In our last blog we spoke about taking risks. We will continue on this theme as we expand on the processes at work in the occupational decision-making of adolescents and young adults. In our last entry we differentiated between indecision and indecisiveness. One of the consequences of indecision can be the delaying or postponement of a decision until the decision has to be considered in earnest. This is readily evident in the resistance some students express towards efforts to facilitate self and occupational awareness. The fear of committing to a course of action that may later turn out to be incorrect can paralyze a student, causing him or her to avoid the decision altogether. This paralysis became quite evident to me as I moderated a focus group with first year university students last week.
The students I met with, all in their first year of university and all living away from home for the first time, spoke at length about the processes involved in making the decision to attend the university at which I work. For me, the most telling aspects of their stories were their almost universal admittance that they made the decision when the application deadline was almost upon them, that they were concerned about the possibility of making the “wrong” decision, and that many used intuition and experience in making the decision, even after employing very rational approaches to narrow the possibilities.
Let us first address the issue of decision avoidance. The belief that there are incorrect or wrong decisions when it comes to making life choices has the tendency to create anxiety in the decision maker, stemming from the possibility that they might make a wrong decision. When pressure from significant others, in most cases parents, is directed at students to make a correct or permanent decision, the resulting anxiety is heightened. As a result many students put off making the decision in a misguided hope that the need for a decision will go away or else will be made easier at a future time.
The second significant characteristic of the decision-making processes described by these eleven students was their tendency to employ intuitive and experiential approaches to making the decision. The students who recalled feeling most confident in their decision to attend this university were the ones who had visited the university and were able to, through some form of experiential knowledge of the campus or another, picture themselves studying and living here. Even the students who described using elaborate tables and spreadsheets to compare options admitted that when it came down to making a decision – when the deadline was approaching – they abandoned all the rational comparisons and went with the more felt influence of their intuition, often without being able to rationally justify the choice.
What the observed results of the focus group suggest to us is that it is important for students to be provided with the following as they prepare for and make occupational decisions:
- the assurance that the decisions they make may differ in effectiveness but that they are not right or wrong and are changeable,
- the skills and knowledge to make decisions and then evaluate and change the decision as necessary,
- the opportunities to experience aspects of their choices so that the intuitive side of their decision-making capacity can be employed,
- and finally, consistent deadlines that require that students make a decision and thus encourage taking the risk of making a decision and then following through with the chosen course of action or, upon further evaluation, working to change the decision.
BY: Jeff Landine and John Stewart
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA