In honor of my 40th birthday, I’m doing a series of posts highlighting valuable lessons I’ve learned in my time on this planet. 

“Plant your seed in the morning and keep busy all afternoon, for you don’t know if profit will come from one activity or another – or maybe both.” Ecclesiastes 11:6 (NLT)

During what ended up being my last term at Georgia Tech, I started getting extremely busy with Third Day. We were starting to tour more, and were in the studio quite a bit as well. I had a course at school that I was consistently missing. I finally made it to class one day, and on the bulletin board in bold letters the professor had written “Final Exam: Tuesday March 3rd at 3:00.” Seeing the importance of this, I wrote it down in my notebook.

I ended up missing all the other classes leading up to finals, but was determined to salvage this course. I showed up Tuesday March 3rd at 3:00 only to find an empty, dark classroom. The wind out of my sails, I sat in that room for awhile and took stock of my life. Here I was, so close to achieving my dream in one area, yet seemingly close to failure in another. I took this as my cue that I needed to put school down for a while and focus on music. I could always go back to school, right?

This was the way I went about things then. When faced with a major decision, it felt like I was at a crossroads, with one right path and one wrong one. I even quit Third Day for a short time in 1994 based on this kind of thinking.

About ten years ago I was facing another major decision. It felt like whichever path I chose was going to have major ramifications. I was so worried about it that I was losing sleep. I sought the counsel of a mentor of mine, and I’ll never forget his answer. “That’s easy. You do both.” Whatever I was worried about fell by the wayside, to the point that today I don’t even remember what the big deal was. His answer resonated with me so much that it’s become a major theme of my life.

#1: When faced with an either/or decision, look for a way to do both/and.

This idea plays itself out in so many different situations, but the main one I’ll focus on here is the idea of dreams vs. reality. You see, I think we all have a dream deep down inside of us. It’s crazy and it’s big – so big that it’s kind of scary. We usually err on the side of martyrdom where we make the practical decision at the expense of our dreams. Or, like my example, we assume that pursuing our dreams involves being drastic, so we hastily quit things. We might even retreat to the world of fantasy, where we think about our dreams and they’re so exquisite compared to reality that they never see the light of day. We may be dreaming, but to everyone else it looks like we’re asleep.

Try doing both.

Nobody ever said it would be easy, but it will reward you. The work of pursuing a dream will energize your practical workday life, while concentrating on reality will give your dreams legs. I realize this won’t always work – there are times when space and time will not permit. You can’t be in two places at once. But if you can pull it off, I would encourage you to “do both”, even if just for a while. It can’t hurt, and it could be your ticket to somewhere you never would have imagined. As we keep advancing towards things, they have a way of getting smaller. If you keep “doing both”, decisions that loom large over our lives will one day just feel like the next natural step.

In my example above, I was going to college to be an engineer while I was in a rock band. At that moment in time, it felt like if I took my focus off the band that it would go away. In hindsight, though, I had plenty of time to “do both” and I just wasn’t using it well. If you’ve ever been a full-time student, you know that time is not a problem. It would have taken effort, and I would have to have talked to my professor about the mixup on the exam. But I think I could have pulled it off.

By “doing both”, not only will you keep your options open, but you’ll probably also lead a richer life. You will be drawing on both your dreamy imagination and your street-wise common sense. You will have your head in the clouds and your feet on the ground.

How does this idea hit you? Does it resonate with you? Do you think I’m off my rocker? Do tell in the comments below. Also, if you have an example of where you tried “doing both” I’d love to hear about it!