Making Tough Choices

I read Bill Clinton’s autobiography My Life a while back. I’m not a big fan of presidential memoirs, and this was no exception. But I did remember something from it, that I’m sure has been said by many motivational speakers before and after him.

He recommended writing a list of goals and a list of direct steps to take in order to achieve those goals. Anyway, I do that on a small scale every day, but I think I am not honest enough with myself. More importantly, once I know the right set of steps, I often delay too long in performing the less pleasant of the steps. I often sort the list with the most challenging at the top and start there. The problem however is in my definition of “challenging”. I’ll call running 10 miles or writing a complex piece of C++ code very challenging, when in reality it is fun for me. The real challenging steps often seem simple on paper, and can be as “simple” as a single phone conversation.

I have a lot on my mind these days as my to-do list grows quickly. And one reality seems more and more apparent, that a successful life requires me to ask two questions:

  1. What is my goal for this month, for this year?
  2. What are the hard decisions and steps I need to take in order to make that goal a reality?

For example, in research, my goal for the next 4 months is to write two journal papers. I have all the details prepared, and know exactly (as much as it is possible to know) the steps required to complete these two papers. I currently work with two professors. Are they the right people to work on these papers with? Yes (I’m lucky in this aspect of my life). In fact, the answer is rarely “No” for me given how many brilliant people I work with. However, the point of this post is that if the answer was “No” I would have to immediately find other professors to work with or alter my goals such that I could write these papers with them.

In training, in reading, in writing, in my social life, I keep running up against these questions. Sometimes it’s hard to make a U-Turn (especially in New Jersey), but if you know it’s right, do it.

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