Weekly Reads: Idea Party Edition

Last Thursday, the twitterverse was abuzz (atwit? atweet?) with Barbara Sher’s marathon Idea Party.  For twelve straight hours, folks from around the world shared their wishes and obstacles, and received tonnes of suggestions in return.

Sometimes, it even went beyond suggestions and into the realm of action. For example, a tech writer with experience in resume writting was looking for work, and was paired with a jobseeker looking for a tech resume update.

If you want to revisit the madness of the IdeaParty, there’s a massive 250-page PDF of the conversation available — you’ll want to read it from bottom to top. Or, if you want to get in on the party, there will be another one this coming Thursday from noon until midnight (all times Eastern). Just keep an eye on the Twitter hash tag #ideaparty.

It’s all leading up to the massive March 24th Idea Party bash to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Barbara Sher’s Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want. It’s a fantastic book — if you haven’t already read it, you can do so for free online, or get a copy at your local library. You can also purchase the book through Amazon (note: that’s an affiliate link, so if you purchase the book via that link, I’ll get a very small cut).

If you’re curious about what exactly an Idea Party is, or how you can get involved, be sure to check out the free eBook that Barbara put together to explain the concept.

Also, if you’re a scanner, note that time is getting short for you to contribute to the first Scanner Blog Carnival. Details are in this post.

On an unrelated note, I’m still looking for more feedback on these Weekly Reads posts. Enter your vote below, and shape the future of Sententia. Wow… that sounded a lot more dramatic that I intended.


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If you would like to pass on anything you think I might be interested in, post the link as a comment to this thread! I’m always looking for new things to explore. Note that comments containing multiple links are flagged for moderation, so if your note doesn’t show up right away, don’t worry!

Made Me Think

Don’t Try to Dodge the Recession with Grad School and Seven Reasons Why Graduate School is Outdated (from Penelope Trunk). It used to be common thought that if you lost your job and couldn’t get another one right away, the next natural step was to go back to school. While there certainly are some cases in which that’s still good advice, in classic Brazen Careerist style, Trunk gives loads of reasons to reconsider the grad school path.

How to Mitigate the Urgent to Focus on the Important (from Harvard Business Publishing). Repeat after me: urgent and important are not the same thing. Urgent and important are not the same thing. Got it? Good. Now, the question is how to actually get to the important without the urgent taking up all your time. Fortunately, Gina Trapani of Lifehacker fame has some tips. My favorite? Schedule a non-negotiable 20-minute meeting with yourself every week.

Steps Towards a More Sustainable Life of Less (from Zen Habits). I am becoming more and more aware of how much stuff is around me all the time. Not just physical stuff, but mental and emotional too. Sometimes, I’ll be watching a TV show that shows a “simpler life” (the real thing, not the Paris Hilton TV disaster) and find myself pining after that way of life. Fortunately, there are small steps that we can take to simplify our day-to-day, and this great article from Zen Habits is a good place to start.

For Your Reference

How to Make Butter (from Bay Area Bites). Ever since reading In Defense of Food, I’ve not been able to look at margarine the same way. If you’re an all butter, all the time type person too, you may want to check this article out. No churning needed, just some heavy cream and a mixer. As a nice side effect, you get buttermilk for baking with, too!

Wishcraft Online (by Barbara Sher). I mentioned it above, but it’s worth another mention. Wishcraft is one of the most influential books I think I’ve ever read. For 30 years, it’s been doing exactly what the subtitle promises: helping you get exactly what you want out of life. This isn’t just some feel-good, airy-fairy but ultimately unrealistic book, either. Sher tells it like it is, and makes you believe that dreams really can come true.

Weekly Reads: Poll Time Edition

As I was going through the archived posts and adding pictures to them for the new theme, I noticed a trend emerging. Normally, I post 3-4 posts per week. This is actually pretty good (go me!). Then I noticed that one of those three posts is the weekly reads posts — which is fine, but I don’t want Sententia to just turn into a link farm! :)

While ultimately, I write Sententia for me, I would be lying if I said I didn’t also write for all you readers. (Seriously, I get giddy when I show an increase in traffic for a day. And an actual comment? Be still my beating heart!) So I thought I’d pass the question by you folks. Is having one of three posts be a weekly reads post too much? (Poll is embedded, RSS folks, so click your way on through).

