Tag Archives: choice

Can You “Drift” Your Way into Graduate School? Oh Yes.

From time to time, I write about “drift.” Drift is the decision you make by not deciding, or by making a decision that unleashes consequences for which you don’t take responsibility.

You want to dodge a fight with the people around you, or you want to please them, or you want to avoid a struggle with self-doubt or uncertainty.

In my case, I drifted into law school.

If you want to hear me talk about drift, and tell my law-school story, you can watch it here.

You can also take the popular quiz, Are You Drifting?

Because I think drift is so important, I made a vow to myself that I’d raise the issue anytime I spoke to students — high school, undergraduate, or graduate.  And the issue always strikes a chord.

For instance, each year I speak to a group of first-year medical students, and it turns out that medical students can be subject to drift. Initially, this surprised me, because I thought, “Medical school is so hard, and so specific, and takes so much time and money. No one would drift into med school.”

But no! It happens. People think, “My mother and father are both doctors, so I should be a doctor.” Or “I’m good at math and science, people keep telling me I should become a doctor.” They can do it, and they don’t know what else to do, so they move forward. That’s drift.

So I was very interested, but not surprised, to see this piece by Tatiana Schlossberg in the New York Times, about the Sauermann and Roach study “Why Pursue the Postdoc Path?

Schlossberg writes:

“Doctoral students in the sciences are more like the rest of us than previously thought: They don’t know what they want to do with their lives, either…The authors [of the study found] evidence that many students pursued postdocs as a default option after graduate school, or as part of a ‘holding pattern’ until the job they wanted was available. The authors…conclusively demonstrated the need for more career planning among graduate students, and that graduate students should consider their career paths before they even begin a Ph.D. program.”

In other words, these students drifted into graduate work without a clear plan for why they were there.

The word “drift” has overtones of laziness or ease. Not true! Drift is often disguised by a huge amount of effort and perseverance. Just because you’re working hard — I’m sure those graduate students are working hard — is no guarantee that you’re not drifting.

Here’s another complication. I drifted into law school, and in the end, I’m happy I did go to law school. Sometimes drift does make you happy. But don’t count on it.

One of my drift-related Secrets of Adulthood is “You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.” And here’s another one: “Approval from the people we admire is sweet, but it’s not enough to be the foundation of a happy life.

Have you ever found yourself drifting? How did you start, how did you end it — or not?

Podcast: The First Episode of “Happier with Gretchen Rubin” — Exciting!

I’m thrilled to announce that...I have a podcast! It’s called “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.” It has been hard to keep this secret, so I’m excited to reveal it at last.

This podcast is one of many launching today on Panoply, a terrific new podcast network.  I’m so excited to be part of it — and in such good company. Other podcasts in the Panoply netwrk come from the New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine/Vulture, The Huffington Post, Inc., Real Simple, Popular Science, Food52,  HBO Documentary Films, and lots of others.  Yowza.

One thing that makes this podcast especially fun is that I’m doing it with my sister the sage, Elizabeth Craft.

When I was asked if I wanted to do a podcast, I thought, “Yes!” but then came the question of, well, what exactly would that podcast be?

As it happens, for years my sister and I have talked about the fact that we should have a radio show or YouTube show together. “It would be so fun! We could discuss all our brilliant musings!” we’d say to each other, but it never seemed possible.

So the minute I started to consider this podcast, I knew: this was the opportunity we’ve been waiting for. And it has been so fun to collaborate with my sister. (By the way, this is a good example of why it’s good to do some pie-in-the-sky dreaming from time to time. That way, you’re more ready for new chances.)

One of the main aims of my happiness projects — in both The Happiness Project and Happier at Home — was to spend more time with my brilliant, hilarious sister, because my relationship with her is one of the most important in my life. And if you read Better Than Before, you’ll discover that my sister is a major figure there — because she is the guinea pig/beneficiary/innocent victim of some of my most determined attempts to shape someone else’s habits. Which succeeded brilliantly in some ways, not so much, in others.

