If you have not watched Ruth Chang’s Ted Talk about making hard decisions you should go watch it, like now. It is beautiful.
For those of you who won’t watch it now, here is a recap: The reason big decisions are so agonizing for us is because we assume there is a right decision and a wrong decision. We assume that if we do not pick the right one, we will ruin our life’s trajectory. Fortunately, this is one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves. Major life decisions (like which career to choose, who to marry, or where to live) have no clear right or wrong answer, and Dr. Chang does a great job of explaining why in the video. If we have a difficult time choosing in these situations, it means the options in these major decisions are on a par. This means that they are comparable, but it impossible to determine a clear “winner.” The best way to handle this? Start with the realization that big decisions are our opportunities to determine who we are and what we stand for. Decide what you want to be about, and make the decision that supports that. We literally write the stories of our lives through hard choices. People who are not active in this process let others write their stories.
It seems like a simple concept, yet it is a world away from how many 20-somethings make decisions, especially those of us who are career over-acheivers. We agonize over where to move, which graduate degree to get, who to date and which career to embark upon. We leave school, where there are tests with clear answers, and expect the real world to be the same. We are looking for that one right answer that does not exist.
I read a fantastic comment posted anonymously on a chat board recently. The original poster asked for advice about whether or not to move for a job. A responder told her to remember that no matter where she worked and lived, she would still have to wake up early, take the trash out and brave the days that just sucked (not an exact quote; I can’t find the page again, but it is close enough). I thought that was the best response ever. No job is going to take away the days where you hate everyone and everything. No relationship is going to make you feel understood and loved 24/7. We assume all the sleepless nights spent making the “right” choice pardons us from the day-to-day, but it does not. That is life, and there is no right choice to begin with. We spend our 20s chasing a fantasy. This chase is scary. Not only because it is fruitless, but because it also leaves you in a permanent state of second-guessing. Things are not how we imagined them, so we must have made the wrong choice. We must have made a mistake.
But the only mistake we made was waiting for the real answer to fall out of the sky, and forgetting that real life will not cease to exist in the process.