What Would Leslie Knope Do? Tools for Making Big Decisions

In the past few months, I’ve been hustling to land a summer internship, endlessly trawling the internet for opportunities, incessantly bugging professors and mentors for recommendations, and rewriting my resume and cover letter over and over again. After getting rejection emails back for every single position, and in a sick and twisted turn of events, I was interviewed for two internships that I hadn’t even finished the application for. But this isn’t a blog about how to half-ass your way to success, it’s a blog with dubious advice about making difficult decisions. I was suddenly staring down two great internships in archives: one that was close to home and one that would require a trip across the country for the summer. I suddenly had some big questions to answer- did I want to stay closer to home or explore a new area? Was it really worth it to quit my stable library job to take on this internship? And, worst of all, how would I ever make a decision?!

As library students, we get a lot of practice in making big decisions. First, we had to make the decision to start on this path to a new career. Then we have to make decisions about programs, concentrations, networking, and learning opportunities. This is important to remember when the decisions you have to make start to feel overwhelming – you’ve done this before! In fact, you’ve done it so many times that you’re practically a pro. Trust yourself and your own judgement. This will pay off when you’re making even bigger decisions – Hailley and Dylan’s #TheBigSearch comes to mind. But even if you’re not feeling like a pro, having a few tools in your decision-making arsenal can be a huge help. Here are a few that I have utilized in the last couple of weeks:

Use your emotions to your benefit.

In the midst of a big life choice, you’ll probably be feeling lots of feelings. This is normal and okay and good – your brain is giving you material to work with. While I was deciding on my internship, I found the feeling that kept coming up was fear – I was afraid of quitting my job, of moving for the summer, of what I would do afterwards, of the experience itself. Everything was scary, and I thought hard about what that meant. Usually I’m the first to run away from a scary situation. I decided, however, that I’m at a time in my life where I want to challenge myself. If something was feeling too scary to do, then it was probably the thing that I had to do. For you, that emotion could be anything – I especially like past Hacker Amanda’s advice to do what makes you mad. Try to find an emotion, perhaps especially one that feels negative, and harness it.

Listen to your gut and be kind to yourself.

I tend to act on instinct, but my instinct doesn’t usually kick in right away. I have to analyze the situation from many angles before I land on what seems right to me. After considering what my instincts told me about the focus of the projects, the location, and how I would feel about giving up my ticket to see Flight of the Conchords in concert to move cross country, my choice became pretty clear. Underlying this reliance on instinct, however, is a willingness to trust myself. It may turn out to be a stupid decision to pass up a high-profile internship to see a New Zealand comedy folk duo with my friends (though I highly doubt it). But I rest easy knowing that there is more than one path and that I’ll get where I need to be eventually. Perhaps my ability to make decisions seem low-risk is related to the circumstances of my life (no dependents, naivety), but I do think it’s important to remember that whatever your decision is the world probably won’t end.


During some of the end stages of my decision, I started to think about people whose decisions I really admire. And because I am who I am, these people were all fictional. As I always ask myself when approaching my life, I asked, “What would Hermione Granger do?” It turns out that what I thought Hermione would do didn’t actually feel right for me, so I looked elsewhere. I then turned to a classic Rory Gilmore pro/con list, which, as cliche as it is, really helped me think about what my priorities are. Then I tried to think of a character who I adore but who has made a lot of mistakes and managed to recover from them all. When I asked myself, “What would Leslie Knope do?” I felt much better about the answer. The point is, you aren’t the first person to ever have made a decision. Look to people (…or fictional characters) that you trust and respect and try to see your situation through their eyes. Better yet, ask them for some advice and add this to your considerations. Luckily for you, lots of Hackers have written about decisions as well. I particularly like Carissa’s advice on considering your goals and family while making decisions and Alison’s article on choosing a program.

Of course, this is all easier said than done. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably still panic and worry and bore your friends and family to death with your indecisiveness. However, it always helps to have some skills to look to. I don’t know yet if these strategies will lead me to success. They did make me feel more confident and equipped to deal with such a big decision, which is a huge part of coping with the aftermath. I’d be interested to hear any of your decision making strategies – what’s your go-to thought process? Have you recently made any scary life decisions? Share your advice and words of wisdom in the comments.

(Photo in the Public Domain courtesy of Pixabay.)

5 replies

  1. No lie, I routinely ask myself “What would Leslie Knope do?”. This post just made me feel a lot less weird about that! You have to appreciate the humor in that question, given her opinion of librarians.


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