Why hard choices are an opportunity
80,000 hours in a career... How do you make difficult choices about how to spend your 80,000?
How do you make difficult choices? Do you list the pros and cons and choose through logic? Do you launch into research mode and consult? Or do you bury your head in the sand waiting for something to happen on its own?
Last week I gave a lecture to a group of bright, young dentists at Health Education England (the organisation responsible for the continuing education and training of doctors and medical professionals), working part-time in clinical practice and part-time in management and leadership roles on public health and service delivery projects.
I shared insights from navigating my own medical career going from hopeful medical student to stressed out hospital doctor to finally working on global health programmes.
Inevitably, the question of choice came up…When you have so many options with no certain outcome and a lot of discomfort along the way, how do you even begin?
What came to mind as I reflected on this was the memory of a professor at UCL, when I was agonising over which PhD topic (and therefore which research group and supervisor) to choose. I was in that frazzled space – the stakes seemed so high (at least 3 years of life devoted utterly and completely to a single topic) and my mind just couldn’t figure it out. I was going around in circles…
She said the most curious thing. With a kind look on her face, she said: “You strike me as the sort of person who would make the most out of anything, so I wouldn’t worry too much”. This is the point at which I scratching my head. My train of thought had been stopped.
My left brain wasn’t quite satisfied, as I didn’t get an answer to my hard choice problem, but the perspective shifted and I wasn’t so stressed, anymore.
Essentially, she cast me in the light of a creator rather than a victim. I didn’t have to figure everything out in advance through logic, I could trust that I would make the most of a situation. It was powerful and empowering to be seen in that light.
That was enough of a zap to bring me back to the present moment and stop worrying about the future. From there I was able to show up with passion and conviction (rather than with anxiety and self-centredness) in academic meetings continue to explore and discover and eventually choose with conviction.
Of course, logic has its place and a large body of research exists (including from Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman) showing that our gut feelings are less reliable than algorithms and that are thinking is riddled with cognitive biases that lead to decisions that don’t make us happy.
So, if you’re going down the logical route, Kahneman advises scoring your career options against six, independent dimensions that you choose yourself. It’s a little as if you were selecting a candidate through interview. You score your career options against each of the dimensions and go from there.
Here’s an article elaborating on this that also provides a rational approach to big career decisions and how to reduce the impact of your cognitive biases. Note that gut feelings and intuition are often used interchangeably but they are not the same thing – a topic for another day). Note that gut feelings and intuition are often used interchangeably but they are not the same thing – a topic for another day). https://80000hours.org/2013/05/biases-how-they-affect-your-career-decisions-and-what-to-do-about-them/
On the other hand, proponents of logic, like Kahneman, also acknowledge that after you’ve done your research and when the decision reaches a certain level of complexity, the subconscious mind and intuition are needed. This is where not thinking about the issue and getting some sleep or doing something different is key.
Which brings us back to the problem of choice and deeper into it. Who is choosing? The simple answer is if you believe that you are doing the choosing, then make a choice and align with it.
As a human, you have the privilege of sculpting your own thoughts and therefore your own life as a function of where you place your attention and the values-aligned actions that you commit to taking.
Hard choices force us to grow out of lazy reliance on basic preferences. They force us to articulate what matters and live up to the imperfect but authentic ideal we create for ourselves, through commitment and action.
When I work with clients, we often revisit a time when they felt completely empowered and in flow to snap out of procrastination and victimisation. Doesn’t it feel great to remember how resilient and resourceful – powerful – you are and act from there?
So next time you find yourself stuck in procrastination or endless research, ask yourself:
- Do you really need to do more research or rational thinking?
=> If not, notice if the research or procrastination is distracting you from something…the existential discomfort of choice and the reverse side of the coin which is your privilege and ability to choose and make the most of what you’ve chosen.
Rather than sinking into infinite thought loops about what would be “best” why not liberate yourselves through empowering questions:
- What kind of person do you want to be in the world?
- What matters to you the most?
- What can you do to act in alignment with what matters to you the most, immediately?
Could it be that, when all is said and done, it’s not about finding the perfect answer or career but about who we become as we make an informed, value-aligned choice, taking action in the face of fear? George Bernard Shaw may have had a point:
“Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself”.
Update: One of the two spaces I opened last week for the six month coaching programme Create a Career and Life You Love has been taken. If you’re interested in claiming the other, read on…and take action.
“The six month coaching engagement with Amina has been a process of slowing down and rediscovering more of the real me…” Joe Aston, Consultant – most recent graduate.
“I can only thank you for the coaching Amina - it has completely shifted the way my life is unfolding”. Dr S, current client.
If you’re not interested stop reading, now! :)
I work with a limited number of people to provide a highly individualised coaching process, and blend transformational coaching with strategic action. Results from past clients include:
resolving inner-conflicts and creating their dream job in medicine
better communication and team dynamics
consulting contracts with intergovernmental organisations
greater clarity in decision-making
making a higher income than ever before through promotions or consulting
long term funding for passion projects
being more at ease and relaxed in their personal relationships and work
The process may be suitable if:
you’re passionate and hard working but not sure how to move forward;
you’re going around in circles and your confidence is dropping;
you want to feel inspired and clear again, sharpening your strategy and strengthening your intuitive wisdom;
you want to use your talent to have a positive impact in world and use your medical or professional skills differently;
you have a niggling voice/inner-critic that holds you back and you’re fed up with it.
If you think that’s you, let’s find out!
See here for more details about the features of the programme: https://www.doctoramina.com/offerings
…and here for a range of testimonials. http://www.doctoramina.com/results
Are you ready to explore what's possible for you? I look forward to discovering this with you. Next steps:
1) Email email@example.com with “I’m interested!” in the subject line 2) I’ll send you a questionnaire to fill in (this will be a useful exercise for you to get more clarity on your career and life) 3) If I think I can help you, I’ll invite you to a Discovery Session (here we’ll go deeper into your career and life aspirations, what’s in the way and leave you with a plan and feeling inspired again!) 4) At the end, I’ll share my reflections and we’ll talk about whether there is scope to work together further.