Other Stuff: On over-analysis paralysis and indecision

I’ve been struggling to make a decision.

When I first went back to school in 2008, I took a one-year Pre-Health Sciences certificate program at the local Georgian College in my hometown of Owen Sound, Ontario.  My “year off” after high school was supposed to have been a time for travel and personal development while I figured out what I was going to do with my life.  Oh, I was going to discover myself while backpacking through Europe!  You know the story.  Well, that “year off” turned into seven years of working various retail sales jobs.  I barely left my hometown, let alone the continent.  Good times were had, don’t get me wrong.  Eventually, however, I grew miserable.  I felt stagnant, like I’d been spinning my tires.  I was having a mid-twenties crisis (yes, there is such a thing), and it was time for a change.  So, I went back to school.

I’d been thinking I might enjoy a career in Massage Therapy, and Pre-Health Sciences gave me the credits I needed to get into a massage program.  I applied to several schools for massage, and I also applied to the Music Industry Arts (MIA) program at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario.  When it came time to choose between studying massage or music, I chose music.  For the love of it, and because it is the one thing I feel I have a bit of talent for.  My mind struggled with the decision between massage and music, but in my heart there was only ever one choice.

That being said, Massage Therapy was appealing to me for several reasons.  It’s portable, it offers flexibility and the opportunity for self-employment, it pays well, and it makes people feel better.  In not choosing that path, I felt like I was jumping into deep, uncertain waters.  I was pursuing a struggling industry with no guarantees of employment, in a broad program which earned me no specific title or letters after my name.

People would ask me about the MIA program and about what I would be qualified to do coming out of it.  It was a conversation I always dreaded, and one which came up frequently.  I was amused and annoyed by that “Good for you!” response which was often accompanied by a subtle but detectable widening of the eyes.  I might have gotten the same reaction if I had said I was in Clown College.  In their defense, I understand why they didn’t understand why I would pursue such a fancy.  I’m sure it didn’t help that I couldn’t tell them exactly what I wanted to do with my MIA education.

Perhaps I should take a moment to make it clear that I have absolutely nothing but good things to say about the Music Industry Arts program.  It is a highly sought-after program and the admission competition is stiff.  Even just being accepted felt like a huge accomplishment.  I learned so much in my two years as an MIA student, and I had a lot of fun.  I made friends with some great people, and the talent and creativity of the other MIA students was mind-blowing.  Just ridiculously talented and creative people.  The teachers are industry pros who really know their stuff, who go above and beyond to make themselves available to students outside of class time, and all-around good guys.  In fact, it was my teacher and Program Coordinator who recommended me for my current job.

Here I am, nearly nine months after graduation, managing a small recording studio in Toronto, Ontario.  While I feel very fortunate to have full-time work in the field I went to school for, I can’t help but feel ever-so-slightly regretful.  Three years of college education have left me with a considerable debt, one which will likely take a decade to pay off.  If I were younger, then the debt might not bother me so much.  But I’m not exactly a spring chicken anymore.  Going into my thirties owing money – sans car, sans house – is a bit scary.  I’m livin’ the dream, baby!  Sometimes I can’t help but wonder whether it was worth it.  One part of me says, “What the hell were you thinking?” and, like most other uncomfortable thoughts, I usually respond to this with a good dose of suppression (because that’s healthy, right?).  The other part of me says, “Hell yes it was worth it!”  Besides, the thirties are the new twenties, right?

It’s not just the money, though.  Toronto is a very cool city and it has a lot to offer, which also means it can be on the expensive side to live and play here (always with the money!).  Thing is, I’m not much of a city girl at heart.  This, however, is where the most opportunity lies, especially in my field.  I definitely don’t see myself settling down in Toronto for the long haul, but this is where I am now.  To wish to be somewhere else seems like poor use of mental and emotional energy.  Still, I can’t help but feel a twinge of homesickness every now and then.  Not for my hometown, specifically, but for a smaller place.  I like fresh air and views of the sky which aren’t obscured by buildings.  But this is where I am now.  I ask myself many questions.  How long is long enough to gain experience?  What am I working toward?  If I don’t intend to live here permanently, then where do I intend to live?  What other career paths might I consider?  How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

The only answer I’ve reached is a resounding, “I don’t know.”

I suppose, in the end, it doesn’t matter whether I think three years of college were worth it because a) it’s already done, and b) how I use or don’t use my eduction is my choice.  Like any other experience, the good should be savored and the bad should be learned from.  And so much of what you take from an experience depends on your attitude.  Why choose to focus on the negative, such as the glaring debt I owe or the persistent feeling that I would rather be somewhere else?  Maybe, if I think positively enough, I can think my debt out of existence.  That’s how this positive thinking thing I keep hearing about works, right?  …No?  Well, shit.  (I don’t mean to sound like such a Negative Nancy.  I’m just feeling the weight of this looming student loan and, frankly, it’s freaking me out.)

I’ve got over-analysis paralysis.  I think about the same situations and possibilities over and over again without making any progress towards action.  I over-complicate the heart of the matter, and I delay the decision-making.

I’d like to continue with school, but I’m terrified of taking on more debt, which makes me very hesitant to consider full-time programs.  Part-time courses seem like a good way to go, and I’ve been looking at a few different certificate programs, but I’m having a hard time deciding which one would be most likely to open doors.  Some of the courses I’ve been looking at began earlier this week; some of the courses begin tomorrow.  In classic procrastinator style, I’ve left my decision to the very last minute.  Because I’m afraid to make the wrong decision.

Thing is, there isn’t a wrong decision – except for, maybe, the one that isn’t made.  Someone once told me, “Eventually, your indecision will become a decision.”  I know that all too well.

I recently read The Chairs Are Where the People Go by Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti.  One of the chapters was titled “A Decision Is Something You Make”.  Brilliant!  It seems like an obvious statement, but for over-analyzers like myself it is a good reminder that a decision won’t make itself.  Just thinking about making a decision will not magically produce one.  You make a decision and your life takes a turn, however big or small.  That’s it.  It’s not the end of the world.

On that note…