“Was grad school worth it?”
I was sprawled out on my couch, talking to my friend Nora on the phone. I met Nora three years ago while working for the Paleo-recipe blog, Primal Palate. I became an instant fan due to her gorgeous photography, authentic writing, and prompt responses to my emails. I hounded her until she agreed to an interview.
In that first conversation, we spent three hours on the phone. We talked marketing, business, and strategy; and she told the story on how she drove her health into the ground. I will never forget her words, Grad school was both a blessing and a curse, because it showed me just how much I could power through. There were many weeks Nora survived off a mere three hours of sleep a night.
When finding a balance between family, friends, and your career; how do you know which path to choose?
“You know, I still wrestle with that,” she said. “Sometimes, I’ll be talking to Brian [her husband] and I’ll say, ‘Grad school wasn’t worth it!!’ and he’ll respond, ‘But last time you said it was?’ and the next time I’ll say, ‘Grad school was so worth it!”
I call Nora the female-version Tim Ferriss. Nora is a machine, running her own website, doing freelance recipe-development on the side, and working in market research for Fortune 500 clients. Between grad school, blogging, and her career; Nora has always worked two-to-three jobs. Now, she’s adding a fourth to the list—becoming a mom.
Man, the money I would pay to see that tiny woman pregnant.
The past nine months have done nothing to sway the Type-A woman I know and love. When asked how things were going, she told me to hire a surrogate.
If you had the opportunity to do things over with the knowledge you have now, you might do things differently. But you never had that knowledge.
I called Nora to ask all the questions I didn’t have the foresight to ask three years ago. I wanted to know if she regretted going to grad school. I wanted to know if the price of success was worth it. I wanted to know—if given the opportunity to go back and do things over—would she choose balance, stability, and sanity over those sleepless nights.
“Honestly…I would probably do the same thing,” she told me. “If I could turn back time with the knowledge I have now, maybe I would do things differently. But I wouldn’t have that knowledge. I made the best decision I could with the information I had. I’m glad I have the network I built and I’m lucky to have the choices I have in life because of it.”
And for the first time since I met her, I got the urge to throw my phone against the fucking wall.
Stop looking for the right answer, because it doesn’t exist. Every decision you make is a judgment call.
Nora is the most productive person I know and therefore her answer frustrated the hell out of me. I wanted this woman—who could re-prioritize on a moment’s notice and multi-task the shit out of anyone—to give me a definite answer.
I expected Nora to tell me success is never worth sacrificing your happiness. Or that it was. Damnit, I didn’t really care WHAT her answer was, I just wanted her to PICK one.
“I wish I could give you a more encouraging answer,” she told me. “I made a decision and I had to make the best out of it. It’s just about letting go of things that don’t matter and focusing on things that do.
“I am a rational person—to the point of being a disease. I don’t think there are ever right answers. I just use the facts I’m given to make each decision.”
You will never know what you will look back on and regret. You just have to make the best decision with the facts you’re given.
In my never-ending pursuit to understand mistakes, regret, and how to make the best with the cards you’re dealt; I started my conversation with Nora with one objective. I wanted to know which path would be the most fulfilling: The one where I pushed myself past my limits but was married to my job, or the one where I had to time to relax, pause, and enjoy the time I’m given.
I never got a concrete answer. From the super-woman of efficiency, the only answer is that there are no answers. You’ll never know what fun times you’ll miss by grinding it out at your job. You’ll never know the things you could have accomplished had you pulled an all-nighter.
Life is one never-ending compromise, encompassing friends, family, career, and alone time. There’s no right way to do it. All you can do is determine the best path possible with the little knowledge you’re given.