The Courage to Explore, the Commitment to Stay

2 minutes

Life is about trade-offs. Trade-offs mark decision points that can have long-lasting effects on your career, your family, and your happiness.

One of my favorite articulations of the tension between trade-offs is, The Courage to Explore, the Commitment to Stay. This came from an interview with Sebastian Junger–most famous as the author of The Perfect Storm. He’s asked, what advice his 70-year-old self would have for him, and this was his response:

The world is this continually unfolding set of possibilities and opportunities, and the tricky thing about life is on the one hand having the courage to enter into things that are unfamiliar but to also have the wisdom to stop exploring when you’ve found something that’s worth sticking around for. That’s true of a place, a person, of a vocation. In balancing those two things, the courage of exploring and the commitment to staying, it’s very hard to get the ratio, the balance of those two things right. And I think my 70-year-old-self would say just really be careful that you don’t err on one side or the other because you have an ill-conceived idea of who you are.

There are seasons in life where exploration is a natural, almost expected behavior. In those periods, little courage is necessary to seek new experiences, environments, or vocations.

There are also times when commitment is a normal outgrowth of life-stage–the urge to “settle down” and plant roots. I think I’m thoroughly there today. For someone in this mode of life, doubling down on the stable parts of life is extremely comfortable.

What I love about Junger’s framing is the courage aspect. It takes a certain amount of bravery to move out of one’s default mode. There’s a certain amount of risk involved. Swing too far the other direction and it can result in decisions that bring significant regret. Courage isn’t about payoff maximization. It’s about conquering fears of failure and understanding who you are as a person.

More and more, I think that this understanding (of oneself) is the key–or at least a prerequisite–to a happy life.