We've been driving a lot lately. California is pretty huge and that means exploring our home for the summer requires some long hours on the road (and, inevitably, in traffic). The good news about road trips is that there's plenty of time for both loud sing-a-longs (sometimes my partner joins me, sometimes he just patiently lets me do my thing without judgement) and also podcasts.
Podcasts seem to have become a "thing" so there's a pretty much endless supply on any topic you might imagine. But one that I highly recommend you check out is Invisibilia. Each week's topic is different but they all center around "the invisible forces that control human behavior." Right up my alley. There's also my favorite old standby, This American Life. I could listen to Ira Glass all damn day. And a new one, Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History which, so far, I'm into.
One This American Life story (an adaptation of a Revisionist History episode) was actually about making choices - more specifically choosing wrong. I've been thinking about (ok, more like dwelling on) choices lately. As a (recovering) Perfectionist I spend a lot of time worrying about making the wrong choice. But what struck me about this particular story was the people who so obviously made the wrong choice. They consciously chose not to do the thing that had the objectively better outcome. And the reason essentially boiled down to people's personal thresholds or, essentially, your susceptibility to peer pressure - how many other people have to do the right thing (or wrong thing, as it were) before you join in? It turns out that doing the "right thing" if no one else is doing it is really difficult if you have a high threshold. How much do you care about what other people think of you? I will admit to having a higher threshold than I'd like (something I've talked about before).
Today I had to log in to my business school's career portal and update my job preferences (e.g. function, industry, geography) and summer internship information. I was dreading it and, sure enough, once I saw the screen full of tiny check boxes and dropdown menus of pre-selected choices, my heart sank. There are eight different types of consulting categories but not a single check box that feels right to me. I opted for a different kind of summer job, but there was no space for me to explain how and why I chose that choice. Once again, I felt like the odd one out.
And then I realized that, while I'm certainly not immune to what other people think, I'm doing exactly what I promised myself I would do when I got to business school: not follow the herd, buck the trend, and some other livestock-related idiom. So in this case, the "right thing" is doing your own thing. According to Granovetter's threshold models (as explained by Malcolm Gladwell), if you have a "threshold of zero, you are someone who doesn't need the support or approval or company of others to do what you think is right." I wouldn't say I'm quite there yet. But I'm working on it. I could have made the "wrong choice" and gone for the expected, less personally (for me) fulfilling job. That would have been the easier choice but it wouldn't have been the right one.
Now all of this isn't to say that if your lifelong dream is to be a management consultant or an investment banker that you're not doing the right thing. I know plenty of people who sought out business school to do exactly those things and they're very happy doing them. But for those of us who don't see ourselves in the checkboxes or chose a different choice for the summer, here's another reminder that you're doing the right thing by listening to that queasy feeling you get when you're writing a cover letter for a job you don't really want. It's not easy, but I'm betting that the more I lower that threshold, the happier I'll be.