I took Art class in high school (no surprise, right?) and in my junior year, one of my fellow students was a young exchange student from Sweden named Helena.
Helena was friendly, charming, and brought an international perspective to that particular class.
I talked about Helena at home and when I did, my mother asked me if I had ever thought about becoming an exchange student myself.
Thus began a “foolish” journey that would change my life.
I decided to apply to become an exchange student. I went through the rigorous application process (a 24-page written application; a group interview; a solo interview with a panel of adults; and a family interview where they talked to every member of my family.)
And then I waited. And waited.
Graduation … and then what?
As graduation approached, I wasn’t sure what I’d do. I had been accepted at the college I most wanted to attend. But I hadn’t heard back from the exchange student organization.
Becoming an exchange student would mean postponing college for a year. It would change the course of my post-high school life.
On the afternoon of graduation day, I walked through the halls of my high school for the last time. Suddenly up ahead, I saw the teacher/advisor to the exchange student program waving me down with a paper in his hand. He said:
“I have good news and I have bad news.”
I stared wide-eyed and asked him to go on.
He said, “The good news is that you’ve been accepted into the exchange student program! The bad news is that they’ve placed you with a family in Cali, Colombia, South America.”
Why was this bad news?
In the section at the end of the exchange program application where they asked you to note the “countries of preference” where you wanted to be placed as an exchange student, I’d carefully penciled in “United Kingdom. New Zealand. Australia.”
Because there was no way I was going to go to a country where I’d need to learn a new language. I’d taken only two years of Spanish classes in high school and they were the worst grades on my high school transcript. I was convinced that I wasn’t cut out to speak a foreign language.
If I was going to be an exchange student, I would need to speak English during my year abroad, thankyouverymuch.
That’s when I made the first big foolish decision of my life
I was seventeen years old when this happened. And somehow, even at that early stage of my life, I knew I needed to trust that something good would come of this seeming setback.
I had to believe that life had something in store for me that I couldn’t see at that moment.
And that if I stepped forward and trusted, it would reveal itself.
Well, it did.
It turned out that I am more than capable of speaking a foreign language. Because of that year I spent as an exchange student, I now speak, read, and write Spanish fluently. The years I spent living in Colombia made me who I am today. It was a foolish decision that paid off.
And it wasn’t the first, it turned out.
I’ve made many foolish decisions since that day
Maybe taking that first big risk made me brave. Or maybe it’s just how I’m wired. But since that day when I was 17, I’ve made many, many “foolish” decisions.
My “foolish” decisions put me where I am today.
And I like where I am today, so I guess they weren’t so foolish after all.
- Starting a business when I was eight months pregnant.
- Starting a second business based on a skill (writing) that I’d never done before.
- Moving to Nashville just because I wanted to.
- Going to work for a company after 22+ years of self employment.
Add one more to that list …
Today I need to add “writing a book when I’d never written one before” to that list. The not-yet-named book is in production now so I don’t know how this latest “foolish” decision will turn out.
But based on all the other “foolish” decisions I’ve made, I’m hopeful. 🙂
If you want to follow along as I “foolishly” write a book, you have two options. Choose one or both!
- Listen in as bestselling author Jeff Goins coaches me through the book creation process on my podcast Zero to Book.
- Read first drafts of my chapters as I write them, and share your feedback on the content, the title, the cover and more (for free) inside The Book Factory.
What foolish decisions got you to where you are now?
I want to hear from you: when you look back at your business, what were the pivotal decisions that got you where you are today? Are you happy you made them?
Scroll on down to the comments and tell me all about them.
16 thoughts on “The Hidden Wisdom of "Foolish" Decisions”
Thanks for that Pamela! An important reminder to me of the long term value of risk taking. The risks I’ve avoided in life often return to haunt me as regrets. Those I’ve taken have become, if not great decisions, at the very least valuable learning experiences. I’m presently exploring the risk of plunging into writing as a career. I suspect I know already what your advice might be. ?
Go for it, Kevin! (But you knew I was going to say that.)
Hey Pamela, it sounds to me like you have a “growth mindset” as the scientists are now labeling those of us who are incurably curious and also risk-takers.
Speaking of which, it sounds like I’ll just have to stay curious about your book’s title for now!
The book title is percolating, Tom. And I’m trying to be OK with not knowing what it will end up being for the moment.
Thanks for your comment!
Kudos to you for having the poise and wisdom at 17 to know something good would come out of your “foolish” decision!
I’ve made several (at least) in my day that haven’t worked out – actually set me back. Even though my dreams – aka foolish decisions – have never worked out as I envisioned and worked toward, it’s still better than the situation that prompted the leap of faith.
Oh I’ve made plenty of bad decisions, too, Melissa. I don’t think anyone is immune to those.
This post is really about the times that I made a decision that didn’t look very wise but turned out just fine. I’ll bet you can think of a few times when you took a risk and it worked out, even if it was something simple like leaving a comment on a blog post where others would read it. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by!
A little over 2 years ago I decided to “fire” almost all of my current clients. I was seriously under-charging these clients, many of whom had been with me for over 10 years, but they were taking 90% of my available and I was not close to making a “living”, so I dropped them. Within a couple of months I had 2 new clients who were already contributing significantly more on a recurring monthly basis than all of the previous clients had combined.
That IS brave, Paul. It sounds like it paid off for you.
It’s amazing what happens when you make space for something better to come along. 🙂
Hi Pamela, I enjoyed your post. I am struck by your confidence and boldness at an early age. It is no surprise you are the success that you are. You make opportunities happen and never flinch at challenges. You are a role model for not just entrepreneurs but women who struggle with taking risks (I am one of them!) Young women, in particular, would benefit from hearing your story as they complete their education and navigate their careers. Thanks again. Best, Nancy
Nancy, thank you for this wonderful comment. You made my day. 🙂
I like how you cleverly turned a negative into the positive.
I am a risk taker, too. On (darker) days I have reflected on my many foolish decisions. Which will it be, Foolish Decision Maker or Risk Taker? I like the latter, because it is brave and daring. And I like Tom’s “growth mindset” term, too. As creative people and writers we need to encourage each other and refuse the negative labels. I’ve heard enough from those naysayers!
I vote for Brave & Daring Risk Taker, Nancy!
Thanks for the inspirational story! I don’t think your decision was foolish at all. Risk-taking is making the most of your life, fulfilling all or much of your potential rather than just the tip of the iceberg. And even if things don’t turn out as well (as in your experience), you’ll probably learn so much from it, so it was still worth taking the risk. I recognize this but I’d actually been bad at risk-taking previously. Working on changing that now. Again, thanks for the inspiration!
Kevin, I’m happy to hear the post was inspiring. Good luck taking risks!
I am a risk-taking fool. I think if you were to ask my mother she would say my biggest risk was quitting University with one year to go. It worked out, I have been working steady for 15 years since then.
Sounds like the risk worked out for you, MacKenzie!
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