We’ve spent so much (phone) time together working on this podcast, and that will continue. That makes me so happy!

So what will you hear us discuss, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin“? We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).

Each week, we give  a “Try This at Home” suggestion, for some easy habit you can try, as part of your ordinary routine, to boost your happiness—something like setting an alarm to signal your bedtime, or using the one-minute rule, to help yourself stay on top of small nagging tasks.

We also suggest questions to help you “Know Yourself Better”—like “Whom do you envy?” and “Are you a Marathoner or a Sprinter in your work style?”—and explore “Happiness Stumbling Blocks,” those small, seemingly insignificant parts of daily life that drag us down—everything from the problem of the Evil Donut-Bringer to the fact that working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.

We “Grill the Guest,” consider “Listener Questions,” and finally, we get even more personal, and each of us either gives ourselves a “Demerit” for a mistake we made that week, that affected our happiness, or awards a “Gold Star” to someone or something that deserves recognition.

We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

Here’s what we discuss in this launch episode:

Try This at Home: The one-minute rule, as a way to keep clutter under control. As noted, I’ve been surprised by the degree to which, for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm.

Know Yourself Better: Are you a satisficer or a maximizer? To read more about this distinction, check out Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice.

Happiness Stumbling Block: The one-coin loophole. You’re trying to keep a habit, but just this once, you’re going to let yourself off the hook. This loophole gets its name from “the argument of the growing heap,” which I learned about in Erasmus’s Praise of Folly.  (I love teaching stories, koans, paradoxes, fables,):

“If ten coins are not enough to make a man rich, what if you add one coin? What if you add another? Finally, you will have to say that no one can be rich unless one coin can make him so.”

There are ten categories of loopholes–all so funny.

Listener Questioner: “Does checking Facebook make people feel happier and more connected, or more lonely and sad?” Elizabeth isn’t even on Facebook; we discuss.

Demerit: I confess that I snuck emailing while talking to my husband on the phone.

Gold Star: Elizabeth gives her treadmill desk a gold star. In Better Than Before, I explain why I gave this gift to her, her very funny reaction, why she loves it so much, etc.  Here’s a photo of it.Elizabeth'sTreadmillDesk

 

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE: Maybe, like me until fairly recently, you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe.

To listen to this episode, just zip to the bottom of this post and hit the red “play” button.

But if you want to listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really! Instructions here.

Or for an amusing short how-to video made by Ira Glass of This American Life, click here.

If you listen, tell us what you think! Drop us a line at @gretchenrubin, @elizabethcraft, Facebook, podcast@gretchenrubin.com, or call 774-277-9336.

Be sure to subscribe and listen and subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode. And if you enjoyed it, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material.

Happy listening! Or I should say, HAPPIER listening!

“There Is No More Miserable Human Being Than One in Whom Nothing Is Habitual”

“There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation. Full half the time of such a man goes to the deciding, or regretting, of matters which ought to be so ingrained in him as practically not to exist for his consciousness at all.”

— William James, Talks to Teachers on Psychology

William James is certainly one of the great thinkers about the nature of habits. I find myself quoting him constantly. And I absolutely agree with his point: the key benefit of making habits is that they relieve us from the weariness of decision-making.

Whenever I hear someone talking about the importance of making “healthy choices,” I think — no! Don’t keep making healthy choices! The more we choose, the more likely we are to choose the wrong course. Choose once, then don’t choose again. Decide not to decide.  Use habits.

In an earlier draft of my forthcoming book about habits, Better Than Before, I used this quotation as one of two epigraphs, along with this quotation from John Gardner (which haunts me). But in a recent revision, I chucked them both and picked an entirely different quotation; how I love choosing epigraphs.  If you want to know when the book goes on sale, sign up here.

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Do You Like Identifying Your “Favorite?” I Don’t.

Every once in a while, I put my finger on something that bugs me. This sounds as though it might make me unhappy, but in fact, this greater clarity about my own nature makes me much happier.

