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Being True to Yourself In a World Full of Choices

Growing up means figuring out which advice we should really take to heart.


Art Credit: Tina Sosna

Often, when I run, I do not bring my iPod (gasp!). I don’t even bring a watch. I do not keep time or pump music through earbuds, but instead take that time to reflect, to pray, to take in my environment. (Okay, sometimes, I clock my time and monitor my pace, but only when I’m training for a big race).

The other day, as I came back from a cold but beautiful run, I realized something for the first time. As silly and simple a realization it may be, for me it was profound. I finally understood that being an adult means making decisions.

Super enlightening, I know. But allow me to elaborate: as I listened to my feet keeping a beat on the pavement and as my pace steadied, I replayed in my mind a conversation I had recently had with my parents. I had expressed to them how it seemed as though everyone I encountered wanted to know what my next steps would be, what I would be doing, and what my ten-year plan was. I felt frustrated that once I had made one decision–to enter graduate school– people immediately wanted to know what the next decision would be. Can’t I just have this one step figured out? I wanted to exclaim. Rationally, I know that my friends and peers are just curious, but I felt frustrated. As I listened to others tell me what they thought I should do, and as I received my parents’ advice, it finally dawned on me that none of those people would be making my decision for me. No matter what they thought, and despite what any book (I do love books) or advisor might say, I am the one who makes the decisions that will direct my life. That is a beautiful freedom that not all people have, and while it can be overwhelming at times, it is also incredibly exciting.

Before now, I had been accepting advice from other adults as I would have when I was younger. Whether that advice came from my parents, my professors, my advisors, or the clerk at Target didn’t matter. Adults are older and wiser, so their opinions have more weight, right? But that’s just it: they are opinions. When I was ten and wanted to start horseback riding, my mom told me I should at least see a horse in person before making that decision, and I unquestioningly believed her. But now her advice is received a little differently. I’m a legal adult and have certainly had more experiences since I was ten, and have learned about my own instincts and beliefs.

I have been fortunate to have had incredible, encouraging parents and teachers throughout the various stages of my life thus far, but it only hit me after my reflective run that, as an adult, I can listen to their counsel, take it in, and determine whether or not I will heed it. We all need direction and guidance, and it’s important to seek the wisdom of others when facing big decisions, but ultimately, the choices we make are up to us. One of the beautiful things about being an adult is that we get to decide how to live our own lives. Wasn’t that why we all wanted to grow up in the first place? To decide to eat ice cream for dinner and never have to make our beds in the morning?

Our free will develops as we grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Increasingly, we are given more opportunities to choose who we want to be and what we want to do, in both the big and small things. These additional choices–especially in modern society–can feel paralyzing. In fact, I remember nodding my head and covering The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz in marginalia when I read it for an AP Language and Composition class in high school (thanks, Ms. Carr!). An observation from the essay I wrote on the book reads, “no choice produces displeasure, and as the choices increase, so does satisfaction, but as the number of options continues to grow, happiness drops back down again.” Going into any grocery store demonstrates this paradox, as the shelves shout with options and often find customers (read: me) staring at fifteen varieties of granola, each proclaiming that they should be purchased because they are all-natural, great sources of whole grain fiber, and chock full of antioxidants.

In each of our lifetimes, and especially our adult lives, we will have to make thousands of choices. Some will be not so important, like what kind of socks to buy, and others will take time, deliberation, and thought. But as I discovered recently, part of being an adult means listening to many sources of advice, yet judiciously considering only select voices to be important enough to follow. And the most important voice to listen to as we begin making adult decisions is our own.