Go Ahead and Be a Fool—But a Wise One!

Whenever you’ve determined to zig while everyone else is zagging, there will be people who tell you that you’re being foolish—or reckless—or crazy. They may be right—or you might just be a genius! But a genius is a type of person who most people have a hard time recognizing—until that person has already accomplished something amazing. When you’re just starting down the path that others fear to tread, don’t expect a lot of support from people unwilling to take that same route.

Why do I bring this up today? Well, the first reason is pretty obvious: It’s April Fool’s Day. The second reason is that April 1st is a sort of anniversary of a foolish decision I made way back in the day that ended up paying off handsomely. I was a senior in high school who was an academically gifted honor student, an MVP soccer player, pretty damn good looking, and far too confident. I was also just foolish enough about my place in the world that I thought I was a shoo-in for college acceptance if I, a farm boy in Maryland, applied to UCLA.

I had traveled with my family my sophomore year to LA and then on a great road trip to Yosemite, and I fell in love with California. I knew midway through the trip that I was coming back for college. UCLA was the only school I considered, and the only school I applied to. Now, that was foolish! My mom begged me to apply to other schools, to have some sort of fallback option, but I refused. The application process was a pain, and I figured that the people at UCLA were certainly smart enough to recognize that I belonged with them. Well, on April 1, 1982, I received my acceptance letter in the mail. I was overjoyed! My mom cried for an hour and then ran out and got a bottle of champagne for us to celebrate with!

This tale of risk turned out well. I loved UCLA from the moment I arrived. I met my wife-to-be, Chef Denise, two days before freshman classes started, and fell in love with her too. I also made friends I still cherish, and even learned some things along the way. But I tell this story to illustrate what NOT to do. I was an absolute idiot for applying only to UCLA. I might have been a big enough fish in my small sea, but it was lunacy to think that UCLA would invite me to come swim in their sea. Simply put, I was too young and stupid to realize that other folks might actually recognize that I was young and stupid. However, I got lucky! That’s NOT the way to be foolish.

The proper way to be foolish is to figure out what you really want, and then make the absolute best possible plan for pursuing it—regardless of how many people counsel you against your pursuit. Listen to those people to see if they make any good points that you haven’t considered, and adjust your plan as needed to incorporate any information you’ve overlooked, but the final choice has got to be your own. If you’ve made the best plan you possibly can, and have truly weighed the costs of failure, but still think pursuing your goal is worth the risks involved, then pursue with gusto. Others may still think you’re foolish to pursue your dreams—but you know you’d be a fool not to!

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