What should I do? Who should I be? These questions cross our minds in some form starting when we’re younger and parents, teachers, and other well-meaning adults ask us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” At five years old, our immediate response is usually our favorite superhero, a movie star, or an astronaut – unless our parents have subtly begun nudging us in a specific direction, then our response is more along the lines of a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. As we move from each stage in our life – high school, college, young adulthood – those questions take on a different, more consequential form. We need to make choices about going to college, choosing a major, applying for internships, studying abroad, selecting a graduate school, and finding a full-time job. Each decision has a cumulative effect and can lead us further down a specific path.
It can be daunting to consider how every possible scenario could play out. While we are told to explore all our options, we are rarely told how to consider and evaluate these options. It’s easy to spot a bad choice, but deciding between two seemingly good options can be incredibly challenging. How do you choose between a job offer or graduate school, or between an internship and traveling abroad? How do you determine whether you should continue working for the same organization or move on? How do you pick between moving cross-country with your partner or keeping the job you love?
Considering every possible scenario or consequence can be overwhelming. Instead of attempting to think about everything at once, it can be helpful to take a holistic view and think more deeply about the most significant impacts of your decision. Borrowing some Jesuit decision-making techniques, an approach for reflecting on any decision can often be boiled down to two questions:
- Which option will enable me to produce the most good for the most people?
- Which option will bring me the most joy?
Visualization can be helpful here. For example, you could picture yourself at the end of your life and look back at how the decision influenced your life, asking yourself those two questions. Sometimes when I look at the situation from my “future” self’s point of view, I find that the decision should not hold as much weight and mental energy as my “present” self was giving it.
This reflection process takes time and may require repetition. We all learn by repetition and experience, and revisiting the decisions that led to your current path can ensure you are on the path that is life-giving for you. Hindsight is 20/20 and we’re constantly growing, and you may find that you are taking a windy path with some kinks and detours. However, similar to the shepherd boy in The Alchemist who works at a crystal glass shop to garner enough money to continue his journey, these “detours” expose you to new ideas and wisdom that you can leverage on the path towards your ultimate goal or “treasure”.
Reflecting on these two questions can be a helpful starting point, and further examination of your decision could involve gathering data via informational interviews, performing research on your different options, reading biographies on individuals you admire, taking courses or attending lectures, and talking to family and friends. When you approach a decision, the important part is that you gather the information you need and reflect on the decision in the way that resonates with you.
After you have made your decision to move forward, dive in!! Immerse yourself fully and know that you are one step closer to achieving your goals and dreams!
“You had to take risks, follow some paths, and abandon others. No one can make a choice without feeling afraid.”