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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Guest Post: Sell Out

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Sam Nelson recently returned from a mission in Chile and is currently studying Economics at BYU. He is part of The 5000 Days Project and is the subject of the film "Two Brothers" released in October 2011. You can read Sam's other guest posts here and here. You can also follow him on twitter: .

I’ve always been a proponent of doing what you love. After I knew I could put my embarrassing high school academic record behind me and start fresh at BYU I started to dream ... What if I worked at Bain and went to Harvard? I wanted to start my own business someday. I had an uncommon passion for business strategy and a weird knack for microeconomics. I thought about possibly being involved in politics ... I realized I could make a career out of doing what I loved and what I was good at and do it all day every day! Daydreaming about that future was so exciting that it propelled me from being a 3.2 GPA student in high school to a 3.9 GPA student at BYU. I’m not saying that to brag. And it wasn’t because I was just secretly really smart the whole time, it came at a huge cost. Freshman year I had my schedule worked out so I could finish all my classes by noon and study afterward ... There were quite a few days where I would be in the library until it closed at midnight. When you find a life goal that you are excited about ... life changes. I knew I could do well as a dentist like my dad, but I dreamed of more. The birds in the bush were so much more exciting than the bird in the hand!

After a year of college I left for a two-year mission in Chile. In those two years I changed a lot. The mission lets you experience first-hand the ironic joy that comes from forgetting yourself to better the lives of others. Also, if you get sent to Chile, you spend time with the happiest people you’ve ever met and they live in sheet metal houses ... It sounds cliché, but I really “got” that neither money nor prestige buys happiness. In Chile they don’t even really think much about people’s successes or failures. I got let in on a little secret ... Money has nothing to do with happiness. It was the belief that money could affect happiness that made people unhappy (rich or poor). Eureka! It was like when I was in elementary school and I realized that my grades didn’t actually matter!

When I got back from my mission, more than any other time in my life, I didn’t really care what people thought. Now, the over-makeuped teenage girl that makes fun of everyone says that too. But honestly and sincerely, for me, the idea of me being “the man” just doesn’t hold the same gusto. It doesn’t motivate me like it used to. And while I still like my old goals, they're not enough to keep me in the library for twelve hours after classes. Compared to spending every waking minute changing the lives of others, working for what I want just seems so shallow. That being said, I totally get the parable of the talents. A lot of people use the phrase “money can’t buy happiness” as a cop out to settle for less than what they can be. As if God gives us gifts, passions, and potential to be thrown out the window. I envy and have a tremendous respect for entrepreneurs; but now, after the mission, those same goals just don’t fuel my engine. My passions and even gifts have, to an extent, fundamentally changed.

My father was an Econ major, too. He was good at it and loved business. I think he would have been a great investment banker or excelled in private equity. But at a certain point in college he took a hard look at where he was going and what he really wanted and at the last minute he decided to switch course and pursue a career in dentistry. Was that his dream? Debatable. I don’t think he goes from patient to patient thinking ‘Woo Hoo! I can’t wait to analyze the next stinky messed up mouth!’ He chose the dental route because deep down, what he really dreamed of was providing the ideal lifestyle for his family. Orthodontics let him do that. He controls his hours, his life is open for church service, and he knows he’ll have the freedom that comes along with a large income. That large income can’t buy happiness, but it bought my mother the ability to pursue her dream of being an artist. And it’s bought my brothers and I every possible advantage in academic/extracurricular pursuits. I’ve always known that and respected my dad for it, but never thought I would ever get to the point where I would make the same decision.

By nature I am an entrepreneur, and the idea of being one gave me hope and actually changed my life. If someone would have told me two years ago that I would write all of that off ... I wouldn’t have believed it. Ha, and if you know me you probably won’t believe it either. But like my Grandpa and my Dad, and many others in my extended family, when push came to shove, the idea of providing the best launching pad I could for my future kids sounded more exciting than pursuing a career in something I love.

I’m going to be an orthodontist.

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