In life everybody is faced with very difficult situations, which require some tough decisions. These decisions and the potential consequences can often seem scary, either because of the unknown, or the known outcome of the decision just seems too intimidating. Without realising, some of the most daunting decisions in life often turn out to be the most rewarding ones. I would like to borrow the analogy of risk and return, which is probably the #1 commandment for investment banker - the higher the risk the higher the return (For more information see here or here). While in business this is accepted as an universal rule, in your private life it doesn’t always turn out that way, but it certainly exemplifies an important issue - many of the decision or consequences that appear particularly scary, can also hold the greatest rewards in life.
After my high school graduation I was confronted with the choice between going to university or spending one year gaining some experience abroad during a social year. The opportunity abroad was a project working with HIV/Aids affected (not infected!) children in South Africa. The path to university was of course what most of my peers opted for and would have definitely been the safe and normal choice. At the time, South Africa in my mind called for Safari, Zulu warriors and the Lion King. However, after my initial research I also realised that the area the project was based is the region most affected by HIV/Aids in the world (!), with prevalence rates over 50% (the national level is lower, more information on statistics here). In addition, South Africa was well-known for its violence and crime rates, again the area I was supposed to be working in was the battleground during the fight between the ANC and INKATHA in the years following the end of apartheid (I just want to point out that this was my view at the time and does not reflect my view of the country today). So the choice was to go to this seemingly dangerous place, where I don’t know the rules, habits and culture, where I won’t be able to do very much due to security, won’t know any of my future colleagues and don’t even know how emotionally challenging the work with the children will be. Compared to that I had the option of the comfortable, quiet and fun life as a student.
The majority of my peers again went for the latter, the safer version. However, I thought to myself how many times in life are you given an opportunity to experience something so fundamentally new and can even contribute to the wider society. I thought that if I just accept the limitations the new environment imposes on me, listen to the advice from people who have been there or are living there and embrace the new life I will be fine. In fact, I went with the feeling that ultimately for everything I will miss from home, there will be at least one new opportunity or door that opens for me. And sometimes one just have to look at things that way and also seek these new opportunities to turn daunting situations into very valuable experiences - hence making the ‘right’ decision.
In my next post I will tell you all about how the time in South Africa went and what I learnt from that. Stay tuned.