For instance, I remember the tremendous relief I felt when I noticed a pattern among certain books, plays, and movies that I dislike. For instance, I can’t stand to read or watch Oliver Twist, The Fugitive, Atonement, Othello. Can you see the pattern?

It’s the theme of unjust accusation. I can’t stand the theme of unjust accusation. I’ve never seen the movie The Shawshank Redemption, even though people keep telling me that it’s a great happiness-related movie, because of the unjust accusation. It’s a little sad to realize that we can’t encompass everything–I find it very painful to relinquish the fantasy that with enough effort, I could appreciate everything, even unjust accusation, which appears so often–but it’s also very freeing. (I must confess, however, that my various book groups sometimes get impatient with my question, “Does this book have unjust accusation?” Usually I can smell it a mile away.)

Once I realize what I don’t like, I can avoid it (more or less).

The same thing happened with pesto. And with drinking alcohol. And with board games.

Just today, I realized something else that bugs me. I dislike being asked to identify my “favorite.” Some people seem to love this exercise. Favorite book, favorite movie, favorite restaurant, favorite memory.

I, however, find this exercise distressing. First of all–how can I possibly pick something like a “favorite” book? It’s impossible! And to me, picking a “favorite” somehow makes all the other options seem less interesting. I don’t even like picking something like a favorite part of the day. Sometimes, like Maria, I’ll pick a few of my favorite things–but I can rarely pick just one favorite.

But some people love to consider questions like this.

How about you? Do you enjoy identifying your favorite, or not?

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Can Refusing To Give Compliments Be an Act of Love?

Assay: My spiritual master is St. Therese of Lisieux, so when a thoughtful reader emailed me about Heather King’s 2011 memoir, Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Therese of Lisieux, I was thrilled—and astounded that I hadn’t heard about it yet. I’m always trying to get my hands on more St. Therese material, plus I can never resist a good “year-of” memoir.

I couldn’t wait to read Shirt of Flame, and I found it fascinating, for many reasons. One passage struck me in particular.

In the study of happiness, I’m always fascinated and moved when I see a person choose to react in a way that boosts happiness or love or forgiveness, when circumstances made that choice difficult.

In her spiritual memoir Story of a Soul (which was one of the book-club choices for this month, by the way), St. Therese gives many examples about this from her own life—for instance, the moment of her “complete conversion,”  where she acted selflessly by showing a greedy joy in her Christmas presents. In her circumstances, that was the loving way to act. Sometimes we can be generous by taking.

Often, to allow himself or herself to respond in a different frame of mind, a person re-frames a situation.

Heather King recounts an interesting example of this. She writes, “I’m mortified to admit that I was still miffed because [my mother had] never told me as a child (or an adult, for that matter) that I was pretty.”

Then she recounts how St. Therese has interpreted the same situation with her own upbringing. St. Therese’s mother died when she was four, and her older sisters, particularly her sister Pauline, helped to raise her.

St. Therese writes, “You gave a lot of attention, dear Mother [meaning Pauline], not to let me near anything that might tarnish my innocence, especially not to let me hear a single word that might be capable of letting vanity slip into my heart.”

As King points out, St. Therese chose to understand a lack of compliments to be a sign of loving care. That’s not the only interpretation, but that’s the one she chose to have.

I see that this is an area where I fall very short. Too often, I respond to a choice by feeling aggrieved or resentful. Sometimes, perversely, I almost enjoy feeling aggrieved or resentful! –and don’t even try to put a different cast on it, or look for other explanations.

I’m reminded by an observation by Flannery O’Connor, from a letter she wrote in 1959. “From 15 to 18 is an age at which one is very sensitive to the sins of others, as I know from recollections of myself. At that age you don’t look for what is hidden. It is a sign of maturity not to be scandalized and to try to find explanations in charity.

“Finding explanations in charity” is another way of putting it — the aim of choosing to interpret actions in a loving way.

I feel like I just came across another great example of this, in some book or movie, but I’m blanking. Stay tuned, maybe I’ll think of it.  Have you seen examples of this kind of choice, yourself?

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