Author Daniel Pink talks pushing past awkwardness, decision making

Author Daniel Pink spoke at the Charles E. Smith Center as part of GW’s Orientation Week for freshmen Wednesday.

Pink, a New York Times bestselling author, spoke to a crowd of more than 1,000 students about decision-making and pushing past anxiety for a better future. Officials gave freshmen Pink’s book – “The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward” – as part of GW’s new summer reading program for incoming freshmen.

Pink began his speech by drawing comparisons between his experiences as a college freshman 40 years ago and the experiences of today’s freshmen. He said when he began college, he had many questions about how to go about what classes to choose and how to make friends.

“Today I want to offer you some guidance, drawn from social science as well as my own experience, for answering those questions,” Pink said.

Pink said “instrumental” reasons for decision-making are the opposite of “fundamental” reasons for decision-making. He said instrumental reasoning is a form of reasoning where someone thinks about where a decision will take them – like taking a course because it will look good on a resume, not because they think it is interesting.

Pink referenced a study of United States Military Academy students who listed their main reasons for choosing the school. He said the results of the study showed students who chose West Point for fundamental reasons, like wanting to serve their country, were more likely to be successful in about a decade.

“The least successful people, promotions, awards and job satisfaction were those with the instrumental reasons,” Pink said.

Pink laid out lessons to follow for the students he said would help them be more successful throughout their college careers, like fundamental reasoning behind decision-making being more powerful than instrumental reasoning.

“Fundamental reasons are about the thing itself, not where it will take you,” Pink said. “‘I’ll take this class simply because it sounds interesting, and I might learn something. I’ll apply to that internship because the mission is important and I could work with some cool people.’”

Other lessons Pink offered to the students included moving through their college experience day-by-day instead of looking at the larger picture of their journey at GW, taking action even in the face of anxiety and treating oneself as if they are a friend when they are trying to solve a problem.

Pink also challenged students to take a quick break in the middle of his speech and say hello and introduce themselves to someone near where they were sitting who they did not know to break through awkwardness and teach them to tackle a situation head on.

“What stands in the way is awkwardness,” Pink said. “‘Oh, it’s going to be awkward if I’m the only one who asks the question. It’s going to be awkward if I talk to that person.’ I cannot say this strongly enough, awkwardness is not a sufficient excuse.”

After his speech, Pink sat down with a panel of three upperclassmen, including senior and Black Student Union president Gianna Cook, who talked about their experiences at GW and offered their advice to freshmen on how to navigate their next four years in the District.

“College is a marathon, it’s not a sprint,” Cook said. “No one is judging you but you, take it at your pace. Do what interests you, it’s not about what people around you are doing, but it’s what you want to do.

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