As a society, we all like to believe in the power of choice. The Millennial generation was raised to believe they could choose to be anything they wanted to be. “We can choose our destiny” is the affirmation du jour. Let me offer a different perspective on the power of choice.

At the end of life, where we end up ultimately comes down to a handful of choices we make. Yet, unlike choosing between chocolate and vanilla ice cream, these life choices are so monumental they aren’t even made consciously. I believe these half dozen choices throughout life that determine our destiny are either made subconsciously over months or years, so that our minds cannot grasp the entirety of what is at stake, or made in a split second, so that we don’t even have time to think.

The choices I’m speaking of relate to our careers and relationships, arguably the two most important things in life. Regarding careers and relationships, each person’s trajectory in life is set within a narrow band. We are on a certain trajectory based on the environment we are born into and people born into the same circumstances are likely to lead similar lives. The two types of choices I outlined in the above paragraph are the two ways we can deviate from our trajectory. However, as I will describe below, these two choices are not actually choosing, in the sense of choosing between chocolate and vanilla ice cream.

The first type of choice is the month or year-long process of subconscious decision-making. In my opinion, subconscious decision-making is led by our effort, not passion or hatred. Unless we are extremely depressed, there will always be some area of life we exert effort towards. Passions can be fleeting and unfulfilling in excess, but effort captures our more lasting traits and strengths. Effort is where we put our time after our passions have become oversaturated. If we enjoy something we will put more effort towards it. Exerting effort in the same area keeps us on the same trajectory we’ve always been on. For me, this was hockey and school. My Dad was a hockey coach, and until last spring, I never even thought about choosing hockey. It just happened to be my trajectory. Along the same lines, I was always good at school, so I never chose school, rather, I simply continued with whatever came next. The first time I felt myself bending my trajectory was during my final season of hockey. I couldn’t quite describe it, but I felt a hint of discontent with something I had always loved and never questioned, yet as time passed it became harder to exert effort in practice and games.

When this slight discontent begins to brew inside you and it becomes more difficult to exert effort, you begin to think. However, these things are nearly impossible to think about. For someone who had always done really well by thinking logically and rationally, I was at wits end: How do I compare professional hockey to investment banking in New York, consulting in Toronto, a start up in Berlin, or myriad other opportunities.

Of course, all my thinking led nowhere – after months of reading and contemplating, I still didn’t know if I should continue my hockey career. Then, one day shortly after the season had ended, I was talking to my former teammate Brayden Jaw, an analyst at Bowen Advisors at the time. He briefly explained how great working at BA was and mentioned that “we’re actually hiring a new analyst. Do you want an interview?” I responded, “yeah, sure” and had, without knowing it, made a split-second decision that shifted my trajectory.

In the two weeks that followed, I enjoyed the effort I put into preparing for the interview. If I hadn’t enjoyed the effort, I would have reverted back to my old trajectory. But since the effort confirmed my new trajectory, I interviewed successfully and got the job. The most fascinating aspect is that I didn’t actively decide to retire and didn’t actively seek out Bowen Advisors or even the city of Boston. Rather, it happened passively, but with the confirmation of my effort.

A person’s trajectory is relatively set, and breaking it is not a choice per say, but rather an accumulation of differing emotions. When we enjoy something, it is easy to exert effort, and when we dislike something, it becomes harder and harder to exert effort, until we naturally divert from it. My personal belief is that some of our biggest and most important life choices are far more random than we like to believe.

Now, you may ask, if life’s biggest choices aren’t yours to make, how do you excel and motivate yourself? For that I have four guidelines I live by:

  1. Strive for perfection in everything you do
  • If you’re doing something, regardless of what it is, do it to the absolute best of your abilities. By not trying your best, you are wasting your time.
  1. Embrace integrity in all aspects of life
  • Deep down, everyone knows what is right and wrong. Be the person that contributes something to our world, instead of taking away from it.
  1. Don’t make goals your master; make your goals work for you instead
  • Goals help you achieve the first two points. Use goals for your personal motivation, but don’t let them take over your life. Countless times I have seen people so dead set on achieving this or that, they lose the ability to subconsciously meander in the direction that’s best suited for them based on the two types of choices outlined earlier. Let yourself break your trajectory if it isn’t right; don’t will yourself into something that’s wrong.
  1. Be joyful and thankful every day
  • All the above is pointless if we can’t generally be happy and grateful – something so simple, yet so difficult to attain.

Obviously, this is only one perspective and it might only be applicable to certain situations. However, if you reflect on the biggest diversions in your life, you may realize that more of your choices were made passively than you think. As a final thought, the best career/life advice I ever received was “just do, don’t think” – thinking only complicates things.