The day I was 7 and stood at the counter of McDonalds, is the day that probably changed my life. Let me tell you why.
When I was young, my parents would always take my brother and me out for a HappyMeal once a month. I loved McDonalds, like many kids do. HappyMeals always made me so happy, its gifts cheering up my day. Although I’m a girl, I always wanted the boy’s gift. My parents didn’t raise me with dolls or cars, they left it up to me to decide. I just happened to prefer the race cars over the Barbie dolls. “Can I have a boy’s HappyMeal please?” I asked. The person behind the counter looked at me confused and said “but.. you’re a girl?”
The obvious gender issue plays a role here, but this is NOT why it changed me. No. That day, I realized that there are people who will question and challenge your decisions, steering you to follow status quo. That day, I realized that not everyone would allow you to make your own decisions. Or at least not without prejudice. That year, and the years following, I experienced what most youth experience nowadays: the profound direct and indirect challenge of decision making.
A person’s decision is not now, nor is it ever, solely a personal decision. It is guided by social, cultural and historical context, by your social upbringing, influenced by friends, directly challenged by educators, mentors and parents, making the process to come to a decision all the much harder. “You want to change the world? That’s a bit idealistic, isn’t it? Just do business development, there’s a lot more money to get there!” But...what if that’s not what I want at all? Decisions are directly challenged on a daily basis. But it is not often the direct challenging of decisions that influence the decision making process most.
Indirectly, decision making is challenged in a more profound way. First of all, by the array of possibilities. “Not only can you study business development, you can do this in seven different fields and there is also this great alternative!” Nowadays, you can’t just choose between 7 different courses, no, there are 1755 and that is just in one city! You can go somewhere else too...
Secondly decision making is influenced by the social gains or costs that go along with every decision. Decision making is all about finding a balance between personal and social gains and personal and social costs: what will be the reactions of your parents or — more relevant when you are getting older — your peers?
“But look at Michelle! She just posted on Facebook that she finished her Masters in Health Science and will be travelling to Ghana to teach children the importance of sex education. Sh*t, that’s cool.” There is always someone doing more, someone doing things better; different, but better. You have to keep up a social profile, keep up the idea of yourself being successful, of doing things right. Keeping up a social profile has become a professional game; a competition with high ceilings we think we can’t reach.
But actually, aren’t we all just running around like crazy people, not really realizing what we’re doing, where we’re going? One of those old-school games where you don’t know what the point is but you just have to press the space bar to jump and go faster.
That’s not a bad thing, and it’s not a bad game. We need to run around. Do crazy things. In this time and day, it might be hard to figure out what it is we want to be doing. But we don’t have to know. We don’t have to ‘know’ from jumpstart what we ‘should’ be doing. We don’t have to choose one single path, directly. All possibilities in front of you, fear cannot hold back. Go from business to developing, go from design to accountancy. No one can tell us what is the best decision. Don’t look at someone else to ‘show’ you what to do, what the ‘good life’ is, to tell you what you ‘should’ be doing. Turn things around on you. Because to find the way, we have to go the way.
When I was 7, I did what I wanted to do. I didn’t let someone influence what I wanted at that moment. Of course, my decision may have been influenced without me realizing, the same as are my decision today. But I didn’t listen to anyone else, I listened to my heart. At the end of the day, there is only one person who has to live with your decision. You.
“Yes. I am a girl and I would like the boy’s HappyMeal, please.”
From The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff:
To know the Way,
We go the Way;
We do the Way
The way we do
The things we do.
It’s all there in front of you,
But if you try too hard to see it,
You’ll only become Confused.
I am me,
And you are you,
As you can see;
But when you do
The things that you can do,
You will find the Way,
And the Way will follow you.