Sunday, May 27, 2012

Decision Points: Big Choices

Hello, Internet. It’s been a while.

If we’ve never met, my name is Andy. I write down the ramblings that come into my head and post them as a part of Tisdel’s Tirades, my online clearinghouse for all things coherent. Whether these things are actually tirades is up to my mood on any given day; usually they’re reviews, football critiques, or sometimes generally angry rants about an obstinate person in the national political environment (or closer to home). None of it is particularly special, inspired or relevant to the day-to-day lives of a majority of my readers.

Today, however, I’m going to break that particular trend and put out what I think is some good advice. It’s advice I intend to take, and it applies fairly well to most of my recently-graduated classmates, friends and kindred spirits. It’s entirely possible that you’ve heard it before, and if so, I invite you to read mine anyway; perhaps I used a different adjective, a fresh example, or some unconventional way of catching your eye and reshaping the clay into something reasonably new. Or maybe not.

When you’ve just graduated college, and you’re sitting in your old room in your parents’ house at 22 and trying to figure out what you want or have to do with your life, your mind has a way of looking for guidance from any source available. For me, the things that come easiest to mind are the movies, TV shows and books with which I spend so much time. Protagonists, and even for subsidiary characters, have it comparatively easy: sure, your life may be ended or altered or changed in massively unpredictable ways at the author’s whim, but at least you’ll always know when it’s coming. The horns will blare out a Hans Zimmer war march, or the violins will script a sad and passionate leavetaking, or a swarm of unlikely-but-true events will wipe out all your prevarications and leave you facing your Big Choice with no barriers or delays allowed. Your life will change, and you will see it coming.

But real life doesn’t work like that. You can still fall in love, lead your company to huge successes or die bravely on the battlefield, but you’ll never see it coming. Life doesn’t broadcast its life-changing events; they’re sneaky, they’re tricksy and they’re disguised as normal, everyday decisions. You’re still making a Big Choice, but instead of one climactic moment where Hagrid asks you to go to Hogwarts, it’s the million tiny choices you’ve made over the years that light up your path. My choice of the College of Wooster has shaped me to a huge degree, but nobody sounded the trumpets when I visited the campus in the spring of 2008. And it was a series of tiny decisions, mine and others’, that put me in the position to choose that school at all. I’m sure every reader of these words can relate to that in some fashion. If movie choices are love at first sight, life choices are meeting at a coffee bar, seeing each other a few times over the next month or two and slowly getting to know the other person as the relationship flowers into mutual attraction and romance.

In a brave new post-graduation world, it’s easy to panic and overreact about the Big Choice or series of Big Choices you’ll be making in the coming months and years; getting a full-time job that you can live off of, getting an apartment, picking a graduate or law or medical school, and on and on. And it’s easy to get paranoid and freak out over the Big Moment lurking somewhere on the horizon. You don’t have to. There are Little Moments all around you, and it’s your choice at any given moment that might end up setting your path for years to come. Instead of waiting for the huge choice, focus on keeping your life in order from day to day, and the Big Choices will reveal themselves in due time. (This has helped me not freak out, or at least freak out less frequently.)


Korinthia Klein said...

Interesting thoughts! Thanks for sharing them.

I think it helps a lot to have a goal, and then feel free to change it. As long as you're working toward something with serious intent you will be putting yourself on a good path.

Rabbi David B. Cohen said...

Well done! Andy, you reminded me of a book called "The Altruistic Personality" whose authors interviewed people in Northern France who hid Jewish children during WWII, at their own lives' peril. To a person, they felt that the moral choice they made was the product of myriad small ethical choices they had made on a day to day basis. This suggests that moral courage is not earned in the moment of the big decision, but rather in the day to day, quotidian choices we make along the way. Sort of like the way you suggest our lives are the sum of sometimes innocuous choices, which add up, in the end to a meaningful and purposeful life.

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