East or West?

I have grown up with essentially two philosophies – American and Taoism, which comes from China. America says to work your hardest and that you will be rewarded. Taoism says to go with the flow, to not work against the natural current of things but rather to move with it. Yielding overcomes force according to Taoism, sheer force of will overcomes everything according to American mythology.

The devil is in the details of how to interpret these sometimes contradictory views. I have seen merit in both ideologies. For a long time I wanted to reconcile their differences when it came to their prescriptions for the path of success… but eventually I simply realized that neither one was a perfect philosophy because maybe there is no perfect philosophy.

For Taoism – I look to nature. I see the patterns of the natural world and infer that there are unseen laws by which all processes of the world are governed. Based on observing something as simple and common as water – there does seem to be truth in the idea that yielding is more powerful than force.

Yet look at America – a nation born of stubborn, determined revolutionary war, where some of the richest people are those who force their visions onto the world in the form of corporate empires.

One of my favorite writers, Rainer Maria Rilke, says to love the difficult things – to resolve always to be a beginner, a learner in life. A 19th century Bohemian poet, his thinking clearly has its roots in Western values.

The trouble is, the most difficult decision I’ve been faced with recently – I can apply either philosophy to either direction – it’s all a matter of interpretation.

I have needed to decide between school in Texas or Chicago:

Sacrifice my ideal career for financial security – or risk my financial security to pursue my ideal career? What a headache! One of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make – and the deadline is fast approaching where I will have to decide.

Texas would be easier – it’s much less expensive and offers a better career outlook (because of a new major I’d study here).

Texas would be more difficult – I’d have to leave all my friends behind by moving to a new state, would have to leave the major I’ve been so passionate about studying.

Chicago would be easier – Because I’m almost done there and changing to Texas will delay my graduation significantly. I was loving studying what I most wanted to there, despite the much more risky career outlook.

Chicago more difficult – I’d have to be more independent, and try to pay my bills (which would be much larger) with whatever job I could find as I studied my 1st choice of majors.

Do I yield to the realities of financial pressures? Or do I force my will, my passion onto my life despite the risks? Do I yield to my desires or to the force of external pressures?

I’ve made an effort not to see things in black and white. Switching to Texas need not mean abandoning my passion – but changing my course of study would direct a large portion of my time and energy away from pursuing it directly.

This choice boils down to what I want vs. what I need – unfortunately I can’t decide which is which. I’ve only got one life, and I know how I like spending my time – writing about sustainability issues. But I need a steady income to pay the bills.

I feel betrayed by the advice I’ve been given. My whole life I heard, “Do what you love.” but now that the moment for that final decision has come, the same people who told me that are suddenly saying, “Do what makes money, even if it’s not what you love.”

My rationalization is that I’d be a hypocrite to write about sustainability without living sustainably myself – so I am leaning toward the money Texas offers. It would be possible to have a sustainable income on the Chicago path – but there is much greater uncertainty.

Every risk into the unknown I’ve ever taken has taught me immensely, but many of those risks also did not end in success. I used to be so sure of what I wanted to do – this decision is driving me crazy!


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