Switching majors is easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
But it wasn’t the quality of the decision itself that got me to conclude this—it was something else.
In Adam Grant’s commencement speech to the Wharton School of Pennsylvania Class of 2011, he talked about a Columbia study on 500 college grads looking for job opportunities. The researchers of the study looked at whether or not the maximizers (those who were constantly looking for the best jobs out there) were happier and more successful than the satisficers (those who were shooting for jobs that were “good enough”).
They found that the maximizers secured jobs with higher starting salaries than the satisficers. However, the maximizers were less satisfied with their jobs, and were less happy during the job search.
Adam concluded to Wharton’s Class of 2011: When it comes to a scenario with two awesome choices, we shouldn’t focus on making the right decision, but making the decision right for us.
I’m someone who deliberately draws out pros and cons for big, future-implicated decisions to the point of asking myself if I’m overthinking it... so this idea initially caused me some cognitive dissonance. If you want to get the most out of decisions, you should constantly capitalize on better opportunities, right?
Thinking about it now, there is definitely something to take away from Adam’s talk.
Studying abroad versus a doing research fellowship during the summer. Working at Google versus starting your own business. Backpacking Southeast Asia versus backpacking Europe.
In these win-win scenarios, each option is going to have its obvious awesome traits. As much as we can crank out a list of pros-and-cons, and text every friend to ask what they would do in this situation, there’s a point where we should stop being utilitarian. Sometimes, we’ll never fully know which decision was better in the end.
So why not make our decision, better?
I don’t consider switching majors one of the best decisions I’ve made because of the switch itself. I consider it such because I consciously took action on opportunities. Such as:
- Attaining a research position the summer I switched
- Writing research grant proposals and obtaining funding
- Co-authoring a research paper and submitting it to an academic journal for publishing (fingers crossed!)
- Presenting talks at undergraduate research conferences
- Doing good work in a lab aligned with my research interests
- Expressing to the grad students/professor that I want to be a lab manager
- Attending major department talks
- Working at different HR internships… and realizing working in HR is not what I want to do in the future
- Studying abroad in Seoul, Korea!
Other than a college major switch (and Adam’s example of driving and listening to the first song that pops up on the radio), I think this idea has its applications for big decisions such as:
- Choosing one student involvement over the other. Abandon the idea of which involvement is “better” than the other. Actively immerse yourself in that involvement you chose, go above what’s expected of you, and connect with others.
- Taking a gap year (or more) instead of going straight into grad/law/med school. Use your gap year(s) to buff up your grad school application, do any fun projects you know you won’t be able to do later on, and travel to places you’ve always wanted to go to.
- Teaching abroad in a different country versus pursuing your Plan A career. Embrace the idea that your twenties is a time where you aren’t bogged down with adult responsibilities and that you are neurologically-wired to do crazy, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
- Launching an entrepreneurial project and holding off the other(s). It can be tempting as an ambitious entrepreneur to launch multiple projects at once. Embrace essentialism and focus on executing your project well.
- Starting a business instead of looking for another full-time job. Acknowledge that this is statistically risky, but don’t let that stop you if want to be your own boss one day. Learn about what traits make thriving entrepreneurs thrive, ship, learn from your mistakes, and ship again.
These are widely different scenarios for people at different points in their lives (some scenarios I still have yet to go through), but you catch my drift.
This is never to say you shouldn’t evaluate your options. You should.
But know when to stop overthinking, make a decision, and take action on opportunities that open up for you and that you make for yourself.
And maybe then, you’ll say, that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Picture credits: Caleb Ekeroth & Brian Park.