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If you would like to pass on anything you think I might be interested in, post the link as a comment to this thread! I’m always looking for new things to explore. Note that comments containing multiple links are flagged for moderation, so if your note doesn’t show up right away, don’t worry!

Made Me Think

What’s the Point of Education (from Early Retirement Extreme). In a world where going to college often means all-nighters to finish papers and cramming knowledge just long enough to write the test, what exactly is the point? In this article, Jacob argues that we’ve gotten way off track with our goals for education. A degree doesn’t so much show what you’ve learned as your IQ and your ability to make a simple problem into an overcomplicated one … can’t say that I necessarily disagree! 😉

The Objective of Education is Learning, Not Teaching (from [email protected]). As a response to Jacob’s question, above, this article from Wharton suggests that education has lost its way. So often, we focus on the experience of the teachers. Are your methods good teaching methods? Are you teaching the right things? After all, our system is set up to suggest that if you provide quality instruction, learning will follow. Right? Not so much. Instead, the goal ought to be to help students explore and learn. Let students direct their learning, and they will end up much better off. Hm… sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Living Paycheck to Paycheck (from Steve Pavlina). One of the things that education can’t guarantee you is safe and secure employment. We’ve learned that much from the past few weeks and months. In this vintage-Pavlina-post, Steve explores ways that living paycheck to paycheck is affected by our mental models. As one might expect, he advocates entrepreneurship as the solution to this problem, but even if you’re not of the self-employment ilk, there is great value in this article. I was particularly touched by his discussion of reasonable vs. unreasonable expense cutting.

Some Thoughts on Starting a Side Business in a Down Economy (from The Simple Dollar). Speaking of entrepreneurship, it doesn’t have to be a big, scary, nasty word. There are lots of simple and easy ways to create value and receive income from it. As Trent discusses, the key is to identify those value-adding-areas, and then approach it as a hobby with benefits. Good article for those looking for a bit of extra cash.

The Private Eye Guide to Self-Discovery

If you’re like me, you’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out who, exactly, you are. What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you enjoy doing? What are your passions? Who are you, anyway?

There are dozens of different ways you can approach this question. You can introspect and examine your life until you come up with an answer. You can ask those around you for their impressions. You can find answers in religion or culture. You can take any number of quizzes to give you your personality types.

Today I want to share with you a fun way to start unlocking some of that self-discovery: 30 minutes as a Private Eye.

The Private Eye Approach

One of the most fun and impactful ways that I’ve found to discover things about yourself is to put on your detective cap and visually investigate the world you’ve created. 

The basic idea for this private eye approach to self-discovery is based on the idea that the spaces we create around us are external representations of our inner selves.

Now, if that sounds kind of esoteric and wierd, stick with me for a moment — it’s actually based on research done by psychologist Samuel Gosling. Gosling did an experiment to determine whether you could learn as much about a complete stranger by spending 15 minutes in the place where they live, as you could by being that same person’s close friend.

The results were remarkable — in many cases, 15 minutes was enough for a complete stranger to come up with a more accurate survey of the person than their friends had been able to provide.

Part of the reason is that we tend to put on faces for those around us. We act in certain ways, disguising our “true nature” (often unintentionally) because we want to make a certain impression. But when we think no one is looking, or when allow our subconscious to manifest itself, a very different picture may arise.

(Thin-)Slice Of Life

The Private Eye exercise is intended to get you looking at your life from a different angle and a fresh perspective.

Your initial impressions can give you accurate insight, even when you only examine something from an abstracted perspective or for a very brief period of time. It’s a technique known as ‘thin-slicing’, and as I mentioned above, research shows that it’s an incredibly accurate way of gathering information and making decisions.

Malcolm Gladwell’s describes some of this research in his book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Here’s a quote from that book:

Gosling says, for example, that a person’s bedroom gives three kinds of clues to his or her personality. There are, first of all, identity claims, which are deliberate expressions about how we would like to be seen by the world… Then ther is behavioral residue, which is defined as the inadvertent clues we leave behind… Finally, there are thoughts and feelings regulators, which are changes we make to our personal spaces to affect the way we feel when we inhabit them…

Just as important, though, is the information you don’t have when you look through someone’s belongings. What you avoid when you don’t meet someone face to face are all the confusing and complicated and ultimately irrelevant pieces of information that can screw up your judgement.

