How to make hard choices

So I have just watched this Ted Talks about “How to make hard choices” by Ruth Chang. A summary by Ted Talks said “Here’s a talk that could literally change your life. Which career should I pursue? Should I break up — or get married?! Where should I live? Big decisions like these can be agonizingly difficult. But that’s because we think about them the wrong way, says philosopher Ruth Chang.”

Some of very important key takeaways from her talks that really resonate with me:

  • We may misunderstand hard choices and the role they play in our lives. Understanding hard choices uncovers a hidden power each of us possesses. What makes a choice hard is the way the alternatives relate – the fear of the unknown. 
    •  It’s a mistake to think that in hard choices, one alternative really is better than the other, but we’re too stupid to know which, and since we don’t know which, we might as well take the least risky option. 
    • Hard choices are hard not because of us or our ignorance; they’re hard because there is no best option.  
  • When we face hard choices, we shouldn’t beat our head against a wall trying to figure out which alternative is better. There is no best alternative.
  • Instead of looking for reasons out there, we should be looking for reasons in here: Who am I to be? Each of us has the power to create reasons: What we do in hard choices is very much up to each of us. 
  • The lesson of hard choices: reflect on what you can put your agency behind, on what you can be for, and through hard choices, become that person. 
  • Far from being sources of agony and dread, hard choices are precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about the human condition, that the reasons that govern our choices as correct or incorrect sometimes run out, and it is here, in the space of hard choices, that we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are. And that’s why hard choices are not a curse but a godsend. 

This reminds me of one of the hard choices that I made years ago.

Back in 2017, through networking, I found a job, similar to what I do in the company that I wanted to resign at that time – consultant for a web agency. The boss seemed nice enough, opened enough. He applied for my work pass multiple times, despite it kept being rejected. Another reason why I was so keen on joining that company was because a person I really admired also worked there, and I wanted to learn from her. 

One time, the boss invited me to come to the office to meet the people working there – as I was so close to joining the team, the rest was just paperwork. One developer who worked there was also a Vietnamese, and he asked to speak to me in private. He advised me not to take the job, because the workload was heavy, the company ethics was not ideal, and he himself is searching for a different place. The person whom I wanted to work with, she already resigned and currently served her notice, I was supposed to replace her and handle her pending works. 

Now, the hard choice I had to make was whether I should listen to him, and not take that job offer. At this point, I have already resigned, I have 2 weeks left of serving notice, and if I didn’t take this job, the chance of getting another job within 1 month is as thin as paper.

So what did I do? I actually took that advice – I didn’t take the job offer. I was ready to go back to Vietnam with most of my stuff packed, if I could not find a job within a month. My reason was that I didn’t have the person who I wanted to work with there, and I didn’t want to run away from a company that hurt my mental health and my integrity, just to work for another shady place that I might continue suffering. I thought, “nothing is worth it, if you are not happy with where you are.”  

Well, the story had a happy ending. I managed to secure a job 10 days before my social visit pass expired. While the company applied for my work pass, I went to Johor Bahru for a few days so when I came back to Singapore, my visit pass would be extended. By the time I came back, I had the In-principle Approval letter that allowed me to work legally in Singapore. 

Moral of the story is, hard choices are hard because we know it directly affects our lives in so many ways, emotionally, financially, physically… But I think, if you know what you need, you respect your core values and you are in search of the meaningful things in life – the hard choices you make will benefit you in the long run. 

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