Take the Hard Option

“When you do not know what to do, take the hard option. When you’re done, you’ll have the most opportunities.” My grandfather gave me this great advice when I was a typical overwhelmed teenager trying to decide what to do after high school. I have returned to his words of wisdom throughout my life when making hard decisions. When it comes to science and engineering, this advice takes on a special meaning for underrepresented groups.

In my case, I was interested in pursuing a career in engineering.

While in school, taking difficult courses, I would be reassured by those around me that I could always pick an easier major. Thankfully, my grandfather had told me becoming an engineer was a hard path for everyone. His advice reminded me although I didn’t look like the majority of my classmates, we all faced similar challenges.

As an adult, my partner Alan and I were fortunate to have children join our lives. One of the first questions I got asked from friends and family was would I continue working. That is a question many first-time parents grapple with. Realizing the first year as a working parent would be hard, I remembered my grandfather’s advice. At the end of the first year, I was able to learn, grow, and reflect, giving myself more opportunities, both personally and professionally.

I believe it is very important to remember that we get to make choices throughout our lives. Sometimes picking a hard choice in the short term gives enough time to gain more understanding and make a more confident decision at the next crossroad.

Thinking back to that conversation with my generally quiet grandfather, that afternoon he shared one more thing. He spoke about how much he admired engineers and scientists, and the amazing things he had seen them do in his lifetime. He believed they were society’s problem solvers and caretakers. I was deeply moved he could see me among a group he thought so highly of. His advice was perfect—we all face times when the path forward is unclear. By choosing the hard option, we give ourselves the opportunities in the journey. Hard is hard for everyone but, with confidence and support, we can take it on.