Monday, October 12, 2015

Two kinds of forks

This is one of those great examples of serendipitous discovery.  When Yogi Berra passed away, there was a ton of coverage of his Yogi-isms.  One of those was “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  But in Yogi’s own explanation, this is actually a very logical comment. He lived on the end of a cul-de-sac.  He was giving someone directions to get to his house.  When they came to the fork at the beginning of the cul-de-sac, it didn’t matter which way they went – both led immediately to his house.

The second is an interview I heard with the author of a new book on Robert Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled” where he focuses on the metaphors created by his fork in the road on the decisions we make in life. It is possible that one path is better than the other and you make either a right or wrong choice. It is also possible that they are just different and that either way is pretty much equally bad or equally good of a choice.  But of course once you make the choice, you never know what would have happened on the other path.  Regret is pretty meaningless either way.

I find the two kinds of forks both different and similar.  I was advising one of my freshmen (sorry – “first year student”) advisees this morning and he was torn between pursuing two different activities which he only had time for one. I explained that this was a Yogi fork.  Both activities would give him valuable experience and be lots of fun. They were also both intrinsically motivating because we was interested in both.  So both of them were great choices.  There was no wrong answer.

Another FYS had a question about picking a major. This was a Robert Frost fork.  There are so many different ways that either choice could go, there is really no way to predict.  So rather than struggle through the choice and always wonder about the other one, I advised her to look to her System 1 (gut) instinct.  The one that felt better deep down is probably her mind’s way of telling her that of all the characteristics that were important, that major had more to offer. Pros and cons lists are just our System 2’s way of screwing things up.

It is not “Go with your passion” because passion is unreliable too.  But it is “Go with your interest.” Or at least “Go with your curiosity.” (After all, she is still a FYS).  And don’t be afraid to change along the way (agility).