My wife and I were enjoying a relaxing Sunday afternoon last weekend when the conversation turned to alternate universes.
Other than watching an occasional episode of Fringe , this is generally not an everyday point of discussion. However, I had just finished reading a review of physicist Brian Greene’s new book, “The Hidden Reality,” which points to the mind-boggling prospect of multiple universes as a bona-fide scientific reality.
“Listen to this,” I said, reading from the New York Times book review. “It says that ‘infinite variations of ourselves, our lives and our solar system are within the theorist’s realm of possibility.’”
I drifted off for a moment, contemplating the endless number of directions my current life could have taken; all the potential outcomes of the choices I may or may not have made over the years, each now playing themselves out in a myriad of alternate worlds without my permission. What if I had better managed my insecurities and fears? What if I had followed the advice of that high school teacher? What if I had taken that internship in Montreal?
“I’m sure there is a much better version of me in some other universe,” I sighed, taking a rather too-generous swig from my glass of Chardonnay.
I imagined him - the other, better me - with brilliant white teeth, chatting it up at a fund raiser in an art museum in Switzerland following his keynote address at the Davos World Economic Forum. He laughs breezily with the well-heeled crowd of elite leaders, each one desperate to speak with him about his latest best-selling book. “Please, please!” he says with a good-natured grin, holding out his hands. “One at a time!”
“Oh, stop it.” My wife abruptly interrupts. “How do you know that this universe, right here, is not the best version of you?”
I appreciate her vote of confidence, but I can't help but wonder if I have sold myself short over the years. I'm reminded of Jim Collins' stark opening statement in his book Good to Great: “Good is the enemy of great.” His point being that few people attain great lives precisely because it's so much easier settling for a good life.
Marshall Goldsmith, in his latest book, Mojo, calls this phenomenon, “sunk costs,” when we have too much invested in our current situation to move on, even if moving on would bring better or more fulfilling results.
He tells the story of how, after earning his PhD, he had built a nice gig for himself doing organizational training. Being a poor boy from Kentucky, he felt like he was doing pretty well. But an insightful mentor took him aside one day and told him, “I know you are comfortable and making good money, but you are meant for something much more than this. If you just keep doing this, you’ll have a good life, but you’ll never be what you could be.”
Marshall took his advice, quit the development work and invested in his career as a writer and consultant. He is now making an enormous impact as a world-renowned author and influential leadership coach to Fortune 500 CEOs.
Are your decisions based on what you might lose, or what you might gain? Sometimes we are better off cutting loose from something good in order to achieve something better. It's risky, sure, and inevitably involves greater sacrifice and effort. But it may be the only way to find out what we are meant for.
Do you need to stop blogging and start writing that book?
Is it time to turn off the TV and start working on that business plan?
Is this the year you step out in faith and make that bold move?
My wife was right. That better version of me is not floating around in some sci-fi alternate dimension. He's right in front of me, a few years in the future, waiting. There are just a few things I need to do before I meet him.