The Big Gamble

My friend is a lawyer. By almost any measure he would be considered smart — and successful, and admirable, and all the other stuff responsible members of society strive to be when they’re not plotting to fire traffic-clearing incendiary missiles into clogged freeways. He likes what he does, and he’s good at it. He’s become what he wanted to become.

At high schools around America, hundreds of thousands of young adults are trying to decide what they’ll make of their life. Some, like my friend, want to be lawyers — and other respectable professionals. Many others, probably more than their parents and teachers and guidance counselors care to admit, want to be singers and dancers and poets. They want to be movie stars and baseball players. They want to make lithographs. They want to be like the glamorous people they see on TV whose “work” seems like play. Young as these students are, they still have the prescient inkling that these careers aren’t as easy to obtain as idle fantasies are. They realize that to cut one’s life from a stray bolt of alternative cloth requires courage, persistence, and more than a little luck.

Doing what one dreams of doing with his limited time on this glorious planet is a gamble. My lawyer friend likes to play poker. It’s a stimulating mental challenge, and he’s good at it. His style is to wait for excellent cards and exploit opponents who are willing to play with weaker holdings. He does OK with this strategy, but he has trouble securing major victories, since great cards only come around a small percentage of the time. He’s starting to notice that the people who enjoy great success, the ones who win giant tournaments and collect enormous pots, are the ones who play more recklessly than he, the ones who recognize that large rewards often entail commensurate risks.

The kids who end up being our composers and lighting designers, our Greek translators and Arctic explorers, understand this concept. Some of them become lawyers, too. But only if they really want to. They’re willing to take the big gamble, and they can accept the losses as an inevitable cost of winning.

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