Big decisions aren’t that hard
Just do it. Listen to your shoes, or Shia Lebeouf. Okay. So maybe the phrase lost some of its kick, but the meaning hasn’t.
You’re thinking about going to grad school. Med school. Law school. Getting married. Having a kid. Dumping someone. You think you can’t make up your mind. But you can. Part of you already has.
Listen to that part. Don’t ignore it.
That’s how you wind up in a mid-life crisis. You don’t need a bunch of what-ifs halfway through your 40s. I’m not even talking about making your dreams come true. I mean that you’re better off trying and failing, then figuring out what you’re really meant to do with yourself.
Indecision plagues us. We box ourselves in all the time. Create false choices. Drown ourselves in doubt.
We think too much instead of doing. If you imagine you might want to go to med school, then try it. A lot of times, that’s the only way to find out for sure what you want. You’re not a failure if you try for a semester and decide it’s not for you. Just smart.
You might think you’ve wasted three months of your life. But have you? Probably not. There’s a good chance you’ve learned and experienced things that’ll come in handy later.
You’re also not a coward for putting off a big decision. Sometimes a clear answer doesn’t surface. It’s fine to wait.
Just don’t buy a magic 8-ball. You’ll never sleep again.
Big decisions don’t happen overnight. You can’t make them on a whim. But you don’t need to complicate them, either. You make a choice, or put a decision aside until something happens that prompts you to action. Thinking too much can wreck you.
Stop bullshitting yourself
Dread and fear tend to inspire bullshit. Back in college, a friend of mine decided she didn’t want to do a study abroad like everyone else. Told me every place on earth was basically the same. So why bother?
She was full of shit. And so was I. Because I spent most of my 20s convincing myself I didn’t have the time or money to travel. When my friends took trips to Europe, I sulked. Wondered how they could afford it. Never bothered to find out. It felt like such a big decision.
So I put off travel. For almost ten years.
Finally I stopped overthinking the whole idea. Asked myself if I really wanted a trip abroad, or not. I did. So I had to make it happen.
That’s when I finally did the research and realized. Oh, the main cost was the plane ticket. Duh. So I could either punch my credit card number into Expedia, or spend the rest of my life wondering what-if.
That’s exactly what I would’ve done. One year of excuses turns into ten. Faster than you think.
Some people truly can’t afford the kind of trip I took. It wasn’t about what other people could or couldn’t do, though. Just me. Exploiting the resources I had available. Thanks, Visa.
These days, I try to ask myself the real reasons why I’m not doing something I think’s important. The answer almost always comes back as dread or fear. Except the time I asked myself why I don’t do yoga at 6 am like all the other cool bloggers. I just don’t feel like it, and that’s okay.
You can do both
We tend to think in either/or terms. Doing that can limit possibilities. In my 20s, I thought I had to choose between grad school and newspapers. Freelancing and poetry.
Every week, I told myself I’d have to make a choice one day. Instead I kept freelancing. Kept writing in all genres. The day where I had to choose never came. My “choice” was imaginary.
Some people told me I’d have to give up creative writing to become a professor. For a while, I did. Until I couldn’t stand it anymore. Now I do both — blogging and academic writing.
In the end, it means more work. But I’ve got to have them. That means I have to manage my time wisely. My life these days comes down to writing, exercise, and Netflix. With some sex and selfies thrown in there. So I don’t become a complete bore.
This approach doesn’t solve everything. You can’t be married and single. Unless you have a very understanding and possibly polyamorous spouse. If so, congratulations.
You also can’t have kids and not have kids. But you can have a career and kids. That might get complicated. And expensive. You’ve got to know whether having both is worth all the extra chaos.
For me, both doesn’t usually involve choice. Not in the left-brained kind of way. What I do feels almost inevitable. Like if I don’t, then I’ll explode. Nobody wants to see that. I’d make a helluva mess.
Just don’t do it
Some decisions are permanent. Like having kids. I mean, I guess you can give them up for adoption if you really suck at parenting. But I’ve heard you don’t get a refund. Or even store credit.
