New insight on decision making


It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate theme for TEDxUIUC than “At Crossroads.” It seems like many of us are in our mid-mid-life crises right now, likely understanding the feeling of “I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.” Maybe I’m the only one that feels that way — in which case, yikes — but I have to imagine that feeling uncertain about the future and feeling paralyzed by some of the big decisions we have to make as students is something a lot of us share. But when I left TEDxUIUC, I felt as though I had a new way to approach these problems.

If you were at TED on Sunday, you might have caught a talk by Yali Sharon, the founder of LiveUnbound. When I reflect on my experience at the conference, Sharon’s talk was certainly a standout, especially when considering the theme of the day. He spoke about how his career has been full of challenges and uncertainty, and he was fearful about his own future at times. However, it was when he decided to “follow his fear” that he found actualization in his work.

Think about who you want to be and what you want to do, as well as how you see yourself reaching that destination. More likely than not, you’re going to be faced with some difficult decisions while trying to reach those goals. When we choose to “follow our fear” at these more difficult moments rather than backing down, we make the choice that brings us closer to our bigger goals even in the face of anxiety and doubt.

It’s not hard to see how this concept can have value to a student. At the very least, you’ve probably stayed in one night to work on a paper or study for an exam instead of going out with friends. While that might not be the most monumental decision you’ve ever made, the idea is still the same.

Keeping the vision of a brighter tomorrow in your mind as you make difficult decisions is advice worth taking on a personal level, but it works in a larger sense as well.

For example, other talks from the conference led me to believe that we can make difficult decisions as a society that will bring us closer to a better world. Talks from researcher April Winslow and Creative Health CEO Maria Ludeke focused on changing how we eat and brand healthy food to become a healthier country. Eric Snodgrass, director of undergraduate studies and professor in the department of atmospheric sciences, focused on how realistic it would be to power the world with renewable energy — spoiler alert: It’s stunningly realistic. This talk further exemplifies how working toward a greater good in the face of uncertainty can pay off big in the long run by potentially saving the planet.

When we apply this idea to how we interact with the world around us, a lot can change. Following in Snodgrass’ steps, the most obvious national example would be to take bold action to reduce the amount of fossil fuels and other non-renewable energy sources we consume. Ending our reliance on non-renewable energy sources will not be easy, but we’ve reached a point where its almost impossible to argue in favor of maintaining the energy status quo. In changing the status quo, we could reverse the cycle of economic inequality and wealth concentration in the country. It won’t be easy, but it’s critical for the future of our democracy.

This is just one example of many illustrating that making choices that are tough in the short term are always a part of reaching a larger goal.

TEDxUIUC was refreshingly honest and relatable to many students who presumably are dealing with future insecurities, and that level of understanding can feel rare in the world we live in sometimes. “At Crossroads” was a powerful theme, especially for people trying to figure out what the hell they’re doing with their lives, and when I looked around the rest of the room, everyone else seemed to be just as captivated as I was.

I think the message of the conference is one that will stick with many of the people who went, myself included. Staying in on a Friday is still going to suck, but when we look toward our big picture goals, maybe it will suck a little less.

Josh is a junior in LAS.

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