In other words, by simply taking in all the information and clues that you’ve created in an environment, even a complete stranger can get an astonishingly accurate picture of who you really are — a potentially more accurate picture than if they were to meet you in person.

Pick Your Spots

You’ll need to determine a space that you will ‘snoop around’ in. Bedrooms are good for this, although if you didn’t exactly have a say in designing the room, it may not be as revealing. In general, you want to identify a space that you spend a lot of time in.

It also needs to be a space that you’ve had an impact on — be it the magazine you were reading, the bookshelf you organized, or the bowl you didn’t take back to the kitchen after dessert last night. And it should be a space that you’re in fairly frequently. Daily, or even multiple times a day, is best.

For some people, a home office is a good option. Even the cubicle you call your own at work can be suitable, so long as when you look around it,  you can see that you’ve had an impact on the space. It is important to choose as large a space as possible — for example, don’t just choose the kitchen table, but instead, focus on the whole room.

Really, you only need to identify one space, but if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can do any number of rooms. It can be a good way to spend a lazy afternoon or evening.

Go Under Cover

You may wonder how exactly this space can possibly tell you anything about yourself that you don’t already know. After all, you have already met yourself in person (many times!) and you look at your personal space every day.

The trick is to step back, remove your ‘self’ from the process, and try to look at your surroundings abstractly.

Remember when you were a kid, and you’d play dress up? You’d put on a certain shirt, or hat, or funny glasses with nose attached, and all of a sudden, it was like you were someone else. Actors and actresses experience this too — as they sit in the makeup chair or in costuming, they feel themselves becoming someone else.

This is the experience we want to aim for, in order to look at the space around ourselves with new eyes. It may seem strange that I’m suggesting using detachment from your authentic self as a means to help you find your authentic self, but trust me — it works. And it’s only temporary.

A quick Google search will reveal a number of ways that you can get into character. One technique is to put on an awful hat, pair of reading glasses (pop out the lenses), trench coat and even a pipe if you have one. It can be a fun afternoon to just stop by a thrift store and see what you can find. As a bonus, you’ll have your next Hallowe’en costume all ready to go!

Even if you don’t want to spend the money, feel goofy for playing dress up, or just want to investigate a space that isn’t in the privacy of your own home, there are other non-dress-up options as well. An effective solution is simply to sit, close your eyes, and let your imagination go. Set yourself in a dusty private eye’s office (or however you imagine a PI might work), and spend about 5 minutes mentally exploring the space.

Snoop Around and Take Notes

However you do it, the key is to get into character as much as possible. Become a detective, whose mission it is to discover hidden secrets about whomever lives or works in this space.

Like any good detective, you’ll want to make sure you have a notepad handy to record your findings. I find a digital camera useful, too, since it allows me to capture visual reminders that I can reflect on later, but this certainly isn’t a necessity.

Initially, just make an initial pass through the space — no more than 10 minutes. Look around, under, in, and through. Snoop around, and just try to soak in as much information as you can, taking notes on anything that catches your eye, or any patterns that you identify.

Once you’ve made your way around the room, leave the space and write down your overall impressions. Do this in the third person — “the person who lives here …” — as this will make it easier to keep yourself removed.

Map Your Mind

The last step to getting your space to give up its secrets is to go abstract, and make a map. Barbara Sher refers to this as a Living Quarters Map.

Start by sketching a rough floor plan of your space (be it a whole house or just a single room). Then, walk through your space again. This time, look specifically for projects that you’ve been involved with.

These projects may be things you’ve completed, they may be things you haven’t completed. They may even be projects that you never actually started. The key is to identify any thing in your space that reflects one of your actual or intended projects.

For each project you find, mark it on your map. Take a picture if you’ve still got your camera handy. Don’t dwell on the state of the project, just note that it was important to you at one point, write down a few details, mark it on your map, and move on. The key is to remain in your detached, detective mindset.

