When Do You Choose Yourself?

Universities choose high school seniors in a crazy game of selection. Publishers choose a select few books to publish. I’m shepherding chosen experience reports for the big agile conference in the summer where a program team chose a limited number of reports. Instead of “being chosen,” why not choose ourselves?

Last week, I spoke with a mom whose son is trying to choose between two schools. One school costs $80,000 a year. One school was so impressed, he received four years of zero tuition.

For me, it was a no-brainer. Take the free ride. The money the family will save in college fee allows everyone so much more freedom. However, the “selection,” the “other-people-choosing” bias means he’s still thinking of the crazy-expensive school. When someone else “chooses” us, we often feel a particular validation.

I see this in book-writing, too. If you write for a publisher, you make much less money than you do if you self-publish. If you self-publish you do have to do the work: create a cover, write a blurb, paying for various editing, and so on. It’s a lot of work.

Often, publishers ask you to write the blurb and choose a cover. Publishers will definitely ask you to do all the marketing for the book.

Sometimes, it’s worth working with someone—being chosen—for other reasons. It’s up to you to decide.

Too often, people want to be chosen for validation reasons. “I’m good enough because I was chosen.” The real problem is that when other people don’t choose you, it could be for any number of reasons. Not because you’re not good enough.

Let me use publishing as an example. Publishers might not choose you because:

  • You published with a different publisher (online, other books, articles, whatever) and the person making the decision doesn’t like your previous choice. It’s not about you. It’s about their bias.
  • They already have their 10 (or 20 or 500) books for that year. They don’t have room for more. It’s not about the quality of your work.
  • They don’t have sufficient internal processes and their copyeditor just quit. They can’t take more books. They can’t actually publish more. It’s not about you at all.

If you don’t get chosen for something, it’s almost never about you. It’s about the other person/entity and the choices they make.

You can choose yourself.

For college, you still have to play the admissions game. However, instead of choosing a school that lands you in debt, you can say, “Wow, it’s great that they chose me. Do I still want to choose them or do I want to choose something else that offers me more ease in my life?”

For publishing, you can choose yourself and self-publish. You’ll learn a ton along the way.

For jobs, if you’re having trouble finding an employee job, maybe consider contracting or consulting, a form of choosing yourself.

Many of us find it difficult to choose ourselves. We feel vulnerable. We might suffer from Imposter Syndrome. We might suffer from FEAR. Choosing yourself isn’t easy.

You might not always have to choose yourself. I hope you consider if you need the courage to do so, or when you can choose again.

That’s the question this week: When do you choose yourself?

3 thoughts on “When Do You Choose Yourself?”

  1. Yury Makedonov

    Re: “One school costs $80,000 a year. One school was so impressed, he received four years of zero tuition.
    For me, it was a no-brainer. Take the free ride. The money the family will save in college fee allows everyone so much more freedom.”

    Johanna, I suspect that as usual the right answer is “It depends”. Would you mind sharing the names of these schools and the family income?

    School #1 may be the best option if it provides better career outcome and if $80K is not much of a burden for a family.

    School #2 may be the best option if it provides about the same career outcome and if $80K is a lot of money for this family.

    Yury Makedonov

    1. Yury, Here is more data. I don’t know all the details, but I do know some.

      1. The family lives in the metro NYC area, which means their cost of living is higher than in other places in the US. Their expenses are already higher than they might be.
      2. This is the first of 3 children in the family to make a decision about college.
      3. In the US, we pay for college with after tax money. There is no subsidy for a college education.
      4. Loans for any part of a college education have a 7% (or higher) interest rate, which starts compounding from the day of the first loan. In that way, it’s just like a mortgage, except the interest rate is substantially higher than a mortgage.

      That’s the money part. If the child takes out even only 40k per year of loans (which I think is the minimum for the family), the child, when he graduates with a bachelor’s degree (assuming he graduates), will have amassed 160K in loans, which he will have to repay at the still compounding 7% per year. Imagine the pressure of needing to get a job where you know you have to pay somewhere between $1200-$1600/month as soon as you leave school. That colors your choices for where you live, what you do, and all of your consumer choices. I don’t know about Canada, but the US is a consumer-driven economy. We are already feeling the choices of the youngest generation’s college loans. We sell fewer cars, fewer houses, more kids live with their parents, etc. We do not have consumers driving our economy as they were even 10 years ago.

      Now, for the interesting part of your question about career outcomes.

      I don’t know how to assess that. The Ivy League schools tell you their alumni networks are worth the price. I didn’t go to an Ivy League school. I have not needed my alumni network to propel my career forward. I have helped others who graduated from my alma mater.

      I am not under the illusion we live in a meritocracy. I firmly believe in the power of loose connections to help find a job.

      I also believe in helping yourself. I sought out further education and training past my college degrees. That was much more valuable to me than what I learned in school because of the networks I developed. There were very few people majoring in Computer Science when I went to school. Even when I went for grad school. And, “computer science” and “IT” means many things to many people. I knew the kinds of products I wanted to work on. (Now, I choose the people and organizations I want to work with.)

      Oh, one more thing: What school trained me to do is a very small part of what I have done my entire career. Sure, my degree was invaluable for obtaining my first job because I’m female. However, once I proved myself in my first (and second) jobs, the first five years of my career, I didn’t need to have had a degree. I used my personal network to find and land jobs. (HR was only a pain for those job searches.)

      What is the value of specific professors for an undergraduate degree? It depends. What is the value of an alumni network? It depends.

      What is the value of learning how to learn or learning how to create the network you need? That’s the priceless part.

      You and I have both learned to create valuable networks for ourselves. I cannot imagine a school that costs $80k per year has any interest in helping students do that. Maybe I’m a little cynical about that part, but the school thinks they are selling access to their network, not just access to their professors.

      Back to the education part, most professors are not worth the access. Too often, they parrot what’s in the book. They don’t educate, they don’t train, and they don’t teach you to think. My best professors for both undergrad and grad were part-time professors who worked for a living. They gave me real questions, real problems, and I developed real solutions. They taught me to think (and think in systems). That was invaluable.

      So, $80k is a lot of money for the family. All the loans would be a tremendous burden for the student. No, the family is not in a position to take the loans for all three children. Is access to this “selective” school’s alumni network worth the cost, just to be chosen?

      I choose myself. When we look at the consequences of tremendous loans even against a so-called superior college education, where do we create flexibility in our lives? How can we make decisions? Maybe that’s my next question of the week.

  2. Pingback: How Do You Feel About Money? - Create An Adaptable Life

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