How to make a tough job or career choice

How to make a tough job or career choice


I really can’t decide between two good job offers that require a career choice. Each would take me deep into a career dramatically different from the other. I’ve done lists of pros and cons and still cannot figure this out! Got any suggestions?

(NOTE: This is an old question that I’ve never published because I didn’t have an answer for it — until now. Strap in, because some might think I’m going a bit “out there” on this! – Nick)

Nick’s Reply

career choiceSometimes you’ve got to make a choice between two job offers, or you’ve got to decide “Do I stay, or do I go?” Much of the time you can pretty easily judge the evidence supporting one choice or the other. But sometimes you can’t — because “I” gets in the way.

Does “I” cause confusion when making a career choice?

I is who talks to you when you stop living and start “paying attention.” Really, there is never a need to “pay attention.” We do that automatically. It’s how our senses and our brains work. As long as your eyes are open, when that swerving car comes toward you unexpectedly, your brain makes your body jump out of the way — you don’t need to “pay attention.”

Likewise, when you have job choices that seem confusing, it’s often illuminating to merely stop thinking about it. Stop I.

A lesson from the Buddha

A Buddhist friend suggests we don’t need I. In fact, I gets in the way of knowing all we need to know. And that includes knowing which choice in virtually any situation is the best choice for us.

Stopping I is hard. It’s why the Buddha spent years in contemplation — to stop his I. Well, not to stop it. Rather, to experience the knowledge that there is no I. Everything —  everything — is connected, is one, is Unity, so I is just an artifact of a brain that doesn’t know how to be still. There is no need for I when a person can sit quietly and see, hear, feel, smell and even taste what is before them.

This, the Buddha tells us, is knowing.

No, I’m not going religious on you. I’m not proselytizing or suggesting you give up your power of choice to a 2,500-year-old holy man. Many religions offer ways to know ourselves better. The point is to have a method to be still and know yourself; a way to turn off that distracting internal voice that can make your head spin with indecision.

One way to make a tough job or career choice

I’m telling you this because I’d like to help you make choices that seem daunting. We don’t encounter these all the time. Usually, we know exactly what to do. But when we don’t, I steps in and over-analyzes, over-rationalizes, argues too much and drives us into confusion.

So, how do we get rid of I so that we can just know what we really want?

A special edition of the Stanford alumni magazine is devoted to stories about chance and randomness. There’s interesting stuff throughout: some fun, provocative stories, as well as some college-magazine tripe.

But the best story in that edition is on the very last page. Perhaps an editor got loose from their I and saw the naked wisdom about what’s chance, what’s random, and how the chaotic universe will lead us to knowledge about ourselves without any need to think.

Make the choice you know is right

In Mary Poindexter McLaughlin’s “Keep the Change,” a seemingly random flip of a coin leads the author away from conscious thought — away from the I that talks to us — so she can see that she already knows the answer to her problem.

McLaughlin wasn’t choosing between two offers — but you might be. She had to choose between two careers. One career (as a university administrator) came with a job offer; the other (acting in theater) included no firm offer and required a big move.

With the flip of a coin, McLaughlin made a life-changing choice, but not because the outcome of the flip made the choice for her. The real outcome was that she easily and effortlessly made her own choice when the coin flip removed her I and revealed her knowledge of herself.

Flip off the switch and see the light

You cannot know what I’m talking about without reading McLaughlin’s very short article. Please check it out. If I didn’t think it worth your while, I wouldn’t recommend it. Maybe it’s a bit out there, but it set off bright lights for me. It made me realize sometimes I think too much and pay so much attention that I entirely miss what I already know.

Sometime, when you have a seemingly impossible choice to make, like a tough job or career choice, try what McLaughlin did —- flip a coin that flips the switch off on your I. I bet you’ll see better for just long enough to realize you don’t need to think to make a choice.

You just know.

I’m not suggesting you ignore your critical faculties. But, take a pause when you’re unsure — take a moment to know yourself.

(See also Don’t subcontract your job choices.)

Have I gone off my rocker? What is this Buddhism stuff? When faced with a tough decision, do you ever feel like you (“I”) are in your own way? How would you make a decision like this, if both options seem equally attractive? Do you find any wisdom in McLaughlin’s story?

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