Drugs): High In Outer Space”, from My friend Nick also has a characteristically sarcastic and witty choose your own adventure for wanna-be London tube drivers)

Life is a choose your own adventure. It’s a bit harder to flip back when we make the wrong choice – but on the plus side, our odds of meeting a sudden death by ninja are pretty low. So why are we opting for choices that lead us round in a day-in-day-out circle of dull routine? Why do we stick with jobs which we find mundane, boring or pointless? Why do we huddle in our comfort zone, refusing to risk taking a step or two outside?

Where’s the Adventure in Your Life?

Life is absolutely packed with choices – far more choices than a choose your own adventure book could cope with. Every day we make big decisions. You might not think that getting into the car and going to work is a choice … but it is. Sure, you’re making that choice based on certain negative consequences that will arise if you don’t go to work … but no-one’s  forcing you to the office at gun-point.

What you do in your leisure time is a choice –with almost unlimited possibilities. You can watch television. You can read books (fiction or non-fiction, from the library, from your bookshelf, from Project Gutenberg). You can write a novel. You can start a blog, or website, on a topic you’re interested in. You can go for a jog. You can teach yourself to cook. You can join Toastmasters and conquer your fear of public speaking.

Rather than opting for the easiest choice, or the one which you think you “should” do, ask yourself which is going to be the most interesting, or the most exciting, or even the most scary. These options are likely to be the ones that lead you down a whole new avenue – rather than the ones that see you repeating the same chapter of your life over and over and over again.

What’s The Worst/Best That Could Happen?

Perhaps you’re considering making some big change in your life at the moment. Perhaps the decisions you’re facing aren’t what to watch on television, or what to cook for dinner; they’re questions like:

  • Will I take a postgraduate course or get a job?
  • Will I leave my job to follow my passion – even though it’s not making me any money?
  • Will I quit smoking, even though I’ve tried and failed in the past?
  • Will I try to patch up this relationship, or just call it all off?

All too often, we freeze when we’re faced with choices like this. We have a vague idea of all the things that could go wrong if we go for the more challenging option – so we stick with the status quo. I’ve found that, in these situations, there are two questions that really help:

What’s the worst that can happen?

This is a great question to ask when you’re afraid. Perhaps you’re stuck in the job that you took straight out of college because you were desperate for something: but you’d really love to do something more creative. Rather than allowing that cloud of vague worries to suffocate your thoughts (“what if I go bankrupt … what if my parents think I’m an idiot … what if I’m not self-disciplined enough to work on my own”…), work out what the real worst-case scenario is.

Rather often, you’ll realise that the reality is something like this:

I realized that on a scale of 1-10, 1 being nothing and 10 being permanently life-changing, my so-called worst-case scenario might have a temporary impact of 3 or 4.

(Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Work Week, pg 42 – reviewed here, or buy from / )

I left my job a bit over a year ago, to freelance. I was already making about $300 a month by writing for a couple of blogs in my spare time, and I had contacts on other blogs where I was hoping to get some regular work. I also had a couple of contacts through my job who were interested in my services.

It was still a scary step. But, realistically, the absolute worst-case scenario would have gone something like this:

No-one wants to hire me, and the blogs I’m currently writing for both go under, completely out of the blue. I go through my savings (three months of salary). I can’t find any part-time casual work locally. I’m broke. I have to tell my parents. They bail me out.

This might suggest a level of supreme overconfidence in my parents – but I have a strong, loving relationship with them, they’re in a good financial situation, and I know that they’d loan or give me money if I needed it.

Is your situation similar? Even if your family aren’t in a position where they could lend you a lump sum of cash, would they let you live in their home? If your relationship with your family isn’t good, do you have friends who’d let you sleep on their sofa?

Frankly, I doubt anyone reading this is likely to end up homeless and starving because of making the wrong decision: we all have social networks (family, friends, church) who will gather round us at times of genuine crisis.

And, of course, this question is just one side of the coin. On the other side is a much more powerful question…

What’s the Likely Positive Outcome?

Think positive for a moment. Don’t come up with the best possible outcome (that just ends up in silliness that won’t convince the frightened bit of your brain at all) – but figure out what a likely positive outcome is. (Yes, I know “likely positive outcome” is a rubbish name for it; if you can think of anything catchier, let me know in the comments!)

For example, with my choice to quit my job and freelance, the likely positive outcome for me was having a lot more control over my time, and making enough money to pay the bills and rent, with some left over for “fun” spending. And guess what – I ended up with this, and a lot of other benefits – such as decreased stress levels, some passive income streams, a lot of new knowledge, and some marketing experience.

If you’re facing a choice where one option means sticking with a status quo, and the other requires energy and willpower, think about the likely positive outcome.

