The Oasis and the Well
If you’ve never been to a desert, it’s hard to fully grasp the importance of water. Sure, you might have been thirsty on a summer day. Maybe a little parched after a nap on the beach.
But in the face of unforgiving, implacable dunes? When each sip of water might be the last? When every exhale wastes precious water vapor? That’s when you grasp how important water is.
And if all you have is enough water for a day, you have a binary choice. Either you figure out how to survive where you are. Or you head off to place where you can survive. In other words, dig a well or find an oasis.
There is no middle ground. It’s either one or the other. It’s not like you can start digging wells on your way to the nearest oasis.
So, how do you know which one to do? How do you make the decision? How can you be sure that your choice, whichever one you make, will be the right one? After all, your survival depends on it!
You can inventory your gear and supplies. No reason to consider digging a well if you don’t have a shovel. You can review the information at hand. Check your maps and see if there are any towns nearby. Chances are they’re built around an oasis.
But that might not help either.
What if the maps are out of date? What if the shovel isn’t in good working order? What if a sandstorm is bearing down on your location?
No matter the situation, a choice will eventually need to be made. You can rely on the information you have. You can seek new information. But, eventually, you must make a decision. And live with it.
Obviously true in a desert. But also true in your day to day life.
Let’s say you’ve dedicated your entire life in the study of oligodendrocytes. And suddenly astrocytes are the new ‘hot’ topic of research. Do you stop what you’re studying or stick to it? If you switch, you might get published faster and maybe get that tenured position. And if you stay, you might be seen as a ‘serious researcher’ and that might be enough to get that tenured position.
Do you stick to what you are doing (dig that well) or go looking for a new option (find an oasis)?
The ‘fun’ part is that you live in a time when information is plentiful and the backbone of economies. You can drown yourself in information. You can channel the force of the internet and find arguments that point in one direction, an equal number in the opposite direction, and a bunch of memes along the way. To add insult to injury, it turns out more data doesn’t make easier decisions.
The end result is still the same. You have to choose. You have to decide.
You can dig deep, right where you are. Or you can go someplace new and see if what you want is there.
And there’s no way of knowing how long you might be digging or walking. There’s no way of being absolutely sure that there will be water at the end.
And no one will ever be able to tell you, with absolute certainty, that one or the other is the better decision until they see the results.
So, if success is not guaranteed, if information doesn’t affect the choice, and you still have a thirst, the real question isn’t whether to dig or walk….
The real question is: can you adapt to failure if things just don’t work out?