One of the amazing things about humans’ capacity to reason is that we can rationalize anything to fit into our particular life narratives. This happened for that reason. It’s okay for me to steal because I need X. I don’t need to care about that cause because I already donated to another one. It’s what helps us stay sane. It’s what helps us make our decisions and live a life with a little bit less uncertainty. It’s what helps us choose what food to buy our children. Logic helps us make every single decision we consciously make, but we start getting into troubled terrain when we start overthinking — over-rationalizing. When one line of rational thought impedes on another, we enter a double bind, a paradoxical state of indecision because one line of rational thought that helps us make decisions is now contradicting another line of rationality. When making big decisions about our lives, we are prone to overthink our circumstances, and, funnily enough, make the “wrong” decisions, even though there really aren’t such things.
I recently graduated from college, didn’t really have any concrete plan, and so I moved to Spain to teach English. It was easy. It was the path of least resistance. The application process took about two weeks and was almost too easy. And to be honest, I really didn’t assert myself into trying to get any other job. I didn’t have any other option besides the Spain gig. I am even living with a friend. This all just kind of happened.
When going through change, like graduating from college, we are faced with the opportunities to make life-changing decisions. In my case, I decided to rest on the laurels of the one job opportunity that I got, and if I had to tell you why I’m in Spain right now, about to teach high school kids English (a career I have no interest in pursuing long-term or anything related to it) I could tell you many things.
I could give you many more reasons why I shouldn’t be here though. It doesn’t feel like I’m pushing myself. I’ve been to Spain before. In fact, I’ve lived here for six months before. This isn’t really new, uncharted territory in my life. I could be pushing myself professionally. I could be exploring my interests and acting on them. I could push myself to travel to more remote places — places that would be uncomfortable to travel to. Places where the culture shock would be more dramatic, the adjustment more difficult, and ultimately maybe I would grow as a person. Rationally, it’s easier to find reasons that I shouldn’t be here, doing what I am doing. Rationally.
That said, I can rationalize my ability to grow professionally and get out of my comfort zone here as well. I can read a lot. I can create individual semi-professional projects for myself and complete them with a professional zeal. I can write a lot. Everyday, actually. I can explore things that I’m interested in by reaching out to people and offering to help them for free with their work. I can go out of my way to learn new skills, think of ideas for people and companies that I think I’d like to work for, and refine them. I can push myself anywhere in any situation, socially, intellectually, professionally, even spiritually. I can talk to strangers more. I can try to be more outgoing in every waking minute. You don’t have to be pooping in a hole to experience discomfort. At least, that’s one way of rationalizing it.
We particularly fall prey to overthinking and over rationalizing our big life decisions. Because they are so important, the more time we spend thinking about them, we assume, the better decision we will make. This is a big ask for logic. When it comes to logic, there is never a right and a wrong answer. Even without logic, nothing is ever “right” and “wrong.” Things just feel more right than they do wrong.
Ultimately it’s probably wrong to use logic at all. This may sound crazy and delusional to most, but especially when it comes to life-changing decisions, you have to do what feels right. Whether it’s your gut, your heart, your intuition, whatever, you just have to know that the dots will connect. The funny thing is that if you don’t just hope, but know that the future will figure itself out, it becomes easier to feel what the “right” decisions are. If you let yourself sit in the uncertainty for a bit, one choice will feel more right than the others. Even if you over rationalize and make the decision that feels “wrong,” more opportunities will come wherever you are. You just have to be tuned in.
You can plan your life out and rationalize every decision that you make, but what you will find is that if you start making purely out of reason, you distance yourself from the experiences that you use your rationality to choose in the first place. You don’t really experience them. You watch them happening as an anticipated memory, not really enjoying it while it’s happening but excited to share the experience with friends at some future point. Don’t get me wrong; I think logic is a great thing. We wouldn’t be human beings without it. But when logic starts asserting itself as the way to make big decisions as opposed to a servant to intuition, we start to overthink.
When people ask me why I’m going to Spain, hell, when I ask myself why I’m here, I don’t really have an answer. How am I going to use the experience as an opportunity to grow? That’s the thing about logic — everything becomes a means to an end. That’s why it’s wrong to use it. You travel to grow. You read to get smarter. You choose this job because it gives you more _______ (money, prestige, responsibility, autonomy, room to grow). None of these are for enjoyment. Here’s my logic: Whether I am 90 and on my deathbed, or if I get hit by a car tomorrow, am I going to regret that one time I went to Spain for a year from now?