This quote has been popping up all over my internet surfing in recent days. It’s a timely reminder, really, given my current situation in graduate school, and in life. Every day I’m faced with decisions about what kind of models to write for analyzing my data, what kind of food to cook for dinner, when to do something to enrich my personal life vs. when to head back for a late night in the office, when to run off to another city vs. when to stay here in my town and work, whether or not to say that thing that’s been on the tip of my tongue for months, whether or not to keep planning that walkabout across country, when to leave or when to stay, when to put down roots and when to close myself off from temporary places and people.
Ever since I was little I’ve been plagued with indecision. Everyone who’s ever been around me for long enough knows this to be true. I agonize over every angle of a decision and it’s outcome before coming to a conclusion, often to the chagrin of whoever asked me. This includes everything from dinner plans to weekend plans to whether or not to buy that dress I love.
I imagine that everyone experiences indecision, particularly those with even the tiniest amount of self doubt. I have a lot of that, especially when faced with choices that have unknown outcomes. Who knows how far the ripples of this decision will go? Who knows what will actually happen if I choose this option, or that option?
My mom calls it “fear of success,” instead of “fear of failure.” She’s right, I’m just as much afraid of it as the other. What happens if we do this thing, and it is great? Then what? What do we do when we’ve accomplished that thing we’ve always dreamed of? What happens if we accomplish it, then we realize we’re in over our heads? The decision is already made, you’re committed. It makes me just as nervous as the potential of failing at whatever I decide to do.
I have to admit though, I don’t exactly agree with the implied morality of this quote. I don’t know that it’s advisable to go around being decisive without considering ramifications. Sure, if after careful thought you make a decision you consider wise, and it turns out to be the worse of the two options…I understand that. We all make mistakes. But to say, “I’m going to do this regardless of the consequences,” is a different story. I’ve done that, and let me tell you, it can leave a swath of destruction in your path. Perhaps that is part of what often paralyzes me prior to deciding upon a thing. I’ve done the hasty decisions, the forgoing all consequences lifestyle, and I left a lot of damage behind, and within. I can’t, won’t, do that again. The hardest part of this kind of realization is that for me, it also comes with self doubt. I’ve seen what my quick-decisions yield, and it’s not the kind of person I want to be. So…how can I trust myself to make the right decision, then?
While this is immediately applicable to personal lives, it is also present in work lives: I find it particularly present in graduate school. Every day I make decisions about models, variables, scale, data formatting, literature to include in review, people to consult, edits, accuracy and power of analyses, and biological significance of all of it. I often will decide upon a thing, consult 3 experts, and receive 3 different opinions from my own. That make 4 options, all of which (well, 3, anyway) are sound and significant. How do you pick? I still hold to my hope that my Master’s Thesis will be a document of which I am proud, a document that is useful and accurate, rather than a document that people will scoff and reanalyze for publication. But…writing a perfect thesis means I’ll be here forever, and no one–especially me–wants that.
So how, and when, do we compromise between a quick decision and the best decision? Sometimes consulting experts, elders, more experienced individuals helps…sometimes it muddies the water. Meditating on decisions helps, sometimes; sometimes it just keeps you in the holding pattern for longer. Closing your eyes and throwing a dart works, sometimes. Or you just end up stabbing yourself in the foot.
Sometimes, usually, a combination of all three works. And a whole lot of prayer. Sometimes, the right choice has a neon arrow pointing to it: we shouldn’t be flat squirrels then. But sometimes, it’s a little fuzzier, our depth perception–like the squirrels’–is a little off, and we have less time than we think to dicker about which side of the road at which to jump.
Maybe one day decisions will come easier for me. For now, though, by the grace of God, I’m grabbing my tail and narrowly avoiding life’s tires…hopefully…for another day or two.