Special: New Zealand from the West Coast for $450. Roundtrip.
It was the day before graduation. I hadn’t found a job yet. I had planned for that, and had some money saved up to last me at least through the summer. I even had set aside $600 for travel. Figured I’d go visit my roommate in Mexico.
Or I could go to New Zealand. For a fare that would usually get me halfway across the country, I could go halfway around the world!
But what about finding a job? I had just submitted some job applications, and was in the middle of doing a lot of informational interviewing. Wouldn’t it be reckless to just up and go to New Zealand?
My undergraduate decision analysis classes always talked about choosing the path that maximized your expected value. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to quantify the value of going to New Zealand and easier to quantify the value of getting a job. On the other hand, my business school decision analysis class focused on more practical ways to apply decision analysis, especially in cases where the more classical, calculated methods failed. Maximize the chance of really good, or minimize the chance of really bad. In other words, maximize happiness, or minimize regret.
Going to New Zealand would be pretty awesome. Even if I encountered some bad travel experiences, I’d probably look back at it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If I chose to stay home, I might find a job, I might not. If I did find a job, it’d be good. Not sure I’d call it awesome. I’d probably feel relieved, at best. If I didn’t find a job, I’m sure I would kick myself for not jumping on that fare special. It’s not like staying home for two weeks would doom me to a life of unemployment. “Why didn’t I go?” I would ask myself.
New Zealand won on both counts. Maximized happiness, AND minimized regret. I called my sister.
“Heyyy… so I’ve decided I’m going to New Zealand. Wanna come?”
“At the end of the month. I’m going to New Zealand. You should come with me. It’ll be awesome.”
“Uh, let me check with my boss. Let’s talk about it tomorrow.”
The next day, as she was doing my hair for my graduation ceremony, my sister got her boss’ ok and I booked her flight. During the ceremony, we both texted my cousin and her husband in SoCal and convinced them to come, too. Over the course of 24 hours, I had convinced four people (myself included), to drop everything and go to New Zealand in three weeks.
Was I crazy? Well, I went, and it was awesome. I took a side trip to Australia, and stayed with a friend I had made while traveling abroad the year before. I saw the best of Auckland, thanks to a friend I had made in business school. My sister, cousin, her husband, and I explored some of the most majestic sights I’ve seen in my life. And while I was there, I got offered a lucrative internship for the summer. I started work when I got back. Things turned out just fine.
But the point of the story is not that things turned out fine. It’s that despite my initial hesitation, I made the decision that was right for me. As my undergraduate advisor used to say, “You can’t control the outcome, but you can control your decision. Invest your effort in making good decisions, and let the world do its thing.”
The next time that little voice in your head keeps you from doing something, call it out. Weigh your decision. What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the chance of that happening? What’s the best that can happen? What’s the chance of that happening? What do you care about more: maximizing the chance of happy, or minimizing the chance of regret? Which choice gives that to you? If after thinking through all that, it still makes sense not to do it, that’s fine. But if all signs point to go, by all means, go for it!