I recently ended a long chapter in my life. Shortly after my fifth anniversary I became a student and now, 18 years later, I’m no longer one.
In the last month I became a Master in Mechanical Engineering. I’m not trying to be cool or anything, it’s just the title you receive when you conclude a Master’s degree in any field. Despite not having any real practical engineering experience, I’m a master. Strange I know. When you finish a Master program you are presented with two options. Either you continue your academic road and do a PhD or you leave the nest and go to a company. What should I do?
Training the decision muscle
If there is one thing that students do not experience enough are making important decisions. During these 18 years of being a student, I only had to make an important decision 4 times:
Which area of studies I should follow in school (decision: sciences and technology), which university degree I should study (decision: mechanical engineering), if I should do a masters (decision: yes) and if I should leave my home country to do this masters (decision: yes, in Luxembourg).
Looking at all four of them, it is interesting to note that the help I received by family members and friends decreased as I got older. I clearly remember that when I had to decide which area of studies I should follow in school, my parents had to seat me down and have a serious conversation. Flash toward to the decision of moving to a new country, I can say that the decision was mainly mine.
It is not like my family doesn’t care about me anymore (I hope). As you get older, people just assume that you know best and you need less help to make those kind of decisions. But just because you know best doesn’t make it easier.
Coming back to the decision of continuing studying or getting a job, I can say that this one was easy to make. The academic world is not for me. It is too theoretical. But the decision that came afterwards turned out to be one of the most difficult decisions I had to make so far. Not because I was scared of not getting a job but because I had a really good job opportunity and I was having second thoughts about it. I know that sounds silly, like a first world problem, but let me explain.
A conflict between what I thought was expected of me and what I was naturally drawn to made me question myself a lot. To be straight to the point, my ego was fucking with me. Majority of my free time was and still is occupied with creative activities. This creative, more artistic side has always been in conflict with my other side, the scientific, methodical, engineering background. Because this job opportunity does not fit into the typical engineering job and has a certain creative aspect to it, my ego was giving me a hard time. An internal discussion started, making me go back and forward on my decision almost on a daily basis. Even my girlfriend was getting tired of it. “Just make up your mind already“.
But…This is a very important decision! I need to start off with the right foot! It’s my first job out of college after all! I need to do things right! This internal discussion of “getting the right job” was fueled by years of engineering school and family expectation. Remember when my parents had to seat me down and have a “serious conversation” with me? Well that was because I wanted to study arts. Even thought I am glad I did not follow that path, the same feelings of parental approval and leaving the walked path were making this decision even harder. Note that all of this was in my head. My parents weren’t pressuring me to get a typical engineering job in any way. It is just the good old Ego playing its tricks. But like a good magic trick, you might not realize when and how it happens…
It is easy to talk about this after the fact but during times of confusion and indecisiveness I couldn’t make the connection. Ultimately I think I did the right decision but how did I manage that? How can I even have the ability to doubt the natural progression of my engineering apprenticeship and try to look for an alternative? I felt the need to write this blog post exactly for that. To document the process I went through and share what I think helped me to come up with the “right decision”.
NOTE: If you are confused about the meaning of ego, it is pretty normal. You might relate ego with a sense of self-esteem and self-worth. “That person has a big ego!” would mean that the person is snobbish and thinks highly of himself. That’s not exactly the same meaning I attribute to the word “ego”. In this post I use “ego” in a psychological/esoteric way, as a judging and over-analytical entity. I found a very nice definition of this term in an interview of Oprah with Eckhart Tolle, check it out for a more in-depth understanding about the ego.
There is no right decision
Accepting that there is no correct decision is half way to make a good decision. What? That doesn’t make any sense? But it does. If you are trying to make the right decision,it means that you can make the wrong one. This mindset will cause you to over-analyze the situation, leaving you more vulnerable to egoistic thoughts and unrealistic scenarios. By re-framing the situation, you are in some way freed from the pressure of make the right decision.
Yes, in some cases you are confronted with a right or wrong choose. “Hum.. I wonder if I can eat this mushroom?” Or ” I think I can make this jump”. Fortunately deciding which career path you want to follow is not a matter of life or death scenario. So chill and relax. Take my case was an example. While wondering which career path to take, I was afraid of potentially loosing opportunities or not follow the right path. The reality is, there is no right path. Life is a bunch of crossroads. You might lose opportunities but others will appear. Realizing this allowed me to think more clearly and ultimately make a decision that I’m comfortable with.
Don’t try to bend reality by falling into a scarcity paradigm or making up family and peer pressure. Instead try to realize that there is no set path you should follow. Your decision should be inline with your passions and long term goals.
Job vs hobby, why not both?
One of the reasons I was so conflicted was because I had given up on the idea of combining what I studied with my free time activities. I grew up with people telling me to first focus on my studies and get a good job and then when I have free time to enjoy my hobbies. Which basically means, first make sure you can feed yourself and then you can play. If you hear this enough times you might not even consider that, you can do both.
A book made me start this process of aligning my career with my interests. You can call it luck or destiny but I was reading this book just as it was required of me to make an important decision and for that I truly value the lessons in it. Mastery by Robert Greene it is filled with gold nuggets. The author extracts teachings about career and life mastery by analyzing the life of famous top performers like Leonardo da Vinci or Mozart. If you are struggling with the same decision I’m faced here, I HIGHLY recommend you reading the first chapter “Discovering Your Call: The Life’s Task“. Here are the key ideas shared by the author to find your “calling”:
- Look to your past. While still a child, we tend to create a deeper connection with certain activities. Try to find some of those.
- Converge to a specific field. Define your own job. You will have more space to grow and improve your craft.
- Rebel against the inner and outer forces that push you away from your path. Identify why you choose your career.
- Be flexible and do not get attached to the past. You are loyal to your Life’s task, not a company or career.
- It is never to late to come back to the path. The real pleasure comes from walking the road to mastery and fulfilling your Life’s Task.
The book goes much more into depth about this topic. It was powerful enough to make me realize the path I should walk. I hope it helps you too. Expect a Book Note post from Mastery.
Follow your <insert preferred inspirational term>
Heart, instinct, self, feelings…. You get what I’m referring to.
I’m not much of a believer in spiritual energies and of guiding spirits that lead you to the right path. Because it implies that you don’t need to do anything to come up with a decision. But I do believe that once you look at the pros and cons of each decision you will naturally gravitate towards the one that is deeply aligned with your passion, desires and long term goals.
I felt this to a great degree while making the career decision. During the one month period it took me to decide, the more creative opportunity would boil to the surface. Having so much time to decide also played a major role in the decision making process. Time allows the pros and cons of several decisions to sink in and giving your unconscious mind time to process everything. Curiously this also works while evaluating if any of my creations really pleases me or not.
For example, when I’m done with a video or blog post, instead of releasing it right away I wait at least a week. After that week I review the content once again to see how I feel about it. Because I’m looking with a pair of fresh eyes and mind at what I created, I can better judge my creation.
I believe the same happens with decisions. Once you get an overview of several options, leave it on the back burner. Get some perspective on the subject and let time work its magic.
Take away message
Making decisions is never easy, specially if they have a big impact in our life. Nevertheless, it is crucial to distancing yourself from frenetic thinking and stepping in into a head space where we can identify the pros and cons of each option. By consciously acknowledging the ego’s influence in making us give in into social and peer pressure, we can ignore such internal conversation and focus on what really drives us. A combination of rational and instinctive thinking allows the conscious and unconscious mind to align the circumstances of our situation with your long term goals and aspirations.
- Mastery by Robert Greene
- Awaken the Giant Within by Anthony Robbins (Book Notes)