  • If you’re try to quit smoking, chances are you’ll at least cut down for a while. That means more money in your pocket – and improved health.
  • If you go on a diet, you might not make it all the way to your target weight – but there’s a good chance you’ll lose some weight, and succeed in getting into healthier eating and exercising habits.

In these sorts of cases, there isn’t really a worst-case scenario: sure, you might fail, but that just puts you back where you started. You might feel that you’ve wasted time and energy but you’ll definitely have learnt something – even if that’s just “I need to try a different way” or “I need more support to succeed at this.”

What Page Are You On?

Where are you in the adventure of your life? Perhaps you’re still in the first few chapters, trying to figure out where you’ll be heading during the rest of the book. This is pretty much how it feels for me, at the age of twenty four: the options are wide open!

Maybe you’re half-way through. You’ve learnt from some wrong choices. You’ve had your fingers burned a few times. You’ve had to slog through some difficult patches. A new path has opened up, one that would mean a big change in the direction your story’s been taking. Are you going to seize that chance? Are you worrid about what other people might think? What’s the worst that could happen? (Probably not “death by ninja”…) What’s the likely positive outcome?

What are the options open to you at the moment? What are you afraid of? What are you hoping for? Which choice are you going to make?

Thanks for commenting! I read all comments, and reply to as many as I can. Please keep the discussion constructive and friendly. Thank you!

18 thoughts on “Life: Choose Your Own Adventure

  1. Ali,

    Thanks for yet another wonderful post and what a pleasure to see it sitting on your own blog. I’m subscribing to you feed now and looking forward to more thought provoking reading.

    with thanks and all best wishes
    Ananga @ Living by Design

  2. Thanks Ananga, glad you enjoyed it: although I love writing for the various other blogs I appear on, there’s something extra-special about being able to go off in my own direction, and it’s great to know it worked for at least one person … 😉 (And congratulations on being the first commenter here!)

  3. Thanks, Mark – and thanks for sharing some of your life and adventure so far. I know what you mean about the “worst case scenario” advice: it can sometimes seem a bit glib (especially when you’re in a situation that feels very stuck). For me, it’s often mentally liberating: it helps me realise that, however much I hate to admit it, I’ve *chosen* the situation I’m in.

    I was lucky enough to have a day job where there was very much a “go home on time” culture: I’ve always been turned off by industries and companies that expect a 60-70 hour week. Frankly, most of us can’t concentrate and focus fully for a 7-8 hour work day (at least, I know I can’t!) — I feel that a lot of time in some jobs ends up being wasted in meetings, admin, and general ineffectiveness.

    Good on you for escaping, and for helping out your friend with the stop smoking product. I mentioned it in the post a couple of times because I’ve had friends who’ve smoked (or who still smoke) and I know how hard it can be to quit — but also how much people regret having started! I think anything that helps out, whether it’s nicotine gum or hypnosis, is well worth supporting.

    Good luck with all your ventures and adventures!

  4. After an extensive bout with illness, joblessness and depression (Add low self esteem!) in which I had lived with/off family, I took my income tax return of 400 bucks and moved out. I finally found a low paying job about the time my rent ran out, so started the job homeless..literally! Because I was also paying child support, doing all my eating “out” and renting a hotel for my visitation every other weekend, it took me 8 months to get into another place of my own. The funny part? It was a most liberating experience. I met some interesting and odd characters, plus learned to appreciate lifes’ simple pleasures more fully! (To this day, I’m fully convinced the apex of human achievement is hot, running water!!!) The attitude I adopted was, “well now, there’s nowhere to go except up from here!” My point is this: Sometimes the worst that can happen, may turn out to be the best thing for you in the long run.

  5. Wow, Steve, that really puts some of my previous “problems” in perspective! What you say reminds me of Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London” — I think it’s in there that he says there’s something liberating about hitting bottom, when you just focus on survival.

    Glad things have worked out for you!

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  7. Great post! Way to encourage people to live their lives to the fullest! I have been so much happier and relaxed since making a big change in my life. It’s wonderful! Like you, I also like helping others through my blog. Take care, A.

  8. I think you also need to to think about ‘what’s the worst that happen’ for other people. For example, you might have a fabulous support network with parents happy to open their arms (and wallets) to bail you out, but why should they? If a friend quits a job to become a pro-surfer then spends six months living on your sofa it’s a great decision for him, but a huge inconvenience for you. It’s great to define ‘what’s the worst that could happen’, but you need to think further than your narrow bubble of priviledge. For many peopkle the worst that can happen is destitution. For others, the choice to go to work every day is actually the most difficult option – because self-sustainability is all they havet. As you get older it becomes impossible to turn back those decisions. Wait til you have something of substance, wait til you’ve really been pushed into a corner, then write about how you made it work. Quitting your job safe in the knowledge that your parents will bail you out is one of (if not the) safest option there is.

