Hard Choices, Change and Our Future Selves

I got my undergraduate degree in imagination. I spent countless semesters literally sitting in a line of people going from laughing hysterically to crying hysterically. That was an actual exercise. I spent four years lying on the ground learning how to vividly remember or imagine things, crawling around like an animal, standing up in front a class of my peers proclaiming “I’M A GENIUS!” or singing about my deepest darkest fears. My colleagues and I shared the same goal, to do our work correctly and get an A. But these courses all lived in gray areas where right or wrong don't exist. There is no textbook called “Being Vulnerable Correctly.” We struggled when we found out there was no right and wrong. If there is no right or wrong, how do you grade us? We were graded on showing up, saying yes, not being afraid to fail, asking questions, trying our absolute hardest and being open to the work. Do you want to know how hard it is to care about something that pushes you, frustrates you and that you don't understand? It's really hard.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to take right and wrong out of your vocabulary and to instead think in terms of better and worse choices. Stop thinking about consequences and instead see things as outcomes. In college we were asked to bring all of our shit, from the things we were most proud of to the things we were deeply ashamed of into the room, unload it and just sit in it. By doing so we learned to stop trying to force change and just accept them. Oddly enough, change only happens when you accept something. It's like a Chinese Finger Trap (which ironically symbolizes the human condition. You can't escape it by fighting, you have to accept that you're powerless. #MindBlown)

In college I went from a black and white control addict to a gray area, chaos loving, deconstructing aficionado. I am totally fine having someone answer my question with a larger question. Or I love when one of my professors would answer a question with “That is an excellent question.” I live for exploring the human condition. I love knowing that no matter how much I dig, explore and question, I will never know why we are here, what it means to live a full or empty life and why we use values as tools to define right and wrong. I live for that shit. I love the discomfort and frustration of being in flux. I love dichotomies.

To get my human condition fix I like to watch Ted Talks before I go to bed. I stumbled across a talk last night called “How to Make Hard Choices” by Ruth Chung. (CLICK HERE to watch or read the talk)  It was one of those Ted Talks that had me reaching for my notebook to jot down quotations and thoughts because it was so poignant as to where I am in my life. I am living in the strange post collegiate pause where everyone around me is in full panic mode because the world constructed by us and for us isn’t what we thought it would be. I listen to my friend’s frustrations and anxieties because they don’t feel fulfilled and they still aren't making ends meet.

“How to Make Hard Choices” is about re-framing how we define and deal with the hard choices that present themselves throughout our lives. One of the examples Chung uses is whether to accept a more challenging position in the country or stay at a job with little change in a city. My last big hard choice was deciding if I was going to do what all my friends from college did: move to LA to wait tables, audition, struggle to make ends meet and try to become an actor or to move to New York to wait tables, audition and struggle to make ends meet. (I chose neither.) But it took me a year to figure out which choice to make. Chung speaks about the way we approach hard choices, “It's a mistake to think that in hard choices, one alternative really is better than the other, [that] we're too stupid to know which, and since we don't know which, we might as well take the least risky option.” It happens all the time. I enslaved myself to a pro and con list. I kept asking myself “which city will I be more successful in?” There it is: success. That mother fucker. I am 24 and I am already making choices based on whether or not I think they will help me become “successful.” (Like my 24 year old self actually has a viable definition of success.)

Chung talks about how there isn’t a right or wrong choice, “there is no best alternative. As post-Enlightenment creatures, we tend to assume that scientific thinking holds the key to everything of importance in our world, but the world of value is different from the world of science. The stuff of the one world can be quantified by real numbers. The stuff of the other world can't. We shouldn't assume that the world of is, of lengths and weights, has the same structure as the world of ought, of what we should do.” We can’t enslave ourselves to reason because reason isn’t enough. As much as we love pro and con lists they can’t make the decision for us. Don’t let “mechanisms of reward and punishment -- pats on the head, fear, the easiness of an option — to determine what [you] do.

Life isn’t clean. If the choice were easy or if you didn't have to think twice about it, it wouldn’t be a hard choice. There are a million things we have to worry about like family, futures, money, happiness, quality of life, goals, aspirations, etc. (These things keep me awake at night.) I was loving this talk and it was all making sense AND THEN BOOM! I started watching “The Psychology of Our Future Self” by Dan Gilbert. (CLICK HERE to watch or read the talk) Which was about how we change over time and how we look back at the decisions we make with regret! Gilbert, a psychologist, stands on the platform of change and how we never stay the person we work to be. He says, “At every stage of our lives we make decisions that will profoundly influence the lives of the people we're going to become, and then when we become those people, we're not always thrilled with the decisions we made. So young people pay good money to get tattoos removed that teenagers paid good money to get. Middle-aged people rushed to divorce people who young adults rushed to marry. Older adults work hard to lose what middle-aged adults worked hard to gain. On and on and on. The question is, as a psychologist, that fascinates me is, why do we make decisions that our future selves so often regret?” Literally, that’s how he opens. I couldn’t stop laughing. The train I was riding derailed within 30 seconds.

We wring our hands and pull our hair out at these hard choices forgetting that in 10, 20 and 50 years we are going to be different people. I think of how I viewed myself and the world last year, or 2 years ago, even 6 years ago and the changes are infinite. Gilbert talks about “the ease of remembering versus the difficulty of imagining.” When we make these choices we are incapable of imagining how our values are going to change and shift over time. Yet we are so quick to define ourselves! Gilbert explains “psychologists now claim that there are five fundamental dimensions of personality: neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness, extraversion, and conscientiousness… at every age, people underestimate how much their personalities will change in the next decade.

The two talks compliment and oppose each other. It’s a wonderful excuse to take a bit of pressure off yourself when making hard choices because though the decision is going to influence your future self, there is no right or wrong choice. “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they're finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you've ever been. The one constant in our life is change.

My mind is going about a billion miles a minute trying to digest it. It’s impossible to know how the life choices I am making now will have on my 30, 40 or 50 year old self. You can’t get an A in life. It’s cheesy but it reminds me of the musical Rent and how you measure your life. I am having a very existential week if you haven’t noticed. But it’s a beautiful reminder to just breathe and allow yourself to make choices that will challenge and fulfill you not ones that only make the most sense. There isn’t a right or wrong one.

Well, we made it to Wednesday. I had a really rough run yesterday. I’m not sure but I think I may have shin splints. I was in some serious pain last night so I am heading to the gym today and I am gonna scale back this week and take it easy. Hopefully they are just sore but if it’s shin splints I am going to explode. Stay tuned, fingers crossed. Until tomorrow everyone, #RunSelfieRepeat.