Review the Evidence

When all is said and your map is done, put it aside. Give yourself a mental break and leave it for a day or two. After you’ve given it some time, but your detective hat back on, and review your map again.

Do you see any patterns? Maybe you’ll find that in every room, you had a variety of magazines and books scattered about. Maybe you’ll see photos of friends and family. Maybe it will be little trinkets always organized decoratively into little groupings.

Now — look at your map plus all the notes you took on your initial pass through the room. What matches up? By taking these two aspects and putting them together, often even stronger patterns will emerge. Sometimes, the exact opposite will happen, and you’ll see completely opposite sides of your character emerging.

Render Your Verdict

Regardless of what you find, each pattern you find will give you an insight into your interests, desires and passions.

Note that each of those are in the plural for a reason: interests, desires, passions. In all likelihood, you will find a multitude of patterns emerging. This is a good thing. It’s important to not try to artificially boil your interests down into one overriding theme.

If a single, overriding theme emerges, that’s fine, but it’s not necessary (and it honestly isn’t all that common). You are the sum total of all  of your passions. You are a complex person, with complex interests, desires and passions.

This Time, It’s Time to Connect

In yesterday’s post, I gave a bit (okay, a lot) of background into my experience as a World of Warcraft (WoW) player –focusing primarily on what prompted me to leave the game, but with promises to talk a bit about why I decided to go back.

So I’m back on the topic today, not only to talk about my impending return, but to talk a bit more widely about finding and forming connections online. Call it an experiment or case-study, if you will. Hey, if they can hold academic conferences in WoW, why can’t I use it for my own “research” purposes?

Before I jump right in to my story and explanation, here’s one thing to keep in mind: I haven’t actually returned to the game yet, so while I have lots of ideas about how this could work, I haven’t actually tried any of them yet.

The latest e-mail from Amazon says they have no idea when they’ll be able to ship Lich King to me. *Sigh*. (Have I mentioned I’m not the most patient person in the world?)

Now, Where Were We?

If you’ll recall, I left off my story yesterday by describing how I was very intrigued by the changes to World of Warcraft brought in by its latest expansion, but I still wasn’t ready to just jump back into the game.

Making a long story short, I began to consider that the opportunity to “see all the content” wasn’t the only thing that drove me through the game (as I had long thought) — but that on some level, I also appreciated the game as a social outlet: a means to connect.

What I didn’t explain yesterday was how this came about.

It started off innocently enough, I suppose. See, I don’t usually take much in the way of coffee breaks at work. Sometimes, I’ll get up from my desk and just take a walk around to get some fresh air and/or sunlight. However, for a while in November and December, I actually took breaks with a couple of my colleagues, one of whom is a WoW player.

We spent some time chatting about the “state of the game”, the changes that had occurred, and just general gaming talk. As we talked, though, I found myself becoming almost jealous of his situation. He was in a guild of friends — people he knew in “real life” (or who were friends-of-real-life-friends). They never had drama or stress in-game; they didn’t need someone to consider the needs of the group; the question of commitment wasn’t really present.

Instead, they used their in-game time to connect with each other. Some had moved out of town, others had changed jobs.  Some played every night, others played once a week. Sometimes, they’d go on raids, other times, they’d sit around doing their own thing while just chatting (text-based, or over voice).

Explicit and Implicit Commitments

As I thought more about it, I looked back on the groups I had been a part of when I had played the game. The first main one had, at its core, a group of college friends who started playing together when they spread out across the country after graduation. The second one was comprised largely of people who had been playing online games together for years.

And then there was the 500-person network that I helped co-lead. One of my frustrations with the group is that people always seemed to prioritize their own cliques over the needs of the team they had committed to.

What I realize now is that this is actually fairly normal. Most people will choose their friends over strangers. Where the network encountered issues was that we tried to shoehorn people into making commitments to strangers, without considering that they had already established friendships in the game.

In that way, the failure wasn’t a lack of leadership — it was a lack of understanding. I viewed the game as a constant pursuit of in-game excellence. But for many — maybe even most — of the people on my teams, “excellence” was of secondary concern. And that was why the implicit commitment they made to their friends would often trump the explicit commitment made to the strangers.

