On making big decisions...

Today was a tough day at work. Not because I had dozens of essays to grade or because the kids were particularly chatty as we get closer to summer break. Today was tough because I finally broke the news to my students that I am not returning to their school to teach next year. I’ve literally spent months trying to make this decision, mulling over what I should do—whether or not I should teach for another year or whether I should start going after what I really want, full speed ahead. It’s probably no secret to anyone reading this blog that I want to pursue a career in writing. That probably sounds silly to some, I know. I can feel the self-consciousness creeping over me right now as I type this sentence (I tend to get all red and blotchy when it happens—very attractive). But working as a writer is something I have to at the very least attempt, or I know I will always be stuck wondering what could-have-been.

But instead of walking you through the tedious ins-and-outs of my psyche and how I deliberated and stressed and talked and thought (and wrote) about what I should and where I should go, I’d like to instead share with you what I’ve learned about making big decisions.

My mom said it best, as moms usually do. “As far as big decisions go, this probably isn’t going to be the best decision you’ve ever made, and it’s probably not going to be the worst. It’s just your first.” And she was right.  When debating what I should do with my career—to seek out the turning point or to maintain the status quo—I was paralyzed by the idea that this was such a huge, monumental thing. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the micro-details of one big decision. Things that in the larger scheme of life just do not matter. Of course, big decisions will change your life. That’s why they’re big. But when placed at the crossroads of two different paths, neither one distinctly good or bad, neither one outweighed by more pros or cons, I’ve realized that sometimes it doesn’t matter so much which path you take, as long as you choose the one that brings you the most peace of mind.

Humans have been conditioned to care about the way other people see us. Honestly, I know I sometimes care a little too much. Even though it is not unusual to be conscientious about aspects of your life, it often seems that way because we are so scared to talk about it. I get insecure about the way I look way too often. I’m embarrassed that I’ve never read a Jane Austen novel. I worry about keeping up with my peers, that I’m not volunteering enough or working enough or achieving enough. It’s hard to tell people your plan is to give up a steady paycheck to pursue writing novels and teaching creative writing at a university—a job market (like many these days) that isn’t exactly lush and bountiful.

But what surprised me today was that when I told my students my decision, nearly all of them were happy for me. Sure, there was some sadness, a little anger (not to mention a few who could care either way) but for the most part, all of my students were excited for me to start pursuing what I want and taking actual steps to follow my dreams, cheesy as it sounds. I was so worked up to tell them because I was worried about what they would think, or how their opinion of me might change. But today I learned something awesome from them. People respect confidence. And even if you’re unsure about some things, especially the future, there’s no shame in that. In fact, people who are confident about what they’re capable of in the face of uncertainty often deserve the most respect.

Carrying through with big decisions certainly takes courage and guts. Hopefully, in the near future, I can tell you that the uncertainty that came along with this decision has paid off. But even if it doesn’t, I know I will have learned a lot along the way.