For the past year I devoted much of my spare time to exploring career paths – going so far as taking the LSATs – twice, and dropping several hundred dollars on applications to law schools and public policy programs across the country – only to wind up sitting face to face with my future over cokes and cheeseburgers in a sports bar in Menlo Park. There I discovered it was none of the options on the table, but the one tapping loudly on the door I kept trying to ignore.
I am a firm believer in listening to yourself – whether it’s your body or your mind or your heart. Physically, it’s easy to tell when something is wrong. You exhibit symptoms you can feel or see or measure. And you often know the steps you need to take to heal. Typically the cure is just rest, clear liquids and a bit of waiting. The other two are much more difficult to diagnose and treat. That’s why there is so much support for research into the science of decision-making. Imagine the profit for the marketing world to know just what makes you tick and how you rationalize purchases. Imagine the edge politicians get by knowing what issues grab your attention and heartstrings and which will get you to show up on Election Day.
I struggle with the process of decision-making. It’s an emotionally exhausting endeavor I ignore for awhile. Instead I go for some long runs and think about thinking about it. I talk out my options with anyone who will listen. I scan web sites in search of information and an answer. I never write lists weighing my options – that is just not how I organize my thoughts. For me, putting a pen to the page is something you do when you know what you’re going to say, when you know what you’re going to do. It’s final.
Secretly, I’ve always wanted a little old man to approach me on the street and tell me what to do then disappear into the darkness from where he came. Am I looking for God to personally deliver the answer to me? Maybe. It’s comforting to think a divine intervention could occur. But it hasn’t happened yet so I’m stuck making my own decisions for the time being. Besides, I’m not all that comfortable banking my future on what could simply be the rantings of a person off their meds in the Tenderloin.
After coming to my final decision four times, (and confirming the last on a coin toss 3-0), I suffered a panic attack after having lunch with my former editor last week. I sat across from her and realized I was making the safe choice. And that’s not how I operate. I arrive at a decision based on what I want to happen, not what I am afraid will. That’s why I voted for Obama. That’s how I wound up moving to California in the first place.
Fear is an important part of the decision-making process. Fear can prevent you from doing dumb things like walking alone at night or picking fights with Yankees fans. But fear can intervene on your behalf and make you do dumb things too, like not confessing how you feel to the boy you adore or going to law school. When I finally removed fear (and money) from the equation and considered my options I realized I was only left with one. Afterwards I called my mom.
“Do you need my permission not to go to law school, she asked?
“No. I think I just needed to hear myself say it aloud,” I said.
So, I spent one year and the equivalent of a trip to Europe to determine that I want to do exactly what I’m already doing. But for real this time.