When I was in Grade 12, we were required to attend a weekly seminar about preparing for university and making the “correct” life choices. Every week, entering that classroom filled me with anxiety.
Even though I was lucky enough to know what I wanted to study, it still felt impossible to really know that it was the right choice. After all, how could I possibly know who I would be in university, let alone for the rest of my life?
The choices they were asking us to make just felt so...permanent.
Since then, I’ve realized that “life-altering” choices are something I’m going to be dealing with for a while. First it was picking UBC, then it was applying to my major. Later it was deciding which grad school I wanted to attend. These things can all be pretty daunting, even for the most secure, goal-oriented person (which, for the record, isn’t me).
Here are 3 things to keep in mind when you’re facing a big decision:
1. Fear is normal
It’s important to remember that these things are scary for practically everyone. Even if it might not always show, everybody grapples with tough decisions, especially in their early 20s. You shouldn’t feel silly if you’re concerned about making these choices; they warrant concern.
Some anxiety is a sign that this decision matters to you and that you’re not treating it lightly. While it is possible to choose a direction without too much anxiety, that isn’t always how it plays out. A little bit of fear can lead you to think more critically and make more informed choices in the end.
2. You’ll never know until you try
On the other hand, try not to let fear paralyze you. You might be distracted by thoughts like...
“I don’t know whether this choice is right for me—what if I hate it? Will I be stuck forever?"
Or maybe it’s more like…
“I really want this, but what if I fail? Maybe it’s not worth it if it’s not even going to work out…”
This kind of self-talk contributes to a vicious cycle. The more you question yourself, the more anxious you become, and it all snowballs until you end up avoiding the choice entirely.
I’ve definitely missed out on opportunities because I was hesitant about making a choice that might have a major impact on how I would be spending my time. I’ll never know how those things would have panned out.
You can never be sure if something will be right for you until you try it. If you’re on the fence about something, go for it! Even if it doesn’t end up working out, you’ll still learn something about yourself along the way. It’s all a matter of framing:
3. You can always change your mind
Most importantly, remember that no decision has to be permanent.
Lots of people transfer universities, change their majors, and change their career paths. Stories of successful people almost always include a failure or two, and the average person has 10 to 15 different jobs in their lifetime.
It is completely okay to change your path if something isn’t what you expected it to be or isn’t the right fit. Remember, you’re the one driving this car, so don’t be afraid to take the wheel.
If you’re having trouble making a daunting decision, you’re not alone. Ask your friends, parents, and professors, and you’ll find that practically everyone has trouble making hard choices. Check out some resources for handling these decisions here:
Header photo credit: Martin Dee / UBC Brand & Marketing