A few years ago I was up in northern Michigan staying in a cabin with some friends.
One particular night we were all enjoying the beach. A few random locals came up and we chatted awhile. They found out we were interested in doing some cliff jumping and it was generally ill advised to do that in the popular areas.
They did however give us an obscure string of directions to a private area. And from that point on, the idea became infectious. Sure, we could go hiking, or we could accept a random stranger’s sidequest and fulfill our desire to go cliff jumping. That sounds way more invigorating than our itinerary, at least to me.
So we went the next day.
A quest given to the player that has no direct bearing on the main story/campaign of the game. Completion of a sidequest often results in the acquisition of money or items that are otherwise unavailable, or unlocks another sidequest. (Wiktionary)
When I was younger I loved playing open-world fantasy games. Regardless of how captivating the main story would be, I always found myself off the beaten path. I could diverge in order to slay a dragon, join a secret society, or maybe even help the inn-keep make rent by chatting up locals. In games and in life, there’s a lot of magic and opportunity tucked away in the margins that we might otherwise skip on by.
The definition above makes mention that sidequests can often unlock other sidequests. I’ve had random messages evolve into coffees, into introductions, into jobs, and into friendships. Tiny divergences in the plan are worth your attention. They open up doors of opportunity you might not have even thought of.
I used to do this dorky thing where I'd message people I found interesting on LinkedIn and invite them out to coffee. In one particular instance, I had just gotten done ranting about the work that I was doing. How unfulfilling it felt despite giving the absolute most. He looked at me, "We should hire you." And they did.
It’s an interesting comparison. Sidequests in video-games to spontaneous divergences in life. In video games, you’d often be rewarded with experience for completing side quests. Your character would grow wiser and stronger. In life, our ancillary experiences can prove to be some of the most significant.
A sidequest empowered me to go cliff jumping. I also got a job that changed the course of my career after an offhand message and conversation over coffee. I've done all sorts of other dumb things – climbing cranes to watch fireworks above the skyline, catching a hike in Tennesee with a bunch of strangers I met that morning, creating an online community of writers, and more.
If I was sidequest averse, I might have stayed in. Had my friends and I not accepted the sidequest to the cliffs up north, we would have still had a great day. But because we accepted the side quest, we had an unforgettable day. A day worth writing about. A day that I will remember for some time!
Some people avoid sidequests like the plague. For good reason. You stand to waste a lot of time if you’re accepting every opportunity on your doorstep. You run the risk of overextending yourself.
But I say accept away, for at best you’ll have a great opportunity. At worst you’ll have a funny story.
And you never know what you might get yourself into.