A school of thought known as moral determinism claims that humans, when given a choice of possible actions, must always choose the greater good. Satirizing this principle, critics composed a story of a donkey placed equidistantly between two indistinguishable bales of hay. Because neither bale of hay is identifiably “better,” the donkey cannot choose which to eat and eventually dies of hunger. Clearly, this scenario is ridiculous, but it demonstrates how difficult decisions can be. Whether or not we subscribe to moral determinism is unimportant; making choices — especially when they seem equally good — is hard.
Here on campus, we’re met with choices constantly. Classes, outings, internships, careers … the list is virtually endless. These decisions can be as momentous as which passion to devote our lives to or as simple as what station in the dining hall to devote our meal swipes to. But no matter what these decisions are, decision-making permeates every aspect of our lives and can sometimes completely overwhelm us, hindering any progress we’d hope to make or any happiness we’d hope to find. Yet it doesn’t have to. Uncertainty can be an opportunity to explore all that school and life have to offer. Once we realize this, moments of indecision can go from intimidating to energizing and we can begin to relish not knowing what comes next.
Sometimes it can feel like every aspect of our lives needs structure and every step needs to be planned ahead of time. I’m here to argue the opposite: Indecision is okay. It’s fine to be stuck between two haystacks. Or three. Or however many you need. At Georgetown University, people like to have their lives planned out and take pride in it when they do. Whether students are planning to become the next J.P. Morgan or Madeleine Albright, many have specific goals and have had their sights set on them for years. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s also perfectly fine for that to not be true.
“What’s your major?” “What do you want to do with your life?” These questions inevitably come up in almost every conversation I have about my schooling, whether it’s with friends, family or Uber drivers. And usually when I’m asked, I meekly mumble something about English, or philosophy, or economics, or whatever subject first pops into my head, and then quickly steer the conversation in another direction. But, if I’m feeling particularly honest or comfortable — or just exhausted — I’m willing to say what I truly am: undecided. I can proudly proclaim my uncertainty and see it for the opportunity it truly is. Once we can personally reframe our indecisiveness as a chance to examine ourselves and our lives, we can begin to take full advantage of the panoply of prospects available to us.
I recognize that, at times, indecision is a privilege. For some, not having a plan means not having a way to provide for their family with a steady paycheck. Yet the myopia that frequently accompanies this singular focus can still be examined and eradicated. You need not stick to the paths prescribed or ignore those that are proscribed. If you never move beyond your settled notions of what your life will be, then you may miss out on where your life is truly meant to go. And even if plans are required, you’d be remiss to focus solely on that plan. You can still explore and revel in the indecision that follows.
And that’s what all of us must do with indecision: revel in it. We shouldn’t fear, but embrace being unsure. Indecision is the grounds on which we can find our true passions and the fertile soil in which these passions can plant their roots and begin to take hold of our minds and hearts. When I remind myself of this, instead of feeling like Atlas holding up the world and being overcome by the pressures of uncertainty, I can just be Liam, holding up a book on whatever subject I choose. I go from being immobilized between two haystacks, completely overwhelmed by indecision, to having thousands of haystacks before me, and I can run between all of them, taking little bites out of each as I try to decide what I want. I won’t die from hunger like the donkey. I’ll thrive in this world where so many possibilities are open to me. It’s okay to not know now — it’s exciting even. Someday maybe I’ll be more decisive, but maybe I won’t. And that’s exciting too.
Liam McGraw is a first-year in the College. Newfound Norms is published every other week.