(this post was written by Grace Billing, another new Gradifying Blogger – check out her profile)
You’ve wavered, finally applied, and, at last, have accepted your offer to the graduate program. Or, maybe you’ve always known which graduate program or career path you want to pursue. Either way – congratulations! And a warm welcome to all of you who are just about to start their grad studies at Queen’s. I am excited to embark on this new endeavour with you all as I start my Masters in Public Health at Queen’s this fall.
Deciding on a graduate school and program was a huge challenge for me. This indecision was exhausting. Choosing a graduate path does feel like a decision that will shape the trajectory of our lives forever, and in fact it may be just that. Thinking about how much money and time I am going to invest into this made the decision feel even more daunting.
With all this in mind, I reached out to my mentor, John Rankin, for help with devising a career plan. John has held a number of senior positions in the private and public sectors, and is a Leadership Development Consultant with McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business. At times, he has been criticized by his peers for being too decisive, so he seemed like the natural person to help me work through the quagmire in which I was stuck.
Some interesting ideas came up during my conversations with John as he coached me. I’d like to share some of them in this blog. Conscious awareness of these concepts can be helpful in making the everyday decisions which steer the course of our lives, and help us tune in on the direction that best resonates with our own particular temperament.
Although we have all successfully conquered the initial big step on our career pathway by deciding on a graduate program, (cheers to that!), with this decision comes a plethora of other decisions that will continue to shape our paths in important ways. The courses we pick, placements we choose, the workshops, clubs, events, conferences, training and volunteer opportunities we pursue will all create momentum in our lives, and we want the scenarios this momentum creates to reflect our authentic interests, aptitudes and character. So I hope you find the advice from my mentors useful in tackling whatever difficult decisions may come as we continue to forge our paths.
Does the decision reflect your brand or your actual values, preferences and character?
You can imagine your personal brand as the gifts you bring to the world. Your brand is a natural extension of what you are comfortable with and good at. For example Mother Teresa is not looked upon as a social leader in the same sense that Mahatma Gandhi is. Both exuded peace and calm but brought social benefit according to their true interests and aptitudes–one as a caregiver one-to-one, the other as a caregiver to society as a whole. In order to identify your brand, you need to be keenly aware of your personal values such as honesty, compassion, responsiveness. You also need to be aware of your aspirational values, the values you would like to live more fully. This knowledge will help you to make decisions that establish a track record which exudes your brand and values without having to overtly announce what they are.
Compare your options against THE most ideal imagined option
Sometimes when we are making an important decision, for example buying a car, we often overwhelm ourselves with the sheer amount of choice. The more skilful strategy could be to think about the ideal, for example a dream car with all the desired features, then compare each available option with the optimum. Which choice includes the most important features of the perfect one? This style of comparison in sets of two is a lot less taxing than comparing all the available options against each other. Such a strategy can be helpful when for example deciding on a placement. Imagine your perfect dream job. Then compare all placement options to that dream job. Choose the one that strengthens skills you would need for your dream job, thus bringing you a step closer to attaining that dream.
Here’s a thought experiment you can do if you’re really struggling with a decision
When I was struggling with the choice of graduate school, John asked me a strange question, “Grace, if you had to pick one school right now, what would it be?” I began to fumble and mumble as being put on the spot like that was unsettling. He said, “Don’t overthink, just answer in a second!.” As you can guess, my answer was Queen’s. Then he encouraged me to reflect on why I picked that answer. Prompting ourselves with an artificial deadline in this way can stimulate your awareness of what you want at a subconscious level. You can always continue to revisit and reflect. The quick time frame of a ‘pretend crisis’ can bring intuition to the fore and help access the immense resources we have outside of conscious awareness.
Be fearless, resilient and flexible in making decisions
Most importantly, don’t be paralyzed by the fear of making a bad decision. As John said, “ANY decision is better than NO decision!” If you make a decision, even if it is a bad one, you experience it, learn from it, modify it and move on. If you don’t make a decision at all, nothing changes and you stay where you are. John gave me an example of a student that was having a hard time deciding between two professional programs, MBA vs Physician Assistant (PA). She initially decided to go for an MBA, started the school, discovered that she resented not going for PA, and dropped out. Next year she got into a PA program and absolutely loved it. John helped me see that the trajectory of a career path is less defined than I had assumed. You gather whatever information you can in the limited time you have, make a decision, learn from the experience and tweak it as you go. You can always correct a decision that feels wrong. So if you find a few weeks in, that nothing fits or feels right, you must remember that you can change course, re-set your goal, and draw upon your resources of resilience to map the way out and into a more comfortable and appropriate path.
Having a vision of long term goals which reflect personal values definitely makes decision-making easier. However, it is also OK that you are still in the process of discovery. What’s more important is making everyday decisions meaningfully rather than mindlessly pursuing an end goal. If we remain mindful and aware of our experience, and are true to ourselves as well as empathetic to others, we will be more able to identify our own perspective and create goals which are in keeping with our own authentic self.
There is no ultimate moment when all decisions have been finalized, there is always a process in motion. Everyday choices you make create momentum, but just as in at the Captain’s helm in a boat, when you are steering, you can always course-correct.
I hope you find the concepts discussed in this blog useful as you navigate the opportunities along your way. Try to select the ones that best support your academic, professional and personal growth.
In closing, I am curious to learn what strategies you use to make difficult decisions and what steps you’re taking to personalize and customize your graduate path. Please feel free to come chat with me and share your perspective if you happen to spot me on campus or by leaving a comment below. I hope to connect with you at the upcoming orientation events. I hope that by exchanging ideas and learning from each other we can increase all the benefits of our graduate school journey at Queen’s.