Contributed by Sally Wang. Check out more of their posts from this summer here.
I am bad at making decisions.
To make matters worse, most of the time, I always give myself an “either or” question, believing that I must make a choice between two options and there are no other solutions. When I am in a restaurant, I always have a difficult time deciding whether I will have hot spicy food, or mild food. When I am in a store, I always find it hard to decide whether I will buy a pink cup or a purple cup. When my friends go to parties, I always struggle deciding whether to go or not to go, or more accurately, to participate or to be an outsider. When I think about a sport, it is either that I love this sport so much that I watch this sport, I play this sport and I become a professional in this sport, or that I have no idea why people like this sport, so I never watch it, never play it, and refuse to try it. The list could just go on and on.
I am pretty clear why I have difficulty making decisions, and the most important reason, I believe, is that I overthink too much and I am too ambitious to give up either one. However, it was only when I came to Serbia did I realize my stubbornness in limiting my options, in making “either or” decisions.
Before I departed for Serbia, I had envisioned a lot of what I would do in Serbia: I will help as many people as possible, I will adapt to Serbian culture, I will use my classroom knowledge to solve lots of social problems and then I will make a difference in this part of the world. However, after I started to work, I stayed at the same desk day after day, doing endless research on topics that my classroom knowledge does not help with, and the work is so repetitive that I can even tell what I am supposed to do before I start my work. This is not really what I was expecting. I want something more challenging, I want to take more responsibilities, and I want to help people. Therefore, the only thing that came in to my mind was: I have to change my job. I want to do something that has a more direct outcome. I want to volunteer for refugees. Therefore, I jump from one extreme to another. From the moment that I made up my mind, my attitude toward my current job was more and more negative and passive, which in return, made me feel more sure that I must change my job.
Understanding that communication will probably help me escape from this dilemma, I tried to talk to my boss in my organization, coordinators of our DukeEngage program, and other students who are doing volunteer work with refugees. After coordination between different sides, I realized that I have a lot more flexibility in my work than I expected, and I don’t need to choose between two organizations: I can choose both! In addition to my current job, I can take one more day to volunteer in a refugee center, which will not only meet my desire to work with refugees, but will also enrich my experience in Serbia. How unfortunate that I hadn’t thought about this before. After figuring out this solution, my whole attitude toward my job and my experience in Serbia changed dramatically. First of all, I started to embrace my current organization, and this change of mindset also encouraged me to dedicate more to my job. Then, surprisingly, I started to find pleasure in my job. It’s astounding just how important one’s mindset is!
Moreover, I figured out a new approach to solving problems. I realized that flexibility is much more helpful than stubbornness. There is no absolute “either or” question, because elasticity can always provide alternatives to my current predicament. In my case, this flexibility could be understood as changing my attitude toward my work, communicating for suggestions from people around me, finding alternatives to options I’ve thought I had, and being creative to figure out a new solution.
There is always a midway between black and white.