Raider Diversion

All you WoW raiders, a quick diversion for you all to clarify exactly what I am and am not talking about. Everyone else, this section might get a bit jargony, so you’re welcome to skip down to the next heading if you like.

I’m not talking about the difference between hardcore and casual players. That part, I do get, and I’ve always gotten. I also fully appreciate how absolutely useless those labels are — maybe now more than ever. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

What I am talking about is this: let’s say that patch 3.0 has just dropped, and pretty much everyone is just waiting for LK to come out. What would your honest response have been if you saw the following guild recruitment post in /2:

<Name of Awesomesauce Guild> is recruiting members of all classes for LK. We are a family guild whose goal is to have fun! We have 15+ level 70s and clear Karazhan weekly and we also do BG and PvP when we have time. We have tabard and 4 bank tabs. Pst for info or invite.

I can tell you what my reaction would have been. I would have rolled my eyes, maybe laughed to myself, and wondered who on earth would want to join such a guild. After all, Kara is srs bzns. Surely, they will recruit all sorts of fantastic raiders and will be sure to see all the content that comes out in Lich King… right? Not! Why would I, a progression-minded raider, even give them the time of day.

But here’s something I wouldn’t have considered back then. People are more likely to go to the mat for people they genuinely care about. You’re less likely to have loot drama, clique drama, arguments, forum flame wars and eruptions over vent when you’re playing with friends.

Here’s the bottom line. What I didn’t understand, but now do (I think!) is that putting connections and friendship ahead of progression doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful in-game. That guild recruiting in /2 may be a Twilight Zone killing guild today.

Those connections drove them to ensure that they weren’t letting their friends down. Those connections made them go look at EJ to optimize their gems and shot rotations. Those connections may have caused them to voluntarily passed on a loot drop because it was a bigger upgrade for someone else.

Those connections may well be the very thing that will lead that group of family and friends to a level of success that many so-called “hardcore” raid teams won’t ever be able to attain. And you know what? If they don’t ever see the inside of any instance besides Kara or Naxx? That’s fine too. Because they’re enjoying playing the game the way they want to, with people they want to play with.

That is what I’ve started to understand.

Back for a Brief Time

After the discussions with my co-worker, J (who got me hooked on WoW in the first place) and I decided to activate our free 10-day trials of the expansion together.

And you know what? It was fun. We went and explored the zones, completed quests and tried out new things, without the pressure of having to perform, or the artificial constraints of having to work together with people who we really didn’t know anything about.

At the same time, it was a reminder of the way I’d left the game. On the trial, I chatted with a few people that I had made marginal connections with — caught up a bit, mostly just about in-game stuff. But most people in those communities I’d left behind just ignored me. I hadn’t really made connections with most of them, so there wasn’t really anything to pick back up on.

I noticed how much I missed the chatter of people around me, both about things going on in-game and not. I missed the rare opportunities when a few of us would hang out in voice chat, and talk philosophy or the like. Yes, I also missed the teamwork and accomplishment.

If it was just accomplishment I wanted, I could have signed on for any of the dozens of pick-up groups that were running at the time. Deep inside, though, I knew it wouldn’t be the same as when I’d been running with people that I knew. And then I wondered — how much more would it have been if I had actually connected as me with more than just one or two of them.

Four Ways to Play the Game

And that, I suppose, is why I ultimately decided to come back to the game. In-game, despite all my best efforts to the contrary, I had actually connected with a handful of people on a personal level. Those people had become my social network, but because I failed to recognize the importance of those connections, I didn’t foster the relationships.

There’s a good reason that WoW is considered an MMORPG: a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game. It’s because playing the game involves sharing gamespace with other people. How you approach that shared gamespace, and the relationships that follow, will differ from person to person.

When I started to look back at my time in game, I was able to identify four main approaches that people took to the game. Different people would…

  1. Play without forming connections at all (in-game or otherwise),
  2. Make in-game connections, but not let their “real selves” connect at all,
  3. Make in-game connections, that bled over into real, out of game friendships, or
  4. Play with existing friends, strengthening and continue those connections across distance, etc.

Now, going back, I know that some things will be the same — I still would like to play with a tight team, to take on the game’s challenges, and see the content. But I know too that I want to do it with the right people this time. I’ll want to spend more time working on approaches 3 and 4. This time, it’s time to connect.

