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Choice story: (2) the fight between the two Joan or the tough choice of a first job

May 2015

Joan is 23. She successfully studied in various countries, she is dynamic. She completed her studies by doing a Sustainable Development Master in a business school because she is concerned by this topic.Now at the end of her student life, she can choose between two jobs for which she has been accepted. She is conscious that not anyone has got this opportunity but it is a tough choice for her. She must choose within the next month.


The choice is between XYZ is a big service company; she would start in its sales department in Germany. ABC is another big company, in the tourism industry, with an initial training period which would let her work in several countries, in several businesses and jobs during 18 months.

She is hesitating. During a first conversation, she seemed to think that XYZ was the reasonable choice whereas ABC seemed to be the continuation of her travellingstudent life. In any case; she is attracted by big companies; she wants to climb up the ladder and, as long as she will, she wants to help spreading the ideas of sustainable development in the corporate world.

2 weeks later...

May 2013

Have you made your decision ?

I would say yes. It’s XYZ but I have’nt called ABC yet to tell them that I don’t take their offer.


Does it mean that you are still hesitating to go for it ?

Yes, it is difficult for me to make this decision. I am not 100% sure that it is the right one. I think I’ll never be. I am always hoping that something will happen, that an event will tell me: “here is the right decision”, some sort of enlightment. But I think this event will not come.


You were saying the other day that you wanted to make your decision soon. What causes you stress in this situation?

I can’t manage to make a decision for which I am really convinced. It is a fight between the two Joan. There is the ambitious, career-driven Joan and the Joan who takes her backpack and goes trekking in South America,the alternative one, who tells herself that life is short and wonders why doing things one does not like. It is a constant debate in me and it is tiring. If I have signed with one of these two companies, at least, it’s done.


When we last talked, you seemed to say that the Joan with her backpack was your past as a student.

I see XYZ as a big step into adult life. It will be the first time that I will be settled somewhere, at least for some years, it is moreserious. ABC is a softer transition into the adult life; it will get me to live here and there during 18 months. Renting an apartment with no furniture, buying myself a couchand a fridge, that would be new, it seems a bit odd to me.


However, today, you are not saying that this Joan with her backpack is your past.

I will always have this debate. Living in a big city because it is better for my career or living close to the mountains because it is better for trekking. However, between XYZ and ABC, the debate is more restricted.


When the choice you should make seems clear to you, what happens inside of you ? How do you connect with your compass ?

In the morning, when I am doing well in my work, when I am doing things that are on my to-do list, I think that I am going to go to XYZ and I wonder how I could have thought of going to ABC. In the evening, it’s the other way round; when I am tired and am browsing through a book , I think it’s going to be ABC and I wonder how I could have thought of going to XYZ. When things are clear to me, the option that I do not choose seems nonsense. When I am doing some sport, I am playing a lot of tennis these days, it’s XYZ. When I am productive, it’s XYZ. When I have doubts, when I need comfort, it’s ABC.


And when you are trekking ?

It is not clear. But I have’nt done much recently.


The other day, you said: « anyway, I am not going to marry with the company I will choose Â».

Yes, it makes the decision a bit easier when I think I am not getting married. I can always leave if I see that it does not fit.

I talked a lot about it with my parents, my friends ; I did not do because I wanted them to tell me what I should do but to know how they were seeing me, so that I could gather arguments for both options and analyze them. They are not all telling me the same thing. Even my parents: my mother stands for ABC and my father for XYZ.

Then, I made an Excel sheet with two columns and I tried to give scores to each option. I did not really succeed. How do I decide what matters most? For instance, one of my criteria is international mobility. At XYZ, it will be low during the first three years but high later. At ABC, it will be high during 18 months but, after that, I may stay in England or in Germany.

Then, I am in a third phase now. I try to step back. A friend told me: “go trekking and try to listen to yourself”. This is where I am now but even there it is difficult. The moment of truth has not come. I am expecting an enlightment but I think I won’t get it.


7 months later… Joan had finally chosen XYZ company (the reasonable Joan) and she works in a big German city.

January 2014

In one word, yes, I think I made the right choice. I don’t like to get lost in regrets and to question the decisions I’ve made. I prefer to make the best of what I decide to do; this is why my answer is yes. Then, I must admit I am not fully enthusiast about my job at XYZ.

The two first months were really great but, after that, things went a bit worse.

- my training was completed and I started my job. I don’t have exciting clients and I find that our tools and processes are often inefficient and frustrating.

- my manager had to leave XYZ, so we lost some structure and support in our work.

- the sun left us here and will not come back (till May ?)

- and, moreover, one of my best friends passed away; I had studied with him in the US. This sudden death made me question a lot of things; it got me out of my small world where reason controls everything, it revived this debate between the two Joan and I am struggling to get over it.

With all that, it’s not easy to keep the necessary motivation and to feel really good in my job. Of course, there are moments when I wonder if I would have been happier at ABC. But I don’t think I would; it’s only that circumstances are making things a bit difficult. I am happy at XYZ, I think it is a great company with a culture that fits me, nice colleagues, superb products, a vision I like very much and with which I identify, and above all, very interesting career opportunities. I am learning a lot in sales and I think I can be happy at work for some years, before I manage to include again sustainable development in my job. Then, there is the city here; I don’t really like it. It is not a very beautiful city, mountains are too far away, the sun does not shine often enough, the people I am meeting are too urban-minded for me. So, in short, my goal is to avoid staying here for too long.


Editor’s note:

During their research, Denis and Phil have found other cases where people were torn between options which each would get them to become a different person. They are torn between “two me”, as one of our interviewees said.

The low number of these observations (four in total) does not allow to offer any general law but they could identify some common points:

-       The phenomenon occurs at turning points in life, such as the end of studies or the retirement, when the range of options gets, or gets again, very open.

-       The persons involved are demanding towards life, and inspired by strong values

-       The tension that is experienced is not between a path that would be positive and courageous and another one that would just be the easy way. Both paths, and therefore both potential persons, can lead to some personal development.

-       One path leads to action in the world; the other one is rather oriented towards a more inner quest via, depending on age and individuals, art, contact with nature, spirituality. This last one does not preclude any insertion into the social world but it is linked with this inner search.

-       In each story, those two poles take different forms but the structure of the tension is identical.

One question remains open, as in Joan’s case : is one of these potential persons simply that of the past ? In that case, aren’t we just witnessing a classical resistance to change ? Joan’s case shows that this is not so simple and that this tension is going to last: the death of a close friend just revived it, and such events often act as reminders of what is essential in life. One can hypothethize that many people, if they are demanding towards themselves and life, experience this tension at some moments of their lives. Of course, there is no fundamental opposition between these two poles but the tension stems from the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day…

The story of Joan also leads to two other hypotheses for the other collected cases also conform to them.

-       The first temptation when one is in this situation is to avoid choosing. Then, if the non-choice is no longer possible or bearable, the temptation is to keep the non-chosen option in some ways and in a minor key.

-       The final decision is made either because the person has reached a more accurate perception of where they want to go or, more practically, because doors open in one option whereas they stay closed in the other one.

However, it must be kept in mind that these hypotheses are built on a low number of cases and cannot be regarded as definitive conclusions.  

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