Here’s a question for you: if you had the choice, would you take your dreams – or would you take eight million dollars?
This is how it began: many years ago, a friend of mine, John, started an advertising company from scratch. A month later he came round and asked me if I’d join him. He needed a copywriter. At the time I hadn’t had a thing published – I was young, untried.
‘I don’t know that I’d feel comfortable taking your money,’ I said.
He looked at me as if I’d gone crazy. ‘I said I needed a copywriter,’ he said. ‘I didn’t say I’d PAY you.’
It was too good an offer to refuse.
Our offices were three upstairs room in a dilapidated building that leaked badly in the winter. We once had a piece of the ceiling fall on a client during a presentation. After that we only pitched when it wasn’t raining.
But John was unbelievable at getting new business and I wasn’t too bad at writing copy and the company took off. After a while we even started paying ourselves a wage.
But this was John’s dream, not mine. I wanted to be a novelist; I had set my heart on it. About a year and a half later I told John that I was leaving to pursue my dream on the other side of the country.
He generously offered me a partnership in the fledgling outfit if I stayed. ‘You can have forty per cent,’ he said.
I didn’t even hesitate. I said thank you, but no thank you.
Many years later, I was on a flight to New York to see my agent and, sleepless over Seattle, I got talking to the guy next to me. We told each other our life stories and he asked me if I ever found out what happened to my friend’s advertising agency.
‘Yeah he sold it 20 years later.’
‘How much for?’
‘Twenty million dollars,’ I said.
He stared at me aghast. ‘That means you would have got … eight million dollars.’
‘And that was just the media arm.’
It was like my mother had just died. He even patted me on the arm. ‘Jeez, I’m sorry,’ he said.
‘You could be retired and rich.’
Well, yeah, I could be. But here’s the strange thing; I have no regretted that decision. Not once.
Because I got my dream. I’ve published over forty books. I’ve sold novels in more than twenty different languages. I’ve had runaway bestsellers in Australia, Germany and Mexico and Eastern Europe. Research has led me to diving with sharks off Gansbaai, dodging tear gas in La Paz, chasing witches across Mexico, running with bulls in Pamplona.
I’ve had an absolute blast. Regrets? You have to be kidding me.
But have I got eight million dollars? Not even close.
But my friend on the plane couldn’t get over it. He shook his head right the way to the eastern seaboard. ‘Eight million!’
It made me think: if I’d had a crystal ball when John offered me the 40%, if I knew then what I know now … what would I have done? I knew the decision would have still been the same.
Would not have hesitated for a moment.
Done the same thing.
But not everyone sees it that way. A lot of people, like the guy on the plane, hear the story and think I am crazy.
But if I’d stayed, I tell them, I would have had to live in one city. I would have worked for The Man, even though the Man was my mate. I would have given up on my dream.
Yes, I would be retired rich right now, probably sitting on a sun lounger in Fiji drinking something with an umbrella in it. (No, strike that – it would still be a bourbon.)
Yet right now I am enjoying writing more than I have in my whole life. I just signed a contract to work with one of my all time heroes. In July I’m headed to East Africa for research. I’m still having a blast. I actually don’t want it to stop.
But yes, I agree, I am still working.
What would you have done if you had a crystal ball … if you had a choice between eight million dollars and a dream, what do you think you would do?
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