I recently watched a TED talk on the philosophy of hard choices (http://www.ted.com/talks/ruth_chang_how_to_make_hard_choices). Ruth Chang basically argues that choices are hard when neither option is better than the other; like comparing apples to oranges. We agonize over making a decisions because logical reasoning doesn’t work on hard choices (and I think she illustrates this pretty well if you watch the video). She suggests that instead we should embrace the irrationality and see choices as an opportunity to define yourself. When you make a choice, you put your “agency” behind that choice (philosophy speak?), kind of like an endorsement.
This way you can compare apples to oranges without worrying about a little thing like logic. I endorse oranges over apples, and with sea salt :). It didn’t have to make financial sense that I cut my salary in half to get a PhD only to graduate and look for jobs that pay less than my original salary (ha!). I just knew I wanted a doctorate, I didn’t know why. I think I had “reasons,” but I didn’t use actual reason to come up with them. I don’t think I am alone in this. In my experience, there is nothing you can say to talk someone out of getting their PhD once they’ve decided to go (and I am not saying that I tried to do this with recruits!). There is actually a book entitled, “Surviving my stupid, stupid decision to go to graduate school.” This is number one on my recommended reading list when people tell me they want to get a PhD. Too cynical? I don’t think it matters. I’ve never talked anyone out of going to graduate school – even on my most miserably cynical and bitter day. Maybe this is because by going to grad school, having a baby, and, I suppose, starting this blog about it, I effectively endorse PhDs, babies, and blogging as lifestyle choices no matter what I may say about them.
This doesn’t actually make hard choices easier to make in my opinion. To me, the “hard” part of a choice is figuring myself out more than analyzing or weighing my options. This is exactly the position I am currently in. I am trying to figure out the big question of “what’s next?” This leads me to what I’m going to call “harder” choices. These are choices between paths, rather than specific options. For example, do I want continue in academia? Work for the government? Have a million babies? Move to Colorado and build a tiny house (people do this…it’s a thing). All roads are open to me. It’s not often that you find yourself at a major crossroads – it’s not just a hard choice, it’s a harder choice.
This brings me a bit of wisdom I learned from my boss when I was working on my masters degree. I was hounding him to make a decision about the future of a project. I can’t remember the details anymore, but the point is that I wanted to know when he would decide. He replied that he would wait until the very last possible moment. I was kind of taken aback. Why would you procrastinate on such an important decision? Apparently this is a commonly recommended management strategy. Wait until the last possible moment because you never know when new information will come to light that will inform your choice.
So with that in mind, as daunting as the idea seems – I am not going to make a hard or harder choice quite yet. I know I’ll have to do it soon, but I’m going to wait to see if any new information comes to light.