You know those games we played in grade school when the teacher asked everyone to go around the room and choose a trait to describe themselves? In grade school, I’d often pick qualifiers such as “marvelous” or “magnificent.” These words said little about my personality, but they started with the same letter that begins my name and therefore I thought they fit just fine.
Now, as a 21-year-old college student, I’ve outgrown the days of introductory games in the classroom. But as students, and humans, we never really outgrow these epithets that encapsulate our “self” to our friends, family members and classmates. For some of my friends, the words driven, active, funny and loyal come to mind. For others, lazy or tardy. But for me, indecision is the quality I can’t escape.
My mantra always has been “I’m up for anything!” Translation: I don’t want to make this decision so someone else please go ahead and make it for me. Thank you. Making plans is always a chore. I loathe deciding between two different options for my weekend plans or being responsible for selecting restaurant. Determining what meal to order is a constant tug-of-war. It took me about 15 months to declare a major – I bopped between psychology, history, English and journalism before finding my home in American Studies. And the bigger the dilemma, the bigger the indecision. The summer before college, I enrolled in three separate universities because I could not make up my mind about which one I’d like to attend.
Last Christmas, my roommate, who witnesses these small and large indecisions on a daily basis, gave me a Decision Maker. Eight generic phrases, including “Sleep on It” or “Go For It,” were written on the silver base. A metal ball hung over the base on a string, swinging around over each of these Final Decisions. Now, whenever I was faced with a dilemma I couldn’t solve, I could give the metal ball a push and it would magnetically be drawn to an answer. Voila! Problem solved.
It’s not that I’m a people-pleaser or obsessed with mundane details. It’s the fear or committing to something, because making a Final Decision means definitively cutting out any other potential options. This fear of commitment, of any Final Decision, is something I notice among my peers as well. We are a generation of second-guessers. Where our parents see things in black and white, we are consumed by gray. If we take a summer internship in New York, we are wondering if we should’ve waited for one in Chicago. If we go to CJ’s on Saturday, in the back of our mind we are wondering if Brothers would be more fun. We agonize for months over whether to apply for study abroad, and then a couple more months about which program best suits us. We are constantly bouncing ideas off of one another, looking for affirmation in our choices.
Options complicate things. They force us to examine and, ultimately, define our priorities. This is a difficult task for anyone, but especially for those of us who are coming of age and may not have discovered our principles. Incorporating routine and consistency into my schedule offers solace from the utter confusion caused by work, classes, a job search and, oh yeah, an impending graduation from college. However, it occurs to me that one of life’s inescapable truths is that we must face the larger decisions no matter how hard we try to avoid them.
Most of the time, I’m successful in the decision-making arena. After weeks of tense pressure, I chose to attend Notre Dame, and looking back it’s clear that was 100 percent the right decision for me. I found a major that suits my interests and has allowed me to blossom into a critical thinker far beyond my previous capabilities. I’m even able to pick a halfway decent restaurant to eat at, most of the time. Before I can earn a new epithet, I’ll have to learn to trust my gut instead of second-guessing it.
Meg Handelman is this magazine’s summer intern.