At a buffet, you have to think strategically to eat to the max. If you come back for seconds and the rolls are all gone, tough luck.
Life decisions seem similar. I talk to a lot of people who are frozen in anxiety — not sure whether they should stay in this city or go, apply for this job or that, do grad school or work. If they make one wrong decision, it’s over. Everyone is panicking that the rolls are going to be gone.
The buffet strategy
If I am at a potluck or buffet, I take the First Best Pass. I get all of the things I want: sweet potato casserole! Mac and cheese! That weird cheese ball thing with the nuts! Rolls! Then, the second time through, I can get some vaguely nutritional things like “salad.”
The First Best Pass means that I am not left scraping the edges of the mac and cheese pan, hoping to get a couple noodles that are unburned.
It’s not without a perfect strategy, and it’s not without flaws. Sometimes I have been disappointed by my choices — dried-out pot roast or a dud of a casserole. I’ve eaten a forkful and wondered what I’d actually put in my mouth.
You never roll up to a buffet line and think you’ve only got one shot. It’s all-you-can-eat. Life is the same way. You get more than one try.
How does this apply to these major life decisions? Do the next right thing. It might turn out to be wrong, but you will learn along the way. Maybe you start small — talking to people in the field, shadowing someone, volunteering. Take a little bite of the mystery casserole and see if it’s any good. Then you pivot. You take what you like and ditch what you don’t, and try something new.
I screwed up my first job choice
My first job out of college, I got a job with a major national nonprofit. It was a good company with a good boss. It had a great mission. I was in a job that was different every day and I had the opportunity to be hands-on with clients.
I didn’t like it at all.
The job was a bad fit, but I had no way of knowing that when I took it. I hadn’t worked enough to realize that I was not great at responding to urgent and immediate client needs. These were patients and caregivers, looking to receive services. Our resources were somewhat limited, and I was discouraged each time I couldn’t meet their needs perfectly.
I spent months having a freak-out whenever my phone rang.
I tried to focus more on areas that I enjoyed: training volunteers, improving systems, and documentation. I took every professional development course they offered. But ultimately, the core tasks of the job were the things I liked the least. I left on good terms and with a lot of knowledge about myself and what kind of work I wanted to do.
You might say I screwed up my first job choice. Even so, I was able to take that experience and parlay it into my next one.
The Second Best Pass
Here’s a little secret: the First Best Pass won’t be perfect. But you’ll be able to figure out a few things. The second time I approached the buffet, I had more experience. More knowledge. More “what not to do” in my arsenal.
A lot of figuring out your career is figuring out what you like, and do more of it. Figure out what you don’t like, and do less of it. Every job has its unsatisfying parts. The good news is that you don’t have one shot at it. You get more than one try. Life is just one big do-over.
If you find yourself paralyzed by decisions, imagine yourself at a buffet. Take a First Best Pass and get the good stuff. And don’t worry — there’s plenty. You’ll be allowed to go back for seconds.