Throughout my life, I repeatedly got the message: Keep your options open!
It sounds like good advice, and I think a lot of times it is. But, when I sit and think about many decision points in my life, or hear the stories of the people I meet personally and professionally, sometimes I think keeping your options open can do more harm than good.
I remember being a teenager fresh out of high school, I had come to the crossroads of trying to decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had no idea. So, I did what many of us do; I started an Arts degree at University. In less than one term, I became disinterested with the wide array of courses I was taking: calculus, English, history, and introductory psychology. By Christmas, I dropped out and got a job flipping burgers while I decided what to do. I wasn’t going to commit to any other plans because I wanted to keep my options open so that I would make the right choice. Three years later I was still flipping burgers and “keeping my options open”. I was waiting for the right opportunity to drop into my lap. Now, the truth is there is absolutely nothing wrong with working at ANY job while you try to figure out your next step. I made some good friends at the burger shop. But I had so much FOMO (fear of missing out) that I froze in indecision.
After three years of waiting I finally made a decision to do SOMETHING. So I closed the doors to all the “possibilities” (I could be a firefighter, a teacher, an accountant, etc.) and I committed myself to Electronic Engineering Technology, a two-year program at the local trade college. So, what happened? I had done well in Electronic Engineering Technology, but I didn’t like any of the job prospects because once I picked a job, that would limit my flexibility. After spending time frozen in FOMO again, I had to do SOMETHING. I decided to work with computers. So, I found a job working as a network analyst. Once again, I closed the door on other opportunities to give myself a chance to explore this new direction. In the end, it was not for me either. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say after at least three more major crossroads I am a mental health professional writing this blog post, and I am both thrilled and thoroughly surprised to be here. Once I got over my FOMO, my need to keep my options open, I became free to explore each option fully, and to learn whether or not they were a fit for me. Closing the other doors of opportunity is what lead to learning more about myself and what I wanted/needed.
So what’s the moral of the story?
Like I said earlier, there is nothing wrong with taking some time to reflect on your next course of action. We all need to reset and rethink things. For me, I lost a lot of time scared to go in any particular direction because I didn’t want to limit my options. But the fact is, picking a direction, committing to a course of action, is what ultimately allowed me to move in ways I had not previously imagined. My decisions, in the end, were not irreversible and led to great friendships and new ways of thinking.
So, even if you don’t know everything that you want, figure out the things that you aren’t willing to compromise and see what road that takes you down (hint: it narrows your options, but hopefully to very meaningful or important decisions). The same philosophy holds true whether we are trying to figure out our careers, our friendships, or our intimate relationships.
So close the door on opportunity so you can see what doors open up!