Option Overload– Which Door Should I Walk Through?
This month I’ve talked with several different young adults struggling to figure out what to do with their lives– some facing the decision of what to do after high school (i.e. university? gap year? ministry year?) and some facing life after college (i.e. more schooling? get a real job? move home? travel?).
We love to glamorize the idea of having the whole world at your feet, but let’s face it– having TOO many options can be paralyzing for many people.
And it’s not just young adults who go into option overload, I often see this with people in vocational transition. At natural transition points especially in mid-life or when changing jobs, the options can feel wide open. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying.
Sometimes discerning our next steps is neat and tidy. A door flies open through a miraculous provision, an amazing job offer, or acceptance to a program you’ve always longed to attend. GREAT! You have a clear path before you!
But what about when there are many doors open before you? And each option has things you like and don’t like– but you just can’t decide.
First, option overload is as much about the PROCESS of discernment as it is the actual decision you make. Discernment is a major life skill you will need over and over. Wrapped up in this major decision you are facing are many other lessons God may be wanting to teach you– everything from learning to sort through options, discovering your longings and values, addressing your people pleasing, learning how to take steps of faith, and releasing control, just to name a few.
Second, there is not one, perfect option to take. God is a god of CHOICE. When Adam and Eve were placed in the garden, they were told they could eat from all the trees, but one. This means there are many choices that will be life-giving and nourishing to your soul. Your creator had absolutely no desire to create you as a robot– the Bible says, He sets our feet in broad space– Explore! Wander! Discover!
But God is also a god of LIFE… His longing, design, and the counsel He gives us through the Bible is designed to lead you to greater life and flourishing. Stepping outside these bounds will ultimately lead to death– spiritually or emotionally. Contrary to what our culture tells you, not all pathways lead to life.
You may have doors open to you that seem benign, but may actually make you vulnerable to harm or tempted by evil. Usually God directs us through what I would call ‘yellow flags’– small nudges in our spirit that keep us awake or make us anxious, even when we try to ignore them. These warning signs are the hardest ones to heed because they are usually competing with our own mixed motives/longings. It takes great courage to listen to those warning signs.
So your first invitation when standing in front of multiple open doors might just be the simple act of faith and obedience. Will you choose to close the door on something that you know is ultimately not leading you towards life? Walking away from a relationship that you know isn’t right for you. Choosing to leave a toxic friend group. Doing what is necessary to close the door on an addiction. Releasing an option that is motivated more by money and prestige than God’s call on your life. Initially, closing that door may feel like death, not life… and it is a death of sorts. A death to your temporal desires, trusting God has something better for you.
But, assuming the doors open before you all fall within the general guidelines of Scripture, here are some other things that may be wrapped up in your discernment process:
Explore your desires… God designed every little intricate part of you. From the small things such as whether you like sweet or salty to whether you like working in groups or working alone to whether you want to be in a people oriented job or in research. What you long for matters.
But desires are notoriously messy; they almost always need to be sifted. Often our desires are not really what you see on the surface, there is something deeper driving them.
For example, you may have always said you wanted to become a lawyer, but when you dig down deeper, you realize what’s driving that longing is the desire to get your father’s approval. Or perhaps you really, really want to quit your job. But the truth is you’ve had a lot of conflict with your boss; instead of learning how to deal with conflict, you just want out.
Desires have to be sifted through before they can be returned to you in a more “pure” form. (More on this in a future post.) But your desires are speaking to you, take time to listen and explore what they are saying, ideally with someone else who is a good sounding board.
Identifying your priorities for this next season…
There are many factors that play into our decisions when we are making major life decisions. A few of these might be:
- Vocational Development– school, training, work experience
- Relationships– family, friends, community
- Community– structures or groups that you can join, support systems
- Geography– climate, pace of life, sub-culture, closeness to family/friends
- Mentors– who will speak into your life
- Passions/interests– something that is life-giving but may not necessarily be your life work
- Healing– emotional, spiritual, physical care
- Resources for family– school options for your kids, social network, activities
- Short-term sacrifice for long-term reward…
- Finances– cost, salary, necessary living expenses
- Adventure–gaining life experience, travel
- A character trait God is developing in us– healthy risk, obedience, stepping out in faith, stewardship, responsibility, freedom
- Meaningful work
- And many others (feel free to add!)
It’s very unlikely that one option will meet ALL your needs, so you need to decide which is the most important to you at this time. An interesting exercise is to rank the above list from most important to least. There is no right or wrong order, and in fact, the order will change as you and the circumstances around you change.
For example, you might normally be willing to move far from your family (geography) in order to get a degree (development), but if perhaps, one of your parents is very ill, suddenly being closer to home (geography) is much more important because it’s connected to your parent (relationship).
(Of course, your priorities may not align with the priorities of others… which often leads to conflict, but more on that in the next post.)
Learn to gather adequate information. This is spoken from personal experience — I’ve taken one too many leaps before doing my research (every ENFP can commiserate)! So you want to take a year off to travel– how much would that cost? Is this the best season in your life for that choice? How will you support yourself financially? Who will go with you? What is the purpose of the travel– adventure? self-discovery? a break from studies?
If you are not naturally wired to think through details, have someone help you formulate a list of good questions that you need to attend to in this decision. One of my friends created a spreadsheet of her priorities (similar to the list above) and filled in the answers for each option so she could see it visually.
Just a warning: Detail people and visionaries will always be at odds with each other. We need our visionaries to push us out into new territories that may feel risky, but we need the detail people to help us figure out how to take calculated risks. Make sure your counsel includes a variety of voices.
These are just a few of the practical steps for beginning the discernment process. Now you know why this is such a stressful time! Major decisions are not necessarily simple, easy, or fast.
But as you stand in front of the multiple doors before you, take comfort in this. You are not alone. God has not spitefully hidden His plan from you. His plan is for your good. This discernment process will teach you things you are going to need once you walk through that door in front of you.
May these words steady your heart today as you wait for clarity:
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
My next post will explore some of the things that complicate our choices– in particular– how do you distinguish God’s voice from all the swirling voices around you (i.e. your parents, friends, mentors, culture) and find your own voice in a way that honors others.