Friday, 11 June 2010

WSIDWML? - Typical Example

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.

[740 Words]


  1. Geez dude! I can see why you are in a bind. Maybe there is a way you can cancel out some of the questions you ask yourself in the depression stage. The easiest one would be "what if I dont get accepted"...just apply and find out! I am sure tht if you still decide not go through with it there wouldn't be any major penalties.

    Then move to supporting yourself financially and work out a plan. Once you've hit those two points on the head I am sure it would start being easier to overcome the other fears.

    I think you'd be a great architect actually :)and if I can stick it out at Uni...anyone can!!

  2. Thanks for the comment :-)

    Looking at it objectively i could counter most of the issues above relatively easily. The problem is that 'architect' is only one of many options that i have. Some other possibilities that i have been through similar thinking to the above are:
    Business Consultant
    Book Reviewer
    Product Designer
    Graphic Designer
    Creativity Consultant
    Web Designer
    Computer Programmer
    Buddhist Monk (not that i am a buddhist, but the lifestyle seems good)
    All of which have pluses and minuses, though they are very different and hence not easy to compare.

    Intellectually i accept that every possible option will have both good and bad points. Emotionally it would make the decision of what to do a lot easier if there was an option where the pluses dramatically outweighed the minuses. So far i haven't come across an option like that and i'm not sure that it would be obvious even if i did.

    What i am looking for is a way to judge and discard options beyond; 'i could see myself doing that' which currently leaves far too many options on the table. Any suggestions for how to cut down options?

  3. Well first up strike chef from that list because the cheffing lifestyle sucks arse! ;)

    I think that "i could see myself doing that" is a good place to start so long as it also means "i would enjoy doing that" if it doesnt then i guess that would be your next stop, whether you would enjoy it or not.

    Then move to the lifestyle it can bring and whether you'd be okay with that. If we use the chef example, it can often be looong shifts, lots of night work and chefs are busiest at times when people are being social so it cuts into your social life. Then heaps of chefs are quite heavy drinkers and smokers (in my experience). If you are hoping to have a family later in life the chef lifestyle is not family friendly. Just ask Stevo!

    So, you can see yourself doing it, you'd enjoy it, the lifestyle is appealing. Next perhaps think about money, not just how much money you can make but whether the money would be a constant income or on a job by job basis. ie chef would be constant, product designer perhaps not so much.

    This one might go hand in hand with the last one because it can influence how much money you'd make but for each option would you be looking at working for someone or be self employed? Or start off with someone then be self employed. If working for someone then do you think you can handle that? Considering how badly a lot of business's are run and how aware of that you are, would it do your head in? How can this influence your income stream, being a product designer on your own can result in bigger payouts but they may be less regular than if you worked for a company.

    That should kill off some of them! Then from there I don't know I'd need to think about it some more but thats probably the order I would start doing it in.

    Does that help any?

  4. I have written the majority of two fairly long replies to your comment, but due to accidentally hitting refresh and a software update, both were lost - stupid blogger doesn't save draft comments. So this will be rather more concise than i had planned, which is probably a good thing ;-)

    The cheffing lifestyle actually appeals to me; work lots, make stuff people want. But there are some very good reasons i shouldn't be a chef:
    I suck at multi-tasking,
    I am useless under pressure (especially when combined with the above),
    My sense of taste is a bit rubbish (or at least not like other peoples),
    I don't like/eat some key foods (fish, seafood, eggs etc),
    I wouldn't like working in the heat all day,
    I would get bored cooking the same stuff all the time.

    Unfortunately lifestyle (in the context of outside work) and money aren't really important to me, ideally i would enjoy the job enough that neither mattered. Though i would qualify that by saying, if a job doesn't pay enough to support you then it isn't really a job, it is a hobby that you make a little money from.

    You do raise a good point about about whether i want to be self-employed or work for someone else. If you had asked me 6 months ago, i would have said that i had to be self-employed, but now i'm not so sure. With the right company or right job i could be happy working for someone else, but whether the right company or job exists is debatable. I think on the whole i would prefer to work for myself though, so that is definitely a useful criteria.

  5. Hi Guys!

    Steve, I'm sorry I haven't commented before now but am quite keen to now that I've read everything.
    A few things have stuck out at me from your last 2 posts:
    In your last post you said that you thought that deep analysis is a bit of a cop out. I can see that you really enjoy the planning and are an analytical person, so the deep analysis would in fact fit with who you are. Also when it comes to making big, life-changing decisions... a deep analysis is important!
    It also sounds to me like - whatever you decide - you are leaning towards going back to Uni... and you seem to love to learn so that would probably appeal to you even more. It's interesting that you said you wanted to be an architect, chose the course with the highest entrance and then decided to do a different course entirely... You said you were worried that you may end up being a lazy student again. I think that if you are passionate about learning and the area you are learning about, you will stay engaged overall. In my opinion though, the key thing about going to Uni is that you are actually interested in the course you are doing. It should have some direction but doesn't need to be specific. I mean I didn't know what the hell Social Work was when I started my course but I liked the look of most of the Units and figured it was pretty likely that I would come out with a job at the end of it. Would you consider doing a more generalised course at Uni and then narrowing your focus as you went on? Most of the job options you mentioned are related to design, so maybe something around that area where you don't have to choose a specialisation until a few years down the track? If I've learnt anything at Uni, it's that it is about the journey.
    With regards to your issue around being self-employed: consider getting a job in a field where you have a lot of flexibility but work for a company where you still feel supported. Then ask yourself: does the fact that I have freedom and flexibility in my job outway the fact that the company I work for is run badly (of course, that also depends on whether or not you love the day-to-day tasks associated with you job)?!

    Otherwise, I totally agree with Carrie! Your decision should come down to interest, enjoyment and lifestyle. I believe that the last one should be the key factor when making your decision, because there is no point in having a wonderful career/ job if it doesn't allow you to have a life. If there is anything I have learnt in the last few months (after slogging it out for the 5 years)... It's that your job or career does not define who you are. It's about asking yourself: Do you live to work or work to live?!