Some people know they don’t want to do something. Again, listen to that little part of you. Don’t make decisions based on fear or peer pressure. Or family expectations.
Not doing something can take just as much courage as doing it. Sometimes, even more.
Perfect example — the decision not to have kids. Another great example — not getting married.
Imagine all the bullshit some couples have to endure for flouting cultural norms. They have to explain their decision over and over again. To friends. Parents. Relatives. Coworkers. Trolls on Twitter.
Instagram tricks us into thinking we want all kinds of lifestyles that we really don’t. Just look at Selena Gomez. On the beach. Riding her little blue bike in those cute little heels.
Suddenly it all makes sense. You’d be so happy if you quit your job and moved to the beach. Just do it.
It takes me a few minutes to remember that I hate the beach. You’d have to pay me five grand to spend a day there. Which is ironic. Since that’s about what successful Instagram models make.
I wonder how many of them actually hate the beach as much as I do. Crabs. Jellyfish. Squishy things. Crowds. Noisy kids. Sunburns. Sand all up in your biswax. Someone needs to conduct a survey.
But the chance to look cute on a vintage bike. In heels. And expensive sunglasses. It’s tempting. But I’d rather sit here, drinking espresso. Staring at my overgrown back yard.
Trust your instincts
Lots of big decisions come down to one deciding factor. You can make lists of pros and cons all day long. Most of the time, one big pro trumps everything else. So focus on the big pro.
Last year we bought a house. A huge financial decision. But it came down to one thing — I hated my neighbors. All of them. Every single neighbor in my ten-year history of apartment dwelling.
Neighbors are loud. They throw parties. Play music. Watch TV with the volume on max. Have sex at weird times of the day. Leave trash and cigarette butts all over the yard. You get the idea.
We bought a house so we wouldn’t have to deal with rude people quite as much. Peace and quiet mean a lot to artists. Also to teachers who have to grade papers on weekends, and don’t want to hear college sophomores butchering Metallica every Saturday morning.
Getting married also freaks out a lot of people. You can’t decide on marriage by making lists. You have to know. Or at least think you do.
Marriage has so many downsides. Higher taxes. Less autonomy. Less personal space. Less time for yourself. There’s no practical reason or advantage. They’re all emotional. Hard to pin down.
You just sort of do those kinds of decisions. The longer I spend married, the less it makes logical sense to me. At the same time, I don’t ever regret saying, “I do.” When something feels natural, you don’t think about it.
Doing what comes naturally has solved most of my problems over time. The less I think, the better. Just let instinct take over. Answers are lying around all over the place when you stop looking so hard for them.
Just fill out the application. Send in the submission. Slip on the ring, or break his heart. You can’t just stand in place forever. That’s how your ancestors got eaten by saber-toothed tigers. Or I guess yours didn’t. Or you wouldn’t be there. So…their friends, I guess.
Stop thinking so much
You might have to turn off your brain to make the most important decisions. Think less. Feel more. Intuition and unconscious reasoning don’t get enough credit these days.
My first job offer came earlier than I thought. Right in the middle of campus visits. Had two more lined up. One of them at a top tier university. The department chair gave me a week to make up my mind.
The next day, I called him back and accepted. My gut said you don’t turn down a good job for a chance at something even better.
There was no way for me to predict what would’ve happened with the other two jobs. All I knew was that I had a chance right then to finally become a professor. I’d already taken enough risks.
I could’ve driven myself nuts for a week trying to decide what to do. Bought a magic 8-ball. Shook it until the letters wore off. But why? I already knew what to do. It was simple.
Some alternate dimension exists where I went on the other two campus visits and got an even better job. There’s a third dimension where I’m crying over a bowl of Ramen in a studio apartment, because I turned down my one job offer and bombed the other two interviews.
We can’t play Schrodinger’s game in real life. You have to open the box. Either you find a live cat. Or a dead one. If you sit around and think too long, the cat will definitely die. And stink.