For the undecided: How did you learn to choose?
May 18, 2017 11:50 PM   Subscribe

As a freelancer, I take on many different kinds of projects, with many different roles, in different areas. I find it incredibly difficult to make a dedicated choice in one direction for my career. But I feel like I should, because my lack of choice is hindering my professional development and career options. If you're like me: How did you learn to pick something and go with it for a while?

I am a 35yr old consultant working as an interaction designer, service designer, user-researcher and project manager – for museums, healthcare, government, education – in my home country, but also abroad.

I like the projects I do, but I'm finding that it's unclear to others what I should be hired for; and frankly, that I'm bad at promoting myself where I should promote myself, because i have not made a choice what I want to do.
Currently I'm doubting between high-$$ ixd-consulting, or focussing on one area, or just taking a job, or doing a gig or two abroad.

I think that this indecision also leads into my personal life. I'm usually pretty late at making decisions on what to do on evenings or the weekend (except when it's about climbing outdoor), leading me sometimes with nobody to hang out with, because everybody has other plans.

How did you learn to choose, focus, commit?
Book recommendations, life advice, and more is all welcome.
posted by Thisandthat to Work & Money (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
On reading your post, it doesn't seem to me that "interaction designer, service designer, user-researcher and project manager" are all that scattered. I think you could simply come up with an umbrella term that covers all those areas and market your various past projects as a positive--"Yes! I have experience in [museums, healthcare, government, education] and can handle all of those areas!"

But if you still think that you need to narrow it down, I can offer some more thoughts:

I am very indecisive. Always have been, always will be. I sorta doubt my qualification to give an answer here, because it's not something I've "solved" yet. But I think part of it is to accept that this is your style and be ok with it--as in, of course go ahead and look for ways around it or ways to address it, but it isn't helpful to think of it as a big sin or source of guilt as it was/is for me.

What helped me become more active/decisive were some ways to think through it:

-What is the cause of my indecision? For me this overlapped with a lot of common reasons for procrastination, like fear of not doing perfectly, or fear of closing doors and regretting it later, etc. Then examine whether those fears are realistic. I have a friend who survived cancer twice and keeps telling me, "As long as you're alive, there is still time to change."

-The realization that people can have multiple careers in a lifetime. At various points, I was interested in many different (and, I thought, scattered) fields--journalism, agriculture, entrepreneurship, criminal law, etc. And then I learned about someone who actually has done all of those careers and gotten success. So, I think either approach is workable: you could continue to work on a variety of areas (just figure out how to market that well), or you could just choose one and develop it until switching is a good move.

-Your weekend plans example reminds me of a metaphor from a book (I think it was Sylvia Plath's Bell Jar?) about a ripening fig tree. While the narrator was paralyzed with indecision about which fig to pick, they all rotted and she was left with no figs.

My personal analogy is all the art supplies I have stashed in my closet. So many tubes of paint, bought with so many ideas of what I could paint...but I couldn't choose what to paint, and they all dried up.

I've realized that, rationally, it's better just to choose one option and roll with it. This is because, when I don't choose, I end up doing NOTHING. At least you're more likely to have something to show for it at the end, whether it be something to put on your resume or plans to put on your weekend calendar. In a job interview, it's easier to justify "I did career X for a while and now want to go into Y; X gave me these skills and experience that help with Y" than "I couldn't choose between X and Y so I did neither." For your personal life, if the weekend rolls around and you don't want to or can't go for some reason, you can cancel (though, caveat: be careful not to harm your relationships by flaking).

I hope this helps. Good luck!

PS: While I still struggle with Big Decisions like where to live or what career to have, I have become much more decisive about everyday things like meeting up with friends or what to choose on a menu. I think this one is due to attuning myself to how I feel at the moment, and letting the other options go until the next chance.
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 12:42 AM on May 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

Your service is actually pretty unified, I think your real problem is that you're having a hard time communicating it.
(It seems to me that you deliver interaction and service design, user-research and project management to public sector clients.)

Regardless, analysis paralysis is an actual thing. So is procrastination. So is fear of change. It's hard to suggest ways you might overcome your issues making decisions if nobody here knows the root problem. Ego, I think you need to spend some time teasing out the actual underlying issue before anyone can help you overcome it.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:41 AM on May 19, 2017

Response by poster: @darlingbri. Good point.. but how would you figure that out?
posted by Thisandthat at 4:14 AM on May 19, 2017

You might find resources like Puttylike useful.
posted by divabat at 4:18 AM on May 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Good point.. but how would you figure that out?

You listen to what your feelings are yelling when you try to work it out and you hit a wall.

Are they saying: "This would be good, maybe this would be better, I really need more information"? That's analysis-paralysis. You can always have more information.

Are they saying: "I know this would be the right thing but I don't really want to do X"? That's probably procrastination. There are some things that are never fun to do.

Are they saying: "Sure there could be X but what if Y?" That's fear of change (or just fear in general).

Feelings are complicated and they're not going to seem as straightforward as these examples - there may be a mix. But you can unpack them. Talk to somebody about it if you need to.
posted by solarion at 4:23 AM on May 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

One thing that might help is to remember, when you're beating yourself up about being indecisive, is to recast indecision as a virtue.

You can think of yourself as a person who has good judgement, who doesn't act impulsively, who isn't trapped in a world of black and white, who understands nuance and shading. The world needs people like this.

Socially, there are regular things that I do every week, and I just do them whether I feel like it or not. I take a neighborhood pottery class every Monday night that has a strong social component. I walk my dog with a group of people every morning. I often feel anxious/resentful when I'm rushing to get to these things, but afterwards I'm always glad I did them, and I'd never leave the house otherwise. How did I choose these things to do? Not decisively. My daughter talked me into the class, which I found I loved, and I met the dogwalkers when I was walking my dog alone. I try to stay open to being nudged.
posted by nohattip at 6:51 AM on May 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Think about values, human and life values, that are most important to you. Here are what I think are very important ones:

1) What people do you want to work with?

2) What will help you serve larger goals, other than financial or material? Is there a way you can use your work to make the world better? If so, that will give you a lot of satisfaction and probably connect to other opportunities you'll love beyond your professional life.
posted by amtho at 9:23 AM on May 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree that your professional interests do sound related and this may be a marketing-yourself problem. But if you are having a psychological hurdle, I do have a suggestion for a book: "Refuse to Choose" by Barbara Sher. This has been enormously helpful to my partner who harshly judges himself because he picks up interests and then drops them just as quickly. The book has information on how to accept this trait and use it as an asset.
posted by shalom at 2:20 PM on May 19, 2017

For decisions of minor-to-middling consequence, I recommend DecisionBot.
posted by D.Billy at 2:44 PM on May 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Worried about my friend's immigration status   |   Does talking about suicide really help prevent... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.