Yesterday, I signed up for my yoga teacher training in Rishikesh, India. This exciting decision has been a long time in the making, and like any big decision, not without its fair share of uncertainty.
When it comes to making big choices in my life, I do not often have a crystal-clear, lightning bolt moment that speaks to me and tells me exactly what to do. Whether it’s been deciding where to go to university, or if I should backpack for three months on my own, or move abroad to teach English in a foreign country, for me the process is not always simple or intuitive.
I do believe strongly in intuition, and I’m always working on listening to my gut and choosing the path that feels most right to me. I try to pay attention to what I feel in my body: does it feel exciting or does it make me anxious?
For me however, things that are exciting can also be extremely overwhelming. Things that make me anxious can end up being exactly what I need to do. I’m still working on figuring out which signals are red flags that I should listen to, and which are just par for the course when you’re making the kinds of choices that push you far outside of your comfort zone.
Last night when I was turning this decision over in my head, at one point I just Googled “How to make decisions”, and the first result was a TED talk by Ruth Chang. Her talk (which you should really watch) really resonated with me because it articulated something I feel I’ve known and acted on intuitively but never realized it’s what I was doing.
Her idea is that hard choices are hard precisely because both options have major upsides and downsides, making neither necessarily better than the other. She says: it is not that one of the two options is better and we are too stupid to know the difference. Instead, the two options cannot really be compared because hard decisions like these are driven by our personal values, not statistics or objective data.
Her recommendation is to see hard choices as a chance to create our own reasons for making a particular decision. We can use hard choices as an opportunity to express our personalities and become the people that we want to be.
That was what I subconsciously did when I chose my wonderful university in a vibrant city over the other great one that I also loved the idea of. It’s what I did when I mapped out an itinerary for myself traveling by train through countries in Europe I’d never visited. It’s how I decided to move to another country instead of settling down back home and starting a 9-to-5 job. And ultimately it’s how I decided to travel to the birthplace of yoga in northern India next year to study, even though the idea of it intimidates me.
All of the big choices I’ve made in my life have not been immediately obvious to me as the “right” or “perfect” decision. All of them have scared me both before and after I made them. And all of them have led me to exactly where I feel I was meant to be. One of my favorite quotes from Marie Forleo is: “Clarity comes from engagement, not thought.” You may only know what’s right for you once you start walking down the path, after you make the decision and take the risk.
I know I want to be a person who follows her heart, who does things that scares her, who invests in herself, and who pursues adventure despite uncertainty. These are the things I hope my choices reflect.
The truth is, I am so lucky to have had these decisions to make. I try not to take them or myself too seriously, because as one of my great friends says, “I have no reason to doubt that everything will work out just fine”. After all, it always has so far.
The next time you find yourself faced with a big decision, realize that the answer may not be as simple for you as checking in with your gut, and that’s okay. Try using the choice as an opportunity to make a statement about who you are or who you want to be. See what happens when you make your decisions a conscious blend of intuition and intention. Ask:
What do you want this choice to say about you?