Unlike the generations before us, I believe that Millennials will come to be known as the choice generation – a time defined by the proliferation of choice. From a young age, we’ve had to make choices that have incrementally increased in importance each passing year. First, “which cereal you want?”, from the dozens on the grocery store shelf. Next, “which college do you want to go to?” Finally, “should I get married, have kids…to who, when?” At first, I was carefree about my choices. But at some point in college I looked back and thought, “what if I had gone to a different school?” (Quick related story: one time I mentioned thinking about having gone to a different school to a friend and they said sadly, “but then you wouldn’t know me” to which I responded, “Yeah…but I wouldn’t know that I didn’t know you…” They were offended).
The problem I have with choices these days is that same dilemma I had from wondering about what different colleges would have been like – I’m afraid I have missed out, am missing out, or will miss out, on a better experience. This feeling has plagued me since I began considering it back then, and now it manifests itself in choices about where I live, what I do, and who I spend time with.
As we grow up, more choices get placed on us because we can do whatever we want. This is exciting but also terrifying (when looked at through the lens of missing out on something better). Since graduating college, I’ve been responding to these concerns by trickily avoiding them. I’ve done this by moving about every three months. I try something for that long and then start feeling antsy about missing out on other experiences. The problem with this “solution” is that I miss out on meaningful experiences and connections. I don’t dive into my surroundings because I don’t want to get too rooted in one place– in case I want to leave for something better. I’ve time and time again learned that this isn’t a good way to live. Yet I was still doing it.
However, recently I had a realization – a breakthrough moment of sorts. I was listening to a TED radio hour episode on choice when something finally clicked. It’s funny because I’d heard this episode before but listening this time, I had a new perspective. The woman giving the talk explained how we can’t know the alternative options. I can’t know the different college experiences I might have had, and then choose one . I can’t know what I would be like to live in California vs. New Hampshire because I can’t do both at once. Given that we can’t know to compare, then we need to just choose and commit. Otherwise, we will just live in this limbo ( that I’ve been living in).
This opened me up to the idea of deciding to make some decisions. I’ve decided to stay where I’m currently living, root into the community here, and work on me. I confidently believe that this will be the best path for me because I know the alternative doesn’t work.
It goes back to the famous words of Robert Frost,
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
If you read this poem closely, it actually says the opposite of what the out-of-context famous line is usually used to mean. Robert Frost got it. It doesn’t matter which road you choose. Just choose one. It will define you life but you can choose it – and in fact, you must.