“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.” -Steve Jobs
I would like to preface this post by stating that I was rejected from 10 of the 13 economics PhD programs I applied to, including my “safety school”. I feel that fun fact is necessary to offset that “humble brag” feel that comes along with this topic. Yes, I was accepted to Stanford Law. But, I also have enough rejection letters with my name typed across the top to cover my entire refrigerator.
Stanford is tied with Harvard for 2nd place among law schools based on the US World and News Report. I was also accepted to the #6, #7, #8, and #12 ranked schools on this list. Vanderbilt, where I will be going, is ranked 17th, the lowest of all the schools I applied to. Based on this fact alone, it might seem odd that I chose Vanderbilt. So why did I choose it? Because it’s what I believe is right for me. Why? A laundry list of reasons (the curriculum matches well with my interests, I mesh very well with the people there, and I want to be debt free, etc), but that is not the purpose of this post. What is important is that I chose the option I believe will allow me to thrive.
There are two issues that I encountered in making this decision:
1. It’s impossible to predict the future and account for all of the factors that might make one school a better option than another. I have no way of knowing how the next few years of my life will unfold. I can make educated guesses as to what I want in a program, but since I have never experienced being in law school or a PhD program, I cannot definitively say what would be best from a number of options. When I’m purchasing ice cream, I know my favorite is Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip because I have had many different kinds of ice cream and through my own experiences, I know that I think it’s the tastiest. Buying ice cream is something I can do multiple times and get immediate feedback: either I think it’s delicious or it’s kind of yucky (anything with coconut or peanuts falls into this category IMO). In situations like these, I am able to quickly and easily learn through multiple trials what is a good decision and what is a bad decision*. In contrast, choosing a graduate program is something I (hopefully) will only do once and I won’t ever know what might have happened if I had chosen an alternative. I have no experience to rely on and I will get no definitive feedback. Due to the characteristics of this decision, I have to boil my decision making down into simpler terms. Things like rankings act as a heuristic to help make difficult decisions such as these.
2. There’s no simple quantitative measure for your level of life satisfaction. There are, however, quantitative measures for other things: salary (a $100,000 salary is better than a $50,000 salary), rankings (2nd is higher than 17th), job titles on the corporate ladder (CEO > Head of the Americas Division > Head of the Atlanta Office > Consultant > Analyst). We get awards for being the best at something, but there’s no tangible award for feeling the most fulfilled, and there’s no way to know how we are measuring up in terms of our happiness. My LinkedIn profile says “Terry College Student of the Year Finalist”, not “Really enjoyed college and did her best to be a great friend”. It’s difficult to make logical decisions about trade offs when one option comes with a tangible measure of your success and the other comes with the fluffy, non-quantifiable idea that it might make you happier or less stressed or generally, a better version of yourself.
I spent a lot of time stressing about what other people would think if I passed up higher ranked schools. I eventually realized that it is my decision alone and that I need to own it. Maybe I’ve made the “wrong” decision, but my intuition tells me that I haven’t. To be honest, I was incredibly fortunate and didn’t really have a bad option, so I’m not going to spend a single second wondering what might have been had I chosen Stanford. I went with my gut and I believe I chose the option that will help me become the best version of myself.
Next time you are making a big decision, remember the two points I mentioned above. We are not robots and therefore are not wired to take hundreds of factors into account and output the best decision; you can’t predict the future, so it is a waste of energy to stress about making the ideal decision. More importantly, sometimes you have to toss aside society’s measures of success. It’s more valuable to society and to your own well-being if you are able to identify what is important to you and make decisions that align with those values.
*I derived this example from one of my favorite books, Nudge, by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler.
This Week’s Highs
1. Spending all day Saturday enjoying music and drinking beer with these fun friends:
2. Signing up for ClassPass and absolutely loving it
3. Eating enough for the entire weekend at the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival on Sunday (Thank you for the tickets BB!)
4. Enjoying dinner and game night with my parents and Benj – As you can imagine, I’m ecstatic that they get along well.
5. Finalizing all the plans for my Europe trip in July (I feel like I should have earned the title of travel agent in the last three weeks)
This Week’s Lows
1. Being absolutely exhausted all week and therefore still struggling with feeling anxious (sigh)
2. Getting in the world’s dumbest drunk argument (via the worst possible medium for drunk arguments – text message)