I’ve mentioned before that my son and I are almost complete opposites on the Myers-Briggs personality types. I am an ISTJ (or an INTJ, depending on the day). He is an ENFP. As a J (Judging type), I make decisions very quickly, often too quickly. Like most Ps (Perceiving type), my son has difficulty relinquishing any of his options, even on minor matters.
Choosing a college was very hard for my son. He knew it would affect the rest of his life—what he would learn, the people he would meet, the area of the country he would get to know away from home. His parents and teachers all told him it was a VERY IMPORTANT DECISION, yet they pressed this poor Perceiver to give them an answer. Soon.
He tried to approach the choice very systematically, listing all the factors that were important to him (size of institution, academic ranking, location, potential majors, etc.). He rated each school on each factor on a scale of one point to five points, and added up the scores.
Then he changed the scores daily as he pondered the results. His system didn’t give him any clear winner, even as he refined his scale down to half points.
Finally, he narrowed it down to two schools—Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and Pomona College, in Claremont, California.
Northwestern is a mid-size school in the Midwest, just outside Chicago, with a campus that borders Lake Michigan. It has seasons, including serious winters. When we visited Evanston in March, a cold rain poured down. Our flight was delayed, and we barely made the campus tour.
Pomona is a small, liberal arts college in the greater Los Angeles area—warmer than Illinois by far. The sun beamed down as my son and his father walked amid the roses blooming in early spring. One of several Claremont colleges, it offered opportunities for a multi-campus experience. But its mascot is the Sagehen.
Despite its location, Northwestern has a beach, and Pomona doesn’t. Of course, Northwestern’s beach is only comfortable two weeks out of the school year.
Both are fine schools, and I would have been delighted, whichever college my son chose.
But he hemmed and hawed and changed his mind from day to day.
In late April, the deadline to commit approached. On the last Saturday of the month, I woke him up about 10:00am, announcing, “I’m on my way to the Post Office, where I will drop your college acceptance in the mail. Which one do I send?”
Now it isn’t a good idea to ask a teenage boy much of anything when he is emerging from a sleepy stupor. I knew that, but my J streak could not let the decision wait any longer.
My son shook his head like a basset hound. “Uhhh,” he said, cheeks flapping. “Northwestern.”
And that’s how my son decided to go to Northwestern.
He made many good friends there, classmates he still sees more than a decade after graduation. He worked on Barack Obama’s campaigns in Illinois, and later parlayed that experience into work on the 2008 Presidential campaign.
I think he would agree he made a good choice.
So, here’s some advice to Js wanting Ps to make decisions: Wake them up, and let their subconscious decide. It’s probably the fastest way to get them to declare.
When have you had to make a difficult decision, and how did you make it?