  9. Some food for thought there, Fern – thank you.

    Thankfully, my worst-case scenario was never a reality. I’d have HATED to ask my parents to bail me out, and if they had done, I’d’ve done everything in my power to pay them back!

    I’m lucky, and I’m very grateful for that. I am very priviledged compared to many people, and I recognise that for others, decisions are far harder. I’d question whether true destitution is likely in most cases, though.

    I agree that as I get older, I’m sure I’ll find that certain paths close off or become much harder. I hope that others will open up, though – whether through new friendships, through financial investments, or through acquiring new skills. I certainly make no pretence to have all the answers, which is why I love to have different opinions, points of view and stories in the comments. So thanks for chiming in!

  10. HI Ali…..I really enjoy reading your blog. I must agree with Fern however. And if you don’t think that destitution is a reality for scores of people, then just venture over to the poor neighborhoods and do some volunteer work, or go into one of the schools and talk to the teachers there about the children they work with, or go to a hospital in a poor are……need I go on? The destitute are in our streets, in our backyards.
    No need to go to……..fill in the blank, whatever poor part of the world you can think of. It’s all right here in the good ole USA!
    You are not just privileged, but extraordinarily privileged. In terms of history, past and present, and if you compare yourself with a vast percentage of people living on this earth today……don’t think it’s something that everyone shares.
    It’s great that you’ve met with considerable success and you certainly deserve credit for your hard work. But it is very different taking risks with someone/think to fall back on, and taking risks when there is no one and nothing to fall back on, a reality for so many people. So don’t be so glib about doubting that some of your readers might be amongst those who don’t have the social networks you assume everyone does…..
    Anyway……keep up the good work, good luck on the other writing projects.

  11. Lela, I do realise how tough some people have it (I live in South London and there’s a lot of very visible poverty here). It makes me angry that it’s even possible, in 21st century Britain, for people to end up sleeping on the streets.

    I guess I wrote this blog post in the knowledge that most of my readers will, like me, and like you say, be “extraordinarily privileged”. If you’ve got an internet connection and the ability to find my blog, you’re probably doing quite well. Perhaps I was being too hopeful in the piece, though; I realise not everyone *does* have friends or family to fall back on. My apologies if it came across as glib or offensive in any way, that certainly wasn’t my intention. I usually try to push quite a strong point in articles here, because I think that’s more powerful than always offering a very balanced view.

  12. Great post Ali!

    Found your blog after purchasing “The Bloggers Guide to Effective Writing” today (nice work by the way!).

    I’d have to disagree with the last couple of comments here (Fern & Lela) – I think they dramatically underestimate the power of choice. I believe their criticism stems from the misconception that a choice must be “good” for it to be viable. Sometimes the best choices that are available to us though, are between one option that is bad, and another that is worse. The quality of choices available to us does not diminish our ability to make them, nor the necessity of making them. Using a fear of destitution or poverty is just an excuse to delay “choosing your own adventure.”

    I say this from experience, as i’ve been genuinely homeless myself – and as unpleasant as it is, it is remarkably easier than many people believe. It’s really the fear of failing that is worse than failing itself. Breaking that cycle involved making decisions – none of which were great – but nonetheless there are options that were there if you have the tenacity to find them and the courage to pursue them.

    I believe that living your own adventure is an incremental process, where we gradually improve the quality of choices that are available to us. With each choice we make – each risk we take – we find a little bit more of the courage that the next decision will require, allowing us to take bigger leaps with the next risk. It’s a simple process really. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

    People need to differentiate between being broke, and being poor. One reflects your material circumstance, while the other reflects your mental and spiritual attitude. Money fixes being broke. Getting out of poverty requires so much more. When you’ve lost hope and faith in yourself, you’ve given away the one thing nobody could take away from you: your power to choose.

    The point to take home? Never give up your power to choose to the imagined phantoms of poverty, destitution – or even death. You will prevail. We all come from different places in life – but we all have exactly the same capacity to choose. Whether or not you make those choices is down to your own personal courage: keep digging – it’s in there!

    Ali, I know it must be tempting to relent to some of your readers, but *please* don’t moderate your message of hope – it’s too necessary! This is a great post – i’m really looking forward to combing through more of your posts now:-)

    Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks for the comment, Kristin! And glad you found your way here — hope you continue enjoying The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing 🙂

      Great point about the power of choice. I have friends who’ve faced tough circumstances (illness, poverty, adversity) and risen above it. I admire them hugely.

      And I won’t relent in the blogging 😉 I’d rather push a strong and enthusiastic view and get a bit of kick-back in the comments than water everything down. And that’s what the comments are here for; so you can add ideas and disagree and discuss. 🙂

      Enjoy the rest of the blog!

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