Last week I wrote about trying to work out what I should do with my life [WSIDWML?]. While I outlined, in general terms, my problems with answering the question, I didn’t provide any actual examples. This week I will run through an example of my typical train of thought, from inception to dismissal.
A common suggestion for how to decide what to do with your life, is to think back to what you wanted to be as a child and do that. I presume the theory is that what you wanted to be as a child is more reflective of your true desires, unencumbered by adult worries like pay, practicality and status.
As a child I used to love to draw and in particular draw things that I had designed, so architecture seemed like a logical career choice. At the start of secondary school I tried to work out what the best architecture course was by researching which one had the highest entry requirements - Strathclyde - and I decided that I was going to apply there. The entry requirements drove which subjects I would take in school and what grades I would need to get in exams. When I was 14 I spent a week in an architects office for work experience and loved it. Then when I was 15 I applied to the architecture course at Strathclyde, attended an interview and was offered a conditional acceptance (i.e. if I got the required grades I was in). However at the interview they recommended that I wait a year as I would only be 16 when the course started. Waiting a year would make it easier to live away from home and avoid the isolation of not being able to socialise with peers who would mostly be 18 and over. Both of those points made sense, so I decided I would stay at school for another year.
Somehow during that year I convinced myself that Architecture wasn’t technical and scientific enough - too much airy fairy subjective art - and I would rather study Physics. It turned out that Physics was a little too ‘technical and scientific’ and not practical enough, so I ended up switching to Mechanical Engineering.
In retrospect, throwing away 10+ years of aspiration seems like a rather rash decision, so maybe I should go back to university to study architecture ...
Once I have an idea in mind I quickly move to thinking of all of the great reasons to follow through with it. In the example above I would quickly imagine:
That I would love to go back to university and make the most of the opportunity: actually turn up to lectures, study, go to the library, take more varied elective classes etc.
I still really enjoy designing things and I think my broader perspective from the last 11 years would be useful for designing buildings.
How great it would be to design something that everyone can see and will probably still be standing after I’m gone.
Just as I am getting really worked up to follow through on the idea, somehow everything flips and all of the positive things from the excitement phase are cancelled out by negatives that spring to mind:
Will my enthusiasm fade and I therefore end up as lazy a student as I was the last time?
Would I be able to cope with the artier less technical aspects of the course?
How would I support myself financially?
What would I do after the course, do I really want to be an architect?
The most depressing thought of all is; what if applied and didn’t get accepted? What would it say about how I had spent the last 12 years, if they would have accepted me on the course back in 1998 and wouldn’t now ...
By this point I have totally talked myself out of the idea. If there are that many reasons against doing it, how can it be something that I could conceivably spend the rest of my life doing? So I dismiss the idea and start the cycle again.
No sooner have I talked myself into a direction, than I talk myself out of it. Most of the reasons against pursuing the idea could theoretically - and often easily - be overcome, but I just can’t muster the same enthusiasm for it anymore. Hopefully the above should illustrate why I am having such a hard time narrowing my options.