I am trying to get better at making decisions. Mainly because life is simple a very long (or short) string of them, and even when I think I am not making a decision my inaction or apathy is a decision in and of itself.
A friend recently encouraged me to start practicing the ancient tradition (taught by the martial arts) of making decisions in six breaths. Although making large decisions in less then one minute can seem negligent, I am beginning to see that it is not only possible by preferably.
Last night at a dinner party I began to share my recent predicament with a stranger. Moments later with a story of a tarot card and the flip of a coin, I made a major life decision. But I digress; I should explain what brought me to this point.
One of the biggest lessons I am in the process of learning is how to trust my gut, or more accurately, what happens when you don’t. We all have those experiences. You stay in a job or a relationship because you think you should, even though your stomach tells you to run away. As time passes, the screaming voice quiets but you never loose the nagging feeling. I can look back on my life, particularly the last seven years, and see how ignoring this feeling has led to unnecessary pain and heartache. If I had followed my gut I could have prevented some of the worst moments in my life. This could seem tragic, but really, it means that I have a tool that I am just not using. Arguably, I knew what the right thing to do was I just didn’t do it. Each time I have realized that if I had followed my intuition, I would have avoided some tragic situation or saved myself time, I swear to do it differently next time around.
Easier said then done.
Since I was about twelve, I have been looking at Graduate School programs- St. Andrews in Scotland, Thunderbird’s International Business School, Oxford, SOAS and by college- the London School of Economics, Harvard, Tufts and every once and a while, a design school. I still have binders filled with information about programs sitting on my shelf. Maybe it was the opportunity to study very specific topics, like international relations, African politics, and poverty that weren’t offered in high school. Maybe it is just because I like to plan ahead, but regardless of the reason, fourteen years of buildup puts a lot of pressure on a decision.
In 2008 I applied to graduate school. I have been researching schools and programs for years, and finally settled on five outstanding establishments. I enrolled in a GRE prep course, paid a tutor, wrote what felt like hundreds of essays, rewrote those same essays, begged professors and work colleagues to write letters of recommendations and mailed off my hard-earned money to these institutions of higher learning. Then I waited and a string of disappointments and ‘almosts’ rolled in. I was accepted into the program I was most excited about but following a two-month battle with their curriculum committee about a requirement that I cannot meet due to my learning disability, the door was closed.
My final option looked great on paper- Ivy League school, interesting program title, friendly staff, decent weather and located in an affordable location. Only issue- every time I thought about attending the school I had a visceral response and wanted to either throw up or drink an entire bottle of vodka. (I don’t even like vodka). Enter the opportunity to practice my new life lesson- but turn down an amazing graduate program when I have been dreaming of school for years? I accepted the schools offer (with that same sick feeling in my stomach), and began what turned into a multi-month agonizing processing about what to do. Friends can attest to the tumultuous state I spun myself into, trying to weigh options that had not comparative value. As the date for moving approached, the pressure to act on my decision grew. I needed to give notice on my apartment, find a place to live, put my things into storage and accept what would amount to $70K of loans.
After grabbing a glass of wine and some cheese, I wondered around a beautiful home in Virginia where a couple was raising money for two Iraqi women who are fleeing honor killings in their home country. As I made my way into the living room I stopped and introduced myself to a couple sitting in the corner. Soon we were discussing the decision drowning my brain. He first asked me a question- “What did you want to do when you were a kid?” I thought about his questions and answered that I always pictured myself in two situations: doing choreographed dances in the streets and being a high-powered executive at a creative marketing firm in New York City.
The gentleman explained that he read Tarot cards, but instead of telling people what the cards predicted about their life he asked the person seeking a fortune what they saw. He allowed them to project what they knew about their life onto an external object, which ultimately allowed them to justify their decisions. Delighted by how congruent this was with my belief about following ones intuition, I offered a story about flipping a coin. In my experience, flipping a coin is a great way to ascertain someone’s true feelings about a matter. Regardless of how the coin lands, you will know what you really wanted the answer to be. He looked at me and asked if I’d be willing to make my decision right there and then if he had a coin in his pocket. I paused, and said yes. He searched his pockets and pulled out a dime. He asked me what heads was- Duke- and what was tails- other. “What is the other option?” he asked. I said that I didn’t know and that was the hard part, but I had been milling over the idea of starting my own business. He nodded, handed me the coin and I tossed it up in the air. Down it fell and landed on tails. I checked my gut. I agreed with the dime. He handed me to the coin and said I should keep it as the first capital investment in my new business.
When I got home I taped that dime on a card with a message to myself that read, “Being afraid of the unknown is not a reason to do something (else)”. That week I drafted a letter to the Dean of the school I was supposed to attend and withdrew my acceptance. One year later I’m not going to graduate school. It doesn’t make sense, and choosing to keep looking for the perfect job in a recession seems crazy… but, I am listening to my gut, and you know what, I am so much prouder of myself then I would have been if it had done ‘the right thing’.