Pick the Clay

A fable:

A man wanted a particular clay sculpture for his garden. He had in mind a very specific sculpture, but he couldn’t find it. Ultimately, two different people offered him two different things. One offered him a clay sculpture, but it was worse in every way than what he wanted; it was smaller, of poor craftsmanship, and depicted an entirely different subject than the one desired by the man.

The other person offered the man a mound of clay. It was of very good quality and there was plenty of it, though it was – of course – just a mound of clay.

The man thought aloud, “if my goal were simply to always choose the better of two options, as evaluated in the current moment, I could choose this sculpture. A finished sculpture is finer than a mound of clay if one evaluates the world only as a single moment in time. Even if a few additional moments are considered, the sculpture retains one allure: it is finished. It requires no further work from me, save for setting it into place.

“But if one considers the long view of happiness, one would realize that though clay is not a sculpture, it can become so. Though I do not possess the sculptor’s tools, I can obtain them. Though I do not know how to use them, I can learn. Ambition is a powerful thing, and no one else’s ambition could ever shape clay as closely to my own desires as I could, given the effort. And so, as a wise man, I must choose the clay.”

Raw materials and the opportunity to apply effort to them are a better reward than a finished product you don’t want. Pick the job with lots of opportunities to grow and shape what you do over the rigid one with a higher starting salary. Pick the untamed plot of land over the house you don’t really like.

Pick the clay.

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