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This doesn’t work for me

Posted in the following categories: Decision Making, Life Lessons

That’s the thought that kept swirling in my head as I browsed through the Cornell course catalog.

This doesn’t work for me.

I was a college freshman planning out my next four years. But there was a problem: None of the available majors appealed to me. There were a few that came close, but none of them quite captured what I wanted to study.

And then I asked myself, What if I created my own major? 

Instead of adjusting my preferences to fit the predetermined curriculum menu, I wondered if the menu itself could be changed.

I trekked over to the Registrar’s office and asked them if I could design my own path of study. The answer, shockingly, was yes. There was a little-known program that gave free rein to a small group of freshmen to create their own major.

I applied and was accepted. I got to design my own four-year adventure, picking exactly the classes that I wanted to take—and not what someone else thought would be good for me.

There are two morals to this story that have stuck with me for the past 20 years.

First, you never know—unless you ask! In life, in business, and yes, in dating, if you don’t ask, the answer is always no. Asking is the simplest way of molding the seemingly impossible into the possible.

What’s the worst that can happen when you ask?

They’ll say no (and maybe laugh at your naivete). After a brief moment of rejection-induced embarrassment, you’ll be in the exact same spot you would have been if you hadn’t asked at all.

And what’s the best that can happen?

Well, you’ll get to design your own major, create your own job, or get a date with someone seemingly far out of your league.

Second, most people go through life mindlessly walking through whatever door happens to be open. As a result, we become prisoner to other people’s choices—the doors that they decided to create.

But those doors may not be the best ones for you. There’s immense power in intentionally creating and opening the doors that best suit you.

That, however, requires you to get clear on the answer to a seemingly simple question.

What do you want?

Stare at that question for as long as you need. Deciding what you want can be the hardest thing, particularly if you’ve spent your life—as most of us do—being compelled to go along with the decisions that others have made.

Once you’ve decided what you want, order off-menu. Ask for it. Create it.

Because the best things in life aren’t on the menu.

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