Perseverance vs Practicality (Part 2)

In this post I will go back to the original question of my last post: “the question of whether to continue to struggle toward a particular path that refuses to open up any gates for you, despite your years of knocking; or to instead cut your loses and transition your energy toward a more sure thing, despite it not being what you feel called to do in this life.”

I explained how my feeling of being on a special mission pushed me strongly to continue on a path that wasn’t producing any fruits for me. But it was more than that too. I had a lot of trouble thinking of anything else worth living for: “If the world has such major problems that are causing so much harm to people as I speak, how can I just ignore that and live a life focused on my own happiness?” Nothing else seemed worth living for in perspective.

But then we have the question of a situation in which your best efforts are not contributing anything considerable to solving those major problems. If you can’t change the thing most worth trying to change, even if you want to, what do you do then? Shouldn’t you then at least work on making a smaller positive impact? And if the only positive impact you can make is on your own quality of life, isn’t that still better than nothing?

It makes sense to “give up” on what’s not working and then look for the next best thing. But of course you can never be sure that you will not succeed if you keep trying. You may indeed experience a big breakthrough the following week if you keep at it. Or you may go another five years and still find yourself in the same place, with nothing to show for your effort. At the end of the day it’s a judgment call with no reliable statistics to go off of.

Or am I wrong about that last point? Though I didn’t scour the world’s datasets to find relevant data for the big life decision I had to make, that might actually have been a helpful exercise. I can imagine that if I had hard numbers of job applicants’ success rates based on their college majors, that likely would have greatly altered my expectations coming out of college. And I can just as well imagine that access to other relevant statistics would have further altered my expectations. And then with changed expectations, my cost-benefit analyses would have all been different, and I imagine that I would have made different choices as a result. So perhaps I am wrong about that last point in the previous paragraph.

Looking back, I believe that access to relevant statistics would have been helpful, though the statistics themselves wouldn’t have been enough to make my decisions for me. It’s impossible to find statistics for people exactly like me looking for exactly the same opportunities at exactly the same point in history. I could seek out more detailed, qualitative data, and that certainly could be helpful, but at the end of the day, it’s still up to me to relate the data to my own situation and determine whether I’m special enough to be the exception to the statistical norm. I still have to evaluate myself and determine whether I’m going to believe in myself to beat the odds or not. I suppose I can take personality tests and compare myself in an organized manner to people in my competition pool that I have more detailed knowledge of. Surely it seems that this would be helpful and that it would reduce the role of the judgment call further. But can any amount of analysis completely eliminate the role of the judgment call?

After all, psychologists haven’t proved to be able to predict human behavior to a reliable degree. Science doesn’t yet know enough about humanity to provide each person with the verifiable best response to each problem. And we certainly don’t want to get so carried away with data and theory that we end up promoting harmful pseudoscience. We don’t want to fall under the spell of scientism. So yes, let’s use data and theory to the best of our ability, but let’s not get carried away with it to the point where it becomes counter-productive.

Trying to statistically analyze our way out of a problem has its opportunity-cost as well. Even if we knew that through the correct analysis of the appropriate data, we would come to the optimal solution, the cost would still outweigh the benefit after a certain amount of time and effort invested in conducting the analysis. And how could we possibly know beforehand how much time and energy would be necessary to arrive at the data-driven solution to our problem?

Furthermore, is that even the best way to live one’s life . . . through statistical analysis of every significant problem? This in itself brings up the question of the best rules to live by to live the good life. We might be incredibly successful in terms of worldly accomplishments and wealth accumulation, but if we’re experiencing high levels of stress throughout the process, have we really lived a successful life?

Lastly, we must think about who we want to be. What is our identity? What do we stand for? This sense of identity can make it very difficult for a person to change course after repeated failures. When your life trajectory is fundamental to your sense of self, changing course can bring forth an identity crisis. It becomes more than just a change of careers, it becomes a change of identity.

For me, I found a way to keep pursuing my ultimate mission in life through a different path, that, though more indirect, I believe will be more effective in getting me to where I want to get. Though I’ve managed to maintain my identity and mission, for some people in certain situations, this can be a near impossible challenge.

It’s incredibly difficult to refocus your life away from what you feel called to do in the world and toward something less significant to you—even if you’re not completely leaving behind your original focus. However, at the end of the day, I think we need to do our best to look at our situation objectively and pursue what we believe will realistically get us to where we want to get. And I think the more information we can gather about ourselves and the world outside us, the easier it will be to view our own situation through a realistic lens.

So I believe that if you want to be in the best position to make the right decisions about your life trajectory, you’re going to need to have clarity about your values, your mission, your strengths, your weaknesses, your personality, and, most importantly, the job market. Though the statistics may not be easy to find, it will be extremely advantageous to find out how the job prospects look for the people with your educational and employment background. How many positions exist for what you’re looking for, how many people seriously want those positions, and how do you compare to those you are competing against? Also, where do the people with your educational background end up working? How many of them find work within the occupation they had their sight set on as college students?

I want people to persevere and stay true to their biggest passions, but I want them to do that in an effective way that’s based on the actual present existing world. I believe that this is complex and difficult due to the complex nature of our world. Therefore, we need to be able to think flexibly to have the best shot at successfully navigating the complex terrain. What this means is that we keep our mind open to a variety of opportunities and that we not get overly stuck to certain paths, ideas, or decisions. If we think flexibly, we’ll be able to use our creativity to find alternative paths to those very same goals we’ve been pursuing with so much heart. It will likely seem uncomfortable at first because we’ve become so attached to our old ideas, but once we get passed that, the world will begin to open up to us.

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