by maralyn ellis
The overwhelming number of choices in education today remind me of that doll. It's hard for any of those educational options to stand out as 'right' and hard for students and their parents to make a decision and not just move on to the next option, agonizing all along the way. This is what Canadian author Douglas Coupland dubbed “option paralysis” in his 1991 debut novel Generation X: Tales from an Accelerated Culture. Option paralysis is defined as “the tendency, when given unlimited choices, to make none.” (To see a fan's listing of all the expressions Coupland coined in this book, click here.)
“28 Colleges. 5000 Programs. One that's right for you.”
You read that right: One (1)... out of 5000 programs is right for you. Talk about trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack!
So let's summarize. Choice overload results in either choosing none, or less satisfaction and more stress. And you wonder why so many kids today do not know what they want to do?! Many parents will remember their experience as very different from that of their children because there simply were less options. Look at choosing a phone today. You have several platforms, many styles, many plans... choosing a phone used to be dial or push-button, basic black or a colour! Educational decisions were for the most part made by your parents and your school... until you entered high school and persuaded your parents to let you drop gym or take accounting.
When you apply this pajama approach to educational options, the question remains—how do you narrow your choices to red and blue? The answer is to learn how to filter what's relevant; in other words, to develop discernment, to judge well. I've seen some effective approaches used by students I've worked with to help them filter options for after high school. One approach is to pick a college or university they like—this could be based on size, reputation or knowing someone who is happy there. Another common approach is to pick a program based on interests and find out where it's offered; for example there are only two engineering programs in Canada offering mechatronics in first year--UW and SFU—whereas others have a general first year.
If a student is skipping decision-making by avoiding the question of their future or by taking a really narrow view, you can help broaden their vision using their personality and interests and talents before bringing their scope back in with more confidence. If another student has way too many choices and is having problems narrowing down, you can use their personality and interests, and their preferred environment, the audience they want to work with, etc. to begin to narrow down their career choices.
Developing discernment—the ability to judge well based on knowing yourself through objective input or simply gut feeling—is the key to reducing options, reducing stress and making the choices that are right for you!