October 31, 2021

YAO | Choosing Wisely

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America is the land of choice — go to the cereal aisle of any grocery store and that much is obvious. Brands laud their vast selection of flavors.Colleges boast the courses they offer that allow students to dabble in anything from business to visual arts. Having options is indeed a luxury, but in the moment, making that final decision can still be overwhelming. 

Last year, I wrote an article about my conflict over choosing the “perfect” major. I spent paragraphs describing my pre-med crisis and my panic over remaining undecided as all my friends started declaring their majors. While I’m sure now, a semester later, that I’ve settled into the course of study that suits me the best, I sometimes find it difficult to shake the FOBO — the fear of better options

After all, isn’t that the pinnacle of what makes choosing difficult — the worry over making the wrong decision? We waffle over whether normal Cheerios or the Honey Nut ones would be the better purchase and spend ages picking out what outfits to wear to class. We worry that our majors aren’t practical enough and wonder whether our initial jobs might silo our careers. 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll likely procrastinate on decision-making with research. And by research, I mean overthinking and rumination. A five-second internet search will bring up thousands of articles and blogs debating the pros and cons for any question, no matter how trivial. It’s no wonder the indecision-induced panic spiral is so easy to fall into. 

There’s a term for this phenomenon — analysis paralysis. Instead of having the tools required to determine the path forward, the overload of information to our synapses only increases uncertainty. Sometimes, it seems easier to put off commitment altogether rather than dealing with the fallout of choosing wrong. We don’t realize, however, that not making a choice is, by default, a choice. And it usually doesn’t make our lives any easier.

I spent the final paragraph of my major dilemma column attempting to convince myself that there’s no one path to success or happiness. To be honest, I’m still trying to internalize it. My major, my first job, the box of cereal I buy this week or any other singular experience should not dictate the rest of my life. Prolonging indecision can feel comforting at first, but the relief won’t last in the long run. You need to pick a major at some point. You’ll graduate and figure out post-grad plans. Maybe you’ll even decide on things like marriage or buying a house a little further down the line.  

As teenage and twenty-something college students, we’re caught in the crux of conflicting expectations. On one hand, exploration is encouraged, mistakes are brushed off, and the phrase, “Live a little”, is tossed around freely. On the other hand, we’re told that it’s time to start having the answers and making “adult” commitments. Worst of all, there’s little guidance on how to strike a balance between the two opposites.

But perhaps it’s important to remember that while we all want to guarantee ourselves the best future possible, nothing will ever be set in stone. Jumping between jobs, moving cities and re-evaluating goals are natural parts of life. Our environments will change, and our wants and needs will shift as well. Sometimes, it’s more beneficial to pick the option that feels right in the moment, rather than agonizing over a mile-long pro-con list to find what’s “perfect”. 

Sooner or later, there are diminishing returns to spending more and more time turning over the possibilities again and again in your head. By making a choice and using that decision to gauge your next step, the ambiguous mass that we call “the future” will become a bit clearer. At the end of the day, “better” is a subjective term, and what we consider to be better right now may not hold later on. So, stand firm in the decisions you make today, and understand that today doesn’t need to be forever. 

Katherine Yao is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Her column, Hello Katie, runs every other Wednesday this semester.