Sometimes my students ask me whether they should go to high school or not. In Finland, only the first nine years are compulsory and after that you can choose if you want to pursue an academic or a vocational career. I always tell them that if you don’t mind studying, high school is worth it, because it just opens more doors for you. It is much nicer to pick a career later when you still have all the choices, and not just some of them available to you. The lesson being that they shouldn’t burn any bridges behind them, at least in cases when it does not make a huge difference either this or that way. In any case, those are the big choices we make in life, or the ones that we think are big. In reality, one can always take up another career in Finland. It’s never too late. Nevertheless, people want to see it as the defining moment. I guess we people like our big choices after all.
A while ago I watched a TED Talk in which Sheena Iyengar told a story about ordering tea in a foreign country, and how she couldn’t get what she wanted because you just can’t drink that kind of a tea in that particular country. Instead she got what was the correct choice of tea. The same happened to us in Greece. We were eating in a fantastic restaurant, the name of which I have forgotten, up on the Pano Koufonissi island and we didn’t want to have any dessert. However, our lovely waitress brought us some anyway, along with a smile, and that smile made us remember what we had read about Greece. You cannot say ‘no’ when you are offered something. Sometimes it seems then that we choose to have things that we haven’t really chosen after all. I have to admit that sometimes it is pretty wonderful to have everything ready catered and choices made. We didn’t feel like watermelon that day, but boy did it taste good anyway.
At some point almost everyone thinks about the choices they’ve made in life and goes through the alternatives, what there might have been. Some decisions have been easy to make, some just happen, and for some, we pain over for years. I remember reading that teachers make the most decisions during a work day out of all the professions. The decisions are often small and trivial but still there is a decision waiting to be made one after the other. Teacher decisions then being maybe the ones that mostly just happen, and the longer you have been a teacher, the less time it takes to find the right way to deal with the choice-making situations. However, being at the edge of solving situations day in and day out, can get tiresome. My teacher friends and I often joke about it that when we are on holiday, we opt out of making decisions altogether. Shall we take this road or that one? I don’t know. You decide. Should I have spinach or potato omelet? Could someone please decide for me? For most of us, the best days off are the ones when we don’t have to make a single decision.
Making decisions is tough because you have to stand behind what you’ve chosen. When you let others decide, they can always be blamed for unwanted consequences. On the other hand, you might never end up getting what you really want if you just let other people decide. Sometimes it just annoys the hell out of everyone when there is a decision to be made and no one seems to be able to live up to it. For the bigger ones, the pain grows accordingly, both in getting it done, and in leaving it undone. But most surely the relief of resolved issues can also be a wonderful feeling. I am not the kind of a person who’d like to change things in their past, but there are people who wonder about past decisions and question “What if I had chosen differently…?” That is a fun play of thought, but rarely leads to anything productive. For the mistakes I’ve made, since we all make them, I have always just thought “If that hadn’t happened to me, I would never have learned what I needed to learn.”
In making decisions, as in many other things in life, I guess it helps to put yourself through it often enough in order to get used to it. And take time off it whenever it seems to take the better of everything else. But life would definitely be bit boring if there were no decisions to make.