Weekly Reads: Switch to Monday Edition

No, you didn’t travel in time, and you’re not going crazy. This week’s link collection is being posted on a Monday. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m going to experiment with posting the Weekly Reads at the beginning of the work week rather than on the weekend.

The major reason is that it gives me a bit more flexibility if I happen to head out of town on the weekend or (gasp!) have plans Saturday night — previously, I would have written the piece on Thursday or Friday, and just queued it up. But doing that means that I potentially miss a whole bunch of awesome articles to pass on!

Speaking of Saturday, this past one was Valentine’s Day (or, as some folks I know call it, “singles awareness day”). My day was pretty low key, and featured mostly some good old fashioned home cooking. The highlight of the day had to be some oh so good Chocolate souffles (note, don’t check the link if you’re hungry and/or a chocoholic!)

If you would like to pass on anything you think I might be interested in, post the link as a comment to this thread! I’m always looking for new things to explore. Note that comments on this site are moderated, especially if they contain links, so if it doesn’t show up right away, don’t worry!

Made Me Think

What is School for? and Learning All the Time (from Seth Godin). This pair of posts from acclaimed author Seth Godin reminded me of my early post on education (and how it’s not for everyone). Lifelong learning is a big deal, and it ought to be. Schooling people to think and act a certain way? Not so much. As a bonus, in Learning All the Time, Godin provides a link to the 100 Best Business Books of all time. There’s enough there to keep you busy for quite some time.

Remember Your Vowels to Manage Conflict on Twitter (from TwiTip). Not just for Twitter, actually, this link is a fantastic formula for handling conflict wherever you encounter it. The key is hidden in the vowels: Acknowledge, Engage, Ignore, Open and Understand. My struggle is usually with Ignore — once I get past that point and onto Open and Understand, I’m alright. Being able to identify that as a potential pitfall will be a valuable tool for me going forward.

The Biology of Belief (from Time). It really shouldn’t be a surprise that someone with an interest in both science and religion would find this article fascinating. I personally believe that, despite what the “death to religion” crowd would have you believe, religion must have remained a vital part of thousands of years of human culture for a reason — it must “work” on some level. That something like prayer can actually change the way the brain works, permanently? Very cool.

Money Matters

Retirement Calculations (5-part series; from Canadian Dream: Free at 45). The keeners among us are busy maxing out retirement plans, collecting income statements from employers, and maybe even filing taxes in hopes of a juicy return. For me, it’s also a time to dream — and plan — about achieving financial independence and having the option of leaving the workforce. If you haven’t given much thought to the numbers, or just aren’t sure where to begin (and are Canadian) this series is way cool.

7 Concrete Tips To Curb Your Spending (from Alex Shalman). One of the things that’s becoming more and more apparent given the “economic climate” of the day is that many people have been spending more than they earn, on a regular basis. The problem is compounded by job loss, but even those still employed are having to take a good look at their income and expenses. I’ve never been a big spender, so a lot of what Shalman suggests is familiar territory for me. But it’s a good reminder, and gave me some good ideas for saving money, myself.

What I Wish I’d Known

I’m a pretty recent grad (albeit, from two degrees — I just couldn’t get away!), but I like to think that I’ve learned and grown a fair amount in the last few years. So when Trent at The Simple Dollar challenged his readers to answer this big question (What single piece of advice do you wish you had heard when you were about to graduate college?), I paused for a few moments to reflect on what I had learned “lately”.  Here’s what I came up with…

You have choices — more than immediately appear — and the good news is that there are no mistakes.

Now, I admit, it’s a bit esoteric and may not be very clear what I mean at first blush. I think a lot of the specific advice you hear for new grads can be wrapped up in this statement: “Travel before getting a job”, “Never stop learning”, “Don’t choose a job just for the money”

But there’s more to it than that. This isn’t just about an approach for new grads; it’s an approach for everyone to learn to take. It’s not an approach that I’ve fully mastered in my own life, and to be honest I’m not sure I ever will fully master it. But it’s a direction and a philosophy that I’ve found valuable, simply because it does allow me to grow, learn and develop within it.

