How to figure out what you want in life


This morning I met one of my husband’s client’s at a tile showroom.  The showroom was not our store.  The client, we’ll call him Richard, had already been through all the displays at our flooring store and wanted more options and design help, or so I was told.  When I get there Richard shows me a display board that he and his wife had picked out at our store the day before.  At first I thought that was the tile they were going with.  After all, Richard tells me what tile he is using for the shower floor and wall while pointing to the tile sample he brought.  I am confused.  “Why am I here if the tile has been chosen?” I wonder.  After I drag him across the store and begin rifling through deco tiles for the wall band, Richard finally clarifies that the tile sample was only an example sent by his wife to provide color guidance.  Ok, back to square one.  We start flipping through tile displays.

1.            Be the decision maker

As we flip through the displays, Richard pulls out boards that are similar to the sample that he brought, the sample that his wife picked.  I pull out samples that have the same general yellow-beige color, but that are trendier than the mottled yellow-beige travertine tile that he brought, something that says 2017 not 2009. 

It soon becomes clear that Richard is not going to be comfortable choosing a tile that varies from what his wife has chosen in any meaningful way.  Richard confides that he would pick a gray, industrial looking tile and “call it good.”  Okay.  It is now clear that Richard is not the decision-maker.  So we stand around for 10 minutes thumbing through displays and speculating on what, if any, tile his wife would like better than the one she has already picked.  It is stupid.  No one can decide what someone else will like.  As I try to find a tactful way to say this, Richard tells me to pick a tile.

“No way,” I say.  Then I tell him about how my husband had just found himself in the middle of a husband and wife brawl when he took direction about the placement of a decorative band from the wife.  When he answered a call from the husband later that night, he received an obscenity-laced ass chewing and an abrupt firing.  I tell Richard it is now the company’s position to only take direction from the decision-maker, which he isn't.   

I consider going into a career coaching mode and telling him that his bathroom will never be what he wants it to be if he cedes all his power over it to someone else.  But the truth is, a career is not a bathroom, and in all likelihood he will be happier if his wife has a bathroom that she likes rather than the other way around.  To be clear – he is not going to like the beige tile as much as he would have liked the gray tile that he was drawn to, but in this situation it's probably going to work out ok. 

A career you didn’t choose is harder to ignore than a beige bathroom, though.  If you cede your decision-making authority to your parents, your significant other, societal expectations, or anyone else, you will not be satisfied in the long run.  Even if you are able to ignore the dissatisfaction for a while, it will build up over time and it will eventually seep into other areas of your life.  You won’t be able to explain why you are so irritated and snappy all the time, lashing out disproportionately at your family members.  Or maybe you will spiral slowly into a depressive funk, living your life on autopilot so you don’t have to pay attention to the fact that you don’t like your job.  If you are not the decision-maker in your own life, there is no career coach anywhere that can provide any meaningful help, other than maybe get you to the point where you reclaim your decision-making authority.

2.            Don’t make arbitrary deadlines.

I pick out three tile boards for Richard to take to home to his wife.  He waffles and starts asking about the type of tile that will be the wall trim.  The salesman brings out a display of metal trim pieces.  I get nervous because my husband, Kevin, did not say anything about picking out metal trim pieces.  I tell him that Kevin will take care of the trim and call him if he has any questions.  Richard tells me that he wants this done today and he is not going to entertain any telephonic follow-ups.  Ok.  I call Kevin to see who chooses the trim. 

Kevin:  I do.

Me:  What if they don’t like it?

Kevin:  I will choose what they like.

I hang up with Kevin and tell Richard that Kevin will choose a metal trim and that he, Richard, will like it.   My decisive tone must have been convincing, because Richard actually accepts this and goes back to vacillating between the six or so beige display boards we have lined up on the floor. 

The fact that Richard was adamant that the order be placed that day was arbitrary and stupid.  Another day or two to take additional samples home and make sure his wife was picking the best one would have been well worth it.  The likelihood of Kevin running to the distributor and starting the job the second Richard’s tile arrived is almost nonexistent.  There is usually a buffer zone of a few days.  Plus, in the long run, it is not going to make one iota of difference if his bathroom is finished a week earlier or a week later, or even a month, for that matter. 

Setting an arbitrary deadline regarding your career is even sillier.  It’s not going to matter if you switch jobs by such and such a date, or get promoted, or graduate or whatever.  If it’s a deadline that you have chosen for a legitimate reason, then that’s another story, but setting a deadline to set a deadline makes no sense.  You’ll figure it out when you figure it out.  It’s not something you should put a deadline on. 

3.            Ask for confirmation

It turns out that what Richard really wants is for me to tell him that his wife’s original choice is going to look good.  That I can do.  The colors are not offensive and everything they have chosen matches.  It will look good.  Then he pushes it and asks me if it will appeal to buyers when they put the house on the market . . . ten years from now. 

I begin to explain that design trends typically have a shelf life of ten years.  The current gray trend started in 2010, with Montana lagging behind, not really getting on board until about 2013.  Since we are in the middle of a 10 year cycle, the next best thing has not appeared on the horizon yet so it is impossible for me to predict what buyers in 2027 will like.  Although I can tell him that Billings is more or less a mountain town and that natural materials and natural colors, such as beiges and browns usually fair the test of time better in mountain towns.  There is also a whole school of design thought that says you can pick elements that are “classic” and “timeless.”  It is my opinion that this school of thought is full of shit.  They would give him white subway tile, which is right on trend right now and claim it was classic and timeless despite the fact that off and on for the past 100 or so years all white subway tile has said is “cheap” and “boring.”

Then I stop, deciding to take the approach that who cares what buyers in ten years are looking for, it’s your bathroom now, choose what you like.  But Richard stopped listening after he heard the words “gray trend.”  He's immensely pleased that his taste is on trend and that his wife’s taste lags behind.  I can almost see him rolling the concept around and putting it in his back pocket for later.  From now on, even though he will outwardly agree with his wife’s choices to keep the peace, he will secretly be thinking “so ten years ago.”

When you really want confirmation, don’t pretend you want advice.  Send out a request to the universe that you need confirmation that your career decision is the right one before you move forward.  Then open yourself up to receiving the signs.  You might even get more than you bargained for.