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Should I get a job? Should I study further? Possibly one of the most difficult decisions that we face in our youth. A million-dollar question – sometimes quite literally if you belong to the right industry or aspire to study in an extremely expensive institution.
It’s exactly the position I was placed in a year or so ago. I had a newly minted position at a niche development sector non-profit that promised to be a fulfilling job. I also had an admission to a doctoral program in a country I really wanted to study in. Choices are opportunity costs – the price of what you pick is the cost of giving up the other. So how do you figure this out? Beyond the micro questions specific to your individual discipline and industry, I propose two broad questions to ask yourself in this position.
What’s Your Big Why?
Very few things in life can be done without having a big why. I first came across this phrase in one of my favourite podcasts – ‘The Productivity Show’ by Asian Efficiency and it really stuck with me.
I looked back at the many things I’ve tried in my life – the forgotten dance lessons of primary school, the middle school forays into sports, the college life explorations of debate – all useful endeavours but somehow, none of them stuck. It was mostly because at the time, I lacked a significant why motivating me.
During my college years, I was also very keen to learn a foreign language – but I could never muster up a reason beyond ‘it’s kind of cool’. Well, turns out that something being cool is not necessarily the best motivation.
With my sights set on a PhD in Europe today, the prospect of a doctorate and a research career in Germany were extremely strong motivators. With this motivation in mind, I worked hard and can call myself a beginner in the German language. Without a strong why, a decision as important as whether you should work rather than study, or give up a promising job opportunity for another degree, will probably not sit well after a few months.
Does This Fit My Plan?
I’m an enthusiastic advocate for what I like to call semi-structured futures.
It essentially means giving yourself a broader framework and goals for what you want to achieve over a set period of time, while leaving elbow room for the things that may rock your boat along the way.
The key to making a semi-structured future work is flexibility. Your framework has to be sturdy enough so as to give your current activities solid purpose (for example, “I want to become a successful writer and public figure”) while remaining flexible enough that you’re ready for when life gets in the way (for instance, if new opportunities open up and you end up becoming a successful journalist instead).
Having a plan means you will be able to situate your choice within a framework – and this context will help you figure out whether the choice fits the plan perfectly, whether it makes no sense at all, or whether it constitutes a worthy diversion. A step off the beaten path, but for reasons that are worth it.
I don’t promise that these will fix your dilemma, but they may start you off on the path to actually making a choice that you will be content with down the line. It’s not an easy one – but the best things in life rarely are.
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