So with that in mind, let me break it down a bit for you, and maybe show you what that statement means for me today (which, of course, may have evolved further by tomorrow!)

You Have Choices

It’s easy to point to times of significant life change (like college graduation) and point out all the opportunities that lie ahead. We get images of new horizons, broad open paths, and infinite possibilities.

The truth is, new grad or not, you always have new horizons, open paths, and infinite possibilities ahead of you. Why? Because you are always the ultimate authority in your life. You are the one who controls your destiny, because you are the one that can make the choices.

Don’t like your job? It is your choice to stay in it or to leave. Swimming in debt? It’s your choice to continue spending or start repaying. Out of shape? You can choose between watching TV or doing some jumping jacks.

You always have the choice to change your life. Even if it doesn’t seem possible right now, that doesn’t change the fact that it ultimately is your decisions that shape your present and future. Even refusing to make a choice is still making a choice — the one that says that the status-quo is okay.

If you’re unhappy with where you’re at, you do have choices. The only thing that can prevent you from taking advantage of this is you.

More Than Immediately Appear

In some ways, it’s easy to see the choices in front of you. Apple or orange? Walk or drive? Stay or go?

Sometimes, there are even so many choices that it can seem overwhelming — like there are so many possibilities, you don’t know which way to turn.

I experienced this when I graduated; the feeling of “oh my God, now what?!?” My problem wasn’t that I didn’t recognize that I had choices, but that I felt like I had so many options that I couldn’t just pick one. Did I want to do more schooling? Travel? Work for myself? Or for someone else? And in what industry? Something tech related, something more people-focused, in an office, out in the field, … so many choices!

I ended up drifting from thing to thing for about a year before ultimately realizing that my problem wasn’t too many choices; it was that I had another choice, but I had disregarded it out of hand.

For me, the ignored choice was to not just pick one thing to do “for the rest of my life,” but to take advantage of my many loves and passions, and pursue them all. Not necessarily all at the same time (although some fit nicely together), but to not to fall into the trap of believing that I couldn’t continue to explore new things as they interested me.

The reason I hadn’t initially thought of this is because it’s counter to societal norms. In our culture, we focus on the one “thing” you want to “be” for the rest of your life (the sign that you’ve “grown up”). “What do you do” is a question that implies a single answer — but what I realized is that just because it wasn’t common didn’t mean I couldn’t make a choice to pursue a widely varied life.

Eliminating choices is a good thing to do, but sometimes, it’s also valuable to realize that you do have more choices than initially appear. Thinking “outside the box” can sometimes be just the thing you need to set you on a new course.

There Are No Mistakes

Ah, but going outside of the “normal” set of choices can be dangerous, right? After all, aren’t these well-established ideas “well-established” for a reason?

There’s a saying, “common sense is rarely common, and seldom sensical.” While that isn’t true in all cases, that doesn’t preclude the possiblity that doing something differently will turn out alright.

But even more than that, simply making the choice to try something will ultimately make you happier in the long run — even if that choice doesn’t work out the way you thought.

The reason is that making decisions allows our brains to live with and adjust to the resultant new realities. The outcome is that the simple act of making a choice can make you happier. Even if the choice made appears to be the “wrong” one, research shows that our minds are so adaptive that in only a very short amount of time after making a decision, we can be happy with the decision (I’ve written a fair amount about this aspect of choice before, so I’ll just leave it at that for now).

Ultimately, making mistakes is how we learn. If we never lost our balance, we wouldn’t know how to keep it. As I’ve noted before, “there are no mistakes, just opportunities to learn.”

Does It Make A Difference?

Would the advice — you have choices (more than immediately appear) and the good news is that there are no mistakes – have actually “changed my life” if I were to receive it when I was about to graduate — either the first or second time?

To be honest, I’m not actually sure. It certainly is the biggest thing I’ve learned since then. Understanding that I ultimately make the choices that determine the direction of my life, that I don’t have to be constrained to the obvious or normal path, and that any mistakes I make along the way serve to make me stronger and happier has made a massive difference in my own life.

I don’t know that just “hearing” this advice would have impacted me in the way that learning it by experience and trial-and-error has. But maybe, it will resonate with some of you, and help you see things in a different light.

What say you?