Tag Archives: decision-making

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?

Have You Ever Been Made Happier by a “Modest Splurge?” Of What? For Me, Magic Markers.

I’m an under-buyer, and for the most part, I dislike shopping, errands, and buying stuff.

In fact, one of my happiness-project resolutions is to “Indulge in a modest splurge.” I remind myself that sometimes, it makes me happy to indulge in a modest splurge — to buy something that I don’t absolutely need, but that makes my day brighter in some way.

I indulged in a modest splurge a few days ago.

I was early for a meeting (I’m always early), so I decided to spend the time wandering around an art store. I love just looking at the things in art stores. This store, sadly, was going out of business, so prices were slashed.

As a result, the shelves were fairly bare, but I happened to notice a giant box of beautiful, high-quality, double-ended magic markers.

These particular markers hold special memories for me, because when I was in college, my roommate had twelve of these markers, and she prized them highly. She never let anyone borrow them, and we could use them only under her supervision. (Very wisely–she knew that we’d lose them, or leave the caps loose.) We had so much fun with those markers.

I looked at the price. For a box of markers, it was still expensive. At the same time, it was an extraordinary bargain. But I didn’t really need the markers–we have lots of good markers already. But this was a really good set of markers. It would make me very happy to use them, and my daughters would also use them. But couldn’t we use the markers we already had? Well-made tools make work a joy; having these terrific markers might boost my creativity. Looking at the markers brought back happy memories. But if we didn’t make good use of the markers, I would feel guilty.  Etc., etc., etc.

I bet the other customers thought I was a very odd person — I stood stock still, gazing at the box, as these questions played out in my head, for several minutes.

At last, I remembered my resolution to “Indulge in a modest splurge.” And I thought, well, I’m going to get them! I love them.

I got them home, my daughters were delighted with the markers, we all tried them out — and my older daughter asked, “Can I take some to school tomorrow?”

First, I said “No way.” I was thinking–I want to keep the set nice, I don’t want to risk losing or spoiling one, I want to “save” them to keep them nice, etc.

Then I remembered #7 of my Twelve Personal Commandments. Spend out. I tend to hold things back, so I have to remind myself to spend out. Use things up! Put them into circulation, put them to work! Better to use the markers all the time, and risk losing them, than to save them on the shelf, and never use them at all. (Plus my daughter is fairly responsible.)

Have you ever made a “modest splurge,” where a purchase made you happier? What did you splurge on?

Podcast 27: Choose the Bigger Life, Identify Your “Tell”–and I Reveal Whether I’ll Get a Dog.

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

I’m just back from vacation, this minute! But before I unpack, I want to post about the latest episode.

Update: In episode 24, Elizabeth talked about her beloved “Blankey,” her childhood blanket that she still sleeps with every night. We loved hearing about other people’s childhood “comfort objects” (such a bad phrase for such precious items). The books I mention are Rebecca Caudill’s The Best-Loved Doll and Dare Wright’s Make Me Real and The Lonely Doll. Oh, how I love the uncanny work of Dare Wright…I’ve collected all her books, including the ones that are out of print.

Try This at Home: Have trouble deciding whether or not to choose a course of action? Like — whether or not to get a dog? Try this: Choose the bigger life. 

In this discussion, I reveal the answer to the question first posed in episode 24: Should Gretchen and her family get a dog?  See if you can guess the answer.

We heard from so many people — it has been fascinating, and so helpful. You can listen to what people had to say in a montage of opinions. Also check out happierpodcastdogs.tumblr.com, to read people’s comments and see the photos of people’s adorable dogs.

In this answer, I mention that I’m an Upholder, which is one of the Tendencies in my Four Tendencies framework. To learn more about that, and to take the Quiz to see if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, read here.

Know Yourself Better: What’s your “tell?”

Listener Questioner: “I can’t answer the question, ‘How are you?’ in a light, positive manner…I always throw in a complaint….I genuinely love what I do, but I seem incapable of just saying, ‘I’m fine, thanks.’ I’m either a complainer or rude. Can you help?”

Gretchen’s Demerit: I don’t really have a summer. Yes, we have family vacation, but I don’t really have a “summer.”

Here’s the quotation I read:  “Every man makes his own summer. The season has no character of its own, unless one is a farmer with a professional concern for the weather. Circumstances have not allowed me to make a good summer for myself this year…My summer has been overcast by my own heaviness of spirit. I have not had any adventures, and adventures are what make a summer.”
— Robertson Davies, “Three Worlds, Three Summers,” The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to the extremely polite stranger who held the door open, even though he was in a tremendous rush.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors.

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Happier with Gretchen Rubin (Podcast episode #27)

We love hearing from listeners. Tell us — have you ever made the decision to “choose the bigger life,” and if so, what was it? Or if you’re struggling with a decision, does that question help?

Also, please send dog advice!

Comment below. Email: podcast@gretchenrubin.com. Twitter: @gretchenrubin and @elizabethcraft. Call: 744-277-9336. Here’s the Facebook Page.

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Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, 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).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

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How I Used Lessons from Happiness and Habits to Help Me Buy a Backpack.

I carry a backpack with me everywhere. I practically never use a purse, just my backpack.

Recently, the zipper on my backpack broke, so this afternoon I bought a new one (see photo).  It got me thinking about some lessons that I’ve learned about happiness, habits — and myself.

Lesson 1: Why did I find it strangely satisfying that the zipper broke? Because I’m a finisher.

Some people love finishing, and some people love opening—both literally and figuratively. Finishers love the feeling of bringing a project to completion, and they’re determined to use the last drop in the shampoo bottle; openers thrill to the excitement of launching a new project, and find pleasure in opening a fresh tube of toothpaste.

When something breaks, like a zipper, that’s a clear sign that a thing is finished — and as a finisher, I find that very gratifying.

Lesson 2: Why didn’t I feel bad about going to just one store to choose a backpack? Because I’m a satisficer.

Satisficers make a decision or take action once their criteria are met. That doesn’t mean they’ll settle for mediocrity; their criteria can be very high; but as soon as they find the car, the hotel, or the pasta sauce that has the qualities they want, they’re satisfied.

Maximizers, by contrast, want to make the optimal decision. So even if they see a bicycle or a photographer that would seem to meet their requirements, they can’t make a decision until after they’ve examined every option, so they know they’re making the best possible choice.

I live in New York City, with a million stores, and to buy my backpack, I went straight back to the store where I bought my old one, two blocks from my apartment, and of the three realistic backpack choices, chose one.

Lesson 3: Despite Lessons 1 and 2, I nevertheless felt a twinge of reluctance to buy the new backpack. Why? Because I’m an under-buyer.  We under-buyers really dislike the process of buying, and will go to elaborate lengths to avoid it. Over-buyers, on the other hand, go out of their way to find reasons to buy.

That’s a lot of self-knowledge to process in a single afternoon! But mission accomplished.

Want to know if you’re a finisher or an opener? Look here.

Want to know if you’re a satisficer or maximizer? Listen to my sister and me discuss it on the very first episode of our podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Want to know if you’re an under-buyer or over-buyer? Take this quiz.

Secret of Adulthood: Focus Not on Doing Less, or Doing More, but on Doing What You Value.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:


I never think about “balance,” because that suggests that there’s room for everything, if I could just juggle it correctly. Now I tell myself, “I have plenty of time for the things I love to do”–which means dropping things that I don’t love to do. This mantra has really helped me make better decisions about how to spend my time.

How about you? Do you have any strategies for making sure that you spend your time doing what you value?

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